Commentary: Howdy, Partner

Commentary: Howdy, Partner
Photo: Lee Thomas
Dan Liebman
Executive Editor

When the bidding stopped at $2.2 million Aug. 7 at the Humphrey S. Finney pavilion, a strapping son of Mr. Greeley had become the sale topper of the annual Fasig-­Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale.

But what was the most interesting thing about the proceedings was not the breeder (Rob Whiteley’s Liberation Farm and Dr. Chris Elia’s Oratis operation), consignor (Gainesway Farm, agent), or sire of the colt, but the buyer and underbidder.

We’ve grown accustomed to Demi O’Byrne, representing John Magnier and partners’ Coolmore Stud operation, and John Ferguson, who buys for Sheikh Mohammed, signing the tickets for most of the highest-priced yearlings sold in North America (and elsewhere). But pen in hand to sign the sale ticket for hip 142 was Barry Irwin, head of Team Valor, who outbid agent Buzz Chace, who was acting on behalf of Terry Finley’s West Point Thoroughbreds.

Two men who put together partnerships bidding against each other for a select sale topper; now there’s something you don’t see every day.

It is hard to know when the first “official” limited partnership was formed, but many credit Cot Campbell of Dogwood Stable with pioneering the concept roughly 35 years ago.

Irwin and a partner started Team Valor 30 years ago when it was known as Clover Racing. The first horse they purchased, Political Ambition, became a grade I winner. Since then, such horses as Prized, Star of Cozzene, Captain Bodgit, and Ipe Tombe, have put partnership members in the winner’s circle.

West Point, started about 16 years ago, is having its best season ever, having won its first grade I this summer when the just retired Flashy Bull won the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I). Dream Rush has since added a pair of grade I victories.

Team Valor, West Point, and Dogwood are three of countless successful partnerships that have helped introduce thousands of new investors to the Thoroughbred business.

The fact they have investors willing to own part of a $2.2-million yearling is an encouraging sign at a time when many breeders and consignors are complaining about a lack of new owners. Of course, the need for new owners has been a battle cry for years, and various recruitment efforts have had mostly disappointing results.

Those who invest in partnerships, like any single owner of a horse, always stand the chance of losing every penny invested. But the risk is spread in partnerships, making them attractive to many individuals that have always wanted to own Thoroughbreds.

One such person, Robert Behling, who wanted to participate for years, did his due diligence and wrote a check for a modest amount last year to Bongo Racing, a California-based outfit headed by Bob Feld. Now, he finds himself the owner of 2.5% of Sun Boat, who won the San Diego Handicap (gr. II) and will start next in the $1-million Pacific Classic (gr. I).

“People I never met before have congratulated me and I didn’t do anything; I just bought in,” Behling said. “The credit goes to Bob (Feld). He’s a down-to-earth guy who has been straight with me on everything.”

To encourage others to similarly invest, one suggestion might be to take Irwin, Finley, Campbell, and others and travel the country with them in a barnstorming recruitment effort.

Ever read an advertisement advising you to show up at a hotel ballroom and hear how to play the stock market, learn speed reading, or make money selling on eBay?

What if the ad said come listen to experts in Thoroughbred partnerships explain how to become an owner while minimizing your risk through fractional ownership.

Provide the attendees with information on partnerships, from those wanting an initial investment of $100,000 to those requiring only 1% of that amount. Let the speakers explain about the structure, pitfalls, and expenses. Be candid about the odds of racing a stakes winner.

With the proper information, a person can then make an informed decision.

They may end up owning 2.5% of a grade I starter or watching a yearling be purchased for $2.2 million.

They may wind up experiencing the thrill of owning a racehorse. And do so with partners.

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