Fortune favors the bold

Owner Adam Bowden borrowed an idea from the thoroughbreds and ran with it.

by Debbie Little

In February of 2020, Adam Bowden, the owner of Diamond Creek Racing, hired a racing manager to, among many other important things, communicate with his trainers.

“To be honest, I don’t think the trainers like talking to the owners,” Bowden said. “I don’t think the owners like talking to the trainers. So, we hired Marcus Johansson, who was married to Nancy Takter at one point, and he sits behind our horses. He communicates with the trainers. He makes changes on our horses. He talks to the drivers. He gets feedback. He’s the translator between me and the trainers and it’s working swimmingly.

“We took [the idea] from the thoroughbreds because we play in the thoroughbreds as well, just on the breeding side. And you see these racing managers; they deal with the owners and they deal with the trainers and they help facilitate and I was like, ‘Why not?’ Thoroughbred trainers don’t have to go to scout yearlings. We’re just taking that same approach with regards to the race stable. And we’ve sort of consolidated everything with a couple of trainers, and, obviously, it’s starting to pay off now. So, it works for us. I’m surprised more people don’t do it, to be honest.”

To see how well it’s works, one would just need to look at the fields for Saturday’s (July 8) Meadowlands Pace eliminations. Of the 15 colts and geldings that dropped in the box on Tuesday (July 4), four — Cannibal, Christchurch, Combustion and Confederate — are either owned or co-owned by Diamond Creek Racing, giving them 27 per cent of the entrants.

“We mapped these horses out last year with the goal of winning the Meadowlands Pace and North America Cup,” said Bowden, who saw Confederate finish second, beaten a head by It’s My Show in the Cup.

“And he works with the trainers about mapping out schedules about how we’re going to get them to these races and everything. So, he plays an important part, and one I want to play a part in, but I know the trainers aren’t going to trust me to do it, so this is my conduit for having it happen because I love control.”

Johansson didn’t totally know what to expect when he took this job almost three and a half years ago and had he ventured a guess at that time, he probably wouldn’t have hit close to the mark.

“It has been a lot more than I expected, and it has been a lot different than I expected in so many ways,” Johansson said. “And I don’t know what Adam thought about the first year. I mean, it’s a learning curve. We learn every year and we change things every year. But I’m happy I still had a job after the first season because I don’t think we were very successful that year. We were more successful than he had been in the previous years, but still, I’m not happy until we become better and better all the time. You can always better yourself.”

When it was pointed out to Johansson that Bowden is extremely happy with how much money this partnership has saved him over those three years, Johansson said with a laugh, “Do you think this is the time for me to ask for a raise?”

Like a diamond, Johansson’s job is multifaceted, but so is his background. He has been a groom, driver and trainer. He even went to horseshoeing school. Now, he looks at yearlings, assesses babies on up to racehorses, and, for Bowden, when it comes to his trainers, is a human version of Google Translate.

“[Bowden] likes to be in control, right?” Johansson said. “Which I don’t blame him, it’s his money and his investments.

“It’s easier, I believe, for the trainers to translate or get what they need to say across to me. So, I can translate it to Adam and explain it to him.”

In order for this plan to fully come to fruition some tough decisions needed to be made along the way.

“We moved Confederate from Brian Brown to Pelling and that was a difficult decision for us to do,” Bowden said. “We did it in April this year. It was not an easy decision by any means and I’m sure that my relationship with Brian is forever changed by it because he was hurt and probably, rightfully so at the time. And Brian did everything right with the horse.

“It was nothing he did wrong or anything like that. It was more about this is a business and we’re treating it as a business, and for Marcus to do his job appropriately, and for us to do our job correctly with the horses, we needed consolidation in New Jersey where [Marcus] is located. Really, we were debating where to move the horse to and just called Pelling and felt like he was the right guy for the horse. He said he didn’t have any room, but he’d make room for the horse.”

Bowden’s horses are currently split between three trainers: Marcus Melander, Pelling and Nancy Takter.

“I didn’t know how the trainers were going to react when they saw me there walking into the barn,” Johansson said. “But they have been nothing but great to me. I have the utmost respect for the trainers that we use.

“No one is going to care about our horses as much as we do, right? So, I do make suggestions sometimes, but I do trust them because we are paying them to train our horses for us. So, yes, there are times when we have discussed things and so on, but the final decision is theirs.”

For Johansson, that learning curve didn’t just apply to what Bowden wanted but also to the three trainers he has to work with.

“Actually, all three of them are extremely different,” Johansson said. “Marcus [Melander] grew up in Sweden with his uncle, who is a successful trainer over there, so he sees things one way and Nancy grew up with her father here in America and he mixed a little bit of what he had seen in Sweden in with the American. And then, Nancy obviously used some of that and her own. And Brett is completely different from both of them.”

On the days Johansson shows up at the barn, Pelling doesn’t just view him as another pair of hands, but as someone knowledgeable.

“I think it’s a very good situation, because I can speak to him in trainer speak,” Pelling said. “It lets me know that the information that I’m giving is being absorbed in the right way. I mean, that’s really the bottom line. So, you know, I think it’s a good move.

“Marcus is also not only an advocate for the trainers to Adam, but they’re also going around looking at yearlings when they’re three months old, six months old, 12 months old, which is pretty much how the thoroughbred people do it. And I know that they already have a short list for the sales in October and I haven’t looked at a horse yet and I think that is the best way to do it.”

Bowden pointed out that it’s taken a couple of years to happen, but that now he and Johansson see things the same way and that he’s saved thousands and thousands of dollars doing it this way because, on Johansson’s advice, he’s gotten rid of under performers, and more importantly, not made unnecessary stakes payments.

“He’s taking 100 per cent ownership and it’s as much his as it is mine and I love that part of it,” Bowden said. “We sit down in February every year and assess the horses and I’ll tell you what, with pacers, there isn’t anybody better. He told us last year in order who he thought our best pacers were. He said, ‘I think Christchurch and Confederate have a chance to be the two best horses in the country.’ I don’t know that he was that far off. And then he said, ‘Just below that are Cannibal and Combustion. I think they’re Grand Circuit horses.’ He told me that in February [2022] and ever since that, that’s sort of been the plan for them.

“I remember him calling me from Florida when Confederate got to Brian’s. Marcus said, ‘Brian is going to tell you that he’s green and immature.’ Which he was. He said, ‘This horse has a world of ability if we’re patient.’ He did the same [assessing] this year for our horses. I won’t give it away yet, but we’ll see at the end of the year if he’s right. With pacers he’s been spot on.”