Scott Dyer, in the asphalt and concrete business in Atlanta, now is in the horse business, spending a little disposable income to be a part-owner of four colts bought and syndicated by West Point Thoroughbreds of Mount Laurel.
"They are up-front and honest," Dyer said yesterday. "They tell you: If you're making an investment to make money, you're in the wrong business."
To prove the point, one of the horses Dyer initially invested 10 percent in, a $300,000, well-pedigreed colt named Seminary Ridge, already is retired. "He ran [three] times, led in every race, and finished last in each of them," Dyer said. "When a horse got next to him, he quit."
Seminary Ridge's lifetime earnings: $250.
But the very first horse Dyer invested in, putting down $31,000 to own 10 percent, is no quitter. With Dyer cheering from a box seat, Macho Again finished second to Big Brown at the Preakness Stakes and will be back for more in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, trying to derail Big Brown's Triple Crown dream.
West Point does not try to compete with the rulers of Dubai or the rich Irishmen from Coolmore for the most expensive horses at 2-year-old sales. West Point has not produced a winner in any of the Triple Crown races or at the Breeders' Cup, but the company started by Terry Finley in 1991 - first buying a $5,000 claimer at Philadelphia Park - is showing up more and more at the biggest races.
Awesome Gem finished third in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic. Flashy Bull finished 13th in the 2006 Kentucky Derby, but improved to win last year's Stephen Foster Handicap. A filly named Dream Rush won two Grade I stakes in 2007 and was the biggest success story: West Point sold her for $3.3 million in November after she earned $657,864 in 10 starts.
"One thing we'd like to think, we've built up our institutional knowledge," Finley said. "When people come to us, in essence they're buying part of the mistakes we've made in the past."
Finley, a U.S. Military Academy graduate, buys the horses himself with the help of a top bloodstock agent, then puts the investor groups together. West Point has 85 horses right now, including 35 2-year-olds, its largest crop yet. This year, Finley said, the largest of nearly 300 investors has put in $250,000, down to the smallest investor's $12,000. As part of the typical arrangement, Finley himself owns 3 percent of Macho Again. There are 16 investors in that colt, he said. Most meet one another for the first time at the races. The idea is not to get together for barbecues, but to get to the winner's circle.
"We're not rooting against Big Brown in any way, shape or form, but he's got a couple of issues that could be chinks in his armor," Finley said of the Belmont. "He's got to get a mile and a half, and he's got a quarter crack" in his left front hoof, which his handlers say has been repaired.
Macho Again has earned $343,761 in nine lifetime starts, so Dyer basically has broken even on that investment. However, he is still in the red overall for his four-horse commitment, since a second in the Preakness does not offset $250 in lifetime earnings for Seminary Ridge or $44,650 for the other three horses combined. There are still high hopes for one of them, a speedster named Wincat, who impressively broke his maiden by nearly seven lengths at Philadelphia Park earlier this year, but needed surgery to repair a small chip in his leg after his second start. The colt is just getting back on the track.
Dyer is not complaining about his fortunes. He figures he's one of the "real, real, real lucky" ones. He got to walk with Macho Again from the barn to the saddling area at Pimlico Race Course, and he'll be in the paddock Saturday at Belmont Park.
"You can't even believe it's happening," Dyer said of those experiences. "A lot of people have paid a lot of money for horses and haven't gotten to do that."