A conversation with Alan Katz of the 3 Brothers Stable

by Murray Brown

If one were looking to use one word to describe the entity known as 3 Brothers Stable, that word likely would be family. One could say that the stable began in 1978 when the members of the family, the parents Jack and Pearl Katz, together with their three sons Ronnie, Steve and Alan, made a visit to one of the premier New York breeding farms of that era, Pine Hollow Stud at the invitation of the farm’s owner Morty Finder. Their goal was to look into the possibility of getting into horse ownership. They had been harness racing fans for quite some time. Jack and Pearl thought that it might be fun to match their interest in racing with owning a horse or two that they could cheer on. It was there that they met Bob Boni who was working at Pine Hollow at the time. It’s a relationship that has certainly stood the test of time, one related to both friendship and business.

The Katz family had become fans of the sport in that era through their attendance at Monticello Raceway and the city racetracks Roosevelt and Yonkers. It was a totally different time than it is today. The Catskills were a very popular destination for New Yorkers who spent their vacations and sometimes their entire summers in the resorts and bungalows in the area to escape from the sometimes blistering heat of New York City in summer. For those families, it was not unusual for the breadwinner to come north to the Catskills with his family for the summer season. He would spend his weekends with the family before returning to the city to presumably earn enough to be able to pay for this indulgence. The remainder of the family would usually remain for the rest of the week enjoying the amenities available at or near the resort. There were all sorts of things that one could do to fill a busy schedule. Among them were attendance at nearby Monticello Raceway. The Katzes had long been fans of harness racing in New York City, often attending at Roosevelt and Yonkers Raceways.

Here they were with a chance to have direct participation in a sport which they enjoyed.

They ended up buying two Fulla Napoleon yearlings Dr Zweig and Juke Box from Pine Hollow.

Their first trainer was Michigan native Mike Harding.

Neither of their purchases was the champion that most owners dream of, especially new ones. They both ended up being adequate racehorses.

They were excited.

This scribe spoke Alan, the youngest of the three Katz brothers, to traverse the time involved in the sport by he and his family.

Q: Your family have been involved in harness racing for a very long time. How has it evolved?

“We all would go to Yonkers and Roosevelt in the city and Monticello in the summers. We really enjoyed going to the track before we ever became involved as owners. We’ve been privileged to have made many friends throughout the time we’ve been in the sport. We all love it, but we have had varying degrees of interest through the years. In the formative years, my mom was the most interested. Of we three brothers, I would say that my late brother Steven and I were the most involved, with the eldest Ronnie being somewhat less so. Actually Ronnie’s wife Mardi is the one who today probably has the greatest connection with the horses themselves. That, I guess, isn’t that much different from the formative years when my mom was the one who enjoyed interacting with our horses. She would spoil them terribly with carrots and candy. I suppose that she might the genesis of us getting involved with the breeding of them. She built a relationship with horses, especially the fillies. When their usefulness as racehorses expired she wouldn’t want to let go. So we evolved into breeding them.”

Q: You are involved with both breeding and racing. Which do you prefer? 

“They both have their good and sometimes not so good aspects. There is nothing comparable to breeding and raising a horse and seeing it achieve tremendous success. We were privileged to have done so with JK Shesalady and JK Endofanera. From only a handful of mares raising a Horse of the Year and a divisional champion. Both these two are on their way to possible greatness in the next stage of their careers. JK Endofanera its already one of the most successful stallions in Indiana and JK Shesalady’s first two foals are the multiple stakes winning fillies JK First Lady($879,136) and JK Alwaysbalady($244,356). The other side of that story is that we were the breeder (with George Segal) of Mr Muscleman who earned well over $3 million and who we sold as a yearling for all of $1,900. I suppose that goes to prove that in the yearling game you can’t judge a book by its cover. Mr Muscleman was a big, gangly colt as a yearling. There was nothing seriously wrong with him other than his being somewhat immature.

Q: How do you primarily look at yourselves, as owners of racehorses or as breeders?

“Without a doubt as owners. We love owning racehorses, especially, of course, good ones. On the other hand, based upon our experience last year, I’m reconsidering. What we have normally done when it comes time to make a decision as to whether we keep our yearlings to train and race or sell them in the yearling sales, we have Bob Boni evaluate them and we make our decision based on that evaluation. Last year things were difficult. My brother Steven was terminally ill and too much was going on. I told the farms where they were to enter them in the sales and that we likely would make the decisions when we saw them at the sales. They were a nice group. We decided to take our chances and let them go into the sales ring. They were all sold and every one brought more than we anticipated. In any event, the yearling game isn’t an easy one. You try to gather as much information as you possibly can on them. But the one thing you cannot do is look inside of them and tell how much heart, speed and determination they are going to have.”

Q: What has changed the most since you folks started in 1978?

“I would say just about everything and very little of it for the better, except for the purses. Except that even there, the purses haven’t risen commensurate with the costs of doing business. Everything has gone up: training, shipping, vet bills, you name it. It is to the point that unless you’ve got that great horse, your chances of making money are not too good. On the other hand, you’ve got the puzzle of last year’s yearling sales. The prices were out of the ballpark. It used to be, and that was not too long ago, that you could buy just about any top pacing filly for a $100,000 or thereabouts. Last year, they were often opening at that price point and rising. How can person even dream of making money on a pacing filly that costs half a million?

“One thing I believe that has hurt us enormously is having the stable areas of many racetracks shuttered. Not only has it raised the cost of doing business a whole lot, but it has also affected owner participation greatly. It used to be that going to the track on a Saturday morning was an event to look forward too. It fostered friendships and good times. Today, it is fairly rare to see owners at the training centers and even attending the races to see their horses race.”

Q: Where do you see the business five or 10 years from now?

“I wish I could say otherwise, but I fear for its future, perhaps not in that time frame, but I find trouble in imagining it being healthy. In my opinion, there are two main factors. The first is the cost of doing business as we’ve discussed. The second and possibly the most damaging is the age of our participants. Whether you are speaking of those going to the track or those buying horses, it has become a game for old folks. Look at our leaders, Jeff Gural, George Segal, Jules Siegel and some others. They are octogenarians. There are many others older than 70. Those who we haven’t replaced for several generations. Aside from people like Adam Bowden and Steve Jones’ two sons, the younger generation today has very little and in most instances no knowledge of us. The main thing that created the most interest in my generation was the thrill of going to the racetrack, the thrill of picking a winner and the ability to share that excitement with those who went to the track with you. Today, the vast majority of the money bet on horses comes from outside the track. probably in most instances from somebody sitting from behind a desk looking at a computer screen.”

Q: What does 3 Brothers Stables’ horse inventory look like today?

“Presently, we are involved with 10 racehorses— by racehorses I mean 2- and 3-year-olds), eight broodmares, six yearlings and eight sucklings. We keep most of our mares at Hanover. We do have three mares and their foals in Kentucky to take advantage of the new Kentucky stakes programs. That is a great incentive for the industry. I have great confidence in Dr. J (Bridgette Jablonsky) at Hanover. She does a great job. This breeding season we bred our mares to Captaintreacherous, Papi Rob Hanover, Perfect Sting and our own JK Endofanera and Captain Crunch.”

Q: For an entity that has been in the business as long as you folks, you have had relatively few trainers.

“We’ve always prided ourselves on our loyalty. If a trainer treats us well we are going to treat that person likewise. We started with Mike Harding, we then had George Berkner who the whole family loved, then to Linda Toscano, Nancy Takter, Ronnie Burke and Brett Pelling. Today we have horses with Linda, Nancy, Brett and Ronnie.”

Q: You’ve mentioned your disappointment with the racing situation at The Meadowlands.

“I strongly believe that The Meadowlands is still our greatest track. I believe that Jeff Gural wants to and usually does do what is best for the sport. I don’t want to blame anybody for what is happening there with regard to amateur races. However, having five amateur races on a Saturday night at our greatest track is an embarrassment — for the track itself and for the sport. I don’t blame Jeff. However, I believe the situation can be improved upon with some imagination shown by the racing office. Certain things could be improved upon. How about carding more races for 3-year-olds, especially 3-year-old pacers, both colts and fillies. What about considering some claiming races for 3-year-old pacers? Not only carding them but going to the trainers whose stables they are in. All these suggestions might not work, but they certainly are worth trying.

Q: What, in addition to your day job and horses,  most interests you?

I’m a big sports fan. My favorite is hockey. We’ve owned season tickets for the New York Rangers for a long time. My father and eventually the entire family were New York Giants fans. I’m also a supporter of the Mets and the Knicks.”

 Q: What is it that has allowed 3 Brothers Stable to keep going through both the good years and some of the ones that were not very good?

My mother and father founded Boltex Textiles over 60 years ago. Boltex is a company that supplies textiles, linen and uniforms to hospitality concerns such as restaurants and hospitals. The COVID situation has affected us somewhat but not as hard as it has hurt other businesses. Thus far, we’ve been fortunate enough to keep on going on.”

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