Taking the plunge with Hoosier Park’s First Turn Stable

by James Platz

I’ve decided to take the plunge… sort of. After more than two decades covering harness racing and profiling horses and the connections behind them, I wanted to pursue a different angle. Instead of chronicling the highs and lows of a campaign as a bystander, I wanted to be more invested. Thanks to Harrah’s Hoosier Park’s long-running First Turn Stable program, I’m now scratching that itch of horse ownership, albeit in a slightly different way.

Seize the Grey’s storybook Preakness Stakes victory in May illuminated the benefits of fractional ownership. For the group of 2,570 shareholders that make up the 3-year-old’s partnership, the Triple Crown campaign has provided the experience of a lifetime. Fractional ownership is not a new concept. The idea of splitting up shares of a horse and dividing the liability (and, fingers crossed, profits) among multiple owners can make entry into the business more palpable to some.

The shareholders approach seen with Seize the Grey has taken this model to a new level and made racing available to most people. In a previous career I worked in email marketing (yes, I was personally responsible for the junk in your inbox). For more than two years, I sat back-to-back with a co-worker involved in fractional ownership… and was never aware of this fact. It was only after overhearing a small snippet of a phone conversation that this fact came to light. I inquired, and he explained that he and his wife had shares in three runners, with hopes of buying into another after the Saratoga sale. Fractional ownership made that possible.

To their credit, the management at Hoosier Park seized upon the opportunity to engage fans and provide a unique experience when First Turn Stable was created nine years ago. The program gives individuals the chance to ‘buy in’ via 50 shares available in the stable at a cost of $250 per share. Participants must be 18 years of age and Indiana residents. The track partners with a trainer, claims a conditioned horse, and away they go. I anted up by the June 1 deadline and I’m now along for the ride.

Upon joining, I learned that First Turn Stable had already acquired a horse and racing was well underway. Fast Feet, the stable’s racing interest, is a gelded son of Breeders Crown and Indiana Sires Stakes champion, Freaky Feet Pete. He made five starts as a freshman, hitting the board twice. Fast Feet made five seasonal starts at Hoosier Park before being claimed by First Turn’s trainer, Patrizio Ancora.

Stable members can follow along throughout the season on First Turn’s Facebook page. We receive email notifications when Fast Feet is entered, as well as after the race. Despite joining a few starts into the endeavor, I reached out to Taylor Owen, the program’s coordinator, and received previous emails sent to the members. Catching up on the progress of Fast Feet, the sophomore has raced in the non-winners of one class, finishing second his first time out for the stable followed by a pair of fifth-place efforts. He raced third on May 30 with Trace Tetrick in the bike, and the following day First Turn members received a recap. Below is a post-race summary from Ancora.

“We really can’t be any happier with the effort he continues to give us each week,” he said in the summary, “We thought we were going to get the cover we needed turning for home, unfortunately he got left out first over again. Trace did recommend we try opening his bridle up a little more. Trace said ‘Feet’ loves to dig in and race with horses, but when he gets clear he can get a little bit lost so we may try him with cut outs in his blinkers next week to help so he can still see horses even when he clears. He keeps knocking on the door, we’re hopeful things will come together soon for him!”

Through four starts, Fast Feet had earned $2,935 for the stable, but that would soon change, as everything finally came together. In his next outing — my first as an official member of First Turn Stable — the pacer scored his first career win. Fast Feet was sent off as the favorite in a June 5 contest for non-winners of one pari-mutuel race or $5,000 lifetime. Tetrick sent him to the front from post 4 when the wings folded, and the tandem set all the fractions on their way to winning by 2¼ lengths, pacing the mile in 1:56.

I had planned to be there that night. Unfortunately, some looming deadlines in my day job kept me close to home, so I was relegated to watching the race on RTN. It wasn’t the Belmont Stakes, but for a first-time owner, it was a pretty big thrill. In that moment I wished I could have joined my fellow First Turn members in the winner’s circle, but I’m optimistic there will be more opportunities this summer. After five straight weeks of racing, Fast Feet receives a week off before his next start. Ancora gave the following update on the pacer’s status.

“Following the win last week, we had a little bit of vet work done to Fast Feet and decided it was best to give him a week off,” he said. “He jogged just a little bit sore the first day back after his race last week and we found a slight abnormality in his cannon bone. There is nothing major wrong, we just decided to treat it and following a week off he should be ready to get back in action next week!”

The victory nearly doubled what Fast Feet has earned for the group, now $5,435 and counting. First Turn Stable members don’t immediately receive purse earnings, but they aren’t on the hook for a training bill or veterinary work either. We will see monthly statements on what it takes to train and care for a racehorse, but our responsibility ends there.

At season’s end, Hoosier Park will tally all the costs compared against the earnings. If Fast Feet (or his replacement, should he be claimed) covers his bills and there is money left, those funds will be distributed amongst the members.

I’m looking forward to the journey ahead as the season unfolds, sharing this experience with other First Turn Stable members, and getting a small glimpse into the world of racehorse ownership.