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By Mindy Crandall
Have you ever wondered how and what defines a person? Every single living being has at least one thing that sets them apart and makes them unique. Experts agree that just as unique as a person’s fingerprint is the way that they think and behave. Some characteristics are based on genetics passed down from parents and others are learned behaviors established through the atmosphere in which we choose to live. This is no different for racehorses. A good racehorse usually comes with a great bloodline passed down from the parents, but has to prove itself on the track to stake claims on being a horse worth racing.
No doubt, Mike Garrett could attest to this statement. Besides being a father, a grandfather and a business owner, Mike, also is a racehorse owner. To me, it’s not every day that someone takes on a role of this magnitude. This is definitely something that makes him unique in his own right.
Garrett galloped his way into horse racing after a few bus trips to Hot Springs. He fell in love with the sport and the idea of owning his own.
His first adventure in ownership began just two years after a trip to Hot Springs. At that time, a partnership was formed between Marge Hazelton, Ernie and Ray St. John, Joe Miller, Mickey Sallee and Mike, himself. They purchased a horse off of Ray St. John. After some success and time on the track, the horse finally broke down and had to be put to rest.
Traditionally, racehorses were owned by very wealthy individuals, but it has become increasingly common in the last few decades for horses to be owned by syndicates or partnerships such as this. Notable examples of this include the 2005 Epsom Derby winner, Motivator, owned by Royal Ascot Racing Club and 2003 Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide, owned by a group of 10 partners organized as Sackatoga Stables.
Today, Mike currently holds shares in several horses. As this is just a hobby for him, he doesn’t expect it to be a high return investment, but hopes for an equal return on his money. Mike jokingly says, “I helped purchase the horse “Gold In The Pocket” for ten thousand dollars. He won just over a hundred thousand dollars that year, but we were also running three others horses that didn’t do so well. “Gold In The Pocket” just paid for the other three.”
As this may seem like an excellent way to make some quick cash, it is a lot harder than one might think. There is a lot of money involved in the upkeep and training of a horse, as well as, track entry fees with no guarantee of recouping it or of winning the purse. If you have any doubt, just ask Mike’s wife, Cindy, as she is the one who has to write the checks! She enjoys being at the races, but not to the extent her husband does. She fully supports his efforts, as she knows this is his hobby. She comments, “Some guys have bass boats, and enjoy them as their hobbies, my husband owns race horses.”
One of the financial aspects of being an owner is finding the right trainer. Each track rates trainer’s performance and past performance. Mike just recently made a trainer change on his horse “Just In Front.” He was able to meet with three trainers and used his best judgment on which he felt would be the best. It is much easier to get a good trainer if you have a horse that is of winning quality. If not, the process becomes difficult. Mike has developed an eye for horses, but relies a lot on the trainer.
Another big expenditure, is the actual buying of the horse. At any given race in Kentucky a horse can be bought during a claiming race. This process begins before the race, and the person looking to purchase a certain horse must first put ten thousand dollars, in an envelope with the horses name on it. The owner of the horse knows going into the race that money has been placed for purchase. The future owner is taking a risk, because, win, lose, draw or keel over, the horse is yours after the race, no matter the circumstance. Most current horse owners do this in hopes of winning the purse, claiming up to sixty percent of the winnings, along with the ten thousand dollars. Most horses entered into this race have been tried at higher stake races. Mike’s best horse, “Gold In The Pocket” was won during a claiming race and has been viewed as one of his best horses yet.
Currently, Mike’s horse Synchronicity Too, runs at Chicago’s own Arlington Park with horse, “Just In Front”, running the tracks at Des Moines, Iowa. The two year-old thoroughbred, “Unlimited Honey”, owned by Mike and Ray St. John, is making its way to the track at Lexington, Kentucky.
Even though each of these temperamental equines have their own racing circuit, Mike tries to bring them all together at least once during the year to Oaklawn in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Not only because it’s close, but due to his love for this track. In the future, it is his hope to be able to see them all compete in Des Moines, Iowa.
If his horses are sound, they run four to five races during a season.
However, it is unusual for a horse to stay sound during this time period, usually due to injury. Each season is different according to the track and whether it’s a summer meet or a fall meet. Mike mentioned one instance at a race where his horse was on a snap ring in the stall and somehow got the snap ring snapped onto his tongue and ripped it out, leaving him unable to make his way around the one-mile track. This was a horrific scenario, but shows how severe a horse can be hurt.
Two out of three of Mike’s horses are what they call “front runners.” Contrary to his name, Mike’s horse, “Just In Front”, is a mid-pack runner. He chooses to stay close to the pack until the final stretch is near.
Garrett, in person, doesn’t get to spend as much time at the track as he would like, but does dash at the chance to watch it live through simulcast in Claremore, Oklahoma and Seneca. When at the track his greatest enjoyment is getting up early, sitting on the fence and watching the trainer work the horse. He readily comments, “Each horse knows when it’s race day.”
Although Mike doesn’t have the funding it takes to have a Kentucky Derby qualifier, he admits for a minute that he had hopes, when horse “Synchronicity Too” won two of his first races. Any of the twenty horses eligible for the Kentucky Derby must first win enough purse money to qualify as well as have a great two-year old campaign. One can nominate a horse if there is not enough already fitted for the position and one can also pay a fee if they are close in standings. It is a very large sum of money.
The Kentucky Derby is more about prestige. It has been dubbed “the most exciting two minutes in sports”. For many owners, trainers and jockeys it is more about the rich history that extends back – even before the colonization of the United States. It has certainly had a large impact on the world of betting and it continues to hold a big influence today. Horse racing and the Kentucky Derby is a lifestyle!
Even though I have never actually been to the races myself, when listening to Mike talk I could almost visualize the restlessness of these wild beasts, entering the stalls, trying to be contained. Also, the jockeys themselves, concentrating on the fast frenzy, which is about to take place. I hear the whinnying of horses as they stomp their feet with excitement, ready at any moment for the chute to fly open and their chance to be set free, showing their pride of running Up Front! The defining moment in their lives as well as their owners!