Mike Caggiano was like a lot of other horseplayers, a guy with opinions, not only about who was going to win the next race but about how to improve horse racing and make it more popular. He cut his gambling teeth at a now-defunct harness track in New York, moved to South Florida, and now bets Thoroughbreds and plays a little poker on side.
Until he saw something called the Idea Contest, put forth by the website RacingFuture.com, Caggiano had no outlet for those opinions, at least with anyone who had any kind of influence in the sport. RacingFuture.com and the Idea Contest was the brainchild of former Canadian politician Dennis Mills, who worked closely with Frank Stronach both at the auto parts manufacturer Magna International and later as CEO of MI Developments, the real estate arm of the Stronach empire. Caggiano took a shot at the contest in July 2010, submitting an essay that focused on several issues: putting more of a spotlight on the horseplayers through televised handicapping tournaments and promoting pari-mutuel wagering as a game of skill; mimicking casino customer service programs by creating VIP rooms and making a track's customers feel like big shots; moving to night racing; and making sure horse owners are rewarded for putting on the show.
An outside panel of judges selected his entry as the winner, and Caggiano became half-owner of a 2010 filly by North Light, bred by Mills, without having to put up any money in expenses for three years. The prize was an invitation, as Caggiano put it, “into the ownership club.”
Membership in that club, Caggiano said, filled him with “hope and optimism” after going through what he said were the “worst 18 months of my life.” He followed the progress of the filly, who would be named Oroluce, as she grew up from weanling to racehorse, then watched with delight from a simulcast facility as she won at first asking as a 3-year-old in June 2013 at Woodbine in Toronto, Canada.
Oroluce, or Two Socks as she is known by her owners, went on to be a productive runner for Caggiano and his partners for the remainder of 2013, adding a second-place finish and two thirds in Canada before heading south to Gulfstream Park.
She finished fifth with Caggiano in attendance for the first time in early December, then, making her last start with him as a partner, rallied from off the pace to take a $30,000 claiming event on turf.
“I start high-five-ing complete strangers. I turn back to watch our little girl Two Socks carry Dylan Davis and my dream across the finish line first. What an unmitigated thrill. I begin the walk to the winner's circle. Correction: not walking. Floating. Hugs all around. Trainer Nick Gonzalez, his wife Martha, and jockey Dylan all with huge smiles. I'm so excited you would have thought I won the Queen's Plate. My first winner's photo. My first glimpse from the inside. What an incredible ride it has been. From weanling to the winner's circle at Gulfstream Park. An experience I will cherish the rest of my days.”
Caggiano wrote those words in an essay for RacingFuture.com reliving his ownership experience, including this observation: “I will look at the races in a whole new light. The horses do not represent winning or losing wagers any longer. They carry hopes and dreams of owners and breeders big and small. They carry the love and hard work of the people that care for them. Our Oroluce has done all that for me.”
Mills suggests other owners consider similar outreach efforts to expand the ownership base in horse racing.
“According to Equibase,” he wrote, “last year there were 29,563 owners whose horses had at least one start in Canada, the United States or Puerto Rico. Can you imagine if every one of those owners offered a 5 percent ownership of one horse until the end of their 3-year-old year? We could literally double the number of new activists for our sport every year!”
Read the complete essay at RacingFuture.com.
Read a summary of the Idea Contest.
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