How Latin Americans are playing a role in U.S. Thoroughbred sales
Ramiro Restrepo refers to his base in Miami, Florida as being like “Latin America part 2,” emphasizing the high-volume Latin American influence in the city, from decision makers, government and civic leaders, real estate, media and entertainment, and Latin American natives with second homes in the United States.
Restrepo was based at Gulfstream Park a few years back when he connected with Fasig-Tipton, the oldest Thoroughbred auction company in North America (“History”). The company then met with him to discuss their upcoming project: hosting the 2015 Florida 2-year-olds in Training Sale at Gulfstream Park for the first time. Several attributes made Restrepo an obvious candidate for a position that did not yet exist at Fasig-Tipton: a market representative for Latin America. Restrepo called the creation of his position a “connect the dots thing,” due to the recent impact of Latin Americans at Fasig-Tipton sales, and described the initial meeting during an interview before the 2016 Saratoga Sale of Selected Yearlings in Saratoga Springs, New York:
“When I met with them [Fasig-Tipton], they were like, look, we have this project, we’re going to have this sale, and you’re of that culture, you’re from there, you have horses, you have some experience. Maybe you could be someone that could help us communicate information about the sale, catalogues, anything to do with the translation of the information. Like a beacon, an information stand… So it started out with just that, and the south Florida horsemen that are here, and we’d love for them to participate in our sale and just be the friendly face.”
The cultural similarities between Miami and Latin America make it an easy location for Latinos to relocate, and adding to the draw is Gulfstream Park racetrack.
“Just having a racetrack of that quality, that modern – that is very appealing to those guys,” Restrepo said, referring to the Latin American population involved in south Florida horse racing. “If you’re going to be in horse racing, you have to have to have the assets not only to be able to purchase horses, but the maintenance of them. This is a sport where that’s understood, they call it the sport of kings for a reason. If you have a racetrack with an environment like Gulfstream, such top class, it’s almost like an extension of what they want to be when they’re in America. So they’re living in south Florida, the culture is very similar to what it’s like down there. There’s high end horse racing, and if you look at any days’ card at Gulfstream, it’s full of those trainers and owners.”
With Restrepo acting as the “beacon” for Latin American buyers, the initial sale with the addition of his position was a success. Not only was this a nod to Restrepo’s hard work and suitability to the job, but a tribute to Fasig-Tipton’s innovation in implementing a liaison to bridge cultural gaps. Restrepo credits a lot of the success to the interpersonal relationships developed with potential Latin American buyers before the sale even began.
“It’s pretty crazy, even a sale company, opening their arms and having someone placed at the sale months in advance, extending a simple invite,” Restrepo said. “It’s not just seeing a sale catalogue and saying oh I have to be there. No, having someone there to give them that hand-to-hand, personal face-to-face invite and welcoming them, telling them ‘we’re going to have this’.”
While Restrepo’s position started with just the Florida Sale, after its success, Fasig-Tipton extended his job through the end of 2015. Later that year, during the Saratoga Sale of Selected Yearlings, a partnership group from Restrepo’s target market – called El Capi Racing, composed of five Venezuelan horsemen – purchased the sale’s top-priced colt by the stallion Tapit out of the mare Dress Rehearsal, for $2 million (Mitchell, 2015).
By making connections with successful and influential Latin American horsemen, Restrepo built his network of relationships within his target demographic. Another factor for the involvement of Latin Americans in the U.S. racing industry is the geographic proximity between Central and South America, the Caribbean, and North America. In addition, many of the Latin American horsemen who move to the U.S. view the racing as “one of the top meccas,” according to Restrepo.
“Some people ask me, are these just new guys who are getting lucky, and I’m like no, in their own countries they’re very established, they’re very prominent, they’ve had a ton of success, they’ve won a ton of big races. And it’s almost like well, we’ve conquered our market, and the U.S. is one of the top meccas of racing. And it’s so close. One thing is going to Europe or Dubai or Japan or Australia, it’s so far away, while there is a good population of second generation Latin Americans (here). It’s an easier assimilation into our culture because it’s so close to them. Most of South America… I’m sure Brazil’s a little longer and Chile and Argentina, but a lot of the top half of South America, it’s such a quick (trip). Panama, Puerto Rico, they can come here to our sales, it’s not too far away.”
Restrepo sees room for growth in the future, by expanding his focus from the horsemen based in South Florida to the rest of Latin America. He explained the Latin Americans who he seeks to target at the sales in three groups: south Florida horsemen, Latino horsemen who have recently relocated to the U.S. in the past 3-5 years, and those based in Latin America. The first step was to focus on what he was most familiar with – south Florida horsemen and those relocated from South America. Now that he has created connections and had success with the initial groups, he hopes to take a larger step south and target prestigious Latin American racing events. In 2016, Restrepo attended the Longines Gran Premio Latinoamericano in Rio de Janeiro, an international race held in a different country each year, that attracts horses from around South America.
“Because it’s international racing, there are people from Argentina there, people from Chile, people from all these countries bringing their horses there, so it was a great thing to go there and just see how the racing works and that operation works down there, and extend the same type of invites.”
“I went to Panama for the Clásico del Caribe,” Restrepo added – a race similar to the Gran Premio Latinoamericano in that it changes countries, but is focused in the Caribbean. “Now you’re starting to see how the horse racing works there, how the market works, how the purse structure is, what type of horses they’re buying, what type of bloodlines are popular there and what they’re looking for. And then you can see what part of the Fasig-Tipton puzzle fits for them and start inviting them over.”
Argentina, Chile and Brazil have always had high quality Thoroughbreds, and Venezuela is very active in the industry. The viability of horse racing and breeding in each respective country is often determined by their economy, so emerging markets can fluctuate based on this. However, Restrepo says the U.S. has seen increased activity from Latin American countries, with Latinos racing, purchasing at sales and breeding their own horses. Toward the end of each year, Restrepo explained that sales have more of an “international feel,” with buyers selecting broodmares for the southern hemisphere breeding season.
Along with buying, Restrepo pointed out that Latin Americans are beginning to sell as well, stating that between 2015 and 2016, there was an uptick from one to four in the Latin Americans selling through consignors at The Saratoga Sale of Selected Yearlings. Restrepo commented on the number of farms owned by Latin American interests around Ocala, Fla., and the overall investment in property and commercial Thoroughbred breeding.
“That’s one of the coolest things, you’re not only seeing them come here and participate on the racing end… they have commercial breeding operations down there, and now they’re starting to set up shop here. Don Alberto came over and bought Vinery and set up such a beautiful operation. They won with Guapaza yesterday, which is great. How cool is it, you had back to back graded stakes winners from Venezula and Chile on the same card. It’s just so cool to see that they’re actually having the results. They’re investing in land, real estate, horses, and now they’re starting to have the success on the racetrack itself, and it’s crazy to see someone implement a plan. Our sport is always looking for new lifelines. You want new blood pumped into the game. And to see them come and support our industry from the bottom up, and then have their dreams and their goals come to fruition, it’s just so awesome.”
Restrepo’s reference to the prior day’s success was regarding August 6, 2016, at Saratoga Racecourse, the oldest running and arguably most prestigious track in the United States. Race 8 on the card (racing program schedule), the Grade 1 Test Stakes, was won by 3-year-old filly Paola Queen, trained by Gustavo Delgado and owned by Grupo Seven C Stable – all connections from Venezuela. The following race, the Grade 3 Fasig-Tipton Waya Stakes, was won by 5-year-old mare Guapaza, bred in Chile and owned by Don Alberto Stable. Considering the financial resources and mental toughness required in the sport of horse racing, Restrepo says this kind of success at the top level of racing is very encouraging to other potential Latin American investors.
“I think in any market or business, you build a foundation, you invest so much time and energy, resources. And horse racing, you dedicate so much passion and your soul, your energy into this business, and you really want for those guys to have success. The game, you lose more than you win, and you take a lot of punches, and you have to have the intestinal fortitude to power through these things. You fall down nine times, you’ve got to get up ten. These guys are coming in strong and investing so much, you’re really hopeful that they do come out and have success. It’s like with anything, it fuels your fire to keep on keeping on. Having a grade 1 winner and a grade 3 winner in a more tradition-rich race meet in the country, I can only imagine the headlines in the media that’s down there (in Latin America).”
During my final month in Chile, I arranged tours of two Thoroughbred breeding farms: Haras Santa Eladia, and Haras Sumaya. I ended up learning more about Haras Sumaya when I returned to the U.S., namely during the 2017 Keeneland January Horses of All Ages Sale when Oussama Aboughazale, under the name International Equities Holding, purchased seven mares and one filly, spending $1,920,000. Aboughazale is the owner of Haras Sumaya in Chile, and Sumaya U.S. Stables, which he races under in the United States. He is also the new owner of recently purchased Belvedere Farm near Paris, Kentucky, where he will develop his own U.S. breeding operation (Wincze Hughes, 2017).
Arguably the most prominent of the Latin wave is Don Alberto, another Chilean investment corporation with a well-known Chilean breeding farm. In 2013, Don Alberto purchased Vinery farm in Kentucky, now being launched into Don Alberto Kentucky. Don Alberto races in Chile, Europe and the U.S., and owns multiple graded stakes-winning filly in the U.S., Unique Bella. Don Alberto’s reach extended beyond racing and breeding in September of 2016, when a press release announced Carlos Heller of Don Alberto as one of four newly elected members to the Jockey Club. Heller is president of Bethia Holdings and chairman of Chilean racetrack Club Hípico. According to the press release, Heller comes from a long line of Thoroughbred breeders, and his mother Liliana Solari is the principal owner of Haras Don Alberto (“The Jockey Club Elects Four New Members,” 2017).
There are two important factors to note on this section: First, while there are additional Latin Americans investing in the United States aside from Chilean entities Sumaya and Don Alberto, they provide a timely example due to their recent property purchases. Second, it is not possible to pinpoint give exact statistics on Latin American groups or individuals who buy and race Thoroughbreds in the U.S., due to privacy regulations and the fact that many buy or race under other monikers.
Next installment: Case study of John Fulton and the Breeders’ Cup
(R. Restrepo, personal communication, August 1, 2016)
The Jockey Club Elects Four New Members: Brown, Hancock, Heller and Rankin. (2016, September 6). Retrieved March 03, 2017, from http://www.jockeyclub.com/Default.asp?section=Resources&area=10&story=933
Wincze Hughes, A. (2017, January 11). Aboughazale Stocks Up at Keeneland. The Blood-Horse. Retrieved March 03, 2017, from http://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/218984/aboughazale-stocks-up-at-keeneland