Trainer Dale Romans recalled having a horse for an 80-plus year-old owner who had a history of firing trainers. Romans raced the horse, a claimer, at Belmont Park, and it won easily.
Romans said the “grouchy” owner, who was ill, called him after the race and told him it didn’t look good.
“I’m not coming out of (the hospital) this time,” the owner told Romans. “I just wanted to let you know that from the eighth pole home, I was 28 again.”
“That’s what racing can do for you,” Romans said, noting the man died four days later.
Romans and one of his owners, Jim Culver of Dream Team One Racing Stable, discussed Thoroughbred ownership and training May 3 at an ownership seminar offered by the Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association at Churchill Downs. The seminar is regularly held the week of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
Romans and Culver offered an interesting look into the dynamics of the owner-trainer relationship, costs, and advance research before making an investment. They said making money is nice, but there is so much more to horse ownership.
Culver, who owns Mucho Macho Man, third in last year’s Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and entered in the $300,000 Alysheba Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs May 4, said he has owned horses for 12 years and “found” Romans five years ago. Romans trains three of the stable’s horses, and the other five or six trainers have three or four horses.
Culver said much depends on the quality of the horse and where it will run. He said he “watches trainers from a distance” for a while before making a decision.
“When we first started we used ‘small’ trainers, and as owners we got a lot of attention that way because they are very hands-on,” Culver said. “As we got bigger, we wanted to see if it made a difference by hiring trainers that were more accomplished.”
Romans, who has a full-scale training center outside of Louisville, Ky., and a breeding farm in Central Kentucky, has many horses on several circuits, including New York and Florida. He said “big” doesn’t necessarily mean lack of attention to owners’ horses.
“We’ve earned the right to train that many horses,” Romans said. “We have very good help; we have a good team. When you hire me, you hire our entire team.
“We got big for a reason. I try to see all the horses, but the biggest thing (a head trainer) does is fix problems. There are a lot of excellent trainers out there who just don’t want to grow their business that big.”
Culver said he and his partners enjoy being involved in racing, but he leaves decisions up to the trainers. He said he has a good relationship with Romans, and that trust is important.
“I don’t need to know every detail (about every horse),” Culver said. “When it becomes a problem, then I need to know.”
Said Romans: “If (an issue with a horse) isn’t going to be well in a week, then we need to talk about it. I have some owners that want to get educated on the backside and hang at the barn, and that’s fine.”
One of them is Jerry Crawford of Donegal Racing, which has Dullahan in the May 5 Kentucky Derby. Crawford is involved in racehorse selection with a goal of having Triple Crown-type horses, and he has succeeded in two of the first three years.
Culver said he relies heavily on the opinions of his trainers, as well as veterinarians and bloodstock agents, when purchasing horses. He said he prefers to start at yearling sales.
As for cost, Culver said the “day rate”—what trainers charge each day for the care of one horse—varies from $50 at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races to $110 at Saratoga and other major tracks. But he and Romans suggested owners should ask what’s included in the day rate and what the total bill would be each month.
“What’s your total bill?” Romans said. “There are cases where the vet bill is as much as the training bill. I try to make my day rate all-encompassing.”
“Be careful of low (day rates) and what they provide,” Culver said.
Culver said the stable likes to make money and cover costs, but horse racing is about much more.
“The relationships you have and the friendships you build are just invaluable,” Culver said. You really can’t put a value on it.”