Thursday, July 27, 2017

Partnerships at Belmont: How They Did

Being the obsessive that I am, and knowing that there are a lot of other racing partnerships out there in addition to our own Castle Village Farm, I naturally keep track of how the competition is doing. The result is a spreadsheet for every race meeting on the NYRA circuit, dating back half a dozen years and tracking every partnership that I know of that recruits publicly. I don’t count groups that are family, friends or neighbors, but I do everyone I know of whose website invites interest from new folks.

Even though Castle Village Farm basically sat out this year’s Belmont meet (our one horse stabled at Belmont had some physical issues and started just once), I kept up the scorecard anyway. (I’ll be happy to send you the spreadsheet if you email me directly at

There are, of course, methodological issues. What to do when two partnerships co-own a horse? What to do when a partnership owns a horse in a joint venture with another owner? My solution: if a partnership is listed on the program, the race is counted for that partnership. That means some races are counted twice; so be it. And the purse money for a horse with multiple ownership doesn’t all go to that partnership in a multiple-owner situation, but I count the whole purse for each partnership anyway. Not perfect, but it provides a reasonable comparison.

So here’s what I found at the Belmont meet.

Public partnerships accounted for 280 starts during the meet, winning 39 (14%), finishing in the money 44% of the time, and picking up a check (including 4th and 5th-place finishes) 70% of the time. All these percentage are just marginally above the numbers for all starters at the meet.

In the aggregate, partnerships averaged $13,755 per start, but that number is hugely skewed by Tapwrit’s win in the Belmont Stakes for Aron Wellman’s Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and by wins in the Grade 3 Poker for Ballagh Rocks and the Grade 2 Suburban by Keen Ice, both for Jerry Crawford’s Donegal Racing. A more accurate reflection of how partnerships as a whole did is the median figure for earnings per start, at $5,000. That’s not bad; just about pays the bills for keeping a horse in training (see my most recent analysis of the cost of racing in New York, here.)

Eclipse and Donegal are high-end partnerships; a share in a horse costs $15,000 or more, and often $25,000 or more. How did the other high-end operations do? Sheila Rosenblum’s Lady Sheila group, whose horses are trained by Linda Rice, had an excellent meet, winning 6 of 16 and finishing in the money more than half the time. Team Valor ran only three horses at the meet, but all three finished second in high-level allowances. Centennial had only one win, but eight of their 10 starters finished in the money. And West Point, which ran more horses – 19, many as co-owners – than any other high-end group, had four wins and 52% of their starters in the money. I’d guess the partners in those operations felt reasonably satisfied, even though, in most cases, they’ll never get their initial “investment” back.

Two claiming partnerships dominated the entries at the lower partnership levels, both with decent results. Drawing Away Stable, which started with trainer David Jacobson but left him a couple of years ago, had 32 starters, with six winners (19%) and 14 in-the-money finishes (44%) and earnings per start of $6,888. Final Turn Racing, which took Drawing Away’s place in Jacobson’s barn, had 35 starters, winning four (11%) but finishing in the money 19 times (54%) with earnings per start of $7,033. Both those stables operate on a model where the trainer pays all the expenses and keeps most of the earnings, so partners get a lot of excitement with many entries and win pictures, but don’t really have a major financial stake beyond their initial partnership share.

Overall, 19 partnerships won at least one race. At the bottom end, 11 partnerships didn’t have a single in the money finish, though most of those started three or fewer horses.

Does all this signify anything? What it suggests to me is that racing results are fairly strongly correlated with the cost of the horse that’s doing the racing, notwithstanding the many million-dollar failures in Todd Pletcher’s and Chad Brown’s barns that never even reach the starting gate. But at all levels, what the numbers suggest is that horses have a decent chance of (mostly) paying their way on a New York race track, but that recovering those big yearling or two-year-old purchase prices is an elusive goal.

Caveat emptor.