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The Notebook March 21, 2014

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Out of the Gate with ... Justin Nicholson

Justin Nicholson is the president and founder of Ninety North Racing Stable. A graduate of Emory University, Nicholson has found success in the Thoroughbred world as the president of a racing syndicate, which is a group of people who share ownership in racehorses. As for the syndicate name, it was inspired by a poem Nicholson read in high school called “Ninety North” that was about a boy's quest to reach the top of the world (Ninety North being the geographical address for the North Pole). In the poem, there's a part where eventually the boy reaches the top of the world and from there all steps point south. Nicolson says, “I focus more on Ninety North as representing our quest to reach the top of the racing world. If we ever get there - if such a thing is possible - we can worry then about whether there's any such thing as heading south!”

Name: Justin Nicholson   

What I do for a living: President and Founder, Ninety North Racing Stable

How and when I was introduced to Thoroughbred racing: First introduced as a young child though my Dad, who owned 50% of a partnership called Kimran Stable. He became involved as a way to share a hobby with me in his older years, and it stuck.

My favorite racetrack: On a cool day, Saratoga is probably best, but I’ve always had great experiences at Keeneland as well.

My favorite Thoroughbred racing event: We’ve attended the Preakness for the last several years and have really appreciated the hospitality and spectacle of the day.

Other sports/teams I follow: Avid New York sports fan: Giants, Rangers, Yankees, Knicks.

What I would like to see more of in Thoroughbred racing: I’d like to see the sport become more accessible and appealing to the general public, whether through broader ownership opportunities, better media coverage, or an improved fan experience at the track.

What I would like to see less of in Thoroughbred racing: Most importantly, I’d like to hear fewer stories of former racehorses ending up in bad places after their careers are over. We race these horses for only a fraction of their lives, and we owe it to them to see that they are well looked after for the remainder of their lives.

Three words that define what Thoroughbred racing means to me: Anticipation, frustration and elation. You’re always in one of these three states.

First Thoroughbred track I ever attended was: Belmont Park

Favorite all-time Thoroughbred: It’s a current one, but I’m really rooting for Wise Dan every time he runs. I love seeing horses that compete at high levels year after year and seem to really enjoy doing it.

My personal best moment in the sport of Thoroughbred racing: We’ve had a lot of good moments in this sport, including a fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf in 2001 with Blazing Fury, but my most gratifying was watching our $4,000 yearling purchase, Two Months Rent, win the Hawthorne Derby in an absolute downpour.

Best racetrack food can be found at: Gulfstream has a pretty good buffet in the Ten Palms, but my wife, who’s from Maryland, insists the crabcakes at Pimlico are the best around.

My favorite jockey: When you’re an owner, this is constantly changing from ride to ride, but my all-time favorite was Jerry Bailey.

My favorite trainer: Jimmy Toner. Jim has trained my family’s horses for almost 30 years and is one of the finest horsemen and nicest guys around.

My heroes: My dad, who was a self-made businessman and great storyteller, and my wife, who keeps me focused and grounded but isn’t afraid to have fun. 

Person in Thoroughbred racing I’d like to have dinner with: Eddie Olczyk. He was on the Rangers 1994 Stanley Cup Team and is a huge racing fan and also an owner. We’d have a lot to talk about.

My philosophy on life: Do what makes you happy.

Favorite quote or motto: “I can’t complain but sometimes I still do.” – Joe Walsh, The Eagles

Favorite animal other than a horse: Our dog, Maggie

Favorite non-Thoroughbred racing sports event I have attended: New York Giants' Super Bowl 2007 and New York Rangers' Stanley Cup win in 1994.

Favorite food: Can’t beat a good cheeseburger.

Favorite vacation spot: Vegas always had top billing, but recently New Orleans is catching up.

Favorite city: My hometown: New York City

Favorite musician/band: I go through a lot of phases, but Pearl Jam and The Cranberries are two that have always stuck with me.

Favorite all-time movie(s):  “History of the World, Part I”, “Airplane”, and many other classic comedies.

Favorite TV Show: “The Simpsons” always, although I’ve become a big fan of all the AMC series: “Walking Dead”, “Mad Men”, “Breaking Bad”, etc.

Favorite hotel: The Venetian, Vegas!

Websites I visit daily: ESPN, RealClearPolitics, The Paulick Report, Brisnet, Thoroughbred Champions Forum, and last but not least, ABR!

What I drive: Range Rover Sport

Pet peeve: Condition book races not going as scheduled (a nightmare for any syndicate owner)

Favorite movie about horse racing: “First Saturday in May”

Which actor would play me in a movie: Although we’d all like to think we’d be played by Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, or George Clooney, I’m probably McLuvin from “Superbad”.

Alma Mater: Emory University, with a brief stint at Georgetown Law.

Favorite radio shows/channels: Classic Rock, “Car Talk”

Best Book I recently read: Dick Francis’s “Bloodline”, by Felix Francis

Favorite memento: My wedding photos in my wallet.

Favorite dessert: Hot fudge sundae

Favorite drink: Blanton’s on the rocks

Favorite scent: Freshly-cut fairways

What I like about my job: We deal with great people on a day-to-day basis, we hang out with the coolest animals around and I get to follow the sport I love, and call it “work.”

Favorite tech gadget: My favorite is also my least favorite, because I am glued to my iPhone at all times.

Twitter Handle: @90northracing

People I follow on Twitter: Owners, trainers, turf writers, handicappers ... basically people from all aspects of Thoroughbred racing.

No. 1 Bucket-List item: Besides running in and hopefully winning the Kentucky Derby, probably playing Augusta National.

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Fan Photo of the week

Congratulations to Melissa Bauer-Herzog, winner of this week's Fan Photo contest!

From Melissa: "Wise Dan prepares for his 2014 debut by going for a morning jog over Keeneland's main track on March 8." Want in? E-mail a .jpg and caption to Photos@NTRA.com for consideration!

Photos of the week

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