“I'm living through a 'pinch-me' moment,” said Larry Best, owner of Grade 1 Kentucky Derby starter Instilled Regard, winner of the G3 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds in January after placing second via disqualification in the G1 Los Alamitos Futurity in December.
Best knows the son of Arch is a longshot after being the last horse to get into the field for this 144th edition of the Run for the Roses with just 29 points accumulated during official Road to the Kentucky Derby races.
But what are the odds that a complete novice to Thoroughbred racing would show up at a few horse sales, with no assistance or advice from a trainer or bloodstock agent, and wind up buying a horse that made it to this level?
Instilled Regard was purchased during those initial forays. Best paid $1,050,000 for the colt from the Tom McCrocklin consignment at the OBS March Sale. It was one of six total purchases – three colts and three fillies – made in the name of Best's OXO Equine between September 2016 and March 2017. The total outlay: $5,650,000.
Conventional wisdom suggests someone spending that kind of money on horses should seek professional bloodstock help.
Best prides himself on being a little different.
“That may be unconventional for people in the industry, but for me it's not,” said Best, who made his money as an executive with Boston Scientific and later as founder of Massachusetts-based OXO Capital, an investment fund specializing in medical devices.
“I've had quite a number of careers, and all were successful and unconventional,” he said. “I've had people suggest I wasn't following conventional wisdom. In each case it worked out. I follow my gut. I was born with it and make decisions based on my own set of valuations. It seems to work. I don't know if it's going to work in horse racing. It's a little premature. I have total respect for how other people do things, but I do things differently.”
Best said it was strange at the horse sales when people he didn't know came up to congratulate him after buying a horse.
“I was befuddled,” he recalled. “I said I'd accomplished nothing. I don't get excited about writing checks. For the first time, I feel like we accomplished something when Instilled Regard won the Lecomte.”
Best is from Akron, Ohio, and is from a family of firemen, he said. “My dad used to take me to Ascot Park (a defunct track in Cuyahoga Falls, a half hour north of Akron). That was my introduction to racing, how I was attracted to it. I'm into all sports, so like everyone else I watch the Kentucky Derby each year on television.”
Jim Walker a business associate of Best from his Boston Scientific days, asked Best if he wanted to be a partner on a couple of horses. He bought in and the two men traveled to the 2016 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Yearling Sale to see what that was all about.
“I made sure I didn't get any credit,” Best joked. “I can be impulsive.”
The two men strolled through the barns, looked at some horses and observed the sale.
“It's hard not to get excited at Saratoga,” said Best. “It was a beautiful evening and there were beautiful horses. It was very educational.”
Best took the next step at Keeneland the following month, except this time he did fill out a credit application. He wound up buying two yearlings for $900,000.
“It was relaxing looking at the horses and walking through the barns,” he said. “I decided to pick my own horses out. It's different and more of a challenge, and it's fun. Win or lose, you can only blame yourself.”
Best began to seriously study the industry and prepare for the 2-year-old sales.
“I thought it was interesting that you could see some evidence that a horse could run,” he said. “I watched the breeze show and watched the videos over and over. People there thought it was strange that I was doing it myself.
“I'm very technical, very detailed,” he continued. “In everything I do, I go deep. There's something about horses as an athlete that I'm very addicted to. It's like going to the NFL Combine (where prospective draft choices go through a series of drills).”
Best bought two at Fasig-Tipton's Gulfstream Sale and two at OBS March.
He introduced himself to Jerry Hollendorfer in the hotel lobby early one morning during the Gulfstream Sale after learning that the Hall of Fame trainer was also from Akron, Ohio. The two hit it off and Hollendorfer wound up with several of Best's purchases. The others went to Chad Brown.
“Jerry is a hard worker and he communicates a lot,” said Best.
So far, Instilled Regard is his only winner, though Best has high hopes for Goren, a $1.1 million More Than Ready colt out of a War Front mare currently training for Hollendorfer in California. “He's breezing well and I'm excited,” said Best.
Best didn't get into racing with the intention of spending nearly a million dollars on every purchase.
“There was good news and bad news for me at the sales,” he said. “The bad news is I had to pay more than I wanted. The good news is the underbidders were people with proven success, like WinStar Farm and Mike Ryan.”
Right after Best signed the ticket at OBS to purchase Instilled Regard, Ryan came up to congratulate him after being the underbidder. “He told me, 'You bought a hell of a horse. I was representing a buyer who wanted me to buy a Derby horse for him,'” Best said. “I slept much better that night after hearing that.”
He doesn't get everything he wants and has been underbidder on a number of horses. It boosts his confidence when he finds out the buyers of those horsese are accomplished horsemen like Todd Pletcher.
Best said it also helps when jockeys like Mike Smith give a positive assessment of his runners, as the Hall of Famer did when he first rode Instilled Regard in a maiden sprint last September. “He said, 'You may have a horse with great potential,'” Best recalled. Smith was aboard for Instilled Regard's maiden win, his first time around two turns, but was committed to ride the highly regarded McKinzie for Bob Baffert in the Los Alamitos Futurity. Drayden Van Dyke picked up the mount for that race and will be back aboard in the Kentucky Derby.
Another Baffert runner, Solomini, finished first by three quarters of a length over McKinzie, with Instilled Regard a head back in third. Solomini was disqualified for drifting over and interfering with Instilled Regard and placed third.
“Running against Solomini and McKinzie it was the first time I thought I at least have a horse that's competitive,” said Best. “We then won the Lecomte, then had two bad races (fourth in the G2 Risen Star and fourth in the G1 Santa Anita Derby). The underlying talent of the horse is real. I'm optimistic with the future of this horse over the next year or two.
“Getting in to the Derby is something I didn't anticipate,” he added, “and I still am kind of in disbelief. What an honor to be in position to participate.”
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