by RYAN DICKEY
For a man that has a stated goal to be the majority owner of a horse that runs in the Kentucky Derby, it would be easy to believe that owning a four-year-old filly racing in a $16,000 maiden claiming race on a Sunday at Fair Grounds is as far away from that dream as possible.
But that’s wrong. Not taking the plunge into horse ownership at all is as far from that dream as possible.
So when Resonate finished 4th in the 5th race on Sunday, March 11, it not only was the highest-earning race performance to date for Firehouse Racing Stables LLC but also another step toward having that Kentucky Derby starter.
As a lifelong horse racing fan, I’ve had the Derby dream for as long as I can remember. I dare not dream of WINNING the “run for the roses”–I only aspire to walk a runner to the gate on the first Saturday in May.
I have been a firefighter since 2006 and was hired by the City of Dearborn (Mich.) Fire Department in November of 2007. Of all the firefighters that I have worked with, I’m the only one who is a true blue horse racing fan. I’ve been trying to change that. I truly believe that it is incumbent upon real fans of horse racing to at least TRY to recruit new fans to the sport. Firehouse Racing Stables is my valiant attempt.
The goal has always been to get some of my firefighting friends and colleagues to join me in an ownership venture, with myself as the majority owner and anyone willing to take the risk joining the partnership. I have said and will always maintain that the possibilities are endless, but realistically owning racehorses is unlikely to be profitable.
Firehouse Racing Stables’ first horse was a Standardbred, the four-year-old pacing mare Fox Valley Isabela, who raced six times at Miami Valley Gaming in Southwest Ohio. The debut race for the stable was an unmitigated disaster. Isabela broke stride at the start, then could only pace at about half speed around the track due to equipment issues. She was nearly lapped on the five-eighths mile track, and finished so far behind the winner that the race timer politely turned off the stopwatch.
With nowhere to go but up from there, she would race five more times, finishing no better than fifth before fracturing a coffin bone in her front left leg. After months of rest and recuperation, she again went into training, but re-injured her left front, and was retired. She currently lives with a loving family in Indiana.
The next venture was in Thoroughbred racing. That Is So Right was training in Texas when purchased via private sale. The actual terms of the sale were simple: he was free as long as I paid the $1,000 to ship him to trainer Patrick White in Grass Lake, Michigan. Two days after agreeing to “purchase” him sight unseen (but following a veterinary report), “Mr. Right” arrived in Michigan to train for a 2016 campaign.
A winner of two races for his former connections, That Is So Right raced six times as a four-year-old gelding in $5,000 claiming races at Hazel Park—with a third-place performance that is Firehouse Racing’s lone on-the-board performance. After his sixth noncompetitive effort, we decided he didn’t have the talent to win at Hazel Park.
When you own a horse that can’t compete at Hazel Park, there is nowhere else to go, so he was given to a very happy nine-year-old girl as a birthday present. He was re-trained as a trail riding horse, and gelding and girl are now best friends. He retired healthy and sound, and is getting all of the love he deserves.
Owning Thoroughbred racehorses outright is expensive, but it’s not an insurmountable task for “blue collar” workers like myself. Yes, I’ve had to make plenty of sacrifices with both my personal finances and how I spend my free time (not so many non-horse racing vacations any more), but someone with a moderate income can own Thoroughbred racehorse—especially when friends spread the risk.
And I may have my first convert with Resonate’s race on Sunday. My friend and co-worker Matt had such a great time watching my filly race from Northville Downs (here in Michigan) that he was enamored with the horse racing scene and expressed a real interest in being on board for the next venture.
As for my trip to New Orleans last weekend, it was a whirlwind to say the least. I had to work on Saturday (we work 24-hour shifts three days each week) and booked a flight for early Sunday morning, having to come back on Monday to return to work. I’d love to say I rescued a kitten from a tree or saved a baby from a burning building on Saturday, but the truth is it was just a “normal” day at the fire department: some car accidents, various fire alarms (no fires in my district), and various medical emergencies.
I boarded a jet to Louis Armstrong International Airport just two hours after my shift ended, and handicapped races one through four during the flight. I was pretty nervous about Resonate’s debut. Also, I wasn’t the only one travelling at the time. My filly’s trainer, Tim Glyshaw, was also trying to get to New Orleans before the 5th race. He had graded stakes winner Bucchero racing at Gulfstream Park the day before, and had to see him off before getting in the air.
The last time I was in New Orleans, I had rented a car at the airport, but on the way to Fair Grounds, I lost control in the rain on the highway, and crashed that car. This time, I vowed to use rideshares to get around. I was greeted at the airport by a very young man who came to America from Azerbaijan six months ago. Again, the rain was falling hard (the race had been scheduled for the turf, but was run on a main track rated as sloppy) and as soon as we left the airport, I became even MORE nervous.
My driver would have felt comfortable on whatever the Azerbaijani equivalent of Germany’s Autobahn is, but he was making a man who goes into burning buildings for a living have a panic attack. He would speed up, slam the brakes, and swerve into gaps between other cars that weren’t quite big enough for his. He would make a great apprentice jockey. He did get me to Fair Grounds faster that the GPS said he would, but I would have easily preferred not having white knuckles.
Once at the track, I met up with handicapping impresario Joe Kristufek who had set up an interview between us prior to Resonate’s race. Joe, also a lifelong horse racing fan, and wearer of many “hats” in the industry, gave me ONE TASK: to come to his office immediately following race four.
And in my nervousness, I failed.
Thankfully, I did make it to the walking ring in time to see Resonate and jockey Gabriel Saez hope aboard in silks designed to look like firefighting gear. The nerves were really starting to kick in. I followed them to the track just ahead of the post parade.
Now, I have been to every single Firehouse Racing race to date, and each time I’ve been a bit nervous, but THIS time seemed worse (it always seems worse). Had the race stayed on the turf, I was pretty confident she would do very well. Glyshaw has done a great job with her since I purchased the filly at the Keeneland January horses of racing age sale for $7,000. Neither of us knew how she’d handle the slop.
I watched as the pack of horses made the first turn, with Resonate in third. I could hear announcer John G. Dooley say Resonate was “making her run” on the far turn before I tried to catch a glimpse of them from my backup camera. I saw them coming down the stretch, but I knew it wasn’t her race to win. I got a few shots of the winning and place horses, but put my camera down to see Resonate cross the wire. I thought she was third, but she got nipped at the wire.
The 4th-place finish earned my racing stable $960. Had I won $960 betting on a race, it would get an automatic “Boom!” tweet on Twitter and some whooping and hollering trackside. But in this case, earning $960 kind of hurt, since it cost me $690 just to get to New Orleans and stay the night. Getting clipped at the wire “cost” us $800 (difference in purse money between third and fourth). But, as stated earlier, this is the most money Firehouse Racing has ever earned in one race. Progress.
Resonate came back from the race in good order, but was tired. She obviously needed a race, as she had been “on the bench” for eight months. She raced real well, and both Tim and I were happy with her effort. She’s pointed to a race at Keeneland on opening day of their Spring meet, and will be stabled at Churchill Downs.
This year, I will definitely not have a contender in the Kentucky Derby. But I will have a horse I own stabled in Louisville on May 5 and anyone who finds themselves on the backside that weekend is welcomed to visit us.
It’s not the realization of my dream, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Ryan Dickey is President of Firehouse Racing Stables LLC. Follow him on Twitter @RDickey249