Jack Wolf and Donald Lucarelli Starlight Racing
Thursday Sept 13, 2007 at 3 p.m. (ET)
Starlight Racing Team principals Jack Wolf and Donald Lucarelli visit Talkin' Horses "live" from the site of the 2007 Keeneland Yearling Sale as they discuss their current and past on track successes -- with such noted runners as Harlan's Holiday, Keyed Entry, and Octave -- as well as their activities at the sale, where Starlight will be offering partnerships in the yearlings they acquire for the first time.
Jack and Laurie Wolf are both longtime racing fans, who founded Starlight Stables in 2000 when they purchased six yearlings at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale. Among the group was a bay colt by Harlan that developed into multiple Grade 1 winner Harlan’s Holiday and launched Starlight into racing’s stratosphere.
A native of Louisville, Kentucky, Jack earned a master’s degree in economics from Murray State University in Kentucky and went on to teach and become a hedge fund manager with Columbus Partners in Atlanta before retiring to concentrate on racing. Born in DeRidder, Louisiana, Laurie graduated from McNeese State University with a degree in communications and theater. The couple resides in Louisville and Saratoga Springs, New York.
Donald and Barbara Lucarelli live in upstate New York and have spent part of every summer for three decades at Saratoga Race Course, envisioning the day when they might have their own racehorses. When Donald Lucarelli’s family business, Bellevue Builders Supply, was sold in 2004, the couple decided to invest in some runners. They turned to the Wolfs, whom they had met at a party the year before, and immediately scored with Grade 2 winner Keyed Entry.
In 2006, the Lucarellis were able to enjoy their first Saratoga stakes winner and first Breeders’ Cup starter with Starlight’s Octave, who has blossomed into a multiple Grade 1 winner this year.
Congrats on all your success. Can you comment on the response to your new partnership program, and how active do you feel you'll be at the Keeneland sale? Thanks, and, as always, best of luck.
We have completely sold out one partnership package and a large portion of another one. Each partnership consists of three or four horses. The new partners include some very high-profile participants in the business. But we’re also looking for first-time owners to join us.
We have had a lot of interest from different segments of the horse industry. With the pedigrees of the yearlings we purchased from the Keeneland September yearling sale, it only helps the partners since we believe the horses will be strong investments. Going into this sale, we knew we wanted to buy more colts than fillies to balance some of the packages. We purchased five colts and two fillies, of which six were bought on the first day and one on the second day, all being purchased under Starlight Racing when you review the sales report.
New Orleans, LA:
What is the structure of your new partnerships?
Our partnerships are very different than any others in racing that we are aware of in the sense that there are no mark-ups in the cost of the horses purchased and no fees assessed monthly. Additionally, we are equity partners with every investor on every horse. We also don't take any percentage of the purses (except what part we own, just as all the partners would) until a horse earns $1 million. At that point, we would start to a slightly higher percentage of the purses.
If we get a stallion/broodmare prospect that the partnership sells, then we get a sliding scale percentage before the funds are distributed to the partners based on their ownership. We feel at this point we have done our job in providing you with a special horse and a special opportunity.
The partnerships are general partnerships and there can be certain economic and tax advantages with this structure. Of course, every investor has to check with his or her own tax and legal advisors on what might be best for them. The way our partnerships are composed, our partners will be considered active partners
Do you have a link to your web site where the partnerships are being offered?
Yes. By going to starlightracing.com, you can learn about our team, including our bloodstock agent, Barry Berkelhammer, and our trainer, three-time Eclipse Award winner Todd Pletcher. We also have a link that shows all of our yearling purchases this year.
What yearlings do you have on your list to bid for?
We have bought seven yearlings at the sale and have concluded our purchases. Our new horses are: colts by Giant’s Causeway, Unbridled’s Song, Gone West, Pulpit, and Seeking the Gold, and fillies by Giant’s Causeway and Unbridled’s Song. We will soon download the pedigrees of our purchases on our website for review.
On day one of the sale, if you include the yearling that we bought privately after it was RNA’d, we were actually the fourth-leading buyer by gross, behind only John Ferguson, Demi O’Byrne and Shadwell Estate Co. In the past, we have had great success buying from the first book of the Keeneland September sale. We bought Grade 1 winners Ashado, Purge and Octave from the first book. We go out and have veterinarians examine a lot of horses—spending a lot of money in the process. We find a lot of people can be intimidated by Keeneland’s first book, which is filled with well-bred, potentially expensive horses, but we find we can get a very good horse at a reasonable price. For example, we have great expectations for the Gone West colt we bought that is the first foal out of Grade 2 winner Yearly Report and for the Unbridled’s Song colt out of Grade 1 winner Stormy Pick.
What are your views on how a woman should get started in Thoroughbred racing as a jockey? I am wishing to begin this and am wondering if you have ever put a female rider on one of your horses? Do females face tougher issues in Thoroughbred racing?
Many young women get involved in the business by galloping horses, either at farms, training centers or racetracks, and some can progress on to becoming jockeys. We leave the decision on who will ride our horses up to our trainer, Todd Pletcher. We are very fortunate in that Todd has America’s best riders—John Velazquez, Garrett Gomez and Edgar Prado—ride the majority of our horses. We have great respect for all riders, men and women. We all remember when jockey Julie Krone, riding Halfbridled, defeated our Ashado in the 2003 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I). Women do face some tougher issues in order to stand out and gain respect in a very competitive business.
I always thought it was odd that you decided to sell Ashado, even if you weren't going to race her again. She would have made a great broodmare. Why'd you decide to sell her?
Emotionally, it was very difficult to sell her, but there were two other partners involved and we really like to consider all partners’ input in such decisions. It was the consensus of the three partners to sell Ashado instead of breeding her and raising or selling her foals. I don’t think we could have provided her with as good a home as the one the Darley team has given her. Plus, the financial return from her sale has allowed us to buy other promising prospects. Without horses like Ashado, it’s very costly to continue to purchase yearlings. We prefer the racing side of the business to the breeding side.
San Gabriel, CA:
Where will Octave run next?
She worked Sunday at Belmont Park, going five furlongs in 1:00 1/5, and will breeze this weekend again in preparation for the $750,000 Fitz Dixon Cotillion Handicap (gr. II). The thought process here was it allowed her an extra week of rest since she ran three races in seven weeks, and the schedule allows her the needed rest in prep for the Beeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I).
How do you spot a good horse at a yearling sale? Isn't it kind of a tossup of if the horse you are looking at will be good? Are there any misleading physical attributes that you would think make a good horse but in the long run don't?
I wish we had this one totally figured out. The fact is that we rely mostly on our bloodstock agent, who will come up with a short list of horses, and his track record speaks for itself. I think most people realize that when we buy these horses we don't know their desire and heart—or if they can run--and that's the risk factor that all need to be aware of.
Barry Berkelhammer has been purchasing all our horses for the last 8 ½ years at all three major yearling sales—Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July, Fasig-Tipton Saratoga and Keeneland September. His first priority is trying to find the most athletic horse with the best conformation and pedigree. By buying at these three sales, our average price per yearling this year is $208,000. The average price we paid for the yearlings we bought from the first book of the September sale is $310,000. Barry is very particular about finding horses with a sloping shoulder and a powerful hip. The yearlings also have to be well balanced and exhibit an athletic walk.
When you are looking at yearlings, is there anything specific you search for? Or is there anything that would immediately turn you off?
We are trying to buy a horse that can win the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). We’ve been fortunate enough to have won the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) with Ashado and we have had three of our horses start in the Derby. In fact, our Harlan’s Holiday was the favorite in the 2002 Kentucky Derby. An immediate turn-off would be a bad vet report or serious conformation defects.
We tend to look for a horse that's athletic and precocious, that has the look and maturity to be able to run early. We also are trying to find horses that can run the classic distances.
Congratulations on your success! How does it feel to be a part of racing history?
We are very honored and humbled to succeed at a business our families truly love.
It's hard for me to describe how fortunate I feel being part of this since 2004 and having horses like Keyed Entry, Octave, Minefield, and Sam P. I wish I was able to get in earlier and have part of Ashado, Purge, and Harlan's Holiday.
I am a big fan of Octave, and am so happy she has been doing so well, despite being born the same year as Rags to Riches. My question is: will she run next year as a four year old? (I've met Mrs. Lucarelli in the paddock at Aqueduct and have had the pleasure of talking with her a few times about Octave. Very nice lady!). I wish you all the best of luck with Octave, Sam P. and the rest of your horses.
First, I think Mrs. Lucarelli is great, too, that's why we have been together since we were 13 years old. This horse has brought so much happiness to both our families that we have always planned on running her through four-year-old season. Octave is such a kind filly. Jack's kids and ours can go right in the stall and hug her and she soaks it all up. Thanks for the kind words.
Laurie and I are so fortunate to have the Lucarellis as partners. They take the good news with the bad news and are always there as friends. Our 2007 plans for Octave will conclude with the Cotillion at Philadelphia Park and the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Monmouth Park, and assuming she comes out of these races in good order, we do plan on racing her as a four-year-old.
Congratulations on your success! I hope you have much more in store for you in the future! Say hello to Octave for me, please. She is so beautiful.
I'm not sure if you've seen her in person, but when we bought her, I remember what Jack and Laurie said: if she could run as good as she looks, she'll win a grade I race. If you are at a race of hers, please look us up and we will bring you in the walking ring.
Commack, New York:
Hi Jack and Laurie, I retired from NYRA a couple of years ago after forty-four wonderful years with the company which included riding horses and working in the Mutuel Department. I want your readers to know that you guys are an inspiration to the game and were two of the nicest and most courteous fans that I had ever had the privilege of serving. There are TWO people that LOSE in this game and they are the HORSE PLAYER and the HORSE OWNER. EVERYONE else gets paid or is on a payroll, Jocks, Trainers, Vets, Blacksmith, Groom, Ex Rider, Feed Man, Agents, Valets, Van Drivers, Administration, etc. I can say that you two are an exception as I think you are both WINNERS. People like you made it tough for me to retire. Thanks for your kindness. Jim
We feel the same way about you, even though I never bought a winning ticket from your window. Laurie says she misses your smiling face and to come and visit us in Kentucky.
Do you think you have a realistic chance of beating RTR in the BC and why?
It's true Rags to Riches is a special horse, but we feel that Octave always fires her best each time, and until we see differently, we feel that she should be given the chance. In races like this, a lot depends on the trip, and although Octave has not always enjoyed the luckiest trip in the past, things have a way of evening out.
According to Todd Pletcher, no, we don’t. But I don’t agree.
Jack, this one's for you. As a native of Louisville, Ky., at what age did you start going to the track? You must have seen many great horses and riders in your time. Which ones stand out most in your mind? Thanks for your time.
I started going to the track with my mother and brother at the age of eight or nine at Miles Park and Churchill Downs. The one horse that stands out in my mind is the horse I bet on at Miles Park that decided to take a right turn, jump the rail and was last seen on Algonquin Parkway. R. A. “Cowboy” Jones was one of my favorite riders and Earlie Fires was a regular at Miles, also. Two of my favorite horses of all time would have to be Swale and Monarchos, since both gave me the thrill of winning the Kentucky Derby after I picked them. Ashado and Harlan’s Holiday obviously have a very special place in my heart.
San Buenaventura, CA:
One of the most difficult decisions within a partnership group is when to sell a horse for a profit. Exposure for the managing partner, action for the syndicate and the ability to get the partners to agree to a majority decision are all factors. Any insight?
I am the managing partner and I can be removed by the other partners. I take into serious consideration the views of the other partners in making these decisions. Keep in mind the main purpose of our partnership is to find quality racehorses to eventually be sold as stallion or broodmare prospects. When to sell depends on the soundness of the horse, the amount of money being offered, Todd Pletcher’s opinion on future racing potential, Barry Berkelhammer’s input and the input of the partners.
Congratulations to the Wolf family, I personally met Jack and Laurie. Wonderful people; the best for them and friends. -- Ex-exercise rider, William Cacho.
Thanks for the kind words. We wish the best for you, too.
Todd Pletcher seems so low key. Is he different in person with his owners?
We are very fortunate to have Todd as our trainer since I feel he’s the best trainer in the world. We don’t have enough space to mention all his attributes, but a few of them are: his organizational skills, his communication skills, his horsemanship skills, his accessibility, his honesty and his sense of humor.
What do you hear about how Ashado is doing? Do you go visit her?
Darley has been kind enough to let us visit her whenever we’ve asked. The last time that we saw her, which was sometime this spring, she had a beautiful Storm Cat colt by her side. According to Darley, she is an amazing mother, just as she was an amazing racehorse. The other partners who raced Ashado have also been welcomed by Darley and visit her from time to time. Michelle Nihei, one of Todd Pletcher’s assistants who played an essential role in Ashado’s development, also visits her regularly.
LAST UPDATED: 4:00 p.m. (ET)
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