The ad in the Wall Street Journal read: "Curious about Thoroughbred investment?" To the great surprise of the Thoroughbred Breeders of Kentucky, which placed the ad, more than 550 readers were curious and clipped the coupon for more information.
The TBK, a trade organization, is not really trying to turn the sport of kings over to peasants, but it has bet that there are a few folks out there who have the $20,000 to $30,000 it takes to become one of the horsey set.
The Kentucky breeders made their third annual bid for investors in glossy, well-bred Town & Country and in Barron's, but the Journal ad drew the most potential investors—80 of the 140 in attendance—to Kentucky for a one-day seminar in 1975. The 1976 seminar is scheduled for Oct. 15 and one can sign up at Thoroughbred Breeders of Kentucky, P.O. Box 4158, Lexington, Ky. 40504. This year for the first time attendance is limited to 125, and 31 holdovers from 1975 have already signed up.
"Day in Kentucky" participants take these sessions seriously, at least to the extent of paying for their own transportation to, and lodgings in, Lexington, an average outlay of $150 per person. In return, the TBK opens the stable doors—last year to, among others, automobile dealers from Maryland, a plastic surgeon and his wife from Milwaukee, a couple of investors from Florida and a contingent, 13 strong, from the Philadelphia area's Racing Fans' Club of America.
Make no mistake, one does not receive the roses-and-mint-julep welcome accorded Arabian buyers or millionaires landing in private planes. The hospitality suite at the motel is low-key and last year, because it rained, those attending the morning seminar sat on folding chairs inside a huge barn at Dixiana Farm. (This was no hardship. Kentucky horse barns tend to be cleaner than the streets of Amsterdam and boast more mahogany and brass than the stately homes of England.)
But, like visiting dignitaries, the 1975 participants had free box seats at Keeneland. The prospective investors were also treated to a traditional burgoo (beef stew) lunch, served by My Old Kentucky Home-style butlers, and each participant was escorted to the Breeders' Awards Dinner.
For the TBK, the give-and-take at the dinner between potential investors and breeders was the most valuable aspect of the organization's $7,400 effort, for stable owners were able to cull the merely curious from the hot-to-trot. One horse farmer had to keep his wife from bartering with the plastic surgeon for an eyelid tuck. "I don't want you to trade a $10,000 mare for a $900 operation," the farmer drawled.
The financial message—that a buyer must be prepared to spend $7,500 to $12,000 yearly in training fees alone and that, beginning with a mare in foal, it can take up to $30,000 to get a colt to the starting gate—was delivered by the seminar speakers—a bloodstock agent, a trainer and a tax accountant.
To date, at least 20 of the 226 participants have made investments, most buying claiming horses. One alumnus has invested $50,000, obviously expecting to spend a lot of time in the winner's circle. The rest will most likely be found at the $2 window.