From Hot Dogs to Hip Numbers: One Woman’s Journey Into Racehorse Ownership
By Mary Perdue
How to go from knowing nothing about horses to owning a Keeneland September yearling in less than eight months
It’s a chilly Monday morning in January, and my friend Marilyn Soelter and I are lost in the middle of Florida horse country. After watching Arrogate win the Pegasus World Cup, we drove up to see a 2-year0old filly who hasn’t even reached the starting gate yet.
If you asked us which horse excites us more, we’d be hard pressed to decide.
The story of how we ended up on this dirt road shrouded by live oaks, nervous and excited about seeing the filly, starts in the 1980s in Dayton, OH, when Marilyn and I first met. We were newly hired 30-something sales reps for an industrial advertising company, both ambitious, and both with two young sons and crappy marriages. When we got divorced around the same time, we became breadwinning single moms with little time for anything but work and kids.
Once a year we’d go to our company’s annual Florida sales meeting, where we’d room together and stay out late drinking and dancing. When I found out Marilyn had never been to a racetrack, I took her to Hollywood Park, and she loved it.
Years passed and our lives took separate paths. Marilyn bought a struggling company and turned it into a successful enterprise that made her independently wealthy. I moved south, remarried and started a new career. We made a resolution to take a trip together once a year, and when I suggested we visit different racetracks, Marilyn thought that was a great idea.
Our first trip was to Turfway Park in Northern Kentucky, close to Marilyn’s home. An enthusiastic gambler, Marilyn loves the races and wins more than I do. She’ll eat a hot dog, smoke a cigarette, drink a beer, and nail the exacta. We handicap without sharing opinions and go to the windows on our own, delighted if we end up picking the same horses.
After trips to Churchill Downs and Red Mile, we went to Saratoga for Travers week last summer, where we witnessed Arrogate’s record setting victory.
Somewhere between Turfway and Saratoga, Marilyn took a big step: she became the owner of a racehorse. In April of 2016, when I told her about the newly formed Churchill Downs Racing Club, where for $500 she could “own” a piece of a two year old filly trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas and enjoy the thrill of racing with no downside risk or expectation of profit, she wrote a check the next day.
Her club’s first horse was Dial Me, a daughter of 2016 top freshman sire Dialed In. Dial Me broke her maiden at second asking, has been in the money four times in seven starts and is currently training at Oaklawn Park.
Since joining the club, Marilyn has learned a lot in a remarkably short time. She attended a TOBA seminar on horse ownership at Indiana Grand, and has connected with other club members. She bought tickets to the Kentucky Derby, a race she’s never seen, when the club made them available. She opened a Twin Spires account and discovered the world of online betting. When her work schedule prevented her from watching Dial Me race in person, Marilyn decided she needed a “local” horse closer to home, so she approached trainers at Belterra and Turfway, created her own LLC to buy and race, and joined Three Star Stable, a claiming partnership. Their first claim was 4-year-old Green Gold, a gelded son of Street Boss, who had just won at seven furlongs at Churchill Downs.
Marilyn achieved her dream of watching a horse she owned race in person when Green Gold started at Turfway in December.
I watched nervously on TVG while Marilyn cheered Green Gold from the stands to a last-place finish. I worried this might deter her from future ownership, but the outcome was happy as the gelding was claimed for a profit after less than 30 days in the barn. Her partnership also claimed You Vow Me, a runner at Oaklawn, and Marilyn has applied for an owner’s license in six states.
But the best was yet to come. Also in December, a mere eight months after Marilyn joined the racing club, Wayne Lukas announced an opportunity for interested members to invest in a for-profit partnership on a recent Keeneland September yearling purchase, Hip No. 198 was an Uncle Mo filly whose dam, Baroness Amira, is a half-sister to PioneeroftheNile. Much higher stakes and a considerably more substantial investment gave Marilyn pause, but after sleeping on it, she was in.
“I feel like I crashed the cool kid’s club,” she confessed after her first phone call with Lukas.
The filly, now named Country Affair, is the reason we’re now lost on this dirt road near Ocala. She’s in training with Randy Bradshaw, who broke Animal Kingdom as well as many other successful runners. Finally, we pull into the parking lot of Hidden Brook South, a 125-acre facility where horses like Bernardini, Rags to Riches and Unbridled’s Song all learned to race.
Randy greets us warmly, and introduces Country Affair.
He speaks highly of her prospects, calling her, “very athletic with a super pedigree.” She’s smaller than we expect.
”Don’t worry about that,” Randy says. “She’ll grow into herself,” pointing out she’s a March foal.
We follow Country Affair to the training track, where we watch her work, accompanied by top prospects by Giant’s Causeway, Tiznow, Bodemeister and Candy Ride.
She’s galloping seven furlongs and just starting to breeze, gradually building her bone and tendons and being asked to go a bit faster each week. If things go well, she’ll be pointed toward a maiden race at Saratoga this summer.
Randy asks Marilyn how and why she got into Thoroughbred racing.
“I’m a workaholic,” Marilyn explains. “All my life I’ve been looking for something to take me away from work and into something I can really enjoy. I just love this.”
Randy and I both know what she means.
Not that long ago, Marilyn and I were eating hot dogs at a metal picnic table at Turfway and betting the claimers. Today, she’s part owner of a well-bred Hip Number 198, with hopes as high as anyone’s and looking to expand her investments into other partnerships this year.
Cradling Country Affair’s head as she returns to the barn, Marilyn points out one thing that hasn’t changed during her horseracing ownership journey
“I’m having the time of my life,” she says.