University of Kentucky student Sean Feld and alumnus Billy Ajello have defied the notion that one must reach a particular age or gain a certain level of experience to invest in the Thoroughbred industry.
The two friends, who became hooked on the business via separate avenues, jointly solidified their aspirations by purchasing a Tumblebrutus colt at the 2007 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October sale.
While Feld’s involvement in the horse business started at a young age on the backside of Hollywood Park where his father, Bob, was an assistant trainer, Ajello had no prior experience with Thoroughbreds before moving to the Bluegrass state from Texas to attend UK.
Feld, who worked as a jockey’s agent at age 17, is now an assistant bloodstock agent for his father’s California-based partnership Bongo Racing Stables in addition to being a senior at UK.
Ajello’s first taste of the industry came while working at Robert Courtney Jr.’s Stonebridge near Lexington.
“(Farm manager) George Atkins took a keen interest on my behalf and taught me the hard work and passion needed on a daily basis in order to be successful in this game,” remembered Ajello, who graduated from UK last year and is currently studying with Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley Flying Start Program in England.
“Sean and I had an idea of buying a yearling and syndicating him to other college students at an affordable price to allow a younger audience to be involved in Thoroughbred racing,” said Ajello.
Upon discovering their mutual interest in bloodstock investment, Feld and Ajello attended the Fasig October yearling sale, and with the aid of Feld’s father, narrowed the catalogue down to a couple horses.
Feld and Ajello liked first-crop sire Tumblebrutus because of his impressive pedigree—he’s a full brother to prominent stallion Giant’s Causeway.
“We knew the consignors (of Kentuckysoldierboy)—they went to UK, so we talked to them a little bit,” said Feld of Theodore Kuster’s Shawhan Place, which is managed by UK junior Gus Koch and graduate Matthew Koch.
“(Kentuckysoldierboy) had clean x-rays, a clean scope, he was correct, and he was just on the small side. He also had a really good attitude about him. I called my dad over, and he said he looked good, so we got him for $5,500.”
After purchasing Kentuckysoldierboy, who was named after the popular rap song “Soulja Boy” that reached the top of the charts last year, Bob Feld's Bongo Racing Stables offered $250 shares of the colt for a 0.5% interest. Several UK students invested, after which the partnership was also opened up to the general public via its website.
Broken by Raul Reyes in Ocala, Fla., Kentuckysoldierboy was sent to trainer Paul McGee to prepare for his first start. A large group of UK students and alumni, accompanied by Feld and Ajello, travelled to Louisville to watch Kentuckysoldierboy make his career debut in a maiden claiming event at Churchill Downs July 3.
Overjoyed when the gelding crossed the wire second, the group became even more ecstatic when they realized Kentuckysoldierboy had been bumped to first via a disqualification.
“It was pretty cool…to buy a horse for that cheap and win for a maiden $50,000 at Churchill is pretty impressive,” said Feld. “Everyone just had so much fun. Just to finish second—even before there was the inquiry—everyone was high fiving. When he got DQ’d up (to first), everyone just went nuts.”
“It is hard to believe my first experience in a racing partnership began with a first time winner at Churchill Downs, but I loved every second of it,” added Ajello. “None of this would have been possible if it wasn’t for Sean, his father Bob, trainer Paul McGee, and everyone else associated with Bongo Racing.”
Feld said several of the students made more money from cashing in bets from Kentuckysoldierboy’s initial race than the amount they had invested in the horse.
There are currently around 40 people from across the country that own shares in Kentuckysoldierboy, some of which were even recruited through the auction website eBay.
The gelding finished fifth in his next start, an allowance contest at Arlington Park Aug. 13, and followed that effort up with a third in an optional claiming event on the Kentucky Downs turf Sept. 16.
Feld chalked up those losses to the gelding bearing in severely while racing. Following a workout at Churchill Downs in October, it was discovered that Kentuckysoldierboy had a chip in his ankle and would need to undergo surgery.
“We were sitting on a big race at Keeneland before he chipped his ankle, and we were pretty excited to run him,” remembered Feld. “Everyone got pretty disappointed when we had to do surgery. It wasn’t cheap, but owning horses isn’t cheap. It was one of those things where you try to do the right thing by the horse. Hopefully he comes back even better or the same and we’ll have some fun with him next year.”
Feld and Ajello hope to run Kentuckysoldierboy, who is currently resting at Chestnut Farm near Versailles, KY., in an allowance race at Turfway Park this winter, and eventually at Keeneland in the spring.
“Our main goal is to run him at Keeneland and win, hopefully,” said Feld. “That’s all that really matters.”
Feld and Ajello embarked on a new venture when they purchased a colt by Down the Aisle at this year’s Fasig-Tipton October yearling sale. The two friends, who named their colt Dedicated Aisle, plan to start him sometime this summer. They already have several investors from UK and beyond.