The first 15 months went by in a FLASH! We got through 2021 having made 45 starts with 4 winners and 35% In The Money (ITM). Not too shabby of a start, and now we have a baseline of results to improve upon. Perhaps more importantly, and also immeasurable, is the amount of "stuff" we've learned over the course of the year. Growing up a bettor, I went into ownership thinking there was a good base of knowledge to start with. And yes, there are obviously things you pick up and understand as your handicapping races, but there are so many aspects of the game that I just didn't have any grasp of or greatly undervalued. I mean, can we talk about how quickly we learn about a horse's guts? It didn't take us very long to gain a better understanding of colic, and that a horse's intestines is like 70 feet long, or ways in which to treat shins or ankles. There has been a lot to learn, but it's also been a ton of fun - and we're sharing all of this with our Partners - who like me, are mostly first time owners.
We have made a LOT of mistakes, and we still are and likely will for the duration of our existence. We have NEVER pretended to have all of the answers, in fact, I've been very open about that with any prospective Partner - we're newbies, and we're all learning together. If we had to summarize or assess the most important learnings of the first year of LBB Stables, most of it could be captured in these three highlights:
1. Trust The Team
We were very deliberate and purposeful with the selection of our Trainers. Truthfully, we were never going to start LBB Stables with anyone other than Mark Hennig in NY. If you've read about the origin of our "Little Blue Bird" name, you know that Twitter played an important role in the development of relationships that would later inspire the formation of LBB Stables. Mark was a part of that. We promised him a horse about six years ago, and we finally got around to doing it. As we've expanded into other regions, we took the search for our Trainers very seriously. It was important for us to work with honest, hard-working, well-respected, and communicative Trainers - not only because that was important for me personally to build our Partner base, but also to set a higher standard in professionalism and integrity in the game. As an industry, it's lacking, but not with our crew. I love our Team! They tolerate me, and I'm fine with that. I've asked a lot of questions and they've all been so helpful, and have gained an understanding of who our Partners are and what we want to be. Mark, Randy, Team Meah, Team Gaudet are all incredible horsemen and even better people. We talk, we email, we text, we listen to each other and then carve out the path for each of our horses. While I'm sure there are instances where they are humoring me by throwing out the occasional " what do you think, Joe?", I most certainly appreciate it. But at the end of the day, these are our leaders and we have complete trust in them. (Though you know us long-time bettors like to get involved in jockey selection).
2. Two-way Communication is Vital
Building a shared experience through strong communication has been one of LBB Stables' guiding principles since day one. It mostly ties back to the fact that I was learning a lot of aspects of ownership for the first time, and reaching exciting milestones as a first time owner myself, so I wanted to share ALL OF IT. Maybe it was too much information to share, but having spent the bulk of my career in Marketing & Advertising, and having to develop and manage client relationships, I had to try to make communication be a key differentiator for us. It was something I had heard from several of our Partners who had previous experience with syndicates or ownership in general - they didn't have a good feel for what was going on. So, I needed to do that well. I'd say we've been fairly well at making it a differentiator, but I also know there's room for improvement. I know this because I've also listened to feedback from our Partners. As an example, I recently heard from a Partner that he had wished he received more updates on the two horses he had shares in. When I looked at it from his perspective, it made a lot of sense - he was unfortunately involved in two of our horses that had been sidelined for a while, and not in training. Yes, it's tough for me to get real updates when our horses are freshening up at other farms, in the hands of horsemen that I don't have a relationship with just yet, BUT that's not a legitimate excuse for fewer updates. It's something I need to work on in 2022. Across each of our Partnership groups we have dozens of guys and gals that have owned previously, whether it be on their own or in other racing groups. It's important for us to know how we stack up, and what we can be doing better. It's always nice to hear about the things we're doing better, but it's more important to know about our gaps so that we can make adjustments.
In addition to the day-to-day communication, we try to keep everyone involved in our key decisions. For our claiming partnerships, we share the list of potential claim targets, obtain feedback and try to come to an agreement as a group. Obviously, with things like claims that's not easy to do with 10-20 people, but if we lay out all of the details and rationale, it becomes a much more likely accomplishment. We make decisions as a group, and when you have strong two-way communication it creates a Team atmosphere that makes our success more enjoyable, and our failures more tolerable.
3. Patience Pays Off
Waiting is hard - especially for those of us that grew up in the game as bettors/handicappers. There's a race every 30 minutes, and you can shorten up your wait time by peeking at PP's for an out-of-town track to take a crack at. So for first time owners, waiting for five, six, seven weeks after a claim can be difficult. Truth be told, this lesson correlates very closely with our first learning about trusting our Trainers. There have been multiple scenarios where we've had to wait an extra couple of weeks (or months) - whether it be some sort of setback, track issues, or the racing secretary not cooperating. Admittedly, we were a bit impatient the first few months. The best example of that came with the first horse we bought to run at Oaklawn Park, Drill's Li'l Man. He will always be near and dear to our heart. We purchased him privately in Maryland and when we shipped him south to Arkansas, he got sick, so we had a pretty lengthy wait for his first start for us. He ran fine in the slop, but was then starting to train really well. Then the big winter storm came which caused us to wait even longer. We finally got him back to the races, but it was at a lower claiming level than we had wanted and in a spot where we knew there was a high likelihood he'd be claimed. He finished third that day and was claimed away from us. He went on to win a few races at Prairie Meadows over the summer, and we were stuck wondering what might have been if we were just a little bit more patient.
Fast forward about eight months and we were in almost an identical position with our horse in Maryland, Assembly Point. After we claimed him, he was in pretty rough shape, but Lacey did a great job getting him happy again and in great condition. He ran a gutsy fourth in his first race for us, almost 90 days after the claim. Lacey had him ready to go, but Laurel Park closed the track for a couple of weeks, so we waited some more. We had the option to drop him in class to get him back to a race sooner, but we waited for the level we wanted to race him, and sure enough we took our photo in the winners circle. I think we were maybe in the third month with owning Assembly Point, when Lacey gave me a perspective that will always stick with me. Being patient and giving a horse a little bit of extra time isn't about his NEXT race, it's about the one or two after the next one. What good is rushing back to get a start in if he/she will need extra time before the next start? It stuck with me, and it was communicated with our Partners. It's an important perspective to have, especially in the claiming game.
Try not to make the same mistake twice! That's all we're really trying to do to just BE BETTER. That includes everything from winning more, increasing our ITM% all the way to communication and providing an experience that our Partners will never forget. It's easier said than done, but the best way to make it happen is by acknowledging that we have A LOT to learn, and have plenty of mistakes to still be made, but we're going to do it as a TEAM and have a hell of a time doing it!
Which leads us to our next eventual topic - our Goals for 2022! Coming SOON in a blog post near you!