It’s a good thing Michael Goldberg didn’t take my advice

by Murray Brown

A few years ago, I received an email from a man who said he was contemplating getting into the breeding business after nearly 30 years racing and buying yearlings. He did say that he was only considering doing it on a very limited basis. Although he raced all over the country, he wanted to breed horses to take advantage of the newly enhanced Mass Sires Stakes which allowed for dual eligibility for horses bred to out of state sires and foaled in Massachusetts.

My initial response to him was “DON’T DO IT!”

From my experience, it was almost always a fool’s errand, which almost always resulted in at best, many thousands of dollars wasted, often leading to that person’s exodus from a business in which he previously had experienced a great deal of enjoyment, satisfaction and often some pleasure.

“Leave the breeding to the breeders,” I told him. “There are so many reasons why you do not want to be breeding and raising your own horses, the chief of which is it is a money drain. It’s especially daunting when you want to breed to race them yourself. You end up training horses that you wouldn’t even have looked at if they were not those that you had a hand in raising.”

Michael Goldberg responded that he appreciated my candor and that he understood the risks involved. Nevertheless, he had recently sold his business, had his own small farm, more time and resources and wanted to take a shot.

He thought he understood the risks involved and was prepared to only invest an amount that he felt comfortable losing.

He asked if I would help him get started.

The Harrisburg sale was coming up and he wondered if I would meet with him to go over some of the breeding prospects in it.

Considering that he understood the risks involved, I said that I would be more than happy to render whatever expertise I could add. So, I met with him in Massachusetts and then met with him and his trainer at the time at Harrisburg.

It is now several years later. Goldberg has stood fast with his initial plan. In all but one case, he has kept the yearlings which he raised. The one exception was a beautiful Walner yearling Legal Scholar. He consigned it to Harrisburg two years ago and the yearling brought $300,000. Goldberg still owns the broodmare, Religulous, and is hoping that Andrew Harris can get Legal Scholar racing to meet his early expectations.

A mare, Ace Of Pace, that he purchased on that trip to Harrisburg where I accompanied him has produced the filly Beantown Ace who finished second in the Mass Sires Stakes final last year. She is now a 3-year-old and has earned $123,710. He has (barely) avoided the likelihood of as I warned him of becoming horse poor. When I met him, he maintained a race stable of 30-40 racehorses. For the past few years, he has liquidated most of his racehorses and focused on his homebreds. His horse holdings — including two older classy racehorses, broodmares, 2-year-olds, yearlings and sucklings — number about a dozen. He isn’t about to say that he has made money, but if he has lost some, it hasn’t been considerable. He still fantasizes about one colt becoming a champion and of one of his two Down Under broodmares proving themselves. If he is in the debit status, it has more than been superseded by the immense pleasure he has derived from participating in numerous facets of a sport in which he has been involved for almost all of his adult life.

You’ve been involved in harness racing as a participant for decades. How and when did it begin?

“I grew up on Long Island. My friend Howie Kurzrok’s dad Eugene was a prominent owner who later owned parts of great horses such as Mission Brief, Mission Hill, Southwind Frank and Golden Receiver. We went to Roosevelt Raceway and cheered his horses on. I really enjoyed it.

“Fast forward 14 years, I was interning at Boston’s Children Center. My brother presented me with the opportunity to partner with him on a $1,500 horse. The horse, Slapstruck, actually won a few races and gave us a lot of fun. We didn’t make much money, but we didn’t lose any. Our father saw the fun we were having and decided to join us in claiming a horse, Doctor Paul, from Ray Schnittker. What small time Massachusetts people claim from Ray Schnittker? Only people who don’t know better. We fit that profile well. Nevertheless, we got lucky. Ray had paid $1,000 to enter Doctor Paul in the Sampson Pacing Series, a one-and-half mile late closer at Yonkers. The first week our driver/trainer Jimmy Hardy didn’t have him rigged right and he raced poorly. However, Jimmy figured him out before the second start and he went down to Yonkers and won at 36-1. We are not big gamblers, but we all bet on him, and we won so much money that they had to go to the back cash room to get enough money to pay us.”

Author’s note: Doctor Paul finished second in the late closer final and went on to win 21 races for the Goldbergs from 1993 to 1997. Goldberg quipped “that might have been the worst thing that ever happened to us since we were now hooked.”

Aren’t you a psychologist by profession?

“I built an outpatient mental health business which ultimately became the biggest of its kind in Massachusetts. I sold it for a good sum in 2017. Part of the deal was that I had equity in the new company. I continued to work and run the Northeast operations through 2020. The company eventually went public and is now the largest outpatient mental health company in the country.

“I had continued to dabble in horse ownership. Now that I had more time and money on my hands I decided to expand my participation. I enjoyed racing then, as I still do. But I wasn’t content just being a spectator. I wanted to get back to more hands-on involvement that I had when I was starting my career. I drove in an infamous amateur race at Yonkers in the 1990s which helped me understand how difficult driving really is. I enjoy warming up my horses occasionally. I wouldn’t call myself a trainer, but I would also sometimes help out, some might call it, get in the way, in training my horses.

“I increased my participation in the sport by buying a few yearlings. The next thing I wanted to do was to breed a few of my own. I now own a small farm in Massachusetts with a third-of-a-mile training track on it. I foal my horses on farms in Massachusetts and send them to Chris Coyle’s place [Olive Branch Farm] in North Carolina to be raised. Chris Coyle has been an amazing caretaker and advisor in my breeding adventure.”

What does your horse “empire” now consist of?

“We have two old classy racehorses, JK Willpower and Pappy Go Go, both of which have had great careers. JK Willpower broke one million in lifetime earnings in November with his 42nd win. Pappy Go Go, the greatest son of Tad The Stud, has 54 wins and over 500,000 earned. Both have been racing poorly this year. However, now that I am back in Massachusetts they will come back to my farm where my friend and most trusted horseman, Jeff Lieberman, will help me get them back to the form I believe they are capable of. I ride them both and expect to own and take care of them for the rest of their lives. I have four broodmares and their 2024 foals. I have my now 3-year-old Mass filly Beantown Ace [$123,710] who is coming back strong. Three 2-year-olds, one of which has been turned out and is at Chris Coyle’s to grow more. All of my younger horses are Mass eligible and are in training with George Ducharme. As are most owners, I am looking forward to seeing them compete in stakes races as the season goes on.”

Am I correct, that your interest in sports is not entirely focused on harness racing?

“Harness racing is the only sport in which I have a dollar investment, but I consider myself invested, at least emotionally in all of the major sports teams, specifically those based in New England. In order of preference those would be the New England Patriots, the Boston Bruins, the Boston Red Sox and the Boston Celtics. I will admit though that with all my travel and other commitments I may not be that committed until the post season, which is an expectation in New England.

“Many of my homebreds have been named for New England sports legends such as Beantown Brady, Beantown Bruschi and Beantown Big Papi.”

How would you describe your life in general and your involvement in harness racing in particular?

“In a few words, I would say that I am probably the luckiest guy on earth. I have it all: the greatest wife and children, the greatest friends, my health and good fortune. With regard to harness racing, I love the horses themselves, I love the competition, I love winning, but perhaps most importantly, I have been blessed by knowing the many wonderful people in the sport. All I need is a couple of the homebreds to excel.”