To Preakness and be­yond

Pan­thers owner Vi­ola looks be­yond Triple Crown.

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Peter Sch­muck The Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE— When Amer­i­can Pharoah fol­lowed his his­toric Triple Crown run in 2015 by rac­ing three more times and ul­ti­mately clos­ing his amaz­ing 3-year-old sea­son with a vic­tory in the Breed­ers’ Cup Clas­sic, owner Ahmed Zayat put un­told mil­lions at risk to give more horse rac­ing fans the op­por­tu­nity to see the sport’s newest su­per­star.

The co-own­ers of Al­ways Dream­ing — Vin­nie Vi­ola and An­thony Bonomo— aren’t ready to look that far be­yond Satur­day’s Preakness Stakes, but both hinted that they also ex­pect their Triple Crown can­di­date to con­tinue rac­ing be­yond the Triple Crown se­ries.

Min­utes be­fore his horse drew the No. 4 gate at Pim­lico’s post po­si­tion draw­ing, Vi­ola talked about the re­spon­si­bil­ity he and Bonomo feel to keep the horse in front of the rac­ing pub­lic for the good of what he thinks is a re­bound­ing in­dus­try.

“The duty that An­thony and I have to man­age Al­ways Dream­ing and give him the best chance to win the Triple Crown, we re­ally, re­ally take that se­ri­ously,” said Vi­ola, who also owns the Florida Pan­thers. “One of the things we al­ways spoke about is that we were blessed by serendip­ity. We would have to think long and hard about giv­ing him a 4-year-old sea­son, for the fans ... we re­ally would.”

Bonomo has been around horse rac­ing a long time and he served as chair­man of the New York Rac­ing As­so­ci­a­tion. He said that dur­ing his ten­ure it al­ways trou­bled him that the sport’s big­gest stars usu­ally were re­tired to stud at the height of

“In most sports, [the stars] stick around. ... In horse rac­ing that doesn’t hap­pen. So your stars dis­ap­pear and ev­ery year you’re look­ing to cre­ate the next star.” An­thony Bonomo, Al­ways Dream­ing co-owner


“Part of the things I’ve been say­ing about rac­ing is, the stars don’t stay around long be­cause of the pres­sure of money and things like that,” Bonomo said, “and I think that’s the dis­con­nect with peo­ple be­cause peo­ple get con­nected to a horse and then he’s in the breed­ing shed.

“I don’t think there’s a rush to do that with this horse. I think that if we can at­tract a fan base to fol­lowhim it’s good for rac­ing.”

Of course, there are cau­tion­ary tales such as the tragic story of Bar­baro, a bud­ding su­per­star who broke down in the Preakness in 2006 and even­tu­ally had to be de­stroyed. In a per­fect world, it wouldn’t be about the mil­lions and mil­lions in stud con­tracts the most suc­cess­ful thor­ough­breds can com­mand, but it’s an ex­pen­sive sport.

Bonomo and Vi­ola, the bil­lion­aire founder of trad­ing firm Virtu Fi­nan­cial, prob­a­bly can af­ford to take that risk, and both seem com­mit­ted to ex­pand­ing the reach of a ven­er­a­ble sport that is strug­gling to at­tract new and younger fans.

The on­ly­way to do that is with star power and the only way to in­crease that is to keep the stars on the track in­stead of swap­ping them out ev­ery Triple Crown sea­son.

“Peo­ple re­ally don’t know who owns them,” Bonomo said. “They re­ally get at­tracted to the horse and its name. In most sports, [the stars] stick around. Derek Jeter had a great ca­reer, right? In horse rac­ing that doesn’t hap­pen. So your stars dis­ap­pear and ev­ery year you’re look­ing to cre­ate the next star. I think it’s good for the sport ifwe can let the horses stay around and not get en­ticed by the re­wards that lay ahead. He’s go­ing to­have a long his­tory and a long ca­reer at that [stud], but why not give him one more year if we can.”

Vi­ola said he’s con­vinced the horse rac­ing in­dus­try is en­ter­ing a re­nais­sance and he’s bullish on the fu­ture.

“I con­sider my­self a value in­vestor,” he said. “I like to think I’m able to iden­tify when sit­u­a­tions are at a point of turn­around, and I said to my close as­so­ci­ates about five years ago ... I said if horse rac­ing­was an eq­uity— a stock— I’d be a huge, huge buyer of it. I think this sport is go­ing to eclipse, by ev­ery mea­sure, its for­mer glory.”

That’s a tall or­der and it will de­pend on­the horse rac­ing in­dus­try reach­ing out to a new gen­er­a­tion of fans by re­fash­ion­ing a cen­turiess­port for a 21st-cen­tury au­di­ence.

“It’s go­ing to come in a dif­fer­ent form and uti­lize dif­fer­ent medi­ums to dis­trib­ute the ex­pe­ri­ence,” Vi­ola said. “The ath­letic ele­gance that is re­quired to get a horse — th­ese ma­jes­tic an­i­mals — to per­form hasn’t changed. Peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate achieve­ment that is grounded in hard work and ex­cel­lence. It’s re­ally what this coun­try is all about and has al­ways been about.”


Vin­cent Vi­ola checks in on Ken­tucky Derby win­ner Al­ways Dream­ing at his­toric Stall 40 at Pim­lico Race Course in Baltimore be­fore the horse’s ex­er­cise ses­sion.

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