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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Fire Sale at West Point Thoroughbreds?

With word that West Point Thoroughbreds has elected to sell its three G1-winning fillies—Dream Rush (Test, Prioress), Irish Smoke (Spinaway) and Lear’s Princess (Gazelle)—at the November 4 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky mixed auction, it begs the question: what the hell are they thinking?

The simple answer: it’s all about the money, honey. Buying low, selling high—striking while the iron is hot—all the tired clichĂ©s you can imagine. And in his October 1 letter, West Point President Terry Finley has the gall to talk about the necessity of a correction in the yearling market:

“…when I look at the numbers at these sales, and I can’t help but think that there are just too many horses and we are simply watering down the breed. I’d like to see this problem remedied or else it will prove detrimental to the long-term welfare of the sport. I think the only solution is for the market to dictate some sort of correction (since there is no real governing body to implement strategic guidelines). If things don’t change, the breeders will continue to breed anything—as long as the buyers act at the sales. If breeders get stuck with a bunch of unsold inventory, we might see a fundamental shift in how business is done.”

Actually, I happen to agree with Mr. Finley wholeheartedly on this point of overbreeding. But, isn’t it a bit hypocritical to take the high road on this issue while on the other hand selling arguably your three best young horses, male or female, solely for maximum profit, rather than continue racing them? How is racing horses purely for increasing their value enough so you can sell them to some other rich person to race and/or breed—not for a vested sporting interest—any different than breeders who attempt to hit upon the right combination of factors to produce the next Secretariat, Seattle Slew or Ruffian? Both have their own selfish monetary interests front-and-center. So much for doing what’s best for the sport…

This is why I hate the corporate approach in all aspects of thoroughbred racing, from trainers in pressed suits who delegate day-to-day responsibilities to herds of assistants at a half dozen or so different tracks—with little care for the hundreds of horses entrusted to them, only those who they “ride” into the winner’s circle, then dump when they don’t win—to certain racing partnerships, particularly those who claim to be bringing the thrill of thoroughbred racing to little guys who wouldn’t be able to do so otherwise. Please! Don’t try and be all egalitarian when, in reality, it’s the same old elitist approach, except when Calumet, Claiborne, Darby Dan and other such blueblood entities bred and raced horses, they did so both for sport and money—and mostly for pure sport in their heydays. Pinhooking wasn’t in their vocabulary.

Horses once raced more often, and for longer careers—where have those golden days of thoroughbred racing gone? Do people in the industry really want to know why horse racing doesn’t seem to have the fan base it once did? The damn “stars” don’t race often enough or long enough to make an emotional investment in them—and horse racing is about making an emotional investment in horses. You care about whether your horse wins or loses, and not just because you may have bet on them. I know this might be hard for long-time horseplayers to understand, but remember when you first fell in love with this sport? It wasn’t about wagering…it was sound of pounding hooves, the grunting of horses striving to outrace one another—grace and beauty, grit and sweat, a powerful muscular monster or a skinny little runt hustling around the track. It is about the animals, not money.

Dream Rush ($285,000 purchase price), Irish Smoke ($285,000 purchase price), and Lear’s Princess ($110,000 purchase price) each have, or shortly will have, turned a tidy profit—and Breeders’ Cup victories in the F&M Sprint, Filly Juvenile, and Distaff respectively could pay off huge for West Point Thoroughbreds:

“All three fillies will run in Breeders’ Cup races at Monmouth Park later this month, and we are fortunate to be in this situation,” West Point Thoroughbreds President Terry Finley said. “We will carefully evaluate their performance and the needs and desires of our partners, Lewis Lakin and John Sikura, our investors, and our shareholders as we approach the sale date.”

Note this exchange from the July 12, 2007 live discussion on’s Talkin’ Horses:

New York, NY:
Hi Terry, Does West Point ever transition racing partnerships into breeding partnerships, when a filly/mare's career is over? Or do you just sell the horse?

Well, most of the time we sell our fillies when their racing career is over because that financial model makes the most sense. When people get into a racing partnership, their main objective is to campaign racehorses and then get out. However, with the kind of high quality fillies we currently have we would not rule out any options.

So, selling them now should be taken as a sign that they are done racing? Irish Smoke is a two-year-old, for god’s sake! Surely they aren’t suggesting all three are ready for the breeding shed, although Dream Rush had previously been announced for this sale. However, I’m not sure how you can justify retiring a three-year-old filly to the breeding shed when she is racing fantastically at this point in time, and could continue to do so for years to come. Her breeding isn’t that exciting…

Dream Rush and Irish Smoke both share Lewis Lakin as co-owner with West Point, and admittedly last year he began liquidating his holdings shared in partnership with Becky Thomas:

"I'm 72 years old and at a time in life when I don't need to be tied up with so many assets. I need to get more liquid in my estate planning. We're going to reduce our mutual interests, but I'm going to stay in with her on the short-term type of stuff if she wants me. There isn't going to be any fire sale. My interest is not in expansion, but to cash in on what we've done, which is significant."

Well, that may be his intentions overall, and an explanation for why the fillies are being dumped, but how dumb!

I don’t know why I bother bitching about stuff like just bugs the hell out of me. Has everything in our society been ruined by the all-mighty dollar?


Superfecta said...

Shall we pass the hat to see if we can buy Lear's Princess? I'd be up for that.

superterrific said...

We'd need a pretty big hat!

Greed, specifically when it comes to retiring 3 year olds to the shed, REALLY bugs me too. But there's something about WPTB that doesn't bother me.

I'm guessing the partners of each horse, perhaps at the suggestion/nudging of Finely, knew they could cash in at auction... not to retire them but to sell them to the usual money bags suspects.

Maybe I'm just being naive, but I always go under the assumption that the members of individual horse partnerships at WPTB, while certainly having greater means that me, are not in the same league of greediness as the Tabor/Smith/Mangier/Royal Family Members. Again, naive?

Other than that, I'm with you!

the chalk said...


Great post. Its nice to see someone discussing an objective subject versus repeating a publication or journalist's article. As well as duplicating, reiterating the same stats over and over. So thank you for the being original.

I hit similar topic this week, The Money Circle

In response to the partnership discussion. The number of partnerships who actually loose money is over 90%. Primarily due to over sale of shares and purchase price. They buy to high and sell too much of the horse. In return the actual racing profits are minimal. If they win anything its ridiculously split among shareholders. Add in the monthly expenses and your at a loss per horse each time.

Hence, West Point jumping at the bit to take a large return for profit. Simply to get "even".

Anonymous said...

A well-framed exposition of racing's essential dilemma. Finley is making business decisions, I believe, because he doesn't have the luxury (or choice)to do otherwise. I'm sure he went to Lakin and not the other way around. This is the ultimate insiders business. Finley had to "pay" to get in and now he must "play." Perhaps, perhaps Finley will use the money to solidify what WPT does best and what to me is the best approach to keeping the sport alive: racing syndicates that cater to the the middle class. The more new blood the better to loosen the death grip the old blood has on the sport.

dana said...

Very interesting... so does it stand to reason that a partner in Lear's Princess did better than WPTB? Because my thought was that if I was a partner there's no way I'd want to sell.

What Anon points out is exactly what I like about WPTB, giving "normal" folks a way in. Even though I was extremely bummed by Rags to Riches' defeat by Lear's Princess, I found it touching (yes, touching... I know, odd) to see the largish group of owners in the winner's circle as opposed to one or two old guys.

Anonymous said...

This may be the most ignorant post I've ever ready on the Internet, which is about what I expected from someone relished in Saturday's breakdowns on Polytrack.

West Point has a website. If you're so interested in Finley's comments, send him a link to your post and ask him to respond.

Valerie said...

Anonymous Person Fascinated with the Word “Ignorant” (as it appears to be the only comment you ever leave on my blog and others in the TBA),

Perhaps some day, instead of blithely dismissing other people’s OPINIONS (as that is what they are), you could share with us some (ANY) substantive comments that reveal your own expertise rather than simply boorish behavior. If my comments were, as you state, the most ignorant you have “ever ready [sic] on the Internet” then I am not sure you actually appreciate the meaning of the word ignorant.

How, EXACTLY, did I “relish” in Saturday’s breakdowns? That comment by you is the very definition of IGNORANT. Ill-informed. Lacking knowledge or sophistication. Uneducated in the fundamentals. Perhaps if you only possess an elementary-level of literacy skills, my post could be interpreted as such…nay, even a first-grader would have understood “devastating” and “painful.”

Within this post, I directly link to the West Point Thoroughbreds website and Mr. Finley’s letter posted there. I believe his comments speak for themselves, so I hardly find it necessary to ask for clarification. On what point exactly would you expect him to reveal new information? Is he going to tell me, “Oh, we are selling Irish Smoke because the vet doesn’t think she is sound” or “We are selling these three fillies to maximize our profits so we can buy more horses to race to a similar position and sell them too. We don’t care about what is sporting, just about making money for our selves and our partners”????? Notice the question marks, here and in the title of my post. I don’t have the answers. I simply question what they are thinking. Last time I checked, I have the right to express my thoughts, just as you have the right not read what I write.

Yoland said...

Good post.