Reaching for Roses: The Beginning of the Journey

June 30, 2010

My First Encounter with Geoffrey Russell

The focus of today’s Paulick Report Forum is Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s Director of Sales. The forum has a question-and-answer setup and gives a lot of interesting information about the 2010 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Geoffrey answers questions about the new format of the September sale, new technologies Keeneland is experimenting with to better accommodate their clients, and the state of the economy and its anticipated effect on the sale. Today’s edition of the Paulick Report Forum can be read at PaulickReport.com.

The article reminded me of my first encounter with Geoffrey. It was the Friday before the 2009 September sale and I was working in my office at Keeneland when I received an e-mail from my supervisor/boss/person I was interning under, Julie Balog. She asked that I come see her in her office because she had a new task for me. I was in her office a few minutes later and she gave me my job for the afternoon: do a short video-interview with Geoffrey about Keeneland’s new “Kee-Bid” service. She told me Geoffrey would be free at 1 pm and to head to his office a little before then.

Well at this point, I had only been working at Keeneland for a couple of weeks and had not gotten the chance to meet Geoffrey; however, I knew who he was. His knowledge of Thoroughbred pedigrees and the Thoroughbred sales industry made him one of my idols in this business. So when I was told that I was going to interview him, a couple of thoughts went through my mind. My first thought: holy crap I’m going to meet and interview Geoffrey Russell; I’m so excited! My second thought: holy crap I’m going to meet and interview Geoffrey Russell; I’m going to throw up.

At this point, I was really nervous, but it was just the beginning. Upon walking back into my office, the woman I shared the office with asked me what I would be doing with my day. When I told her that I would be interviewing Geoffrey, her eyes got big and she said, “Oh…interesting.”

“Well, what does that mean?” I said.

“Oh nothing…it’s just that it’s three days before the big sale and he’s probably a little stressed. Umm…I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

Well, that conversation didn’t help calm my nerves. For the next several minutes I just sat there and thought that I was going to say something stupid or do something wrong and Geoffrey was going to blow up on me. I thought, “It’s three days before one of the biggest sales in the world, and he’s running it. He doesn’t want to be interviewed by some kid he’s never met.” I was scared to death, but I had a job to do and so I grabbed my video-camera and headed for his office.

I arrived outside in his office and knocked on his door. “Mr. Russell?” I asked. I heard the instructions to come inside and so I did. “Hi Mr. Russell. My name is Travers Manley.”

As he extended his hand, with a big smile on his face, he said, “It’s Geoffrey; great to meet you.”

My fears could not have been more ridiculous. Geoffrey was glad to meet me and glad to do the interview. We talked for several minutes before and after the interview and even joked around some. I thought, “What was I afraid of? This guy’s awesome!”

Upon returning to the marketing and communications section of the Keeneland offices, I began to tell my new co-workers the story of how I interviewed Geoffrey. I even bragged a little and told them that I think he really liked me. It was a great moment for me and I was lucky to have had the opportunity to meet/interview Geoffrey. I’m even luckier to now call him a friend.

The video interview that I did with Geoffrey that day is below. It is of far-less quality than the videos I made for Keeneland later in my internship, but I think it’s still interesting. Enjoy.

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June 28, 2010

So many decisions…

About one month from now, on August 1st, the entries are due for the Keeneland November sale. I have a lot of decisions to make between now and then. Here are just a few of the things I have to think about in the next four weeks:

1. Is Keeneland November the best place to send Skype? There are a couple of other options out there and I must decide if Keeneland November is a right fit for my filly. The two other options are the Keeneland January sale and the Fasig-Tipton February sale. Would one of these sales be better for Skype than Keeneland November?

2. Who should I use to consign Skype? There are dozens of very nice consignors in Kentucky and picking one to go with is a tough decision. I must also decide whether it would be best to send Skype to a mega-consignor that will have 70 weanlings at the sale, a medium-sized consignor that will sell around 35 weanlings, or a smaller consignor with maybe only 5 to 10 weanlings (obviously these numbers are applicable only if I send her to Keeneland November). Would it be better for her to be a standout in a small consignment or a member of a larger consignment where she might get looked at more often? Would she be seen by many potential buyers in a small consignment? Would she get lost in the mix of a big consignment? 

3. Private sale versus public sale. The option is also there to try to sell Skype privately and not send her to a public auction. The benefit here would be not having to deal with the uncertainty of what she will bring at auction. Also, if I sold her in the near future, I would be saving thousands of dollars on sales-prep fees. Will I get the price I want for her if I sell privately? Will I be able to find a buyer for her before entries are due for Keeneland November?

One of the reasons that I purchased Sky and Skype was for me to learn more about the breeding and sales industries from the inside. Sure, people can learn a ton about the industry without being an owner or a breeder, but my dad and I knew this would be a way to strengthen my knowledge of this game. Since I can remember, my dad and I would have discussions about horses we did not own; where to race them, what trainer to send them to, what stallion to breed to, what consignor to use, etc. and the decisions always seemed easy. However, I’ve learned that everything changes when I’m using my money and they’re my horses. The decisions are no longer easy and, in fact, they’re downright tough.

June 24, 2010

Looking Forward to Night Racing

Tomorrow night I will be heading to Churchill Downs for their night racing program and I’m really excited. I haven’t been to a live race since Keeneland closed in April and so I’m looking forward to seeing some live racing at “Downs After Dark.” The live racing is not what I am most excited about, however. I am most excited about the number of friends that are attending the races with me. I know that dozens of my fraternity brothers are attending, as well as co-workers and other close friends. What’s the best part about this group of people, from a racing standpoint? Their age! I know around thirty people who will be making the trip to Churchill tomorrow night and all of them are under the age of 25. What’s even better is that tomorrow night will be the first time a handful of them will see a live horse race. Who knows, maybe a few of them will get “bitten by the racing bug,” and a couple of years from now they’ll have their own blogs about Thoroughbred racing and breeding.

Tonight I plan to prepare for the night racing by handicapping as many races as I can before falling asleep. I expect to be asked a lot of questions tomorrow night and I’ll welcome all of them. As I mentioned in a previous post, those with knowledge about the game must be willing to share their knowledge and help new fans understand and enjoy racing. I am by no means an expert and I have a lot to learn; I know that. However, within my group of friends, I’m looked at as the man with all the answers when it comes to horses and racing. I’m guessing that around twenty minutes to post before the 1st race, I’ll be asked a dozen times who I like. I’ll answer every question and give as many tips as I can. I don’t know how many winners I’ll give out to my friends tomorrow, but I guarantee that upon giving out my first loser I’ll here a dozen more times, “Man, what does Travers know!?!? I thought he was supposed to be good at this!”

June 23, 2010

Lose the Gym Membership, Head to a Horse Farm

Filed under: Working in the Industry — traversman @ 9:24 pm
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This morning on the farm, myself and the rest of the team hand-walked all of our sales colts for twenty minutes. We have some horses going to the Fasig-Tipton July and August sales and many are going to Keeneland in September.  I assist in bringing the colts up to the barn in the mornings and turning them out in the afternoons, but today was my first experience participating in their daily hand-walks around the paddocks. It was about ten minutes into the walk that I realized that I don’t need a gym membership; I work on a horse farm.

The heat in central Kentucky has been blazing as of late and this morning was no different. Even at 7 AM the temperatures were in the 70s with high humidity. As I came around one of the corners of the paddock, I put my head down for a moment and sweat began to drip off my face. The brisk walk in the heat was taking its toll on me. My shirt was totally saturated in sweat and I could “feel the burn” in my thighs from walking up and down the small hills. I then looked at the horse I was leading and could feel every muscle in my arm working to keep him at a walk. My guy was feeling good this morning and wanted to go, but I had to hold him up and keep him under control. This was no easy task and I’m sure my right arm would tell you that if it could.

Well the walk finally ended and I led my colt back to the barn, gave him a quick hose off, and then put him back in his stall. The boss handed everyone a Gatorade and I drank mine so fast that I didn’t even taste what flavor I got. We all took a quick break to enjoy our drinks and then it was back to work. I decided then that for the rest of the day I would keep track of the amount of exercise I was getting on the job. I found a day on the farm to be a great workout.

I’ve traded in dumbbells and barbells for bales of hay and straw and the treadmill for acres of pasture to walk-over. Since starting work at the farm full-time, I have noticed an increase in my strength and conditioning. In the last six weeks, I’ve only been to the gym once or twice, but I’ve been to the farm six days a week. The daily workout on the farm is a nice benefits package and, unlike Lexington Athletic Club, they’re paying me to be there.

June 21, 2010

Weaning time is approaching

I received the July edition of The Horse in the mail a few days ago and this afternoon I have spent some time reading it. One article in particular that caught my eye was “Ways to Wean,” by Heather Smith Thomas. The reason the article interested me so much is that Skype will turn 5 months old on July 1st and the time for her to be weaned is quickly approaching. Thomas discusses in the article many of the different ways to “break the mom-baby bond.”

Here are a few of the weaning techniques given in the article:

1.  Put a group of mares and foals together in a pen and then remove all the mares.

2. Put all mare and foal pairs into their individual stalls and then remove each mare, leaving the foal behind in the stall.

3. Bring a group of mares and foals into their pasture and then remove half the mares. Wait a couple of days and then remove the remaining mares.

4. Bring a large group of mares and foals into their pasture and remove one mare a day until all the mares have been removed.

5. Gradually wean the foal by separating it from the mare for increasing lengths of time. Eventually separate the mare and foal permanently.

6. Gradually wean the foal by separating it from the mare and placing the mare in the next stall. The foal can still see and smell the mare, but will not be able to have physical contact or nurse.

7. Fence-line weaning. Mares and foals are placed in separate, but adjacent, pens. After a week or two the mares are taken to another pasture, far away from the group of foals.

I would by lying if I said that I’m not slightly nervous about weaning Skype from Sky. I am more worried about Sky because this will only be her second time through the weaning process and she is currently in-foal. Thankfully, Sky is now about 100 days post-cover, so hopefully she’ll have no problem carrying her pregnancy through the process. It will be stressful on both Sky and Skype, but it is something that must be done and it happens to 35,000 mares and foals every year. It’s just another process that comes with raising horses.

June 20, 2010

Happy Fathers’ Day, Dad!

Filed under: Uncategorized — traversman @ 10:14 pm
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This post is dedicated to my best friend in the world: my dad. Rather than write a horse racing related post tonight, I am just going to enjoy spending time with him. Happy Fathers’ Day to all the Dads out there; especially mine…Ray Manley. I love you Dad.

Getting a Horse to the Starting Gate…What a Victory!

During the Spring semester of my freshman year at UK, I worked part-time at a commercial Thoroughbred breeding farm. It was a great experience and I learned a lot about raising future racehorses. This summer I am working at another farm full-time and it is a whole new experience. Tuesday through Sunday I am at the farm from 7 Am – 4 PM and I have learned a great deal about the everyday care that goes into raising Thoroughbreds.

Something that I have realized since buying Sky and Skype and working at a farm everyday is the amount of work that goes into raising these horses. They must be cared for every day; Christmas, Easter, Fathers’ Day, Mothers’ Day, my birthday…it doesn’t matter. Also, it’s not as simple as just making sure they all get fed. There are legs to be wrapped, medications to be given, stalls to be mucked, etc. Add in that the horses get regular visits from the farrier and vet and it begins to become a ton of work.

When I bought Sky and Skype, Skype was just a week old. The earliest that she will make a start is probably April of 2012; nearly two years from now. And in that time, Skype will not be a pasture ornament; she’ll be taken care of and trained daily. Between now and her first start she will be prepped to sell as a weanling, potentially prepped to sell as a yearling, be broken to ride, and then put into a daily training regimen to get her fit for racing. It is amazing to think about how much work it will take just to get Skype to the starting gate. A lot can happen between now and her first start and I’m sure a lot will; everyday brings something new and I’m just happy that I get the opportunity to be along for the ride.

June 18, 2010

A Triple Crown Post; Before it’s too Late

Filed under: General horse racing — traversman @ 7:51 pm
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I realize that the 2010 edition of the Triple Crown ended almost two weeks ago; however, I want to share my opinion on an article by Bill Finley about how we can “fix” the Triple Crown.  Mr. Finley’s article can be read here. I decided the time to make this post was now, before the Triple Crown is totally out of everyones’ minds for the year. I look forward to reading the comments on the article and my response to it (Note: This post first appeared on Frank Mitchell’s blog, Bloodstock in the Bluegrass, on May 23). 

Response to Bill Finley’s article…

Hasn’t the argument been made that a BAN on Lasix cost Alysheba the Triple Crown? He won the 1987 Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes and headed to New York to try and become the 12th Triple Crown winner. He was not allowed to race on Lasix in the Belmont; nor was any other horse in the race, being that Lasix was banned in New York at that time. Alysheba went on to finish 4th in the Belmont that was won by his rival Bet Twice.

Not saying that Mr. Finley is wrong here…just bringing up the argument that a Lasix ban may have cost Alysheba the Triple Crown. So perhaps we would not have such a “drought” if Lasix were legal in all Triple Crown races at that time.

A few more points…

Between 1930 and 1948, we saw 7 Triple Crown winners. There was then a 25 year gap between Citation and the next Triple Crown winner…Secretariat in 1973. To those that were alive during the 1960s…were the same discussions happening? Were ideas thrown out to change the structure or distances in order to get a Triple Crown winner? Also, none of those horses between 1949-1972 were racing on Lasix (correct me if I am wrong). These droughts do happen in sports and it is usually for more than one reason. The finger cannot be solely pointed at drugs and, more specifically, Lasix.

It has been said that the hardest thing to do in sports is to hit a major league fastball. Well that might be true, but winning a horse race has to be right up there. It is hard to win ANY race. Just getting a horse to the starting gate is a victory in itself, but to win is extremely difficult. To win a G1 race is even more difficult, but winning 3 G1 Classics in 5 weeks is a Herculean task. There is a reason it has only been accomplished 11 times. That’s what makes it so special.

Final point…It isn’t that we are not coming close to another Triple Crown winner. Real Quiet only came up a nose short in 1998 and since 1979 we have seen 18 horses win 2 legs of the Triple Crown. In fact, in the 9 editions of the Triple Crown races between 1997 and 2005 we saw 8 horses win 2 legs. Those 8 horses were once in a lifetime horses for most of their connections and were incredible runners; however, they fell one race short of racing immortality.

(The above picture is the photo finish of the 1998 Belmont Stakes and to quote Tom Durkin, “A picture is worth a thousand words…this photo is worth $5 million dollars!”)

June 16, 2010

What can we do? Part 2

Filed under: Working in the Industry — traversman @ 10:05 pm
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Yesterday I posted part one of this story. If you didn’t get a chance to check it out…please view it here at https://reachingforroses.wordpress.com/2010/06/15/what-can-we-do/.

In yesterday’s post, I asked several questions about what we can do as an industry to attract a younger crowd to horse racing. The questions do not have simple answers and, in fact, someone could very well write a book about the changes our industry needs to make in order to attract younger audiences. I’ll not be writing a book tonight; however, I will give my opinions/ideas on what we can do as industry members to help our “product” succeed.

1) Start them out young!

Current fans need to be taking their young kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, etc out to the track. Let the kids see the horses up close and encourage them to pick a horse to root home each race. Also, the racetracks need to give these kids a place to play. Sam Penn suggested yesterday that tracks could build playgrounds for the younger children. That would be great, but I don’t think they need to go that far. Just give them a place where they can be kids. At Keeneland, there is a large area of open grass in the grandstand, just past the finish line. On weekends of live racing, there are always dozens of kids in the area playing baseball, football, frisbee, etc. For most of the children, they play these games in between the live races. But guess what happens as the horses start to load into the gate. All of those kids run to the rail to cheer for the horses. When a young adult turns 18 and is legally able to bet, he/she needs to already have been exposed to racing and, upon thinking of racing, think about family, childhood memories, and beautiful horses.

2. Give young people a reason to go to the races.

Many tracks around the country have college scholarship days where there is a drawing for a scholarship at the conclusion of each race. This is a fantastic idea and tracks must continue this tradition, or start it. Over 6,000 college students from around the country attended Keeneland’s last college scholarship day. All full-time college students were able to register for the chance to win a $1,000 scholarship, received free admission, and the first 1,000 fans got a free t-shirt. But why not give every student a free t-shirt? Why not give college students free admission everyday? The $5 admission price may not seem like much, but every penny counts for college students.

3. Help to make wagering less intimidating.

There is no thought process in slot machine gambling; no “scary” racing forms with lots of numbers and times. I know that many young adults are intimidated of the betting windows because they have told me. There is just so much to learn and it can be scary. Several tracks now have “beginner windows,” but that is not enough. How about putting up a tent in an area of high traffic with a few public handicappers? The handicappers would simply answer any questions and help people make smart wagers. They wouldn’t need to tell the people who to bet on in a race. Of course they could give suggestions; however, they would have the main purpose of educating the young racing fan. Also, every track should be hosting seminars each week they are offering live racing. The seminars should be free and every attendee should receive a “gift” for their attendance; a track t-shirt, a free racing form, or a free admission pass.

4. Show people the true beauty of Thoroughbreds.

Horses are the most beautiful creatures on this Earth and we must make sure that everyone knows. Try and display the beauty of the horse at a place other than the track in the afternoon. At Keeneland, people may attend “breakfast with the works” on the weekends and watch the horses exercise while enjoying a hot breakfast. I know Saratoga does the same thing; however, they are open for breakfast every day of the live racing meet. This is a great thing and allows potential fans to see the horses up close and witness their true beauty, away from the noise and excitement of the afternoons. The one change that needs to be made: make it free. I know the economy is down and some tracks are really struggling, but why not spend a few hundred dollars on breakfast. And one more thing, give every person that attends the workouts a free admission pass that is only good for that day. Give people a reason to come back in the afternoon.

Also, we must get potential, young fans to see the horses away from the racetrack. Take them on a farm tour or, if you have your own horses, take them to see your four-legged friends. I have had many friends come with me to see Sky and Skype since I purchased them and all of them had a great time, all wanted to come back again, and a few even mentioned that they would like to own a racehorse someday. Bingo!

5. Never go to the track alone.

As racing fans, we should never be going to the track alone. Always go with a buddy and, if possible, take one that isn’t already a big racing fan. Non-racing fans are not likely to go to the races alone, but they are if they can go along with a good friend. Also, once at the track, cater to them; make sure they have a good time. We need to answer any questions our friends have with enthusiasm, not annoyance. I know it is sometimes difficult and trying to explain pick-threes, pick-fours, exactas, trifectas, wheeling, part-wheeling, etc. to a beginner can be a daunting task. But we must do it! It’s the only way they’ll learn and if they don’t learn, they are unlikely to come back.

6. Use technology to advertise.

Every track should now have a Twitter account and a Facebook account and they should be updated regularly. Technology has made it easier and cheaper than ever to reach out to the public and racetracks need to be utilizing these opportunities. A 20-year-old probably won’t read a full article about an event occurring at his local track, but he might read a “tweet” of 140 characters.

There are a few of my ideas of what we can do to help promote our sport and attract a younger audience. Like I stated earlier, I didn’t want to write a book tonight and this post was slowly becoming just that. So six ideas will do for now. In fact, if racing fans and racetracks follow through with a few of the above suggestions then we’ll be in great shape.

June 15, 2010

What can we do?

Filed under: Working in the Industry — traversman @ 8:04 pm

NOTE: This is part one of a two-part post. I will be posting my conclusion tomorrow afternoon.

I remember a couple of years ago I was standing in the paddock at Keeneland when I was approached by an older man. He smiled at me and asked, “Who do ya like, kid?”

I told him who I would be betting on and then we continued our conversation. A few minutes passed by and then he asked, “So you really love the horses, huh?” I nodded and asked him why he seemed so surprised. He looked at me and said, “Well, do you know the average age of a horse racing fan?”

“Nope, I don’t. What is it?” I replied.

“Dead!” the man exclaimed with a chuckle.

I laughed too and then the man patted me on the back and wished me good luck. After he walked away I thought again about what he told me and it made me sad. Obviously, there are millions of horse racing fans around the world that are still alive and kicking, but it is the reality that most of them are older men and women. Sure the infields on Derby and Preakness days are packed with college-aged people and Keeneland is the place to be for young adults in Lexington in April and October; however, how many of those people are there for the racing? How many of those people even watch a live race? How many of them bet? How many would come to the track if it were not a big day of racing or a day to “see and be seen?”

In my own experiences, the answer to the above questions is…not many. I have lots of friends that love to go to Keeneland in April or be at Churchill Downs for the “first Saturday in May.” However, almost all of those friends never bet, aren’t there to see the horses, and watch very little live racing.

So, now the question is…what do we do? What can we do as horse racing fans, Thoroughbred owners/breeders, industry professionals, etc. to draw a younger crowd to the track? And once they’re there, how do we keep them there, make them want to bet, and be more interested in the horses and racing?

Tomorrow I will give my answers and opinions to the previous questions. I look forward to the readers’ comments and suggestions, as well.

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