Eric Cherry owns wholly, or in part, 140 broodmares and has successfully operated online breeding platform ongait.com for 20 years.
by Murray Brown
Eric Cherry was born and raised in Plainview, Long Island, roughly a 10-minute drive from the much-missed Roosevelt Raceway.
He was born in 1953 and describes that era as a great time to grow up and a great time to be a kid. Safety and freedom was a whole lot more omnipresent for youngsters than it is today. He recalls going to the big city alone prior to his teenage years, something that would be unheard of today and might fall into the category of child abuse.
He first visited Roosevelt Raceway at the age of 16 in 1969. He was immediately beguiled.
Wagering, numbers and percentages have always interested him.
Three years later, he borrowed $5,000 from his father to invest in his first horse. As with so many first entering the game, he was raked over the coals.
The $5,000 quickly dissipated. His dad was willing to forgive the loan, but Eric eventually repaid him.
There were several ups and downs for the next few years with the latter prevailing. The worst occurred in 1978 when he claimed the horse Super Game from Henri Filion for $15,000 and the horse died shortly thereafter. The money, a tax refund, had been initially intended to buy furniture for his then empty house.
After awhile, focusing mostly on claimers, he decided they were not his cup of tea. He wanted to be involved in making his own horses — for better or worse.
He became a student of bloodlines.
The first good horse he bought as a yearling was Tango Almahurst who was an excellent filly in an outstanding crop which included Bardot Lobell, Turn The Tide, and L’eggins, among others.
The very next year, Cherry was at the Liberty Bell sale where he purchased the Bye Bye Byrd colt Yankee Colonel who became a decent stakes performer for him.
From that time forward, yearlings were his main focus, with the occasional purchase of a made race filly or mare who he thought he could improve upon, but primarily to eventually become a member of his growing broodmare band.
What very few realize is how involved Cherry has become in the breeding business.
He now owns wholly or in part 140 broodmares.
He also owns a significant part of the stallions Heston Blue Chip, Stag Party, Bettors Wish and He’s Watching.
He also owns shares in many of today’s top commercial stallions.
He feels that his top 25 or 30 mares can compete with just about anybody’s.
He first began becoming involved as a breeder in the early 1980s.
His first encounter with yours truly was at the 1982 Harrisburg Sale.
That was the year of Leonard Buck’s Allwood Farm dispersal. He purchased the Bye Bye Byrd filly Another Bid, a half-sister to Overbid. One of his partners was forced to back out and he was short $30,000. Cherry called me and told me the story. He arranged to pay for the outstanding balance over three months at $10,000 a month.
The vast majority of his mares are pacers. It’s not necessarily that he prefers pacers to trotters, but rather that he feels there is more value involved in buying young pacers than there is with trotters. The word “value” can be Eric Cherry’s middle name. He strongly believes that seeking good value is the best way to succeed in this business, especially at the top.
“A good quality pacing filly that checks all the boxes is almost always more reasonably priced than the comparable trotting filly,” Cherry said.
Let’s revert to Cherry’s younger years.
After a year of college, he decided that wasn’t for him.
His father was involved in the garment business and he went to work with him.
Through the eight years he was involved there, although he was making good money, he hated it, especially the commute from Long Island to New York and back, which ate up three hours of every day. Throughout that time period, he still kept an interest and involvement in harness racing.
He decided that he was going to move to Florida. He told his dad he was leaving for three main reasons:
1. The horses. He could go to Pompano nightly and watch his horses train in the morning.
2. The weather. He was fed up with New York winters.
3. The taxes. New York was replete with taxes, whereas Florida was much kinder in that respect.
“What will you do?” his father asked. “I’ll work it out” Cherry answered.
At first, in addition to his horse holdings, he became a broker selling horses and breedings, many of them discounted to popular stallions.
“That didn’t make me too many friends among breeders, but it’s something I still strongly believe in. I don’t believe there should even be advertised stud fees. Let the market decide. I think that if you own a piece of a stallion, it should be yours to do with as you wish. Why should a syndicate manager tell me what I have to do with my own property. If I can make a better, or even sometimes worse deal outside of the syndicate, they shouldn’t have veto rights over what I can do. I think it’s going in that direction now anyway, with many people using their own breeding rights as they wish. The price of Microsoft stock varies from day to day, why should we be any different?
“In the early ’90s cell phones became omni president. I was fortunate that I became involved with 900 numbers around then, including the National Raceline for race and sales results. I found myself in the middle of the 900 marketplace which covered everything from 1-900 weather to Dionne Warwick’s Psychic Friends show. I did very well with that. Eventually new technology surpassed that, as is the way of the world. Nothing remains the same. We either go forward or we fall behind.”
Cherry said that like many other wise men of my acquaintance, he believes that he knows what he knows he knows and perhaps, almost as importantly, what he doesn’t know.
I’ll begin my questions on that topic.
Regarding what you know and what you don’t know, how does that apply to the horse business?
“I think I put in more time studying pedigrees, race results and just about anything relating to racing and breeding than anybody I know. I think my knowledge in those areas goes well with making decisions relating to them. On the other hand, I wouldn’t dare to presume that I could pick out a yearling regardless of how well-bred it was without having a person whose expertise I respect to check out its conformation. In much the same manner, I wouldn’t even dare to suggest how any horse should be trained. I’m not experienced at all in those areas. I wouldn’t hesitate to express my opinion on a racehorse after watching it race. However, before buying one, I’d want an expert to physically evaluate it.”
You study the pedigrees, how much credence do you give to videos?
“Not that much. I’ll look at them. But I think that they are edited so much that you are shown only what the breeder wants you to see. I would prefer that my trainer watch them move in person. Not doing that is the lazy man’s out.”
How many horses do you have in training?
“Sixty, 38 of which are 2-year-olds. I’m heavily invested in Pennsylvania breds, So much so, that I’m probably in too deep to the point where I’m competing with myself. I’ve also got some for New York, Ontario and for the first time this year, I’m trying Ohio. Most of them are owned in partnership, many with my friend Dana Parham. Among the trainers, they are with are Tony Alagna, Jeff Webster, Nifty Norman, Dr. Ian Moore, Virgil Morgan, Chris Ryder, Mike Hall, Brett Pelling and Ronnie Burke. I hope I haven’t left any out.
“I have become more selective in how I stake the 2-year-olds, since we are one of the only businesses where the larger you become, the more difficult it becomes to make money. I would hope that the overall savings I’ve made from leaving one or two out of some stakes is more than made up for by the money I’ve saved.”
How has COVID-19 affected you?
“It’s probably affected me much more than most, especially here in Florida. I did alright in the horse business. However the other businesses that I’m invested in, chiefly entertainment related, were destroyed.
“I’ve pretty much become a hermit ever since the onslaught of the virus. I’ve received my vaccine, so I now have more freedom. Harness racing has kept me sane for the last year.
“Last week was the first time I visited Sunshine Meadows to see the horses in over a year. I’m immunocompromised. I have an artificial heart valve and I am on blood thinners. In addition, I have a very bad back.
“I never get hungry. It’s kind of a shame, since my wife Lisa is an incredible and versatile gourmet cook. She takes great pride in rarely cooking the same dish more than once. But I’m really not a fussy eater.”
You are probably best known today as the first and certainly the most successful to sell horses online through your successful enterprise Ongait.com
“Most people look upon Ongait as being something that is relatively new. We have actually been in business for 20 years. Maurice Chodash and I were involved on the National Raceline. That was his voice you heard when calling it.
“Ongait was originally Maurice’s idea. We have really taken off in the last several years. I think the turning point was when we sold Atlanta online for $1,575,000. That opened a lot of people’s eyes. More and more people each year are both selling and buying their horses through our service. I can’t say that it is helpful to everybody, but it sure is useful for a great many. It has numerous advantages. You don’t have to wait until the next sale which could be months in advance to get one listed and sold. It all can be done in the matter of a few days. Instead of waiting for more than a month to get paid for your horse, it usually happens in three days, occasionally one or two. Your commissions are lower. The expense and risk involved in getting your horse to the sale is negated.
“In the virtual sale we conducted in Canada (the London Virtual Yearling Sale), every consignor’s proceeds was up, sometimes up considerably — that in a year when some sales were negatively impacted.”
You are known as a forward thinker. What will help harness racing?
“A year ago I probably would have given you a different answer. First and foremost we need to differentiate ourselves from the thoroughbreds. We need an identity as far as the public is concerned. Our sport is much safer for the horses and drivers. With the Horse Racing Integrity Act now in play, we need to think about our survival. We should start referring to ourselves as trotters as opposed to standardbreds. After all, our governing body is the United States Trotting Association. That way, there will be less confusion and we will have our own separate identity. The public does not understand the difference between a thoroughbred and a standardbred.
“Apart from that, our product has to become more exciting and competitive. Drivers have to stop being so polite about giving holes and openings. If they want to be polite, let them become Maitre D’s. On the racetrack, they need to be out for blood. They should also stop driving by and looking at the tote board. That’s one reason why the Grand Circuit meet at The Red Mile every fall is so exciting. Everybody there drives to win.
“When simulcasting first began, it was looked upon as an extra. To some degree, it has now devoured the sport. It’s beyond time that we look into cutting out all middlemen. We could then pass the benefits to the track, the horsemen and the bettors.
“We also need to explore new markets, such as millennials and craft our product to their likes and dislikes — not to maintain the status quo.”
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