Best in class

by Trey Nosrac

Rain tapped on my windshield in the parking lot of The Grill is Gone Drive Thru Hot Dog Emporium. Wyatt Fetterman, a retired mechanic and volunteer fireman, sat in the passenger’s seat. His friends, even his wife, call the genial giant Double T. He took a break from his chili dog, wiped his fleshy chin with a paper napkin, and asked me, “How come you didn’t buy a yearling last year?”

I gave him a shrug, “Fiscal cliffs, deficit spending, and the virus still had me edgy about getting stuck holding a horse. Let’s say that I took a therapeutic hiatus.”

Double T was familiar with the harness racehorse ownership game. In 2013, he took a tiny piece of my annual yearling purchase, followed by my traditional less-than-productive 2-year-old racing adventure. He said, “Not having a baby in training is unusual territory for you.”

I nodded and frowned, “This is my first harness dance missed in 12 years. The odds, the realities, the obstacles, things pile up. Heck, maybe I just had a spasm of sanity.”

“Those things never stopped you before.”

“Ownership was always a stretch for me. The bridge got too far.”

“Bummer, what could send you back?”

I pondered, took a slurp of my large orange soda, then blurted out something I often think about, “The most important thing that could pull me back into buying yearlings would be if my chances of having fun went up. Want to hear an idea?”

He smiled, “I’m sitting in a car eating a hot dog with a maniac in what we hope is a post-pandemic era. My schedule is free. Go ahead, take me on one of your trips”.

“Okay. This idea is for people like me, who have an interest in the sport, are mathematically and fiscally challenged, are susceptible to new ideas, and possibly insane.”

He flashed a thumbs up and said, “Quite the resume you got there.”

“Thanks. Everyone has the fantasy of a champion buried in their brain, but people like me begin a yearling ownership adventure with two goals — have a good time, and don’t get killed on the money front.”

He said, “I don’t see a plan yet.”

“Okay. Let me simplify my madness. My idea is for smaller pools of competitors. I figure the easiest way to be one of the ‘Best in Class’ is to be part of a small class.”

“Not following you, Trey.”

“Most people I know participate in sports and games but never expect to play in national events. They never consider playing in state events. We enjoy being in smaller, local competitions. I believe there are ways to create quirky pools for eventual competition in harness racing.”

“Ain’t they already got different levels of racing?”

“Yes, but more subsets of competition is what I’m driving at.”

“Still not following you. Give me an example.”

“Okay, imagine there’s a marginal stallion in your state. Let’s call this stallion Border Line. He will probably get 50-60 breedings in his first crop. Before breeding season, the connections of this stallion put out an advertisement stating that the top 10 2yo money winners of the Border Line yearling class will each receive $5,000 in bonus money that will be unofficial earnings.

“Where does the money come from?”

“The owners of Border Line. This group is separate from normal stakes programs.”

Double T asked, “How does this help his stallion?”

“It might, and it might not. Fast forward to 2024, think of the market where Trey, a potential customer, is strolling the aisles of a yearling sale. The Border Line crop will get my full attention. The sons and daughters of this sire are on my list, and I will stretch my budget because I would be susceptible to this simple cash award marketing plan on this subset of yearlings.

Double T said, “They could name this a reward or honorarium.”

I shrugged, “You can call the money whatever you want. For the customer, it represents another competition area and possible income for some less than stellar 2-year-olds.”

“So, whoever ends up with a 2-year-old from this stallion competes among other offspring?”

“Yes, my thought pattern goes like this. I estimate how many Border Line foals will make it to the races and figure that forty of them will qualify for racing. Ten of us with Border Lines will get $5,000, bonus, bounty, or honorarium money.”

Double T pointed out, “I remember them horse bills. $5,000 ain’t gonna go far.”

“To people like me, psychologically, that bonus money is a game-changer because, in the horse racing world, a 25 per cent chance translates into a sure thing. My enthusiasm will make me overbid when the Border Line yearlings are in the sales ring since the delusional and illusional bonus is in the bank.”

“And you might be more forgiving of pedigree and conformation flaws to purchase a yearling from this stallion.”

“Yes, if my bonus baby wants to be great, fantastic. The important thing to me, what I consider the value, is the fun and enjoyment from being in this small pool of Border Line horses. I can sort of wrap my head around competing with forty horses in the same boat.

“I don’t know about this.”

Rudely interrupting, I raced home my point, “The top 10 bonus money gets my attention. But, just as crucial to a mind like mine, this concept would make following the races 100 per cent more enjoyable. I would be back in the racing pool with more Kiddy Pools.”