Monday, December 21, 2009

Interview: Jess Jackson

First and foremost I would genuinely like to thank you for taking the time to allow me to interview you for Odds On Favorite.  

OOF: During a time when an individual would work one job essentially their entire lives you had a number of career changes. While a police officer during the depression you worked your way through law school then founded a firm that went on to argue cases’ before the Supreme Court. You founded Kendall Jackson filling a hole in the market of producing a quality wine at an affordable price. And now you’ve moved into the realm of being a Thoroughbred owner and breeder. Of all these quite amazing accomplishments which avenue was the most challenging to undertake?

JJ:  Every undertaking that one takes seriously is challenging and every challenge is unique. Because of that it would be very hard to compare one career challenge with another: they test you in different ways and reward you in different ways.
OOF: You caused quite a stir (to say the least) when you entered into the Thoroughbred industry. As you know there was a long standing ‘insiders” tradition that secret commissions and dual agency were just the way the industry works. As it has been described to me “every one gets cheated when they first enter the owners market” (including me). I know I’m not going to make any friends here but I respect what you did regarding your particular dealings and believe the changes you brought about will ultimately help Thoroughbred racing. Describe if you will what led you to undertake the legal action and not just accept what had happened?

JJ:  Dual representation is unethical and illegal. Bloodstock agents deceive newcomers by conspiring with sellers to drive up prices. Then they split the overpayment. I sued and won. I didn't need the money. I just wanted to do what was right. Some people said I should have worked within the system: well, people tried that and it never worked. I took it up a notch and that seems to have worked.

OOF: You created more controversy by testifying before congress regarding the use of steroids within the industry. I personally believe in an outright ban on them and know you testified for that as well. Do you feel there will be a time within the near future where steroids will be permanently banned?   

JJ:  There first needs to be a single, unified body that governs the entire sport. Right now it’s a hodgepodge of different rules, different authorities, different penalties depending on where you race. I don’t think we’ll see meaningful changes until we have a single, authoritative organization.

OOF: You have made your disdain for Poly or “Plastic” tracks well known. What are your feelings regarding the future of plastic tracks and should the “powers that be” create three divisions of racing, dirt, turf and poly?

JJ:  We should get rid of plastic surfaces altogether

OOF: You obviously had personal interaction with Curlin during his career; I remember for example watching you visit him just before the Breeders Cup in California where in an apparent attempt to find mints he was attacking your jacket pockets. How much interaction were you able to actually have with him during his race career and now in his new career?

JJ:  I am very close to Curlin and continue to spend a good deal of time with him.  I have a deep affection for him.

OOF:  His new foals will be hitting the ground “running” soon how do you foresee his stallion career developing and unfolding?

JJ:  The point of breeding Curlin is to create racehorses that not only have speed and strength, but durability. I want to see the breed step up to another level—for the good of the horses themselves and the sport. When Curlin’s offspring become champions, it will underscore the importance of this direction of breeding.

OOF: How is Rachel progressing towards her reappearance next year?

JJ:  Rachel will be in top form. She can’t wait to get going.

OOF: Although I thought Zenyatta’s performance in the Breeders Cup was outstanding looking at the overall body of work she and Rachel achieved over the course of the entire year I believe Rachel wins hands down. What kind of emotions do you think you would feel standing up on that stage to receive the Horse of the Year award three years in a row?

JJ:  I would feel gratitude and respect for the voters. I would feel that they had truly  recognized the horse that had the best year. I could not be more proud of Rachel and our team no matter what the HOY outcome.

OOF: Who would win in a race between Curlin and Rachel?

JJ:  Who can say? That’s why we watch horse races.

OOF:  What would you like your biggest legacy in Thoroughbred racing to be?

JJ:  I would like to feel that I helped bring a higher level of integrity to the business—such as the elimination of dual agency and the establishment of a single, authoritative organization to oversee the sport. I’d like to think I contributed to the betterment of the race horse species and to the better enjoyment of the sport by the fans.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Want a Safe Natural way to a Stronger, Faster, more Durable Race Horse then you need Protein

Probably the most misunderstood aspect of a horse’s diet protein is made up of long chain branch amino acids the building blocks of bones, muscles, and virtually all of the body's soft tissues, for growth and repair.

Essential Part of a Horse’s Diet

This makes protein an essential part of the diet as the horse continually uses protein either to build new tissues, as in growth, or to repair worn out tissues. Protein is the main constituent of the organs (such as liver, heart, kidneys, etc) and tissues (such as muscle, tendons, ligaments, cartilage) and most of the bone matrix which comprises 20% of bone is composed of protein. Protein is required to develop muscling, and most body functions require protein in many different forms.

The Power of Protein in Recovery in Race Horses

An Endocrinology and Metabolism study conducted at Copenhagen Muscle Research Centre, Copenhagen N, Denmark found the following results:

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) or a placebo was given to seven subjects during 1 h of ergometer cycle exercise and a 2-h recovery period. Intake of BCAA did not influence the rate of exchange of the aromatic amino acids, tyrosine and phenylalanine, in the legs during exercise or the increase in their concentration in muscle.

The increase was ~30% in both conditions. On the other hand, in the recovery period after exercise, a faster decrease in the muscle concentration of aromatic amino acids was found in the BCAA experiment (46% compared with 25% in the placebo condition).

There was also a tendency to a smaller release (an average of 32%) of these amino acids from the legs during the 2-h recovery. The results suggest that BCAA have a protein-sparing effect during the recovery after exercise, either that protein synthesis has been stimulated and/or protein degradation has decreased, but the data during exercise are too variable to make any conclusions about the effects during exercise. The effect in the recovery period does not seem to be mediated by insulin (Blomstrand, Saltin).

Faster Recovery = Faster, Stronger Horse

Steroids do not directly build muscle what they do however is decrease recovery time and thereby increase the ability to train and eat. The end result being increased muscle mass, increased strength and conversely increased speed.

Not all Protein is Good / Useful Protein

Normally a feed's protein level is determined by looking at the percentage value on the feed tag under "crude protein." But the crude protein numbers do not really reflect either a protein's overall quality (which can be determined only by the amino acid profile), or the amount of protein from that feed a horse can digest and use.

Nitrogen Content

The crude protein value is based on the overall nitrogen content of a feed, and not all of the nitrogen in a feed sample is necessarily protein-bound. Nitrogen also might be found in purines, creatinine, ammonium salts, and nucleic acids, all of which might be in a feed sample. As such you are unsure as to the usefulness of the information when determining the proper amount of protein to supplement your race horse.

Need Supplementation or Essential Amino Acids

The dietary requirements of race horses are not only a matter of providing a sufficient quantity of protein, the quality of protein is very important. Proteins are made of approximately 20 amino acids in varying combinations.

Horses can only make about half of these amino acids and must therefore be supplied with the ones they cannot make. These are called "essential" amino acids.

Quality Supplementation is the Key

Protein quality is determined by the proportions of essential amino acids making up the protein. Thereby all supplements administered to the horse should be produced in an FDA approved lab and graded as for human consumption. Otherwise the product may have little or no standards of quality and may actually cause more harm than good.  

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Acceptable safe performance enhancement without the use of steroids

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 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

Sunday, September 6, 2009

What a woman!!

Ladies and Gentlemen we have our Horse of the Year, and it’s not even close. In a race filled with drama, emotion and exceptional speed two things set it and its combatant’s apart, courage and heart.

Calvin Borel had often said he hadn’t gotten to the bottom of her followed by “it might be scary”. Although Saturday’s race wasn’t scary it was historic. Rachel Alexander proved she is a horse to be remembered with and compared to the greats of Thoroughbred racing. You might notice I didn’t say filly I said horse; Rachel has transcended from the filly ranks and now must be compared with history’s greatest horses.

What a woman, facing older males for the first time in the Woodward no less, at the “Graveyard of Champions” would be a daunting task for any colt much less a filly. Yet she showed something which sets her apart from all but a few horses that have ever set a hoof upon a race track. We all knew she has amazing speed, we knew she ran like a hurricane wind, what we didn’t know was how much heart she possesses. She showed us.

They could have gone around twice and it wouldn’t have mattered she wasn’t going to let Macho Again by. After the race Calvin said “She was never going to let him get by her,” every time he ran up to her, she dug in. She’s a tremendous filly. He ran up to me about three times in the lane and every time she gave me a little more run.”

I have read detractors writings regarding a weight advantage she possessed and to these individuals I would like to introduce an apparently “new” term, called handicapping. You see three year olds get a weight advantage when facing older horses, and fillies do as well when running against the boys. I realize you the reader know and understand that but apparently there are some who wish to throw out the rules to suit their own wants. These are probably the same crybabies who when Curlin carried as much as 15lbs above the rest of the field and yet still won declared that he “wasn’t the same horse".

A lot of people have been clamoring for a race against Zenyatta and I admit I've been one of them, but as of now Zenyatta is an afterthought. Rachel's already won the Horse of the Year it's just a matter of formality.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Going out on a Limb...

Thought I would step out on the proverbial limb and name some horses I saw at the recent Fasig-Tipton sale that I believe will become racehorses. Of course if you ask the sellers, consignors and sales personal they’ll all turn into racehorses (Stakes winners at that). But the reality is a little different. Too be clear this is not an endorsement against any horse I do not list, as I saw only a percentage of them, this is simply me putting what little reputation I do have out by declaring in writing some of the horses I think will be runners.

In no particular order:

Hip: 169

Bay Colt out of Bernardini / Lyphard’s Delta, a late foal, foaled the 6th of May probably attributed to his slightly smaller stature. But other than that he certainly looked the part of a race horse, sharp eye, smooth (and I mean smooth) mover, nice knees, I would be surprised if this horse doesn’t win some big races, apparently others had the same thought as he sold for $350,000.

Hip: 313

Chestnut Colt out of Posse / Cash Flow, this is Cash Flow’s first foal, her dam Capestele a Black Type mare, has had 15 foals with 14 to race all of them have been winners. He was very well balanced, a good mover with perfect knees, and a big chest; in fact his chest may have been too big as his front hooves when he walked were a little too far apart as they came down. One last very distinguishing note about him his attitude, this horse had a “TUDE,” during the entire showing he was working hard trying to bite his handler while looking at me as if to say “what the hell do you want, get out of here.” I asked the handler if he was difficult to handle, he turned his head to look away and no, no, he’s nice, over by the barn however my wife heard another handler mumble, “nasty that’s what HE is.” I think if the right trainer could get him to focus that nasty attitude toward the track he’d be a nice allowance horse (or even more) that could win his share of races. Apparently no one else agreed with me on this one as his reserve was not met.

Hip: 128

Bay Colt out of A.P. Warrior / Girl Gone Crazy, this is a big good looking Colt. His body is perfectly put together, very nice mover, very smooth, very balanced, he possesses what my friend Bob Feld described as a “Racy Look” this horse looks like he can run. Wouldn’t surprise me to see this horse in some higher level stakes races in a year or two, he sold for $85,000 to Divine Assetts.

Hip: 395

Dark Bay/Brown Colt out of Medaglia D'oro / Honeycomb Gus, a January foal he’s had plenty of time to grow, and he has. He’s a bull of a horse, perfect balance, perfect legs, huge barrel chest, long thick neck, sharp eye. He’s named Standing O and for good reason, he deserves a standing ovation just by the way he looks. I can see him winning stakes races and going on to a successful stud career. Apparently others had a similar assessment as he sold for $250,000.

Four examples of horses I saw and liked, I’m walking out on that limb of the public eye and am looking forward to seeing what these horses can do. As such I invite any comments and questions regarding these horses and any others at the sale.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Free Racehorses at Fasig-Tipton…Come get one…

(Editors note: this is a re-written article I posted some time back however due to the amount of people I encountered that did not know of this important tax incentive, and with Fasig-Tipton this weekend I felt it merited a re-print)

No, I’m not kidding. Section 179 of the Economic Stimulus Package allows for under certain parameters free racehorses. The IRS explains the stimulus package as follows:

The first incentive is the expensing allowance under Section 179, which allows horse owners who purchase horses or other business property and put it in service in 2009 to expense up to $250,000. A limit is in place such that if the total property purchased in the year exceeds $800,000, the expense allowance goes down a dollar for each dollar spent over $800,000.

The next continued incentive brings back the 50% first-year “bonus depreciation” for horses and most other depreciated property purchased and used in 2009. This incentive applies to horses and any other property with a useful life of 20 years or less. To take advantage of this depreciation the property must be “new,” meaning that its original use started with the owner taking the depreciation. “Original use” means the first purpose to which the property is put. Assume that in 2008, a horse business pays $500,000 for a colt to be used for racing and $50,000 for other depreciable property, bringing total purchases to $550,000. The young colt had never been raced or used for any other purpose before the purchase. The business would be able to expense $250,000 as a Section 179 deduction, deduct another $150,000 of bonus depreciation (50% of the remaining balance), and take regular depreciation on the $150,000 balance. As always speak with your tax professional, and if they have any questions the IRS is very willing to help.

This bill equates to a tremendous tax write off and benefit to Thoroughbred racing, which is why I’m trying so hard to get the word out about it. The benefit of this legislation to a sale like Fasig-Tipton could be magnanimous. In tough economic times when individuals tend to hold on to their funds tightly, the impact of knowing that they could take such tax breaks could immensely affect the bottom line at Fasig.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Terry Finley: West Point Thoroughbreds

Terry Finley is the founder and President of West Point Thoroughbreds, Inc. A graduate of West Point, Finley is a former Army Captain and Airborne Ranger who holds an MSBA from Boston University. He has been involved in the Thoroughbred industry for more than 25 years, gaining hands-on experience working with thoroughbreds as a teenager and starting racing partnerships in 1991.

OOF: Too say the least you’ve lead a very interesting life, what first attracted you as a teenager to Thoroughbred racing?

TF: I’ve always had a sense about horses. I used to go to the races with my father and I worked at race tracks and farms. I’ve always been very comfortable and confident around horses.

OOF: I read that your first foray into racing partnerships was with a Sergeant under your command, from that you built West Point Thoroughbreds, quite a jump, what were the steps and processes along the way that made it possible?

TF: When my wife and I returned from Germany we settled in New Jersey. There was a sergeant from Louisville who always talked about the races; he was a big Pat Day fan. He rekindled my love of the races, the smell the look of the horses and I decided to get back into the game. My wife and I claimed a five thousand dollar horse from Philadelphia Park which was my first foray into ownership. We then put together a business plan and started working on attracting partners.

OOF: How did you first start attracting partners?

TF: Advertising, we put an ad in the Philadelphia Park form, classifieds, all over the place. At one point we printed up flyers and put them on windshields of the cars at Philadelphia Park until security saw us and made us take the flyers off every car.

OOF: You advertise a great deal more than other partnerships, in fact you’ve even had an ad on my blog through ad sense, how has the amount of advertising you do made a difference in your business?

TF: Well, we had to separate ourselves there were very well established partnerships, Dogwood, Team Valor, who in their right mind would want to go with West Point. At that time we didn’t have the bankroll to get the good horses. I didn’t come from the thoroughbred business, their was no family involvement. I had no business experience how else do you attract attention you go to you’re bootstraps; you get good horses and take care of you’re clients.

OOF: Your ad (Sherm’s Call) where a guy is relaying via the phone the horse winning a race is the best Thoroughbred related ad ever, how has it impacted your business?

TF: People know it, we played it too much in the beginning, if you think about it the number of images we see, we developed an ad people know and remember very accurately how it feels.

OOF: Is their any particular type of individuals or group of individuals that you target with your advertising?

TF: Not really, it would be easy if you were selling a Maserati you would have demographics, sales figures, it would be a different model. We have a range of clients from a billionaire to someone with a 60K income who saved up because it was their dream to be a part of a big horse. It was that school teacher in the winners circle when we beat Rags to Riches. We focus on customer service, buying quality horses, and taking care of business.

OOF: Has the economy affected your advertising philosophy, and if so how?

TF: To a great extent no, no real drop off in actual dollars has occurred. We’ve had some clients shift some money around and some big investors who’ve help us weather the storm. But we’ve had three good years which put us in a good position. An investor doesn’t care if your company has done well in the past they want to win.

OOF: When looking to purchase a horse are there any specific characteristics that you look for, such as their balance, a look in their eye, pedigree, etc…?

TF: Depends on the horse, we like to buy at the two year old in training sales. In the past four years we’ve had five grade one winners, I don’t think there’s too many who could say that. What has helped is our ever improving institutional knowledge. If you look at a horse in a 1/8 or a 1/4 mile workout some guys are really more strenuous than others. The speed at this distance is not really that big of an indicator of what the horse can do. We group the horses by consignor. Some don’t gallop out because their not in condition to do so; some don’t do “Zingers” (speed work) for different reasons. Once these factors are known we can compare and contrast not just their time but all factors. If you look statistically at how poor we as buyers are when big money is paid at auctions it doesn’t work out (Editors note: Green Monkey). We are there ten days before the auction watching horses being pushed beyond belief. I tell everyone year after year the ones left standing are the real deal. They get sharper every year and we must know the tendencies of these sellers. If a horse is over weight from one seller they were hurt and couldn’t continue training. Yet another consignor all their horses are overweight, you have to be able to discern the difference. They keep getting smarter so I tell my people we have to keep getting smarter too.

OOF: Do you put a higher value and or emphasis colts or fillies, or does it matter?

TF: Some what, I see people year after get messed up with that, they have to do it on the track. Pedigree is important but we’re not going to get stopped by that, the sales companies filter out the lower level horses. Their so expensive to sell consignor won’t sell the lower level horses due to their reputation. It’s a very good process, consignor sell good horses, sales company appraise the horses and determine it they should be in the Fasig-Tipton, or another lower sale.

OOF: Do you find there is a larger partnership market for colts or fillies, or once again does it matter?

TF: I don’t think that really matters, more and more to people it doesn’t matter, I mean a good filly has a residual value but there’s no dream of the Derby.

OOF: One last question where do you see the future of West Point Thoroughbreds?

TF: I guarantee I’ll never do anything else; this is the first thing I think about in the morning, and the last thing I think about before I fall asleep. My wife runs the administration side; we have ten employees which makes us from an infrastructure side the biggest partner company. We know we’re in show business, nobody needs a horse on their investment portfolio there’s other investments they could make we understand that. We work hard to get good horses, to provide quality service and take care of our clients. It’s a privilege to own and be around the horses.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The little gray horse that COULD:

The first time we saw him my wife and I were having a cup of coffee together and watching replays on HRTV. It was about 7:30 on a crisp January morning (this was when HRTV still showed racing in the morning and not infomercials) when we saw a gray gelding being led on to the track “look at those stockings” my wife said. I looked to see that each of his legs had black stocking which ran from his hooves to virtually the entire length of his legs. This however was not his most distinguishing feature, on his face he had a blaze that can only be described as a white cross, which gave him an angelic apperance.

When the race began he broke well then promptly went to the back of the pack, in fact about five to six lengths behind the pack. I remember chuckling and as I walked out the door on my way to work saying something to the effect of oh well, he may not run well but he looks good. A couple of minutes later my wife called me with intense excitement in her voice “he won, he won,” “what” I blurted out “who won” “that gray horse with the black stockings he won,” “wow” I said “that’s amazing considering how far back he was.”

We began watching the horse whenever his races were televised and always admired how he came from the back of the pack to finish well. Over the nearly two years we watched him he was claimed four or five times seemingly each time moving on to bigger and better things. That was until his last claim, when a new trainer claimed him and everything seemed to change. Instead of charging hard in the stretch, instead of almost always coming in the money, he seemed to languish finishing 7th and 8th time after time. After watching somewhere around a half dozen of these races I contacted the trainer and was told he had “retired” him and sent him to a farm in Florida.

So it was quite a surprise when about a year and a half later I received a notice from a long forgotten virtual stable listing stating he had worked out. Worked out I thought, isn’t he retired, I called my wife and we talked about why he would be coming back. About a week later we watched his first race in over eighteen months with great anticipation. We watched him stretch out his legs, we watched him turn his head and stare at the crowd as he rounded the far turn, we watched him run.

It was then an idea came to me, my wife loves this horse and she does have a birthday coming up, the next day I contacted the trainer, David Markgraf. Dave is a very amiable guy and in my humble opinion a good trainer, he told me the horse had been sold to him and since he was completely sound he thought he would run him. I talked Dave into selling me ten percent of the horse, ten percent I reasoned would be a nice birthday present, yet if he didn’t run well wouldn’t break us either.

His first race with us as partial owners he ran third, not bad, his next race second, hey this is fun, his third race he finished seventh, oh well I thought there’s always next time, he came back with a second and a third. Slated to run on July 5th, my wife and I huddled by the computer to watch the replay and see how he did. We watched him line up in the gate number seven of nine horses, we watched as the gate opened him come out in ninth place, watched as he rounded out of the first turn in ninth place, watched him in seventh place as they entered the far turn, watched him in fifth place coming out of the far turn, watched him stare at the crowd, and then, we watched him win. My wife was screaming and encouraging him so loudly she was barely able to speak.

I give Dave a lot of credit for taking a chance on a horse no one else wanted to, for letting me buy ten percent to give my wife what she described as her best birthday present ever, and for most importantly allowing my wife to see her name in Equibase listed as a winning owner.

The little horse’s name is “Passed Over” and as my wife is fond of saying; he’s not passed over any more.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Want to “turn” Thoroughbred racing around…look to NASCAR

I walked into a store recently and saw hanging on a rack by the checkout counter a four inch by four inch piece of painted metal. The cardboard top which attached to the plastic wrapping that held the piece of metal read “Real NASCAR Sheet Metal, from a Real NASCAR.” The price for this small coke can flimsily piece of metal was $20.00, I asked the clerk when it became my time to pay if they sold very many of those and he replied “we can’t keep em in stock.”

That piece of metal, that little piece of painted aluminum, really struck a cord with me. My thoughts began to ponder why was it that while Thoroughbred racing is facing a crossroads of historic levels, NASCAR is selling pieces of metal as fast as they get to the store. The thought of how NASCAR got to where it’s at and could it translate to Thoroughbred racing began to consume me, as such I’ve spent many hours studying their market model and it’s potential translation.

Twenty years ago NASCAR racing was considered the poor cousin of Indy racing and essentially an outlet for “rednecks” (not my term, and no offense meant) to watch “souped” up cars go in circles around a track, now it’s the number two sport in America.

Here are some numbers which may catch your attention: according to “Kotler…Defining Marketing and the Marketing Process” NASCAR races are seen in 150 countries and in 23 languages by 75 million people, the average fan spends nearly $700 per year on NASCAR related items, about 240,000 people attend the Daytona 500, and over 250 big-name sponsors pay more then 1-billion per year for sponsorships and promotions, let me say that again – 1-Billion dollars a year - not bad for something once considered to be a sport for “rednecks” (again not my term).

Comparing TV ratings from the Breeders Cup and the Daytona 500 we find that according to BloodHorse magazine last years Breeders Cup event garnered a rating of .7 where ratings for this years Dayton 500 according to speed forum had a comparatively whopping ratings share of 10.2, and guess what folks TV ratings equate to corporate dollars.

So how did NASCAR do it how did they go from a preverbal bad joke to the number two sport, they did it through marketing (here’s where the TA DA sound should be) they reinvented themselves and sold that product to a now enamored public.

The first thing they did was sell the excitement, the speed, the sounds, the sights. Then they sold the drivers, they took their helmets off and had essentially glamour shots made of them, the effect was instead of looking like dirty astronauts they looked glamorous and cool (which also helps explain why almost half of NASCAR fans are female). They then sold the corporations and the media; well actually at this point the corporations and the media sold themselves, essentially getting into bidding wars to advertise and or broadcast their product.

Ok I know what you’re thinking, car racing and horse racing are completely different. Cars stick around, horses come and go, how can we ever sell this sport the way they sold that sport. Simple they didn’t sell Chevys, they didn’t sell Fords, they sold a sport. Sure there was some brand loyalty especially among the die hard fans, but that wasn’t what they sold, they sold excitement.

There is nothing more exciting then a stretch dual to the wire, anyone who says they would rather watch four hours of cars going in a circle compared to two minutes of intense fighting to the wire doesn’t understand Thoroughbred racing. The excitement of watching a horse purchased for $9,500 come out of no where to win the Kentucky Derby compared to watching cars drive in circles for four hours is like comparing a flash of lightening to watching paint dry.

The people of America want excitement, they crave it and in a downed economic time they need it. Ed Myers of River Downs once told me that the excitement of Thoroughbred racing was so addictive it was like “liquid heroin.” We have the product, we have the niche, if the people knew about what we have to offer they would crave it, we just have to tell them about it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Interview with: Alex Waldrop President, CEO NTRA

In December 2006, the membership of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association appointed Alex Waldrop as president and CEO. A past president of Churchill Downs and a former partner in the Kentucky-based law firm of Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs, Waldrop brought a wealth of industry experience to the NTRA, a coalition of horseracing interests and associations that includes owners, breeders, trainers and racetracks.

OOF: I was encouraged by the creation and mission of the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance which genuinely takes the steps to show that you are working to change the conditions and the ultimately the public perception of Thoroughbred racing, as such what are your feelings as to what the Alliance has accomplished so far?

ALEX: I am extremely proud of what the Alliance has accomplished thus far. The industry has rallied behind the Alliance and its mission to implement meaningful, uniform safety and integrity reforms. To date, five racetracks have been accredited by our Alliance inspection teams, five more tracks are in various stages of review and some 45 tracks have expressed interest in being reviewed over the next two years. Most gratifying of all has been the level of commitment from all industry stakeholders – tracks, horsemen, breeders, owners, trainers, jockeys, regulators, veterinarians and even fans - to make the objectives of the Alliance a reality. While much work remains before we have full implementation on a national level, the results to date are very promising.

OOF: I have been touting heavily for the past year that if Thoroughbred racing doesn’t create a strong governing body then congress will. The current undertakings and government intervention within the auto companies, banks, insurance companies (the list goes on) I believe up holds my theory insofar that the government has demonstrated if they have the power to do so they will intervene and take control, and with the Interstate Horseracing Act they have the power. I have also been heavily touting that the NTRA should be the organization (reference my article “Big Brother is Coming”) to take the reigns of control, that said how is the NTRA addressing the possibility of government intervention and the wresting of absolute control?

ALEX: Due to the industry’s reliance on pari-mutuel wagering as our principal source of revenue, it is highly doubtful that the individual racing states will ever willingly cede control of horse racing within their own states. It’s also highly doubtful that the racing industry would be regulated expertly or efficiently by the federal government. I also don’t think that most elected officials in Washington believe that the federal government should be involved in governing our sport. Our sport operates best when regulated by those who have strong local connections to and expertise in, and an appreciation for, the complex agribusiness that is the racing industry. All of these factors point to state regulation.

OOF: I have extensively studied the NASCAR marketing model in order to determine how the sport changed its public perception from one of populated by rednecks (not my term) to the heavily corporate endorsed number two sport in America and then thereby how said model could translate to Thoroughbred racing. I have found the major underlying factor of the change in public perception can be traced to the creation of a strong governing body. Once this was accomplished said body set about as a unified organization to woo corporations, networks and would be advertisers to become a part of the NASCAR team. The result has become a complete transformation into as previously stated the number two sport in America. I believe if the NTRA were to become the governing body and followed a similar marketing model the sport of Thoroughbred racing could be brought to what it once was. What are your thoughts as to how this may translate to the future of Thoroughbred racing?

ALEX: I’m not sure that racing will ever see a single governing body a la NASCAR for reasons stated above. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be governed in a strong, uniform way. The work of the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance is already moving the needle in that direction, in part by working cooperatively with the states. If we can achieve this goal, I believe that marketing benefits will follow.

OOF: One last question, what do you believe will be the impact of the Triple Crown races from a marketing standpoint whereby a Colt that sold for $9,500 ran away with the Derby, followed by a Filly winning the Preakness?

ALEX: The biggest marketing impact comes from the terrific story lines we saw this year, which translate into increased, broader public interest. The long shot nature of Mine That Bird’s victory put our sport immediately on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and then Rachel Alexandra’s Preakness win took things to an even higher level by bringing in a great many more casual fans including, of course, many females. Suddenly the sport was making the rounds from The Tonight Show to Letterman, which was terrific for us. Our challenge as an industry going forward is to convert as many of these casual fans into committed, year-round fans as possible.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Williams says Senate may end session Friday without considering slots

So read the headline, but it should have read Senate President David Williams is an idiot. By making statements like “the slots bill, you know, you can stick a fork in it, it’s done” or “we need to get out of town before some people in the House get in trouble,” when asked to explain that one he said, “you know what I mean by that” (uh… no I don’t) he has proven himself to be the biggest dolt since Homer Simpson (by the way look at his picture remove the hair and glasses and you know what they look remarkably similar humm…).

This is nothing more then politics at its worse the guy is obviously more worried about keeping his rear-end in office then taking care of his state. Apparently he looks at the horse industry as the proverbial “red headed step child” that he can kick around how ever he wants and still get away with it. But here’s what the short-sighted idiot still doesn’t seem to realize the millions of dollars that the Thoroughbred industry pumps into the Kentucky economy today doesn’t mean it will be there tomorrow.

All he would have to do to see an example of that fact is to look north to Ohio. At one point it was a place where people in neighboring states flocked to in order to find jobs. But a funny thing happened along the way the politicians became fat and sassy, when other states began offering businesses tax breaks to move their companies Ohio politicians balked at matching the offers and guess what…they moved. Dayton a once thriving city is a veritable ghost town with probably a third of the city boarded up, and the largest building in the city in foreclosure.

So go ahead state Senator Williams and play political games and watch the fallout you cause, but hey you won’t be in office very much longer anyway.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I'll never own a major sports franchise, but I can own part of a horse and maybe, just maybe..

I’ve heard that in various forms a lot lately as I talk to people about Thoroughbred racing. Now don’t get me wrong I’m not talking about the average every day person you may meet on the street. No, I’m talking about a sports fan, someone who loves sports, someone who understands the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” and loves them both (ok…the victory part’s a lot more fun but you know what I mean).

It never ceases to amaze me how when I speak with people their facial expressions predictably and invariably change. As I begin talking about my love of Thoroughbred racing it’s the snarled nose and “oh, you like horse racing” response. But as I tell them about the thrill of racing, when I paint the picture of the excitement it generates, the intense highs, and yes lows their facial expression turns to interest and even a little excitement. When I talk with them about horses like John Henry, Funny Cide and now Mine That Bird noticeable excitement grows; but it’s when they learn how partnerships / syndicates are affordable and within their budget, the light bulb goes off (I can literally almost see the thing light up above their head) and their facial expression becomes one of passion it’s then when the inevitable response is blurted out “I'll never own a major sports franchise, but I can own part of a horse and maybe, just maybe”..

These individuals, these sports fans are what I believe is an untapped avenue of new blood, new owners and most importantly new money into the sport. At a time when the horse industry is suffering at historical levels can we afford to ignore this new market. Or, is it time to “think outside the box” to take that leap and go after this market. I’m out there every day working for Thoroughbred racing as the song says “sowing the seeds of love” because I believe the long term benefits are tremendous. I believe in Thoroughbred racing, I see it for what it is, what it was and I envision what it can be, it just takes difference makers and people who care about getting it there, I’m working on it every day, are you?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Thinking Outside the Box

Brains are pattern recognition systems which allow us to recognize objects and situations very quickly. However, pattern recognition can work against us and make us fixed in our thinking - making it difficult to be creative. The good news is that we can use lateral thinking techniques to break out of old ways of thinking and boost creativity…i.e. “Thinking Outside the Box.”

The customary model of attracting new buyers is through means such as “word of mouth”, being written about in thoroughbred publication, or even advertising in said publications. This has worked well and if continued will be an adequate method of attracting new business. But there’s and old saying “if you do the same thing, expect the same results”, if you’re happy with adequate results then - stop reading. However if you would like to learn how to, by using demographics and technology, discover the potential for dramatically increasing buyers – read on!

By using demographics to pin point the type of individual who may be attracted to becoming Thoroughbred owners and then technology to attract them I have found an untapped market which could be akin to a literal gold mine. But before you read any further you may want to reread the first paragraph because in order to fully grasp the following concepts you’re going to have use “lateral thinking.”

According to (1) around 16 million Americans play fantasy sports across major online fantasy sports sites. From a financial stand point, “64% of fantasy football consumers make over $75,000 and 10% of fantasy football consumers make over $150,000 per year - demonstrating financial wherewithal to become syndicate partners. From an intellectual demographic stand point 73% of fantasy football consumers hold a college degree or better – demonstrating the intellect to understand the intricacies of horse racing and betting. From an age standpoint, 76% of fantasy football consumers are between 18 and 49 years old – demonstrating by their relative young age their income has the potential to show large increases. According to a study by the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, "the people who play fantasy are more into sports, more hard-core than the average fan” – demonstrating they would be more likely to be interested in Thoroughbred racing. These people fit the demographics to potentially become owners the trick is how to we turn them from fantasy owners into real ones.

Three words, “Behavior Targeting Marketing” which as the title suggests literally targets individuals based upon their behavior. In this case as the 16 million previously mentioned individuals search for fantasy information an ad pops up directing them to click on it. The ad campaign is only limited to the imagination to those who write it – but lets say it’s something like “turn fantasy into reality.” Current market trends show a three percent rate of return on this type of specialized advertising. Using these figures a full blown ad campaign designed to reach all 16 million individuals would generate a hit rate of 480,000. If then there by 1% of these individuals decide to become owners that would mean 4,800 (ok I know that math was easy) new Thoroughbred owners (what would that do for your bottom line), the potential result would be an unlimited and uncapped end number. The determining factor would undeniably be the marketing campaign and if the individuals by same were enticed to become owners.

This type of campaign would be expensive and in hard economic times you’re probably asking yourself can I afford to do this, the reality however is you should be telling yourself I can’t afford not to do this. Here are two examples of how marketing and more specifically a quality marketing campaign will generate sales.

One: General Mills vs. Post – during the years leading up to the “great “depression these companies were neck and neck in sales, both advertised heavily and were always looking for new ways to attract new customers. However when the depression began Post pulled back on their marketing reasoning money was tight and to survive they would need as much of it as possible. Inversely General Mills plowed ahead with their marketing campaigns and put as much money as they could into them, the result are obvious to this day!

Two: The infamous Pet-Rock, in 1975 millions of people, during tough economic times, spent money to buy a “rock.” Why, because of marketing, their commercials targeted a specific audience and were broadcast at times to maximize same such as the Saturday Night Live viewers. The campaign itself then caught people’s attention; it excited them and drove them to buy the product. The end result being that within six months the inventor, Gary Dahl, became a millionaire.

The moral of the story is this keep doing the same thing and receiving adequate results (and take the risk of becoming a Post, or worse), or “Think Outside the Box” and take the chance to reap the rewards.

If anyone would like help in any capacity to devise this type of campaign I would be glad to consult with you in any manner, simply email me at

Friday, May 29, 2009

FREE RACEHORSES!!…certain conditions apply…

Sound crazy…it’s not, Under Section 179,of the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 and extended into 2009, horse owners who purchase horses or other business property and put them into service in 2009 are allowed to expense up to $250,000.

How it works…Suppose a horse business, or individuals wishing to form a horse business, purchase $250,000 of depreciable property in 2009, including (for example) $200,000 for horses. That business could then write off the entire $250,000 on its 2009 tax return…hey…what was the title to this blog…oh yeah!

Certain Conditions Apply…For a horse to be eligible, (or property) it cannot have been used for any purpose before it is purchased. The IRS regulations give specific examples in the case of horses as follows:

On April 1, 2000, E acquires a horse to be used in E’s thoroughbred racing business. On October 1, 2003, F buys the horse from E and will use the horse in F’s horse breeding business. The use of the horse by E in its racing business prevents the original use of the horse commencing with F. Thus, F’s purchase price of the horse does not qualify for the additional first year depreciation deduction.

But wait, there’s still more…If the capital outlay exceeds $250,000 the business is allowed to depreciate the remaining balance as an example:

A horse business in 2009 pays $500,000 for a colt / filly to be used for racing and $50,000 for other depreciable property, bringing total purchases to $550,000. The young horse having never been raced or used for any other purpose before the purchase (as prior discussed). The business would be able to expense $250,000 (as explained above), deduct another $150,000 of bonus depreciation (50% of the $300,000 remaining balance), and take regular depreciation on the $150,000 balance. Now I’ve never been a wiz at math but if you subtract $550,000 from $550,000, lets see that comes to…hey…what was the title to this blog…oh yeah!

Ok, great but…why have these facts not become the focal point of a marketing campaign to potential new owners. A review of the TOBA web site reveled under “Business Issues – Tax Issues” that there is no mention of the above tax laws. In fact under “depreciation” TOBA sites the pre Section 179 laws “Horses may generally be depreciated over three to seven years. Longer periods of depreciation may be elected, and always apply in the case of foreign-based horses. Racehorses over two years old and breeding horses over 12 are depreciated over three years; all others are depreciated over seven years.”

Soapbox time…I have long held to the fact that if the general public knew the thrills and excitement Thoroughbred racing and more distinctly ownership brings they would flock to it. The truth is you don’t have to be a King to be a part of the “Sport of Kings”. Partnerships and syndicates offer an enormous opportunity for individuals to become owners in this great sport. The underlying and essential problem in this equation however is the general public has no idea as to how intensely exciting the sport is and therefore no interest in the possibility of becoming owners. Much less that ownership is affordable to a tremendous amount of the population think of all the fantasy sports players (a future blog) that if they were educated to the possibilities of ownership and indoctrinated to the sheer excitement of seeing their horse race (and especially win) would flock to it. I have done the demographics on fantasy players there are millions of them, a high majority being college educated with incomes which would support their being able to become initial partners and long term sole owners. But, unfortunately and sadly for the sport until “some” organization educates them (there are many venues besides massively expensive marketing campaigns to do so) then this lost segment will remain so, and Thoroughbred racing will be the worst off for it.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mistakes of the Past?

While studying the history of Thoroughbred racing I came upon an interesting comparison of the market as it is now and how it was a hundred and seventy years ago.

In the late 1820 to early 1830’s speculative fever reached a high point across America the prices of everything soared and money poured into businesses across the nation from the coffers of banks and individual investors.

Horse breeders borrowed heavily from banks and investors to expand their acreage and stables. They brought in so much money from selling each crop of horses that every year they doubled and tripled the number of foals they produced.

However when the economy collapsed in 1837 breeders found themselves trapped with an oversupply of a product no longer in demand. The effect within the industry was predictable as across the board prices plummeted and the business of selling horses took a nose dive.

Although by no means is the Thoroughbred industry the only business which has replicated errors of the past, just look at the daily bail outs to prove that, but the comparison is eerily similar and illustrates well the old saying that “if you don’t heed the mistakes of the past you are bound to repeat them”.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Bob Feld - Bongo Stables

OOF: With 3 Breeders Cup winners, national prominence by The Blood-Horse Market Watch and two of the first 24 yearlings you bought or 12% winning Graded Stakes races – obviously you have a good eye for horse flesh, what are some of the things you look for?

BOB: There are two things that seem to jump out at me when a horse first comes out of the stall and walks towards me and they are balance and athleticism. After that I like a strong shoulder. I am very particular about conformation even though I know good horses have faults. I tend to lean towards perfect though and I am constantly learning what I can live with and what I can't

OOF: When we were looking at horses together at the Fasig-Tipton sale in July you depicted one horse as having a “racy” look to him, how would you describe a “racy” look?

BOB: Looking at horses is so esoteric. It is such a personal thing. People tend to land on the same horse at the sales but it really comes down to personal preference. Racy is definitely a "look" but it is hard to describe. Everything about the horse flows. It has "good lines." To break it down and make a simple analogy I think most people looking at a Chevy Corvette sitting next to a Ford Fiesta would say that the Corvette looks racier.

OOF: The story of the filly Debie Ginsburg is wonderful, I saw a promotion about her before a race on HRTV and it honestly touched me what influenced your decision to name the horse after Debie?

BOB: Debie and I had been friends for years. She worked for the California Breeders' magazine and did a lot of her work and research in their library that is open to the public. It is a very nice library that I have spent a lot of time in doing research20myself. Debie LOVED the game and it was her life. She asked me one day if she could interview me about how I name my horses. I told her absolutely. Years had gone by and she never interviewed me. There were always other stories taking precedence and I teased her relentlessly about it. When she unexpectedly passed away at such an early age I thought it would be neat to honor her with a horse in her name. I thought, let Debie Ginsburg the horse write the story, which she has. When she won her debut it was one of the great days of racing for me!

OOF: You have been involved with pretty much all aspects of the Thoroughbred business from hot walking to working with your brother who trained, to selling shares with Team Valor, to now owning and running your own stable of horses through Bongo Racing Stables, what has been the most difficult and the most rewarding?

BOB: The difficulty is always finding clients. It is a never ending search and you c an never have enough it seems like. The most rewarding part is easy. Watching a horse I bought at auction win. To me there is no feeling in the world like winning a race with a yearling purchase. When you are fortunate enough to have a yearling purchase like Balance, who won three grade 1's and went into the starting gate for the Kentucky Oaks as the favorite, it is a great feeling of achievement.

OOF: Which horse in your stable would you consider the best at this moment Rush Rush, Majormotionpicture or another?

BOB: There is no doubt in my mind it is Majormotionpicture. He is the most talented horse I have ever been around. He is amazing. He does everything so easily. His stride is incredibly long and smooth. I liken him to Tiger Woods when he joined the tour. I felt in my heart Tiger was the greatest player that ever lived. I remember arguing with my friends fathers who watched Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus in their primes. They had a "show me" an attitude which is proper and natural. Until Tiger started breaking their records it was all conjecture. Talk is cheap in this game and I just hope Majormotionpicture gets a chance to show everyone what I know in my heart. I am looking forward to a fun ride with him in 2009.

OOF: One more question, how’s the weather in Southern California?

BOB: Believe it or not as I type this it is pouring down rain in sunny California! I am still wearing my shorts though :)