It was a photograph on the Internet which first drew Harlan Malter to trainer Tim Glyshaw's barn. Depicting the trainer laying in the straw and cuddling with his stable star, top Indiana-bred earner Unreachable Star, the photo instantly told Malter everything he wanted to know.
“It's a macho industry, horse racing,” Malter said. “How many trainers would choose that picture of a quiet moment between man and horse to be the lead photo on their professional website?
“I just knew Tim would care for and love the horses I sent him just as much as I do.”
Malter is the managing partner of Ironhorse Racing, which on Saturday, two years after beginning the association with Glyshaw, celebrated its first graded stakes win when Bucchero upset Keeneland's Grade 2 Woodford Stakes at 26-1.
An Indiana-bred son of Kantharos, Bucchero had not raced on the grass since the 2016 season. In last year's Woodford, Bucchero finished 11th in the 5 1/2-furlong race over Keeneland's turf course. Nonetheless, Malter and Glyshaw entered the Woodford with a feeling of quiet confidence, and the flashy chestnut horse rewarded their faith in him handsomely.
“Bucchero is one of those special horses who runs just about as well on dirt as he does on the turf, he doesn't seem to have a preference,” said Malter. “So a lot of the bettors couldn't see him winning the race on Saturday, but with the way the pace looked and how our horse had been running, we definitely thought we had a chance.”
Latent Revenge sprang out of the gate like a firecracker, drawing away from the field by almost six lengths down the backstretch. Fernando De La Cruz kept the normally front-running Bucchero in second behind the leader, and was able to get first run on him in the lane.
Despite never changing leads, Bucchero turned on the speed with reaching, consistent strides which carried him to the front. De La Cruz had timed the rally perfectly, and the pair was far enough in front to hold off late runs from the talented Hogy and Mongolian Saturday by 1 3/4 lengths at the wire. The victory was also the first graded win for De La Cruz.
An Indiana-bred himself, Glyshaw was quietly emotional in the winner's circle. Bucchero is the second graded stakes winner of his career, and the trainer's relationship with the horse is above and beyond even what Malter had hoped for.
“It's like a big brother, little brother relationship,” Malter laughed. “He and Bucchero are always playing with each another in front of the stall, the horse pretending to bite as Timmy pretends to box with him, but they obviously have such a mutual respect for one another. It's awesome.”
Now, the Ironhorse Racing partnership is aiming Bucchero at the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, a dream come true for Malter and the first time Glyshaw will saddle a horse in the championships. Glyshaw made it to the 2013 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile with Taptowne but had to scratch the horse on the morning of the race with a bruised foot.
“Listen, there's a lot of really nice horses in that race, and you have to respect them,” said Malter. “But our horse, he gives it everything he has every time he leaves the gate. If that's only good enough to finish last, then we will still be thrilled with him. But this is also horse racing, so you never know what could happen.”
Growing up in Boston, Malter and his father would spend the summers crossing into New York to watch the races at Saratoga. They would spread their blanket on the ground in the picnic area and handicap the races together. Affirmed and Alydar's rivalry was the first to really draw Malter into the game, but once he was in college, Malter was an enormous fan of the great Cigar.
“I must have gone to at least six of his races live,” Malter remembered. “But my favorite experience was when he was retired to the Kentucky Horse Park, and I made a special trip there to see him before the Breeders' Cup one year. It was first thing in the morning when the park opened, and I spent 30 minutes just standing in his presence. I'll never forget that.”
Today Malter is president of a financial planning company, Saposh & Malter, which has offices in Southern California and in New York. He began Ironhorse Racing in 2007, and the partnership is still relatively small, managing between five and six horses at a time for a group which still includes several of the original members. Many of the partners are friends or family members, but as he has gradually expanded over the last 10 years, Malter has come to believe the industry needs to increase its focus on marketing to the everyman.
“Top class horse partnerships for the other 99 percent,” reads the tagline on Ironhorse's website. “No Sheikhs or billionaires need apply.”
Many of his friends who are sports enthusiasts don't even realize how exciting horse racing can be, Malter said. He encourages them all to try owning just 10 percent of a racehorse and to watch that horse enter the starting gate for any kind of race. If they don't feel that drop in the pit of their stomach, the nerves and the promise of potential, then racing isn't for them.
Watching Malter and his partners during the Woodford as they jumped up and down, screaming and hugging one another, it was easy to see the excitement hadn't worn off for any of them.
Of course, the thrill is just one part of the horse racing game. Malter's unique perspective as a financial planner lends him an ability to run the partnership as a business, in which the numbers have to make sense. His niche is to find underappreciated state-bred horses running in open company, then to race them back in their state where they have the best chance for success.
Still Chief is a perfect example. Malter claimed him for $10,000 at Laurel Park in January of 2016, then returned the Indiana-bred to his home state under Glyshaw's care. The gelding has since been twice stakes-placed and earned more than $100,000 for Ironhorse.
In other cases, Malter has claimed a horse only to find it had an old injury which had perhaps not fully healed. His love of the animals has kept him from being entirely business-focused; the horse gets the time it needs, and generally returns to the track a much better horse than it had been previously.
“When I talk to my non-racing friends, I try to explain to them that it's kind of like having a dog,” said Malter. “You love that dog, and you just want to hug it all day long. Well now imagine that dog can enter a world-class athletic competition and be successful. How much more are you going to love that dog and want to give it treats and spoil it?”
Despite his lifetime love of the animal, it wasn't until two years ago when Malter first sat on the back of a horse. His wife bought him a touristy trail-ride experience in Temecula, Calif., and his memories of the day are permanently etched into his mind.
“So we go up to the corral and I see three or four normal-looking horses,” explained Malter. “But then there's this one dinosaur horse over in the corner, and I just knew that was going to be the horse I was riding. He was a 17.2 hand Belgian Draft horse, and I literally had to use a ladder to work my way up into the saddle!”
Malter hopes that with his undeniable work ethic and huge heart, Bucchero will be a stallion prospect when he's retired from racing. The 5-year-old currently has nine wins and six seconds from 22 starts, and has earned $638,366, so it certainly isn't a far-fetched dream, especially if he runs a respectable race in the Breeders' Cup.
Then again, Malter joked, perhaps Bucchero would be more interested in helping his owner pursue a future pleasure riding career!
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