LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - "There's Kent's stable star right there," Gary Palmisano says.
I am standing next to Dial Me, the horse that I own 1/200th of. I put up a one-time $500 fee to join the Churchill Downs Racing Club.
Palmisano is the VIP Player Services manager at Churchill Downs and the man in charge of not one, but two groups of 200 horse owners.
"We launched this thing and we said, if we get to 200 people that would be great, $500, so we would raise $100,000, which would give us a good amount of money to go purchase a horse," Palmisano remembers.
The response was overwhelming.
"Our Club One sold out within 24 hours, and the phone was ringing off the hook, so we had to go ahead with round two," he says.
Two clubs, two horses, two winners, both trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas.
Dial Me won at Ellis Park last summer, and Warrior's Club won the Spendthrift Stakes at Churchill Downs last fall.
"I had never experienced anything with that much emotion in the Winner's Circle," Lukas says. "They went crazy, they were crying and hugging and jumping up and down. It was really refreshing to see that."
"I think about a horse that cost $16 million a few years ago that never won a race," Palmisano points out.
The venture has been so successful that Churchill Downs is planning another club this spring. Dallas Stewart will be the trainer. For more information go to churchilldowns.com/racing club
Louisville native Tom Mueller is even more involved. He has been a partner in a few for-profit horse syndicates. Mueller is currently a partner in Starlight Racing. Starlight was founded by Louisville native Jack Wolf and his wife, Laurie, in 2000. Donald and Barbara Lucarelli joined the team in 2004.
"The whole idea of Starlight is, let's get a group of 10-12 partners together, we're gonna buy 10-12 horses per year, so it's a substantial investment, but you spread your risk across 12 horses," Mueller explained. "Hopefully, one or two of those horses are the superstar that you want, that helps pay for everything and that's the whole sort of idea."
Starlight has 63 stakes wins and seven Kentucky Derby starters. Mueller has been a partner in three of the seven. They've also had three Kentucky Oaks starters, including 2004 winner Ashado.
"It gives people an opportunity to get involved and own a piece of a Derby horse, which in their own they might not be able to do," trainer Todd Pletcher says.
Mueller, a St. Xavier High School and Notre Dame grad, got involved in the business when his boss, Jim Shircliff, encouraged every member of the office at River Road Asset Management to purchase a part of a horse. That horse, Twinspired, made it to the Kentucky Derby in 2011.
So all told, Mueller has been a part of four Derby starters.
"I walked over with my parents, that was one of the awesome experiences of my life, so that was a great time," Mueller says. "I think in terms of top five experiences in my life, that is definitely in my top five."
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