Horse racing executives have long been sitting in dusty board rooms trying to envision new ways to broaden the sport's reach to include a younger generation of fans, but 20-somethings Dare Sutton and Sam Bussanich were a step ahead with an idea birthed in 2016.
Neither grew up in racing, however, and the prohibitive costs of ownership appeared an insurmountable stumbling block. An alternative to the standard partnership arrangement started to form in their minds, but the pair desperately needed someone who was willing to listen.
“We had this idea, and we were like, 'alright, let's go for it,'” said Bussanich, 21. “But nothing really happened with the idea… When we go up to people and we say that these 20-year-old girls wanna partner on horses, people are gonna be a little concerned. So we figured, okay, we need someone that's so prominent in the industry, that people know about, that people trust, to back this idea.”
Enter Glen Hill Farm's Craig Bernick, CEO and president of the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation.
“Craig came to my mind because he retweeted one of my tweets on Twitter that was about marketing and horse racing, and trying to get the younger generation involved,” Bussanich explained. “I went through his Twitter, and I was like, 'This seems like the guy for us.'”
The girls reached out to Bernick and he was all in on their idea for a non-equity racing club, which provides benefits of ownership like entering the paddock with the horses and attending morning training sessions but doesn't include a financial stake. It costs racing fans just $100 to join, good for a one-year membership, and annual renewal fees are $50.
“It makes it very reasonable for young people to be able to get in and experience horse racing as a participant and as an owner,” said Sutton, 24. “We've actually received a lot of support for the past two years. It's really kind of a newer concept in racing, but once (Craig) grasped what we were trying to do he was all on board.”
Nexus Racing Club officially launched in 2017, partnering with ownership groups LNJ Foxwoods and StarLadies Racing as well as Glen Hill. Two years later, Nexus has more than 70 members and shares ownership in eight racehorses with six different ownership groups, including stakes winner Cruel Intention.
The organization is classified as a 501(c)(7), a non-profit social club. Nexus and its members do not share in any earnings a horse might make, but the focus is instead centered on sharing the insider's experience of horse racing.
“It's very cool to see from an ownership level,” Bussanich said, “especially with our owners, seeing how they manage their horses and learning from them, and all the different trainers we use, from Bob Baffert to Ian Wilkes. Our members get a really good glimpse of all these different people… I mean, for $100 not many people can be involved at that level.”
Both Bussanich and Sutton are full-time students, the former at the University of Kentucky and the latter in optometry school in Indiana. Bussanich also works on the track for trainer Mark Casse and has been traveling the Triple Crown scene with Preakness winner War of Will. Still, the pair makes time to keep members updated with regular emails and social media updates about each of the group's horses. Other members have stepped up to assist in that regard as well, including Hannah Mathiesen, Mary Cage, Alex Evers, and Megan Jones.
“We're always on our toes with updates about what they're doing, and also seeing the setbacks that can happen as well,” said Sutton. “There is so much patience required to get these horses racing, and also the great amount of luck it takes to even win a race. It keeps us busy, excited, and they keep all the members interested.”
For Nexus, membership is not just about being a part of owning a racehorse. There are regular networking events with other members, including an upcoming night at the races at Churchill Downs, as well as farm and backstretch tours in Kentucky.
Even if current Thoroughbred owners aren't interested in partnering with Nexus, Bussanich suggests there are still ways they can help to involve the younger generation.
“I meet a lot of people that want to learn about the industry, but don't really know how to go about it,” she said. “You have the classic family tourists, and those are the people we should be targeting. So during Keeneland and Saratoga, I was always like, 'Come during the fifth race, my trainer has a horse running, I'll bring you into the paddock and if it wins you get to be in the winner's circle.'
“When I was little and couldn't, it was just the coolest thing, so I always bring people into the paddock and they have the time of their lives. They keep track of the horse, they'll text me about the horse, and I think current owners, if you see a little kid with their family, just bring them into the paddock with you. It's just easy for them to get people involved like that.”
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