InstaBram: Imagining the Ultimate Syndicate

The Life
For many racing fans, having a horse race at Churchill Downs would be a dream come true. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

I interviewed Sol Kumin recently for “The Winner’s Circle” show. He is the magnate who bought into Justify this year and is a co-owner of Monomoy Girl.

Kumin is also a billionaire so buying into contenders of the highest order falls into the category of “why not?” for him. But what struck me most about the interview was his admission that until just a few years ago, his lone experience with the sport was surviving the infield at the Preakness while in college at Johns Hopkins University.

The story goes that some years later, some other wealthy friends are telling him how fun it is to own horses and win at places like Churchill Downs or Saratoga Race Course and so he forks over the requisite millions to get in the game and the rest is history, making him either the shrewdest or luckiest owner in the history of mankind. It’s probably somewhere in the middle.

Even more recently, I got to interview Uriah St. Lewis for “The Winner’s Circle.” He had just won his first Grade 1 stakes with a 45.5-1 longshot Discreet Lover, who in hindsight should never have been 45-1.

St. Lewis bought the horse for $10,000, trained it himself, and has seen that investment pay off whatever-fold (I can’t even comprehend that math). St. Lewis laughed when I read back a quote he gave to the Daily Racing Form where he said: “People call me crazy. Yeah, I’m crazy. Crazy smart making money.”

The way St. Lewis explained it certainly made it seem less about hitting the lottery with Discreet Lover and more wise business doctrine. If he finds what he thinks is a bargain and trains that horse himself, then winning isn’t what ultimately matters. Discreet Lover could have come in third in the race he won and it still would have been a massive score.

Two guys taking way different paths — both crazy-smart at making money — but doing it in polar opposite ways.  St. Lewis might never get lucky enough to land a bargain that winds up in the Kentucky Derby, and Kumin is only interested in the cream of that crop. It has me daydreaming of the in between. If I’m not destined to be a hedge-fund manager but also don’t want to train the horses on my farm, how do I do this like them?

The longer I hang with the America’s Best Racing group, the more I want to be in the game but I don’t have the funds of a Kumin or the “know how” of a St. Lewis. Yes, I can join a syndicate, but the syndicates have a price to get in and they aren’t exactly democratic in organization.

A few years ago, I bought a share of stock in the Green Bay Packers and, while I have never been a fan of that team, the idea of having a say in a professional organization is appealing. No, I can’t fire Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy or demand a contract extension for QB Aaron Rodgers, but I can go to a stockholders meeting and hear how accountable they are. In the end, isn’t all of this just a public trust? Which makes me wonder if horse racing could have a similar wing.

Soccer power Real Madrid also is publicly owned. Their shareholders meet and discuss the team’s mission statement, which is quite detailed. It describes which players fit the mold and uphold the standards of wearing the Real Madrid uniform. The board has to answer to the stockholders.

If Real Madrid and the Green Bay Packers can be publicly run and consistently succeed under that corporate structure, why couldn’t a similar model work in big-time horse racing?

Are you with me? Don’t you want to be an owner who can compete with the Sol Kumins of the sport without grinding it out for years like Uriah St. Lewis? The answer is money, invested stockholders, and most importantly structure and mission.

America’s Horse Stable won’t be run by billionaires; it will be expertly managed by the industry’s best. They’ll be accountable to our stockholders who won’t have to go to Wisconsin in the winter to meet. I’m thinking Del Mar or Santa Anita or, maybe, Gulfstream Park. Does the business or experience not live up to what you expected? You can sell your stock or you can vote the board out.

  • Our power will be in numbers, meaning when we descend on a track to watch our horses we’ll have the best vantage points.
  • Our jockeys will be among the best performers in the sport and will be the type of people off the track who will proudly represent our union.
  • Our board will consist of veteran trainers, bloodstock agents, breeders, and communications experts to fulfill all of the members’ needs.
  • Our team will own a lot of horses, so members aren’t pinning all of their hopes on a few, select mounts. This will allow members an opportunity to travel the country, and eventually the globe, to watch their horses race week in and week out.
  • Our structure for purchasing, selling, and breeding horses will be outlined in specific detail. The board will decide directionally how to go about each aspect and will clearly and concisely explain the decisions made.

They say this is the “Sport of Kings.” Let’s be kings.

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