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”.

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