by Tom Pedulla
All of the potential rewards of owning a standardbred, none of the risk.
For 10 fans, that seemingly too-good-to-be-true proposition became reality when each was given a five per cent stake in Emerald Chip, a three-year-old trotter competing at Yonkers Raceway. The promotion represents a joint effort by the Standardbred Owners Association of New York and the track.
To make matters even sweeter for those enjoying the rare free ride, favored Emerald Chip, driven by Daniel Dube, drew the rail and was much the best in the third race at Yonkers Tuesday (Nov. 8). His victory in the conditioned event allowed him to bring home half of the $20,000 purse for trainer Andrew Harris and his new “owners.”
The initiative underscores how much of a priority is being placed on attracting new owners.
“It’s kind of a hands-on experience without the risk and a financial reward to keep their attention,” said Joe Faraldo, president of the Standardbred Owners Association of New York.
Bob Galterio, general manager at Yonkers, noted how much the breeding and racing elements of the industry depend on those willing to risk disposable income. “It all comes down to ownership,” Galterio said, “and we think that is where we can do our best job of promotion.”
The United States Trotting Association recently reached out via email to 219 people who had either dabbled as owners or expressed interest to offer the five per cent stake to the first 10 respondents. Jay McKenna, 63, of Merrimack, NH was skeptical at first.
“Nothing is for free,” he said.
But he had attended an owner’s seminar at the Meadowlands during the summer and everything about the email seemed legitimate. So he replied.
“To me, it was pretty unbelievable,” he said, “because you can own a piece of a horse without actually having to buy it.”
His new partners are Christopher Cox, Albert Fiorita, Dale Geruschat, Ken Hamilton, Doug Jefferis, Chris Kawolsky, Pat Liberatore, John McCormick and Luis Ravina. Three are from New York and three from Pennsylvania. New Hampshire and Ohio also are included.
According to Allison Conte of the United States Trotting Association, eight of them stemmed from social media in that they had completed an online form for more information about ownership. Two had attended seminars intended to attract new money.
The group will continue to have a stake in Emerald Chip through the end of the Yonkers meet on Dec. 18. Potential earnings are capped at $10,000. They will receive copies of the bills incurred during that time for informational purposes only to help them to understand the kind of expenses associated with such a venture.
The SOA of New York and track management believe ownership is increasingly appealing because the success of Empire City Casino has led to a more rewarding purse structure than before.
“I tell people all the time that purses drive the game,” Faraldo said. “Without those purses, you don’t even have a game because no one is interested in taking the financial risk of ownership if the purse structure is not correct.
“The purse structure here at Yonkers does not eliminate, but it minimizes the risk someone can have in this game. There is an opportunity to make money by owning on a regular basis.”
Galterio did not mince words in describing the advantages he believes Yonkers has over tracks that do not benefit from casino revenue. “If you have any interest in owning standardbreds and you are not racing them at Yonkers,” he said, “you are crazy.”
Harris oversees a barn of 35 standardbreds that compete in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania depending on how well the horse fits different tracks – some horses do not take to Yonkers’ half-mile oval — and the level of competition offered. He readily agreed to participate when he was approached about the program.
“We don’t have any young owners in this game,” said Harris, 31. “We have some great owners in this business, don’t get me wrong, but they are a lot older. We need to spur the younger generation to get into ownership.”
Harris noted the advantages partnerships can offer by limiting an individual’s risk and possibly creating an experience with multiple horses. “It’s really hard to own a horse by yourself,” he said. “But if you get involved with four or five guys, it’s really very affordable. We are trying to show them it is very affordable and it can be an amazing experience.”
Geruschat, 47, a Federal Express employee from Monaca, PA, can attest to that after watching Emerald Chip provide him with an immediate reward via the internet. “It doesn’t matter if you have one per cent or five per cent,” he said. “It’s a great feeling whenever your horse wins.”
Kawolsky, 53, from Rochester, NY, said his ownership experience allowed him to check off an item on his bucket list. He hopes to be viewed as a “mini-ambassador” for a sport that has interested him since he was a teenager attending races at
Quad City Downs in Moline, IL.
It is uncertain whether the promotion will be repeated.
“We may do it again even if we don’t see immediate results from it,” Faraldo said.