It's fair to say that Ernie Semersky is a mysterious figure.
The owner of Semersky Enterprises, which includes several high-end car dealerships in the Chicago area, told me straight away that he doesn't talk to Forbes or Fortune, and doesn't discuss business or family.
Thoroughbreds, though, were a different story.
Semersky, together with business partner Dory Newell, grabbed headlines last month when their Conquest Stables was the leading buyer at the OBS June Sale of 2-year-olds in training, just months after being the second-largest spender at the OBS Spring Sale. Conquest's purchases from the June sale totaled $1,365,000 for six horses. Unlike many big spenders, though, the pair has found almost immediate success.
A $420,000 OBS April purchase named Conquest Two Step found success early when he broke his maiden in his first try at Churchill Downs on June 21, followed by stablemate and $370,000 purchase Conquest Whiplash, who won the Victoria Stakes the next day at Woodbine.
“Ernie's not a small thinker, and he is a risk-taker,” said Newell. “It doesn't surprise me, the success we've had so far, and we feel very grateful for it but we're not completely surprised.
“I expect more success in the future.”
For Semersky, the journey began at last year's Kentucky Derby. He had attended the races at Arlington Park on and off for years, but the 2012 Run for the Roses got him thinking about getting involved.
“I participate in everything I do. I guess it's just part of my nature,” said Semersky, who noted that the family involvement in the sport is a big draw for him. “It's an incredible family-type sport. You don't have to have the best horse, and you don't have to win — just being involved is a terrific thing.”
So, as Newell said, the man who never does anything half-heartedly jumped into racing with both feet. He purchased a horse privately last summer before beginning to buy publicly with the help of trainer Mark Casse. Semersky and Newell worked to learn as much as they could about the sport, and found Newell's designer's eye adjusted quickly to identifying lines and movement of good horses.
That first private purchase was Gunderman, a stakes runner who has beaten Black Onyx and Cerro (IRE), and finished behind Verrazano's track debut. Currently, Gunderman is on lay-up for an injury, but Semersky expects him to return to the races.
Semersky said the stable's holdings now include 18 horses, all of whom are under the care of Casse.
“One of the things that really attracted us to that team is that I don't want our horses overrun. I don't want them over-worked. I don't want them to be shooting stars; I want them to be stars that last awhile,” he said. “You can burn through a great horse by the time he's a 3-year-old. That's not of any interest to me.”
Semersky said he plans to grow his operation as large as Casse sees fit, and expressed interest in building a training center for his horses to give them conditioning not offered at most American tracks.
Perhaps atypically, Semersky says he might be more thrilled to see his empire bring home lilies than roses.
“I've got Dory, I've got a daughter and three granddaughters; I kind of like the girls' race,” said Semersky. “I think we've got some great fillies.”
Despite his stable's early successes, Semersky is quick to point out that the drive for him isn't just winning races, although that's obviously a goal — it's about the love of the horses.
“The worst part about ever losing a race is that I feel bad for (Casse and his team), and I feel worse for the horse,” he said. “I kind of extrapolate my feelings onto the horse and say, ‘Oh, that poor guy, he tried as hard as he could. I hope he doesn't feel bad.'”
“You learn to win, you learn to lose, and hopefully, you learn to do both of them with class. That's what I hope my granddaughters learn.”
Fortunately, it doesn't seem like losing is too common an occurrence for Conquest at the moment, and Semersky says he has more good horses up his sleeve.
“We've got a lot of horses that you haven't seen run that I think you're going to be very impressed with,” said Semersky.
Maybe a whole constellation's worth.
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