Gary is a fourth-generation handicapper. Currently, Gary’s handicapping prowess is on display as “The GQ Approach” at TheRacingBiz.com, providing selections & analysis for every race day at Maryland tracks. In the past, he’s been a guest handicapper at Laurel Park on Maryland Million Day and at Pimlico on Preakness Day in the Preakness Infield Corporate Village.
During Preakness Week, he has conducted interviews with horsemen, jockeys, and others in the racing industry at Pimlico Stakes Barn, Alibi Breakfast, and Preakness Post Position Draw since 2008.
Though an IT professional by trade, he has had part-time roles with the Maryland Jockey Club since 1988. Gary has also appeared on WNST 1570 AM Baltimore Best Sports Talk to discuss current trends in the Maryland horse racing industry.
In addition to focusing on the Maryland Thoroughbred racing circuit, each year Gary follows the Derby Trail, and posts “GQ’s Derby Double Dozen” in early February.
We spoke with Gary recently about his experiences in the horse racing industry.
What attracted you to the horse racing industry?
It started with my grandfather and great-grandfather. They were home builders in Maryland, but in the winter they went to South Florida for the races. I was introduced to the Sport of Kings in 1964 at the age of six when my dad and grandfather took me to Timonium Race Track. I have always been drawn to the excitement of trying to determine the winner, and learning the different angles involved in the sport. I like the challenge. Since that day, I have had the pleasure of visiting over 40 different tracks across North America.
What aspect of horse racing do you enjoy the most?
I always tell people my payment is being granted press credentials to go to the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Week, and having access to the backside to see the horses. I’ve actually become enlightened by the whole backstretch life and the horses, along with the people who train them. It has opened a new avenue of interest for me to learn that part of the process.
I’ve also become interested in having the thrill that every owner – whether they have 1% or 100% ownership – has when they see their horse cross the finish line and they go down to the winner’s circle. It’s the biggest thrill of their lives right behind getting married and/or the birth of their children. Every single person I know or have interviewed has likened it to those events.
Until a few years ago, if I went out for a 9-race card and at the end of the day walked away with less money in my pocket than I came to the track with, I would always beat myself up thinking that as a handicapper I have an edge and I’ve been doing this for so long, so I should know what I’m doing. Then finally I got the self-revelation that I just got 5 to 6 hours of entertainment. Where else can you go and get that type of entertainment, watching beautiful horses and jockeys — the strongest athletes pound for pound — along with the excitement? To me going to the track, going to the paddocks, seeing the horses, seeing the actual race, seeing the athletes just warming up, that’s 5 to 6 hours of entertainment. In horse racing you’ll always have those memories day in and day out. So now I want to try to take the next step and feel that excitement of ownership, whether it be 1% or 100%.
Being a seasoned veteran of the horse racing industry, I’ve learned that most people on the backside who train and groom horses are not in it for the money. They’re in it for the love of the game and the love of the horses. That says something about what the prospects are as far as looking towards horse racing ownership as an investment.
I’ve also enjoyed socializing with friends and trading handicapping ideas.
What issues in the industry would you like to see addressed?
I’ve had opportunities to join horse racing partnerships, as they’re advertised, but I wasn’t satisfied with them. They advertise themselves as sort of like investment clubs. I think that’s false advertising.
A few years ago, I was exposed to the opportunity to join a horse racing partnership. They said, ‘Just look at it as money you’re going to invest in, but then expect a return.” They kind of sold it that way. The partnership bought into two horses that were unraced at the time. One went as far as winning a derby prep race, so you’d think, “Hey, there’s a return on my investment.” Well, there wasn’t, even though the horse won. The people who invested in the horse had to struggle just to get some type of their investment back. I think a lot of partnerships “bring the lambs to the slaughter”, so to speak. They ramp up people’s hopes. There are a lot of people who may have previously invested in horse racing partnerships, but now they have a sour taste in their mouths. Plus, they weren’t told the truth. I think there’s a lot of that.
Why did you join the Wasabi Ventures Stables Co-owner Club?
I was attracted to the fact that 1% ownership is not a lot, but this is great for anyone who may not even know anything about horse racing, have some interest in it, and would like to have some type of avenue for entertainment. For what it costs for 1% of a horse with Wasabi Ventures Stables, the cost is the same for a game at a professional sporting event, a decent meal, or doing any other type of recreational activity. Once you do those activities, they’re gone. However, if a horse is owned by Wasabi Ventures Stables and goes to the track a few times and even runs prior to being claimed or retired, the entertainment value keeps coming back to you. It’s reoccurring.
On top that, Wasabi Ventures Stables takes on all the risk. A 1% owner is only going to have to put out one percent. Most horse racing partnerships keep increasing their minority owners’ costs, nickel-and-diming them with daily expenses, which the average person doesn’t understand. Since Wasabi Ventures Stables retains 50% ownership, the company takes on all the risk of the normal, daily care of a horse, not to mention the care that may come about if the horse needs some additional attention.
Therefore, I think it’s a slam-dunk for anyone who has considered getting into a horse racing partnership to give Wasabi Ventures Stables a shot. Your liability is limited to your original investment. And that’s it.
It seemed to be a no-brainer to me that my liability is limited. If it works out, great. If it’s not what I thought it was going to be, then it’s no great loss. The risk/reward ratio is much better than other partnerships. People need to understand that what they’re getting into has entertainment value, not investment value.
Wasabi Ventures Stables’ majority owners obviously want to make wise decisions. They’re going to have trainers and look to people who know whether the horse they’re interested in claiming or purchasing can run on the track and give immediate satisfaction. That’s what the entertainment value is: to claim a horse that you don’t have to wait a month or longer to put back on the track, so your Co-Owners can get the thrill of seeing their horses run.
The Wasabi Ventures Stables Co-Owner Club could also be a great networking possibility. Networking with other Co-Owners from all walks of life could result in great networking opportunities for the club’s members.
What do you look for when handicapping horses?
My handicapping style is all about trying to find value.
Horses that get my attention as a handicapper are ones that have back class. These are horses that have proven that they’re good race horses, but for reasons that I don’t know about have been, as they say, off form, maybe because of a health situation. As that horse continues to drop down in class, I look for the first time he or she shows some sign of regaining that form. When I see that reversal in a race, I think, “Next time they run him or her, I might be interested in playing that horse”.
I also have a bias on trainers. Just like everything in life, there are good ones and there are bad ones, and then there are ones whose practices you question. I ask myself, “What is his or her history with horses?” He or she just might not know the craft good enough to read a horse.
I have faith in Wasabi Ventures Stables to have and work with trainers who are the type of horse people that recognize a horse’s strengths, ailments, etc., and make them a better race horse than they were in a previous stable.
You can follow Gary on Twitter at @HorseRacingNut.