For one racehorse owner, ‘it is all about the excitement’

Fran Perritano

Bob Carper of New Hartford, N.Y., works for a company that produces, among other things, class yearbooks for area high schools. He does have an unusual hobby: He’s part owner of two race horses — El Gato Malo and Saratoga Russell. They have won at Hollywood Park, Santa Anita, Del Mar, Aqueduct, Gulfstream, Penn National and Saratoga.

Question: When did your love of horse racing start?

Answer: The first race I attended was the 1963 Preakness, but I think the excitement of being at the 1973 Kentucky Derby and watching the great Secretariat was the real start. After that, while living in Columbus, Ohio, I alternated Saturday afternoons either going to Buckeye games or the local racetrack Beulah Park (Grove City, Ohio.) I loved the excitement but never dreamed I would someday own horses.

Later, when I moved to Syracuse, I met a couple of owners from Finger Lakes, and I would drive out to Canandaigua to watch their horses race. Being around these local owners helped me learn the game. My good friend, the late Tony Farina from Utica, owned horses, and his influence was significant in getting me started.

Q: Do you ride horses, or do you just enjoy watching others race them?

A: I am not a good rider and really not interested in that aspect. My interest is the total racetrack ownership experience. There is nothing like watching your horse in the stretch drive coming for home at Saratoga or having Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens congratulate you as you are heading for the winner’s circle at Santa Anita. It is a thrill like no other.

Q: How did you get involved with owning race horses?

A: My daughter Ashley and I were vacationing in Del Mar, Calif., and were introduced to a representative from West Point Thoroughbreds, a company that puts together racing partnerships. Later that week, we were invited to the backstretch and to watch a 2-year-old named El Gato Malo work out. He was spectacular, and West Point offered me a chance to be a partner.

Without a lot of thought, I decided to step up and give my dream a shot. It was costly, so I waited a while to break the news to my wife. Fortunately, El Gato Malo won his first four starts and that made it much easier. The rest is history.

Later, I bought Saratoga Russell and have been very successful with both horses. They have won at Hollywood Park, Santa Anita, Del Mar, Aqueduct, Gulfstream, Penn National and Saratoga. The best news is we believe both horses have a great future and have not yet reached their potential

Q: Is it a lucrative venture or do you do it for the fun?

A: It is all about the excitement. My partners and I gave up the big bucks by turning down an offer to sell El Gato Malo for $3.5 million about six weeks before the 2008 Kentucky Derby. It was not a unanimous vote and I have never told anyone how I voted.

Hind sight, of course, we should have sold him, but in Las Vegas El Gato Malo was the odds on favorite to win the Derby and we were not going to give up the shot to be there. We also had a big offer for Saratoga Russell, but he developed a physical problem just before the sale and the deal fell through.

Overall, I am in the red, but I am not complaining. I am living proof that you do not have to be wealthy to be involved in the Sport of Kings. All you need is a dream, love for the sport and be willing to take a BIG risk. I chose to use a good chunk of my retirement fund and chase a dream. West Point Thoroughbreds has made it possible to help make that dream come true. I very seldom bet on either horse as I just like to watch them run.

Q: El Gato Malo almost made it into the 2008 Kentucky Derby. How disappointed were you that he didn’t run for the roses?

A: It was very disappointing. I had my whole family and a lot of friends set up for Derby Day in Louisville. El Gato Malo only missed out by $15,000 in earnings. He was 22nd in earnings, and Derby only takes the first 20. If Malo finishes fourth instead of fifth in the Santa Anita Derby, he makes the Kentucky Derby.

This year, his earnings would have gotten him in the Derby. It was a tough pill to swallow, but I have learned that this business is a roller-coaster and you must be able to deal with the adversity. The highs are quite high and more than make up for the lows.

Q: What does your family think about your affinity for racehorses?

A: My wife, son and daughter are very supportive. At one time or other, they have all been in the winner’s circle with me. I think they know how important the horses are to me, so they play along.

My daughter will occasionally fly from Denver to California for a race, and my wife and son were at Saratoga last summer for a big win. However, the possibility of racing in the Kentucky Derby got everyone’s attention. The big surprise has been my brother and sisters who all live out of state. They have become big El Gato Malo and Saratoga Russell fans and never miss watching or being at a race.

Q: You work for Jostens, which among other ventures, produces high school yearbooks in the area. How do you like working with the high schoolers?

A: It helps me stay and think young. This is a memory business, and assisting students preserve those life long memories is very important. I have been working here in the local schools for 31 years, so I now have yearbook advisers who were once student editors at their high school.

This is really fun for me when they come back after graduating from college. Every year, I become more and more impressed by the students I meet. They have great technology skills and learn so quickly. I am amazed with all that students have on their plate, they are still willing to put in the time to make great yearbooks for their school.

There is one common denominator between being a yearbook rep and owning horses. It is all the new and interesting people I meet on a daily basis. Whether it is a new student on the yearbook staff or the head usher at Santa Anita, it really does make life fun and interesting. There never seems to be a dull moment.

Q: Have you learned anything from working with these youths?

A: Yes, have faith and never panic. It will all work out in the end.

Q: Complete this sentence: If I could predict the future for me in horse racing, it would be …

A: That I will eventually reach the ultimate goal, which is to have a horse race in the Kentucky Derby.