Sometimes, it’s the little guys that make the biggest impression.
If you didn’t know any better, you might have thought the sea of humanity that poured into the winner’s circle at Arlington International Racecourse Aug. 10 had just taken down the featured race of the day.
But this particular crowd of horse owners — along with their family and their friends, arms raised as they squeezed tightly enough to all fit into a single photo next to a horse named The Gray Blur — hadn’t won the Arlington Million. They only celebrated like they did.
“There were people flowing in from everywhere,” said Michael Faber. “It’s such an adrenaline rush. It’s just so much fun seeing the faces of all of these people. That crowd was crazy. … It was insane.”
For Faber, 56, the scene at Arlington last month represented all of the reasons why he and his brother Allen, 54, launched their Dare To Dream Stable LLC in 2002. Like most racing syndicates, Dare To Dream offers investors an opportunity to buy in on a horse — or multiple horses — and become a part-owner for a fraction of what it would traditionally cost to buy a racehorse outright.
Over the past 17 years, the brothers have formed approximately 120 partnerships with more than 650 individual investors. Many of their partners are first-timers who are cautious about their initial foray into racehorse ownership.
Meanwhile, there are other partners who, understandably, don’t have the budget required to play at the level of owners who routinely spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a single horse.
For Dare To Dream, The Gray Blur was a perfect fit. The 2-year-old colt by Fast Anna was purchased for just $55,000 at the 2019 OBS March sale of 2-year-olds in training after being spotted by the Fabers and their 30-year-old trainer, Christopher Davis.
“Doing it for these kinds of partners means a lot,” Davis said. “Many of them aren’t individually super-wealthy. They don’t take it for granted like others might in the game. They’re trying to spend wisely … and we usually do really well.”
Just five months after adding The Gray Blur to their roster, Dare To Dream entered him in a maiden special weight race on the undercard of the Arlington Million (otherwise known as the sixth race that day). For the Fabers, Illinois-born and raised, it was the ultimate home game. Winning on the state’s biggest day of Thoroughbred racing has always meant a little more to them, too.
The Gray Blur’s race offered a $30,000 purse (with $18,000 going to the winner), plus a $10,800 bonus for Illinois-registered owners — not a bad chunk of change, even when you consider it would be shared by multiple partners. But for comparison, the Grade 1 Beverly D. Stakes (which was won by Sistercharlie about an hour and a half later) offered a $600,00 purse with more than $350,000 for its winner. The featured Grade 1 Arlington Million, won by Bricks and Mortar, netted winning owners Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence a cool $582,000.
Sure, there was a lot more riding on the stakes races later on in the card. Yes, racing fans all over the world tuned in primarily to watch the Million and, as expected, also wagered more on the featured races. But when it came to celebrations, there were few scenes on this day — or on any day — that could compare with what followed The Gray Blur’s wire-to-wire win.
“They were shouting and screaming, like 200 people,” Davis said. “I mean, literally, we had a bigger crowd in the winner’s circle than all three Grade 1 owners (combined). Some of these partners, they don’t have many horses, and they might just be in on one piece of this horse. So when they finally get in the winner’s circle, it’s like you won the Derby. It’s so much fun.”
One of the revelers was Tom Stetzer. He joined Dare To Dream as a partner nearly a decade ago. Stetzer had embarked on the two-hour drive from Madison, Wisc., earlier in the day with his wife and their two boys, Evan, 6, and Blake, 3.
“My wife and I were each holding one of our sons during the race so that they could see above the crowd,” Stetzer said. “We were screaming the entire stretch run and jumping up and down and hugging and high-fiving each other when he crossed the finish line.
“It was definitely the rowdiest winner’s circle we have been a part of. I think the fact that it was on Million Day definitely added to the excitement.”
This was a far cry from Stetzer’s introduction to racing in 2006 when one of his arena football teammates invited him to tag along to an OTB (off-track-betting) parlor.
Stetzer had grown up on a dairy farm and used to ride in western shows as a little boy, but this whole racing scene was unlike anything he’d ever experienced. Then, he went to his first Kentucky Derby in 2010.
“We came back from that trip to Kentucky knowing that we wanted to somehow get more involved in the sport. I did a Google search of racing partnerships and Dare To Dream was one that was close by and allows you to enter their partnerships for a very reasonable cost with a low-percentage buy in,” Stetzer said. “We had dinner with Mike and Allen and knew it would be a good fit. We thank them all the time for what they do and are treated like a true partner. We’ve had a lot of thrills in the last 10 years.”
Like Stetzer, the Faber brothers had grown up around horses, often traveling to Wisconsin before they’d reached the age of 5 to ride horses owned by friends of their mother. Trips to ranches turned into visits to the racetrack, and the boys began to fall in love with everything related to horses and horse racing.
The transition into horse racing began inauspiciously enough via Michael’s association with an early-internet racing fan group that eventually turned into the Cyberspace Racing Team. As its name suggested, the partnership included a number of people who’d simply met online and decided to pool their money together to purchase some horses.
Once Faber had a taste for horse ownership, he craved more, and ultimately decided to create a syndicate with his brother that would become known as Dare To Dream.
“We’re just a couple of regular guys who enjoy the game. We like to have fun and we like to get other people involved,” Michael Faber said. “We’ve got young people, we’ve got people with kids, and then we’ve got a partner who’s 94. It’s a really diverse mix of people from all walks of life.”
The brothers haven’t just had fun with their partners, they’ve also won a lot of races. As a stable, Dare To Dream has enjoyed more than 300 victories, including 28 stakes wins. Most notable for Dare To Dream was its victory in last year’s Grade 1 La Brea Stakes with Spiced Perfection. They purchased the filly as a 2-year-old in 2017 for $50,000. She earned more than $600,000 on the track for her owners before they sold her this past January for $1 million.
“We’ve played at the highest levels,” Faber said. “It feels great. That’s what we wanted to do. This sport obviously has challenges, as you know, with attracting new people and keeping people that have been around. So, we’re happy to help keep things going and help grow it a little bit. We’ve been pretty successful at that. It feels good.”
In addition to lowering the barrier to entry for new and prospective horse owners, Dare To Dream has also made it a point to give opportunities to trainers who aren’t as well known nationally, including younger trainers trying to establish themselves in the sport.
Brian Koriner, for example, trained Spiced Perfection and is charge of a California string of Dare To Dream horses. In New York, Dare To Dream has horses in training with 25-year-old Robert Falcone Jr.
It wasn’t all that long ago that the Fabers even sent a few of their horses to a woman named Liane Davis. The wife of Arlington assistant starter Hershell Davis, Liane trained horses for Dare To Dream, while her son spent plenty of time around her and the horses that came through.
That son, Christopher, would go on to become an exercise rider for the late Richard Hazleton and eventually an assistant to another Dare to Dream trainer, Michael Stidham.
“I’ve known the Dare To Dream guys for the better part of 20 years,” Davis said. “I got to know them a lot better and work more hands-on with their horses when I worked for Stidham. I had horses for [Dare To Dream] at Churchill Downs. They always told me when I went out on my own [as a trainer] that they’d give me a horse or two. They lived up to it.”
In late 2017, Davis began training on his own. It took him only five starts to win his first race. In less than two years, the up-and-comer has placed horses in multiple graded stakes races, winning 45 times and finishing in-the-money with nearly 40% of his starters. His latest accomplishment was getting The Gray Blur into a winner’s circle in just his second career start — and for setting off what was no doubt the largest and loudest celebration of the day.
“It felt like we won the Million,” Davis said. “It’s so much fun for the [partners] and it’s fun for us. They come by the barn afterwards. They come the next day, they bring donuts or they’ll bring peppermints and carrots for the horses. Stuff like that, you’ve gotta really love the people who love the game. You need to encourage it.”