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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


By Mark Berner and John Pricci-–Horse ownership is riskier but can be a lot more rewarding than a Rainbow Pick Six, and the gait matters not: All Trotters and Gallopers welcome.

Let’s start with Standardbred racing which by definition is a tad more American than Thoroughbred racing.

The HRI Faithful will recognize a story a story about old Saratoga next door neighbor, Chip, as “Chuck from Saratoga.”

Several years ago, Chip Foster enjoyed some success after dipping his toe into the ownership waters. Harness racing was more affordable for such endeavors and more accessible, too, with Saratoga Harness less than two miles south on Nelson Ave.

As told to John Pricci…

Chip’s latest acquisition is now a three-year-old trotter named Powerscourt. The colt started out at the Excelsior A level of the New York Sire Stakes program and was 4th at Vernon Downs and 3rd at Monticello.

Despite those disappointments, Chip had an instinct to try the big boy Sire Stakes class. His trainer advised against it but deferred to the owner and so they entered Powerscourt in a Sire Stakes race at Buffalo Raceway.

Indeed, the racing office there placed a courtesy call to confirm that the connections hadn’t made a mistake. “We explained that we wanted to swing for the fences,” said Chip.

“When the other Saratoga trainers saw Powerscourt’s name in the entries, they asked my trainer…what was he smoking. Diplomatically, and accurately, he responded ‘owner’s decision’.”

Powerscourt finished a fast closing second in his Sire Stakes debut. then was second again at Yonkers and placed once more at Saratoga. In doing so, he amassed enough points to qualify for the $225,000 Night of Champions final at Batavia Downs Saturday night.

Big boy final, indeed. Favorite Gimpanzee won this year’s Yonkers Trot, beating, among others, the Hambletonian champion. He rated to be 1-9 on the tote board. At the opposite end of the spectrum was–you guess it–Powerscourt Court, at 111.75-1. Place and show wagering was prohibited.

Gimpanzee with driver Brian Sears

Gimpanzee was the dominant winner at Batavia Downs on Saturday but Powerscourt kicked him powerfully again, finishing third from over the top through a final quarter-mile that went in 27 1/5.”

“Racing analysts noted ‘Power’s’nice charge at the end of the race and said: ‘Powerscourt, a 99-1 shot whose owners will be dreaming about that third as a win’.

“I couldn’t express our reaction to ‘Power’s’ brave effort any better myself!”

To view the race, select Sept. 14, race 9, Powerscout is #3, at the following link.

As told by Mark Berner

This year, on May 10, I became a racehorse owner when I joined the Empire Racing Club. I have 164 partners. Tom Durkin is the racing manager. Durkin owns both trotters and runners, but this is a flat-track story.

ERC is a non-profit 501c7 and therefore there is no expectation of making a profit. If the horses make enough money to cover expenses, the profit will benefit retired racehorses. It’s a win-win.

The New York Thoroughbred Horsemans Association launched ERC with the help of the New York Racing Association to give horseracing fans a chance to experience horse ownership.

NYTHA’s retirement arm, Take the Lead Foundation, benefits from any profits earned by ERC horses and it is a worthy cause indeed.

Spendthrift Farm leased a 2yo filly to the club, which named her Starlit Daydream. She was in Todd Pletcher’s barn at Saratoga until she developed a leg problem and was sent back to Spendthrift to get the rest she needs to heal. Hopefully she’ll return to the track next year.

It was a big blow to the ERC members and a true lesson in horse ownership.

The second horse that raced for ERC, Proven Strategies, is a 2yo colt, who turned in an exciting effort August 16, when he placed in Saratoga’s Skidmore Stakes while still a maiden.

Proven Strategies, owned by Len Green, Aron Yagoda and Empire Racing Club, won a close photo for second and completed a 1-2 exacta for Len Green, who co-owned the winner, Another Miracle, with his son Jon.

Gary Contessa trained the winner, a son of Triple Crown Champion American Pharoah, and the ERC Sky Mesa-colt is trained by Mark Casse. The $1 exacta returned $27.25.

Though the ERC colt placed, Green invited all the club members present at the Spa to join him in the winner’s circle. Even in a loss, the membership group experienced winning.

Proven Strategies raced again in Woodbine’s Summer Stakes, a Breeders’ Cup win-and-you’re-in race and finished fourth due to traffic in the stretch, and only missed placing by two heads.

The colt was 31-to-1 and second would have netted a nice exacta with Decorated Invader, a handy winner and second choice in the wagering.

Summer Stakes

Green and Yagoda expect to make a decision this week about the next start for Proven Strategies.

A third ERC horse has joined our stable, an Awesome Again gelding, again in partnership with Green and Yagoda. The unnamed and yet-to-race 2yo is in Gary Contessa’s barn.

ERC members have experienced the emotional gamut, have seen the highs and lows from the owners side and one thing is certain: You’re graced to have a horse in the race.

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2 Responses

  1. JP–
    Thanks for giving some ink for the joy of horse ownership–even in those instances where your horse doesn’t win. As we all know, having a winner’s circle photo to hang on your wall is not nearly as common as having your horse finish a bit further up the track. But getting a piece of the purse helps pay the feed bills and, as the old saying goes, “an owner whose horse finishes second can be seen crying with one eye at the result”.

    I can attest to the satisfaction of watching a noble steed like Powerscourt being entered in a race over its head, but nevertheless fighting valiantly and giving his all against insurmountable odds. And JP, I can’t thank you enough for capturing that feeling and sharing it with the HRI faithful……

    Chuck from Saratoga

  2. You’re entirely welcome Chuck, and I got to see and enjoy watching as two friends have their horses outrun the odds, both horses making truly valiant efforts.

    The only thing that comes to mind to describe the feeling for this less than impartial observer is Winston Churchill’s line about the outside of a horse being good for the inside of a man.

    And if you don’t get that, you’re not reading this, anyway. Thanks for the vicarious fun. Alas the news isn’t always bad.

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