A few days before this year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), conditioner Dallas Stewart and West Point Thoroughbreds president Terry Finley stood on a trainers' stand waiting for their Commanding Curve to make an appearance on the track. Asked by a reporter if they would be satisfied with a second-place finish by the Master Command ridgling, Stewart was adamant, having finished second in the Derby a year before with longshot Golden Soul.
"No," Stewart said in his Cajun accent. "I've been there, and finishing second ain't nothin'."
Reminded of that conversation a month after his Commanding Curve indeed finished second in the Derby, Finley, who didn't get to answer the original question, weighed in.
"I would not have taken that deal," he said. "I felt pretty good about the Derby. You're in it to win it, but coming out of there it was pretty darn cool to run a very good second."
Commanding Curve's late charge got him within 1 3/4 lengths of winner California Chrome and, after skipping the Preakness (gr. I), West Point is taking another crack at the dual classic winner in the June 7 Belmont Stakes (gr. I).
Finley, who as a child accompanied his father to numerous racetracks around the Philadelphia area and began working at horse farms before he was a teenager, started West Point Thoroughbreds after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy and a subsequent eight-year career in the Army. For the past decade the partnership group has enjoyed a rather steady stream of top runners, including grade I winners Dream Rush, Irish Smoke, Awesome Gem, Flashy Bull, Lear's Princess, and Macho Again, the last-named a participant in the 2008 Belmont, as was Freedom Child last year.
Finley relocated the West Point offices from New Jersey to Saratoga Springs, N.Y., last year, and the organization remains popular with would-be investors, many of whom checked in after Commanding Curve's Derby.
"We certainly monitor the number of people contacting us; there was a spike on the website after the Derby and it has stayed up at that level," Finley noted. "There has been a crush of people looking to start a dialogue about getting into the horse business. There is a lot of competition so we fight and scratch for investors, but as the brand has been around a bit, that has helped us."
West Point has 70 horses in training, and typically will purchase 25-30 per year at auction and off the racetrack. It has prided itself in customer service since its inception, and at racetracks from coast to coast a contingent of West Point investors enjoying themselves is a common sight. Technology has allowed West Point and its 500 partners to keep close tabs on their horses and each other.
"We use software that allows us to have two-way communication with all the partners," said Finley. "It's like an intranet for each horse and it's really gotten people involved. People upload their pictures and videos from the Derby and everybody sees them and it's spawned more friendships within the partnerships."
Fourteen partners have a share in Commanding Curve, who was third in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) and has banked $542,434 to date.
"Commanding Curve is not a horse who is going to wow you in his breezes, which is why a lot of people jumped off him before the Derby," said Finley. "But when he gets in gear he keeps plugging away and coming, and he gets along with (jockey) Shaun Brigmohan really well, so we're going into the Belmont with a lot of confidence. Everybody in the race is conflicted to a certain extent. California Chrome has had such a positive effect on the business and has run so well, but if you have one good enough to run in these classics you go for it. They are tough to come by and the races are hard to win. And we need to win one of these suckers. But if we don't, hopefully California Chrome does and we'll be dancing in the streets."