Boat Racing’s Story of Brotherhood, Plus Patrick O’Neill Talks Derby Fever, Hot Rod Charlie, and More

The Life
Boat Racing with Team O’Neill after Hot Rod Charlie finished second in the TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance Nov. 6 at Keeneland. (Patrick O’Neill photo)

Boat Racing is co-owner of Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby winner Hot Rod Charlie, one of the leading contenders for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford ReserveMay 1 at Churchill Downs for trainer Doug O’Neill.


Story of Brotherhood, Seeking Excellence, and Special Friend ‘Chuck’

Boat Racing is a story of brotherhood and seeking excellence.

As college football players at Brown University, one of the saddest days of life was hanging up our cleats. Like all collegiate athletes, life to that point had been a journey for greatness. Along the way you find companionship. And it gives you purpose, meaning, and the ultimate means to self-discovery. Then one day it all goes away.

Between the five of us, we had some resolve to not let that go.

Left to right from bottom: Dan, Patrick, Reiley, Alex, Eric (Patrick O’Neill photo)

We were all successful in starting our jobs and couldn’t wait for our annual trips snowboarding or spending random weekends visiting each other. But every plane ride home there was some melancholy … how long would we keep this up? Would guys just settle down into their lives? Was this all there was?

In football, we had become used to the idea of “sudden change.” Any given gameday, there’s no telling what’s going to happen. We trained for it in practice by always having surprises thrown at us in drills. The key was to expect the unexpected.

When the idea for Boat Racing came, it was somewhat like a sudden change and none of us balked at it. Sure, there was a chance that it wouldn’t work financially and that was scary but we agreed the experience of doing it together would be worth it. No one was going to bring the excitement and energy that we would. And no one would have as much fun. For the first time in five years, we felt like we were coming back from the summer to start a new season together. For anyone who’s played sports, they know there’s no greater feeling than coming back from an offseason. You get to put your preparation and performance to the test. You get to ride highs and lows together. Anything’s possible. And that’s how we felt.

Boat Racing itself was a beer game we played in college. For us, it was a cheeky reminder that the good times and the brotherhood didn’t need to stop. Life’s hard and you need to make time to compete and laugh together along the way. If horse racing was a complete zero and we needed to pull the plug, we would have no regrets. Only memories of fun and adventure … and what an adventure it’s been. Pat (Patrick O’Neill) was born into horse racing through family that has long been involved in the sport. He’s our leader. For the rest of us, as mostly newcomers, we came in eyes wide open. Questioning, learning, and strategizing together the whole way.

upcoming Livestreams

The Winner’s Circle: Mondays at 11 a.m. ET, hosted by Bram Weinstein and Dan Tordjman - next episode on April 26

Kentucky Derby Preview: Hosted by Joy Taylor and featuring Jonathon Kinchen on April 29, starting at 6 p.m. ET

La Trifecta: Every other Thursday, starting at 8 p.m. ET, with Claudia Spadaro, Darwin Vizcaya, & Annise Montplaisir - next episode on April 29

Always Be Racing: Fridays at 3 p.m. ET, hosted by Blackjack Fletcher and Danielle Moinet

Sports is the greatest teacher in the universe. You learn so much about each other and yourselves. Little did we know horses are amazing teachers as well. Spending time in a barn teaches you everything you need to know about performance – humility, commitment, and heart. Chuck (Hot Rod Charlie) isn’t the biggest horse and he doesn’t come from the greatest of pedigrees but he’s a total gamer. Same with the O’Neill racing team. Incredible people who give the ultimate love and commitment to these animals and it shows. Everything you give to a horse it gives back to you.

What amazing lessons and reminders for us! In all our own personal ways, we’ve each fought against our own odds. Chuck keeps teaching us how to be gamers. And how to be better brothers and people. How to be excellent. Give the world your passion and kindness, and life will take you farther than you can ever imagine. And of course, have the modesty to enjoy the beer or two with your best buds along the way.

Boat Racing Members

Patrick O’Neill – Vice President of Sales & Strategic Partnerships at Founder Sport Group

Alex Quoyeser – Operations Manager at Lyft

Daniel Giovacchini – Founder and President at Tango

Eric Armagost – Senior Associate at Accel-KKR

Reiley Higgins – Vice President of Originations at PNC


Q&A with Patrick O’Neill

What does it feel like to have a Kentucky Derby contender?

Hot Rod Charlie at Churchill (Coady Photography)


 

Words can’t explain what it means. Being someone who has been fortunate to be a part of this amazing sport for the entirety of my life, I am cognizant of how unlikely it is to have a Kentucky Derby entrant … some of the most renowned owners spend their entire lives – and obviously a ton of money – to get to the pinnacle of the sport. To then be able to combine family and friends through this special event, it’s simply magical. We certainly are blessed and plan on not taking any moment from now to the Derby for granted.

Are you superstitious? If so, what race day superstitions do you have?

Myself and the Boat Racing guys definitely have some superstitions, which I think you naturally develop while participating in competitive athletics your entire life – left sock before the right or wearing that old, beaten-up pair of receiver gloves because you had a good game in them years ago. For races, we have a little tradition of taking a tequila shot before we head down to the paddock to dress ‘Chuck.’ It certainly loosens up the vibes and is a nice way of us to remember that win or lose, we’re here to enjoy each other’s company.

My introduction to horse racing occurred when:

There is a running joke in the O’Neill family that I was born in one of Doug’s stalls at Hollywood Park. Obviously, Doug started training before I was even born, so some of my first (and most fond) childhood memories are being at the night races at Hollywood Park when Doug would have an entrant and skew some rules to get me in the saddling area. Horse racing was love at first sight for me.

What I do for a living:

I run Sales & Strategic Partnerships for Founder Sport Group – a top sports apparel manufacturer for brands such as Under Armour, Badger Sportswear, Alleson Athletic, and others. The Boat Racing team certainly has enough custom merch at this point!

What I like about Thoroughbred racing:

Hot Rod Charlie as a foal. (Courtesy of Patrick O’Neill )

First, I would definitely change the word ‘like’ to ‘love’. I LOVE this sport for so many reasons. First, it starts with how special horses are and the amazing personalities each one them has. For instance, Chuck isn’t the biggest horse and he doesn’t come from the greatest of pedigrees, but he doesn’t know that nor does he care. … He is a such a jokester off the track and a total gamer on the track who simply loves to compete. He certainly is much more than a racehorse to us and another one of the guys. Second, I would say I love the memories horse racing brings. What other sport, in one single day, gives you repeated, unmatched two-minute adrenaline rushes that you can share with all your loved ones and all different walks of life? Nothing like it.

How I became an owner:

As soon as I first made my first paycheck, I have always dabbled owning some horses alongside my uncle, Dennis, who is the bloodstock agent of the family, but we’ve never had much success. Regardless, it was always fun and a great reason to bring the family together. Once my friends and I graduated from college, we realized that we all had moved on to a new phase in our lives where our careers and (potentially) significant others would become our priority. However, we all somewhat longed for a reason to translate the four years of memories we had in college to the real world but didn’t have a method.

In 2016, I brought two of the members of the Boat Racing team – Dan and Reiley – to Del Mar and they, unsurprisingly, had the time of their lives. Somehow that spiraled into us leveraging horse racing as a way to continue to strengthen our brotherhood. Two of our other best friends from college – Alex and Eric – were also interested, and that’s how Boat Racing, LLC was formed.

Best advice to someone considering ownership:

Partners, diversification, and come into the sport with the right frame of mind. Horse racing can be a high-risk investment, so mitigating that risk by having partners and not just putting all eggs into one horse is something I highly recommend. I also couldn’t stress enough the importance of coming into the sport with the right mindset. The most successful ownership groups lose four out five races, so don’t come in expecting to make a ton of money or win the Kentucky Derby, as that is simply a recipe for disaster. Come in knowing that it will be a fun experience where unbelievable memories will be made.

Favorite place at the racetrack in which to watch a race:

Celebration after Louisiana Derby. (Patrick O’Neill photo)

I love being amongst the rowdy crowd in the grandstand area near the finish line. The feeling of having your horse, whether owned or gambled on, round the turn and have a chance to win, and do this experience alongside thousands of others, is indescribable.

Should the Breeders’ Cup rotate from coast-to-coast or have a permanent home:

As much as I am a California racing fan through and through, I do think it is best for the sport to rotate and create exposure for all racetracks and regions across the country. Think about the top sporting events in the world, such as the Super Bowl, NBA Championship, March Madness, etc. – do these events stay in one location?

My top 3 favorite racetracks in order:

Del Mar, Santa Anita, Keeneland

Most influential person in my career:

Probably my dad. He was such a special individual in that he somehow was able to exemplify how important it is to work your butt off, but also make it clear how important it is to enjoy life and all its gifts.

My out-of-the-box idea for Thoroughbred racing:

I was a big proponent of many of the atypical ideas the former CEO of Santa Anita, Mark Verge, proposed. His ideas were certainly not the standard and all were not perfect, but his concept and mindset of wanting to increase the sport’s exposure through (1) 21st Century digital engagement and social media, (2) technology adoption, and (3) improved fan experiences (e.g. think TopGolf) are what we need to bring in a new generation into this sport. Will things be a little off-putting at times for a sport so rich in tradition? Yes, but it comes with the territory of staying relevant and up to par with what the remainder of all top industries are doing.

Other sports/teams I follow:

There aren’t many I don’t follow – big basketball (Lakers) and football (Panthers) fan, and grew up a diehard University of Michigan fan, since my dad went to college there – Go Blue! More recently, I’ve become a decent baseball fan due to living near the ‘Slam’ Diego Padres. Talk about a sport that is working extremely hard to stay up to speed with the times, but also being extremely mindful about retaining is longstanding tradition(s).

Hot Rod Charlie winning Louisiana Derby. (Eclipse Sportswire)

My favorite athletes of all-time:

I have always been a fan of the guys that are just absolutely cold-blooded while in competition, but then are extremely relatable people off the field or court. Some that come to mind are Michael Jordan, Steph Curry, and Tom Brady.

What book(s) I am reading or have recently read:

I recently read “The Ride of a Lifetime,” written by Bob Iger, the CEO of Disney, as well as “Can’t Hurt Me,” by David Goggins. Two extremely impressive individuals who worked their tails off to get to where they are today – certainly inspiring.

Favorite magazines:

Unfortunately, I am in that millennial generation that never really adopted subscribing to physical magazines, but I was a big Sports Illustrated fan growing up. More recently, one of my favorites has been the Thoroughbred Daily News or TDN.

Hobbies away from Thoroughbred racing:

Traveling, snowboarding, surfing, running … pretty much anything active and out of the house.

Favorite movies:

“Happy Gilmore” … don’t judge me.

Favorite TV/streaming shows I watch:

Not much of a TV show person, so TVG?

Favorite foods:

Hawaiian poke from Foodland or my mom’s Thai Panang curry.

Favorite vacation spot:

Recurring spot would be Oahu. Favorite trip would be running with the bulls in Spain.

Favorite musician/band:

Big believer that good music can come from any genre, so I am a fan of it all, whether country, rock, reggae, techno, or hip hop. Recently, during our Hot Rod Charlie trips, we have gotten hooked on playing Two Friends’ Big Bootie mixes, which are a mash-up of hit songs all generations love.

Favorite Actor:

Adam Sandler

Websites I visit daily:

drf.com, bloodhorse.com, paulickreport.com, and ESPN – in that order.

I’d like to have dinner with the following three people inside racing:

  • Belinda Stronach
  • Paul Reddam
  • Doug and Dennis O’Neill

I’d like to have dinner with the following three people outside of racing:

  • Bob Iger
  • Elon Musk
  • David O’Neill

Best racetrack food can be found at:

Dollar dogs at Golden Gate Fields

Accomplishment I am most proud of:

My dad’s Irish wake after his passing in 2015 – he would have been proud of the fun we had in his memory.

My philosophy on life:

We only live one life, so why not make the most of it.

Things I collect:

Tickets and related memorabilia from sporting events I have attended.

Favorite charities:

Melanoma Research Alliance, led by Michael Kaplan. Boat Racing has committed to donating one-sixth of all money made by Hot Rod Charlie from now through the remainder of the year, with the one-sixth representing both my dad and uncle, who both passed from melanoma and are our sixth men (basketball reference) on this journey.

Favorite authors:

Yikes. This was a stumper. I guess the one that comes to mind is Danielle Steele as my grandma on the O’Neill side, Dixie, mails me every new book that comes out after she finishes them.

Favorite animal other than a horse:

Dogs

Favorite non-Thoroughbred racing sports event I have attended:

Rose Bowl 2005 – Michigan vs. Texas

Three words that define what Thoroughbred racing means to me:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Memories

Top three fashion brands you prefer to wear:

  • Melin Hats
  • Vuori Athleisure
  • Badger Sportswear

Favorite month of the year:

December

I'll Have Another winning 2012 Kentucky Derby. (Eclipse Sportswire)

What apps are on your phone?

Too many to mention. A clean up is much needed.

My biggest gambling score ever at the racetrack was:

I’ll Have Another 2012. $100 to win on a family tip

What is your go-to or signature bet to make at the racetrack?

Trifecta wheel keying two horses.

If you could pick walk-up music that would play Hot Rod Charlie entering a winner’s circle after a win, what song would you pick?

Two Friends Big Bootie Mix 19

Favorite fall holiday cocktail:

Bulleit rocks, splash of water – does this count as a cocktail?

Favorite summertime cocktail:

Chilled Patron, no salt, and a lime – does this count as a cocktail?

Favorite all-time racehorse:

I’ll Have Another or Lava Man

Favorite race horse currently competing:

Chuck as a foal. (Courtesy of Patrick O’Neill )

Seriously? Let’s go Chuck!

Favorite international racing event:

Happy Valley in Hong Kong, but on my bucket list is to attend the Ascot Racing Carnival in England. Do you think we should try Chuck back on grass?

Three ways to attract more fans to the sport:

  • Group ownership
  • Taking the TopGolf approach to a day at the races – combine racing with entertainment/fun
  • Less racing days and more “big race days” – Think Hong Kong (Happy Valley and Sha Tin) and their 15 race cards every Wednesday night and Sunday.

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