Mark Berner

Mark Berner first worked with horses on a small farm in upstate New York in 1973, where he mucked stalls and cared for racehorses with infirmities that were turned out there until ready to resume training.

He joined American Teletimer as a clocker in 1976 and operated their electronic timing equipment at many east coast racetracks until 1978, when he was permanently stationed at NYRA's three tracks, Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park & Saratoga Race Course.

Berner did freelance handicapping for the New York Daily News in 1982 & 1983 before joining Newsday in 1984 as a handicapper and later a sports reporter. Berner teamed up with Pricci to win the United Press International's 1985 UPI New York Newspaper Awards for Best Sports Story. In addition, Berner wrote and handicapped for several trade publications including, Daily Racing Form, Sports Eye, Racing Action, The Thoroughbred Times, Horse Player Magazine and New York Sportsnet.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Can Dream With Empire Racing Club

I always wanted to own a racehorse. That opportunity came earlier this month when I bought into a partnership established by The New York Horsemens Association called the Empire Racing Club. The club was setup to attract new owners for a reasonable price of $500 per share, capped at 200 shares. ERC is a non-profit 501c7 and therefore there is no expectation of making a profit, making the experience real, as few owners actually make a profit. If the horse can earn, however, there is an expectation of getting back the original investment. Any earnings will go to NYTHA’s Take the Lead Foundation that cares for retired racehorses, a cause close to a horse lover’s heart.

[Editor's note: Memberships in the Empire Racing Club are still available. For more information click here: ]

By Mark Berner

I started out at the bottom, as anyone tethered to the game does, when I first worked with horses. I mucked stalls. It wasn’t easy work but it wasn’t hard to master and it started my love affair with horses that has lasted nearly 50 years.

I clocked horses, then handicapped them, and became a reporter for Newsday. All that time I lived vicariously through my friends who were horse owners.

Some did quite well winning stakes, travelling to foreign countries to compete, and one friend, Tom Durkin, hit the ultimate prize when he bought into the aptly named Kentucky Derby winner, Always Dreaming. “That’s as good as it gets,” said Durkin.

This year, on May 10, I became a racehorse owner when I joined the Empire Racing Club. Durkin is the racing manager. Spendthrift Farm leased a filly to the club and she is in Todd Pletcher’s barn at Saratoga with the rest of his two year olds.

“We picked Todd for two reasons,” Durkin said. “One, he’s good with people and two, he’s good with horses.” Durkin visited the filly yesterday and said, “She’s a pretty thing and very friendly. She’s as sweet as can be.”

The unnamed daughter is by Can the Man, out of Five Star Daydream. Can the Man stands at Spendthrift along with his hot sire Into Mischief. Can the Man’s offspring proved extremely precocious with its first crop in 2018.

There is a contest to name the filly. I picked Can Daydream, which I think is perfect for a syndicate such as ERC. The name will be announced June 3rd.

Chestnut filly by Can the Man has lots of followers.
Photo provided

The New York Racing Association worked closely with NYTHA to launch ERC. NYRA will give each shareholder an admission card good for two admissions most racing days, with exclusions for the Belmont Stakes Festival and the Travers Stakes.

Additionally, NYRABets is offering a $200 bonus to ERC members who sign up to the ADW as first time customers and will give four box seats for one day at Saratoga (not Travers Day) to the member who picks the name for the filly.

“It’s a partnership between NYTHA and NYRA,” explained Durkin, who added that NYRA’s cooperation was paramount. NYRA further displayed its commitment when it sent a film crew to Saratoga to film a feature on the filly.

The filly has an A+ pedigree with two Triple Crown winners in her breeding lines, Affirmed and Seattle Slew, who were Spendthrift stallions. The filly is a half-sister to G3 winner Gas Station Sushi (by Into Mischief).

Ned Toffey, Spendthrift Farm manager, said she is a pretty filly and on May 14, 2017 she had a “nice smooth foaling. She came out nice, and she still is.”

The ERC membership fee of $500 will go to the care and feeding of the horse, training fees and vet bills, and the earnings of the filly will go to NYTHA’s Take the Lead Foundation--a worthy cause indeed.

NYTHA created Take the Lead to facilitate the search for rehabilitation and retraining placements for retiring racehorses that run at NYRA tracks. The program is open to all New York-based horsemen.

The Take the Lead Thoroughbred Retirement Program, started in 2013, has found rehabilitation and retraining placements for more than 460 retired Thoroughbreds that raced on the NYRA circuit.

Take the Lead finds homes and averages over 90 horses placed every year. All owners competing at NYRA tracks donate $5 per start, an initiative that began in 2014.

From those funds, NYTHA donated nearly $300,000 the past two fiscal years to accredited aftercare facilities that provided rehabilitation and retraining.

And, as stated, if the filly earns windfall profits the members can get back the $500 fee or roll it over into the ERC horse for 2020.

Many dads were the first to take their kids to the races. If you’re one of those kids or not, please consider giving the gift of horse ownership at a reasonable price. Father’s Day is just over three weeks away.

As Durkin said, “It’s an opportunity for people to experience the experience without the expense.”

© Mark Berner,, May 21, 2019, All rights reserved.

Written by Mark Berner

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