01 Jun 2018
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Action Plan: Horse Sense

by Julia Hanna

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Photo by Josh Ritchie

Photo by Josh Ritchie

In Thoroughbred racing, no one knows for sure how to pick a champion. But after decades in the business, Terry Finley (OPM 45, 2014) is probably a better guesser than most. As president and CEO of West Point Thoroughbreds in Saratoga Springs, New York, Finley finds promising colts and fillies at the yearling sales and creates “racing partnerships” for interested investors who want a piece of the action at a fraction of the cost.

“It’s a numbers game,” says Finley, who buys 30 to 40 horses annually at an average cost of $200,000 per animal. “Keep in mind that these horses are 18 months old or thereabouts. They’ve never had a saddle on their back, and all you get to do is see them walk.” What Finley can do is consider a horse’s build, breeding, and temperament. He sometimes uses an outside firm to take a horse’s measurements and conduct a biomechanical analysis, including a sonogram of its heart to evaluate size and efficiency: “You don’t want a horse with a Ferrari body and a Volkswagen engine.” He and his team compete against bidders with much of the same information, but deeper pockets. “It’s very similar to the private equity world, with a lot of capital chasing deals,” he says. “Except it’s horses.”

Nabbing a coveted colt at the sales doesn’t ensure a trip to the winner’s circle, of course. “This is not a kind business, in the sense that spending a lot of money doesn’t guarantee success,” Finley says. “That really frustrates a lot of people.”

How to Pick a Winner

Numbers matter. “Getting a feel for the odds is important. The favorite wins a third of the time. That means the public is wrong two-thirds of the time, but still, the lower the odds, the better chance you have of being successful.”

But go with your gut. “You don’t need to be an expert to look at a horse. That’s really the magic of our business—there are people who have luck when they simply watch the horses walk from the paddock to the racetrack, get a special feeling for the animal, and place their bet.”

And it’s not just the horse. “There are owners, trainers, and jockeys who win more than others. One, because they have better horses. Two, because they have everything more figured out; their systems are better, and they’re better caretakers.”

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Class of OPM 45

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