Getting in on the Action

Churchill Downs promotes horse ownership via new Racing Club

Shares in two race horses sell out quickly
to group members

(June 2016)
Read previous Don Ward columns!
Don Ward

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Hey, Buddy! Wanna buy a race horse?
That may sound like an old line out of a bad movie, but it has worked to perfection in attracting two groups of everyday people who frequent Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Borrowing a page from a few other horse racing tracks around the country, Churchill Downs staff members recently launched a new Racing Club program, which allows non-horse people to become share owners in a legitimate thoroughbred race horse. The idea is to introduce the sport to more fans and allow them to become even more involved than just as spectators.
The idea has caught on fast. In fact, the track already has sold out a limited number of 200 shares at $500 each in – not one but two – race horses. In addition, the track announced that four-time Kentucky Derby winning Hall of Fame Trainer D. Wayne Lukas will train the horses in hopes they will be ready to hit the starting gate sometime this fall.

Photo by Don Ward

The Churchill Downs’ Racing Club Group #1 horse is paraded out for the owners to see May 14. Shares in a second Racing Club group horse also has sold out.

“This is a great way to get people excited about the sport, not just as spectators but as owners,” said Gary Palmisano, Churchill Downs’ VIP services manager. He was given the task of managing the Racing Club program and providing information on a regular basis to the group horse owners via Facebook and emails. “Depending on the success and popularity of these two groups, we may expand the program to include more horses.”
Palmisano and Lukas, along with Churchill Down President Kevin Flanery met with the Racing Club horse owners May 14 at the track during an early Saturday morning workout of Group 1’s horse, which has subsequently been named “Warrior Road.” The owners were asked to submit names for the horse, and Lukas made the call in late May. On the morning of the workout, however, the horse had yet to be named. Sitting atop his own mount at the edge of the rail, Lukas told the owners that a good name is necessary for good luck. Up until that point, Lukas joked that the list of names that had been submitted “are just awful.”
Lukas also said that having to answer to so many owners of one horse would be daunting, but is being “buffered” from having to do that directly, since Palmisano has been designated as the intermediary and contact person between group owners and the track.

Photo by Don Ward

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas talks to the group from aboard his mount.

The limited number of 200 shares in the Group 1 horse sold out in about a day after it was announced, primarily through emails to Turf Club members and other people associated with the track or the industry, and by being posted on the Churchill Downs website. The colt is a 2-year-old son of Warrior’s Reward that Lukas purchased and trains. Lukas bought the colt for $60,000, which is by no means cheap when you consider that Suddenbreakingnews was purchased for $72,000 and raced in last month’s Kentucky Derby.
There was no cost to owners beyond the initial investment for shares. They won’t collect any winnings should the horse finish in the money. Rather, the program was registered as a non-profit group, with the money to be used to fund the stabling, training and race entry fees, Palmisano said. “The overriding goal is to educate folks on race horse ownership.”
Palmisano said having a trainer with the caliber and name recognition as Lukas helped make the program so successful so quickly – and also why the shares sold out almost immediately. He said Lukas is a strong proponent of fan education to keep the sport healthy and growing.
Flanery said of the Racing Club idea, “It has been proven to have worked well at other tracks, so we thought we would give it a try. So far, I’d say it’s working here, too.”
The Racing Club entitles its owners many perks that likewise are afforded big-time race horse owners. These include a season-long parking pass, track admission passes for themselves, friends and family members, access to the paddocks before the horse races, and invitations to social events to better acquaint themselves with their fellow owners.
“I’ve owned a share in a race horse before, but not like this,” said Louisville resident Mary Jo Bean, who bought two shares in the Group 1 horse. “It’s a lot of fun, especially when you get to watch your own horse out there racing.”
One surprised Group 2 horse owner is WAVE-TV 3 news anchor Connie Leonard. While waiting in the crowd for the horse to appear on the track, she explained that her husband, WAVE TV 3 sports anchor Kent Taylor, surprised her with an email at work telling her they were heading out to the track at 7 a.m. Saturday morning to see their race horse. After hearing from Lukas and then waiting an hour or so for the horse to arrive, she was then informed that she was actually seeing Racing Club Group 1’s horse, and that her group’s horse had not even been purchased yet. (Lukas later purchased a filly for Group 2 that has been named Dial Me.)
“He got me out of bed on a Saturday morning for this?” she joked. “It isn’t even our horse!”
Still, Leonard agreed that the idea of the Racing Club is a great way to expand interest in the sport. And she finds the idea of owning a piece of a race horse kind of fun. She just doesn’t want to lose any more sleep over it.

• Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout. Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email him at: info@RoundAbout.bz.

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