When Barry Irwin, president and founder of the Kentucky Derby-winning partnership group Team Valor International, is asked about his greatest triumph during his 25-year tenure in the business, his answer is always the same.
“I know I’ve won a lot of good races with a lot of good horses, but when people ask me what my biggest accomplishment has been, I always answer, ‘Just staying in business this long, because it’s so tough,’ " Irwin said.
The Kentucky-based industry veteran, who took his business to a new level when Animal Kingdom won this year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), reached yet another significant milestone when Summer Soiree prevailed in the Aug. 20 Del Mar Oaks (gr. I). Irwin is in the midst of his 25th season syndicating and managing racehorses, and Summer Soiree is his 25th individual grade I winner.
Irwin started under the banner of Clover Racing Stable in 1987 and has made an international impact since 1993 as Team Valor, which also bred Animal Kingdom and races him in an LLC comprised of 20 partners.
Irwin bought his first grade I winner, Political Ambition (1987 Hollywood Derby) and his 25th, Summer Soiree, from Brereton Jones, who is the breeder of both. Jones’ son Bret also co-bred Summer Soiree.
The Del Mar Oaks nearly represented a full circle because Clover Racing scored its first big win in the same race in 1987 with Lizzy Hare when it was a grade II event.
“It makes me feel good that I’ve lasted this long and that I was able to duplicate that (Del Mar Oaks win),” Irwin said.
Looking back to the 1987 Del Mar Oaks, Irwin said he was convinced Lizzy Hare would fare well in the race. He wasn’t as sure about his own longevity in the horse business, however.
“(Lizzy Hare) had a prep race (before the Del Mar Oaks) and had run fourth and finished real well,” Irwin said. “So we were confident she could win it. But I wasn’t that confident that the business I had just entered—forming partnerships—would actually survive that long.
“(The business) has gone through so many different germinations, so this milestone is a huge accomplishment, and we’re happy about it.”