Saturday, December 13, 2008

Profiles In Racing Presents: Barry Irwin of Team Valor International

Barry Irwin has lived a life most people could only dream of; a one time fiction author Barry followed his heart in 1969 to pursue a career in the Thoroughbred in the industry. His travels have taken him from America to England, Ireland, France, Italy, United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, Canada, and South Africa; where he uses his innate gift to find and develop talented race horses from some of the world’s most unlikely places. Barry Irwin is truly an American success story.

OOF: Big news at Team Valor with Rhyad a 2-year old colt you purchased -from what you've written about him he seems to have a lot of heart and talent and you believe he can challenge for the Triple Crown races.

Barry: “I hope so he has a lot of speed that’s for sure, we don’t how far he can run“.

OOF: What do you think his chances are and how are sales going with him so far?

Barry: “Very good, very good, we’ve sold about 70% so far so that’s good. He kind of like a King of the Roxy, or a Visionaire type of horse that probably could be best at a mile. But any three year old they can do that a mile and an eighth, at least when their three after that I don’t know. I think he’s a pretty good horse, otherwise we wouldn’t have bought him“.

OOF: Your method of attracting owners is unique - you do little to no advertising - little to no marketing - and except for standing in the winners circle you have little public exposure - yet you’re one of the top companies in your field - what is the secret to your success?

Barry: “Well, I think it’s a factor that we’ve been out there long enough, people know who we are you know they know how to find me. I did advertise at one time and I had what I consider very poor results, the kind of people you get from advertising aren’t really the kind of people you want. I’m not really interested in impulse buyers, I’d rather stay at the size we are now and not have ten jillion horses and have the right kind of people as my partners than for example a West-Point or something like that. I want guys that have a certain amount of knowledge themselves. I want it to be a task for them to find me to search me out if anybody goes to those lengths that shows that their interested. You get a guy who calls off an ad you have a high pressure salesman call and put the squeeze on them generally those are not the guys you want as partners; they weren’t committed to the enterprise and the first sign that something’s going wrong they to want to jump ship and this day and age it’s a long term project and you got to be committed“.

OOF: I’ve followed Team Valor since some years back after reading the book “Race for the Triple Crown” where the author stated you’re philosophy for buying horses was to look at:

1) Ability / Heart - as you need both
2) Conformation / Soundness
3) Pedigree

To me this made a lot of sense - yet if flies in the face of what is generally considered conventional wisdom which is to study pedigree first then judge the other attributes - what influenced to think outside the box?

Barry: “ I don’t really know, I just know the way I like to do it, when I buy my own horses for my stalls the first thing they've got to have the right kind of look, they’ve got to look like athletes and if they do their going to do something. If they have the pedigree so much the better, but if you have an athlete it doesn’t make any difference what their pedigree is your going to get some performance out of them. Buying a horse like Cot Campbell does just because of pedigree and excepting faults because of the pedigree just seems to me the opposite way to do it. I just have my own way of doing it, when I go to South Africa the people there can’t figure out what I’m doing, basically they are living in the sixties. When I go down there I don’t have a catalog I have someone bring the horses out and walk them, if I like the way they walk I look at them from the side and go through the whole little routine. They can’t understand it, those guys can’t wait to get a catalog and they pour over it, and I never even look at a catalog, you know I might just to see how much the horse is going to cost me”.

OOF: That makes a lot of sense to me if you look at what a horse can do, how it can move, how it can walk and then look at the pedigree, like you said to see what you could buy it for and potentially what you could re-sell it later for.

Barry: “The way I look at things, if you took about 100 dice and put them in a beaker and rolled them out, each time you rolled them out you’re going to get a different number combination. Even though the pedigree says one thing all it is are names on a page, the real thing that counts is what is the results of that mating, what does it look like, how does it move, and does it look like it is an athlete that’s all it’s about to me. Look at Big Brown who cares about his pedigree but he’s a fantastic horse. Besides pedigree costs an lot of money and I don’t deal with people who want to spend a lot of money“.

OOF: An owner of one of the larger Thoroughbred farms once told me you were “a mover, a shaker and a deal maker” in your opinion how accurate is that assessment?

Barry: (chuckle) “Oh…I don’t know, I think I’m somewhat of an enigmatic type character not really too many people know me, because I kind of stay to myself. I mean I’ve lived in Kentucky for ten years now and most of the people that live here and are in the horse business they think I live in California. I mean I don’t really socialize that much, I don’t go to the races usually unless there is a big horse running or one of my own horses. I think there’s a lot of chat about me based on here say. I used to be more of a wheeler dealer when I was a bloodstock but what I do now I do a lot of writing to keep my clients informed and I think that takes most of my time, and I'm on the look out for a hot prospect and that’s it. Whether I’m a deal maker and all the other kind of stuff, yes I am, but do I go around looking to make deals like a bloodstock agent all the time, not really”

OOF: I personally believe despite the economy there is still an untapped market of potential new owners…

Barry: “I tell you right now people that are in the horse business are scared sh-----s”.

OOF: I understand, in fact I’ve done quite a lot of research and understand that the market is a cyclical thing it’s a pendulum it will swing back and forth. The same thing happened in the 1980’s and even in the 1830’s it’s just following the same patterns over and over again.

Barry: “Well I think this time it’s different and I think the reason is the types of concepts that led to this is of such great…it’s so big that I don’t think anybody really knows how it’s going to play out yet. I’ve been through the 73, the 87, 92 I’ve been through those things but they were just reverberations. I actually made the most money in 82, 83, 84 the country was in a recession interest was, I was borrowing money from Bank of America at 23%, yet I made money each of those three years. There was inflation and people wanted to buy intangibles and horses were tangent“.

OOF: Looking back with the benefit of 20 / 20 hindsight and having suffered the pains of the learning curve would you have done anything different and why?

Barry: “I don’t think so, I think I have chosen my lot, and there’s good and there’s bad about it, the reason I do what I do is I’m extremely independent I don’t like working for one person, I’ve had many opportunities to do that. I enjoy dealing with wealthy people but extremely wealthy controlling people I don’t deal well with that. I know what I like to do, I have a certain expertise, and if people appreciate it and want to participate in it with me God bless them, I’d love to have them. But what I don’t want is one heavy handed guy who doesn’t know anything about my business basically telling me what to do. What I do is I have a whole bunch of people who appreciate what I do, we’ve gotten along fine and I enjoy what I’m doing. I consider myself a very creative guy in terms of what I like to do in the horse business, I do think out of the box. There is a certain number of people who like that and some that don’t, the one thing about the horse business is if you have some talent no matter what type of horses you like to buy, or your personality there is a group of people that are going to be attracted to you so you’re going to do fine“.

OOF: At the July Fasig-Tipton sale I looked at over 100 horses, I’ll put myself on the line somewhat and say one of the horses I liked was a filly you bought and named Cup Racer - how is why doing and when will be see her on the track?

Barry: “I don’t know she had real big stifles when I bought her, and they only bother her a little bit. She was the only horse I bought in that sale that was a little bit of a gamble from a soundness point of view but so far so good. Her action has been a little bit high you don’t know how these horses are going to move until you put them into training. Of the horses we bought she’s little bit of a disappointment just from a movement standpoint because of her knee action. But she is very powerful and she acts like she can run”.

OOF: I liked her look, she had that look in her eye that she wouldn’t back down.

Barry: “I liked her too, that’s why I bought her even though she had two stifles that were hanging off her”.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Big Brother is Coming

The book 1984 (published in 1949) presents an imaginary future where a totalitarian state controls every aspect of people’s lives. The state called Oceania is ruled by a group known as the Party its leader and dictator is Big Brother.

While the premise is far fetched using the current and recent decision making processing of the Geo-Political landscape as a model I believe I can with much certainty predict the following:

1) On or about April (as Derby fervor rises and becomes topical) Congress will restart hearings into the workings and dealing of Thoroughbred racing
2) Unless a unilateral governing body has been created or one has stepped forward and began to develop deep inroads towards the process of creating said governing body then
3) Congress will using the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 take control and oversee Thoroughbred horseracing

Congress has not veiled this reality in any fashion in fact during the hearings of this past June various members essentially stated the above facts verbatim. However the ramifications of these threats do not seem to have made much of an impact upon the racing community, yes steroids are no longer to be allowed after the first of the year, yet little else has seemingly been presented in order to ward off an effectual hostile take over by Congress.

The ramifications of a potential take over would be magnanimous to and among the racing community as not only would bureaucratic hegemony reign over the industry but controlling individuals would be appointed by political means and whims potentially without consideration to experience knowledge and or love of Thoroughbred racing as a whole. Traditions generally speaking could be rendered outdated and useless under bureaucracy as administrators may determine despite long held history what was now to be important and useful based upon their own political agenda.

I however also foresee an alternative to this Orwellian future whereby I believe if an intensive marketing campaign is aggressively sold to the current power brokers within the horse racing industry we would wrest control away from the Government creating a scenario in which an internal organization such as the NTRA would become the governing body within Thoroughbred racing. Despite past prior and current failed attempts to undertake such an endeavor there is now a ticking clock resonating over the industry. The simple fact is changes are coming and I believe we need to passionately market a slogan such as “who do you want overseeing the future of Thoroughbred racing – a bureaucrat – or a horseman”.

The realization is simple and foreseeable if Thoroughbred racing does not unite and work together to create a unilateral governing body – Congress will!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Steroid Alternative

In an effort to identify potential avenues of performance enhancement all the while using new drug regulations as a precipice I have potentially identified a naturally occurring amino acid which has been proven to produce stated desired results.

In 1988 a study by Gaffney and Cunningham (1) using Timeform ratings as an indicator investigated heritability of racing performance between 1952 and 1977. They reported a strong genetic performance and a “steady genetic gain of 1% per year” yet discovered “winning times had not improved during the last 50 years for classic races”. This was described by W. G. Hill (2) (1988) as “Cunningham’s Paradox”, he asked the question of “have horse breeders reached the limit of achievement of racehorses”. Cunningham (3) suggested that the “physiological limit might have been reached, for example, for dealing with lactic acid build up in the muscle during performance”.

Every movement of a muscle a horse makes requires energy, whether sprinting 7 furlongs or batting an eyelash energy is required. Their body produces that energy through the use of ATP (adenosine trihosphate). This energy is released when ATP is split into ADP (adenosine diphosphate) and P (phosphate). The human body, for example, has a very limited supply of ATP only enough to store fuel for about 3 to 5 seconds of work. Our bodies then “borrow” a phosphate group from another substance called PCr (phosphocreatine) and combined it with ADP. ADP + P = ATP.

Herein lays the potential answer to “Cunningham’s Paradox” whereby if genetics have reached their maximum capabilities could supplementation derived from a naturally occurring source thereby negating potential side effects substantially increase output and performance.

Creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid synthesized from lysine, argentine and methionine, in the liver, pancreas and kidneys. Muscles take up the majority of the creatine found in the body it is there that it is converted into phosphocreatine which is necessary (as stated earlier) for ATP production. Research shows that taking creatine supplements can increase muscle creatine by 20 to 30%. Increasing the amount of creatine found in the muscle also increases the amount of phosphocreatine, which aids in producing greater amounts of energy. This is because phosphocreatine is the limiting factor in energy production in high intensity anaerobic exercise. Numerous studies have identified the amino acid as producing substantial results in the performance of anaerobic events as well as increasing lean body mass, such as:

In 1997 a double blind study by Prevost, Nelson and Morris (4) supplemented with 18.75 g/day of creatine prior to high-intensity intermittent work to exhaustion, and then 2.25 g/day during testing “found that creatine supplements significantly delayed the onset of muscle fatigue in endurance athletes by boosting their lactate thresholds”.

Another double blind study in 1997 conducted by Bosco and others (5) provided 20 g/day to qualified sprinters who performed intensive treadmill running until exhaustion. They determined “creatine supplementation increased performance sprinting performance by 13%”.
A 2000 study by Mehlberg (6) stated “sprinters who loaded with creatine (25 grams for 5 days) significantly increased their peak and average power output compared to a group taking an inactive placebo”.

The Mayo Clinic (7) graded the supplement an “A” stating “several high-quality studies have shown an increase in muscle mass, lean body mass and strength”.

To my knowledge no study has been reported regarding the usage of creatine in equine athletes, however a 2001 study by Mc Farlane, Heigenhauser, D G McDonald (8) using fingerling rainbow trout which were “supplemented with equal amounts of creatine (Cr) by two routes: dietary (12.5 mg Cr per g food); or intraperitoneal injection (0.5 mg Cr per g fish). Endurance in a fixed velocity sprint test (at a speed of 7 BL s(-1)), and resting levels of white muscle metabolites (total creatine [a measure of free creatine plus phosphocreatine (PCr), ATP, lactate and glycogen] were assessed following 7 days of supplementation and compared to controls. It was determined that resting muscle glycogen was elevated in creatine-supplemented fish. Higher muscle glycogen corresponded to significantly greater endurance in creatine-supplemented fish”.

Obviously scientific and field testing on Thoroughbreds must occur before and absolute answer to “Cunningham’s Paradox” can be pronounced. However that being said overwhelming evidence must lead one to consider that creatine potentially is a naturally occurring, safe, legal and effective alternative to steroids.

(1) Gaffney, B and E. P. Cunningham, 1988. Nature 332: 722-724
(2) Hill, W. G. 1988. Nature 332: 722-724
(3) Gaffney, B and E. P. Cunningham, 1988. Nature 332: 722-724
(4) Prevost, M.C., Nelson A.G., Morris G.S., 1997. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport 68: 233-140
(5) Bosco, C. and others, 1997. International Journal of Sports Medicine 18: 369-372
(6) Mehlberg, D. 2000. Healthlink, Medical College of Wisconsin
(7), 2008. Drugs and Supplements: Creatine
(8) Mc Farlane, Heigenhauser, D G McDonald, 2001. Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2001 Nov ;130 (4):857-66