If you’re someone who gets a rush from watching your $10 win ticket surge to the front down the homestretch, put yourself in Don Weber’s loafers for a moment.
“There’s nothing like being at the racetrack when your horse is coming down the stretch and taking the lead and he wins,” said the Village of Hemingway resident. “Nothing like it.”
And when Weber says “your horse,” he means just that.
Weber is among a handful of Villagers who have taken their racing enthusiasm to another level through partnerships that allow them to hold a small ownership stake in various thoroughbreds.
“Never in a million years did I think I’d be able to own a piece of a real racehorse,” said Tilly Grey, who lives in the Village of Calumet Grove. “It’s a hackneyed phrase — ‘dream come true’ — but that’s what it was when Tom asked if anybody wanted to form
Tom Sweeney heads up Port Royal Racing, an Ocala operation that includes Grey among nine Villages residents scattered across different partnerships. Longtime Villagers may remember him teaching horse-related classes at the old Lifelong Learning College.
Partners from all walks
That was Grey’s entry point into ownership, having bet horses for years. Jake and Diana Bishop, who live in the Village of Amelia, had no background when they took the plunge.
“It was a whole new world that opened to us,” said Jake, a Michigan native. “There used to be a couple of tracks in the Detroit metro area, one for trotters and the other for thoroughbreds. But I can’t remember anything other than driving past Hazel Park.”
Weber and Jerry Regina are partners through West Point Thoroughbreds, a larger operation based in New York.
“It’s a passion, no doubt,” said Regina, who lives in the Village of Osceola Hills at Soaring Eagle. “They call it the Sport of Kings, and it takes a lot to stay in it.”
By sharing the finances with 15 or 20 other people, though, it’s easier to be part of it. Share cost vary depending on a horse’s purchase price, with shares typically ranging from 5 percent to as much as 30 percent.
Sweeney noted Port Royal allows someone to get into a partnership for as little as 1 percent ($1,500), though the relative cost drops with higher stakes. “The more you purchase, the lower the price,” he said.
Said Bishop: “You can figure out how involved f
inancially you want to be.”
Not a classic investment
Partners also make monthly payments toward a horse’s upkeep. Though some horses turn out to be quite successful, all caution no one should go in looking for a big
“It’s a hobby,” Weber said. “Just like if you go on a cruise, you spend money. You play golf, you spend money. That’s the way I look at it. And once in a while, I get a good one and make a few bucks.”
Weber had a good one with Empire Dreams, a gelding who won six starts and more than $800,000 in his career. That included a come-from-behind win in the 2015 Commentator Stakes at Belmont Park, where he was fifth heading into the final turn.
“It’s your horse. That’s the thrill of it,” Weber said.
Regina got his start more than two decades ago with trotters when he was living in New Jersey. His first was a filly named Armistice, who he recalled had a big heart but other physical issues.
“We sold her cheaply to the Amish,” Regina said. “They would buy old racehorses; (trotters are) good horses to have. But she had problems with her legs and ankles.”
He also nearly had a Breeders’ Cup winner in Best Performance, who finished a hard-charging second in the 2017 Juvenile Fillies’ Turf.
Alas, Best Performance raced only three more times. “She just didn’t keep up with those in her class,”
Keeping it local
Port Royal horses tend to have more of a local focus, racing at Tampa Bay Downs or Gulfstream Park in South Florida.
“I’ve learned the partners like to see them run live,” Sweeney said. “It used to be that we’d run at Tampa, then send them up to Monmouth Park (in New Jersey). But the partners didn’t have the access to see them live.”
Another perk that Grey and the Bishops enjoy is excursions to visit their horses either at the track or a farm in Marion County. One popular stop is Eclipse Training Center, where horses get early training from Nick and Jaqui de Meric.
“You can stand at the rail and Jaqui will tell you everything she’s doing while you watch her do it,” Grey said.
Said Sweeney: “The partners can come up and watch the yearling grow and progress. They can watch the actual breaking procedure; they can watch them breeze. Then they’re off to the races.”
Both Grey and the Bishops have shares in a pair of young horses soon heading to Gulfstream. Libertalia is a 2-year-old filly and descendant of former Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Curlin. Billy Bones is a lightly raced 4-year-old.
They also have a futures investment in a new filly out of Prickly Pear, one of Port Royal’s early successes.
“We’ve never had a day where we’re unhappy,” Diana Bishop said. “There are some days when we’ve been happier than others, of course, but we’ve never been unhappy.”