As a big supporter of American racing, what inspired you to have horses trained as far afield as Italy, England, France and Argentina?
I started in 1963 and after about 30 years involved in American racing I was very impressed with the character of the people involved in British racing and I became very comfortable with the training facilities in Newmarket and Lambourn, and that eventually led me to joining the Royal Ascot Racing Club, where there were several American owners. Racing in Britain is more of a gentlemen’s sport and less of a business, and the facilities are very high quality. The horses stay sound too.
Next I ventured into French racing for the same reasons and recently I have expanded my presence there because of the French-bred premium programme, which rivals any similar programme in America. Then I entered Italian racing, where the purse subsidy was very attractive, but it has since declined. On a visit to Italy I was fortunate to meet a trainer called Valfredo Valiani who recommended a yearling named Electrocutionist, who became a multiple Group 1 winner.
In South America I completed the Brazilian Triple Crown with a horse called Roxinho and I have owned champions in Argentina and Chile. I have been very blessed and fortunate in the annals of international racing.
You grew up in Queens, New York City – how did you get the bug for racing?
I got the bug while at university in Philadelphia, where I would go to Garden State Race Park; at the same time I was learning to ride. My riding master’s wife required an operation and he needed some money quickly. He had a horse in Canada which had just won a $5,000 claimer and told me if I wrote him a cheque for $2,500 I could have the horse. That was my introduction to ownership. The horse, Secret Star, went on to win over $60,000 and I thought what an easy business this was.
That encouraged me to buy four other yearlings, which were all successful. I was in my early twenties and began to wonder if I really needed the property business! But it was different later when I sent two broodmares to the stallion Northern Dancer and couldn’t put my hands on the money when it came to paying the stud fees. I remember my father getting down on one knee and saying he’d lend me the money, but told me to get out of the racing business.
Has the sport changed for the better or worse in the time you’ve been involved?
On the whole racing has become more global and transparent. Back in 1963, there wasn’t drug testing and there weren’t the open reporting procedures we have today. Perhaps the most significant change has been in international transportation, which has improved so much. In racing we are now in a global economy.
Can you describe how your passion for the turf gives you relaxation and enjoyable time out from the hectic business world?
I find the passion in the sport very exhilarating. Winning is an indescribable psychic high, even more if it’s with a homebred. The escape from business and other demands in life is satisfying and relaxing. It is like a ‘divertissemento’ in the ballet, something different.
Do you notice a cultural difference between the American and British racegoer?
In the UK there is more prestige in the public arena attached to racing and this, accordingly, reflects a lot on the owners, breeders and track owners. Also, the media coverage in England makes the sport more acceptable.
You notice in England, Ireland and France there is more interest in the horse around the saddling areas before races, with race fans looking at the conformation and interested in the various points of the thoroughbred.
The Breeders’ Cup has been a great success, attracting runners from most major racing nations. Will our new Champions’ Day at Ascot, just a fortnight before the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs, rival America’s big day?
This question has been widely discussed. The Breeders’ Cup has been a great international success. But the new purses for Champions’ Day and Arc day in France have a very positive effect, giving European owners new options to think about.
It is wonderful to see England supporting purses in this way and I think it will help to stop a lot of horses leaving the UK to race in other countries and ultimately create more jobs. Champions’ Day has a lot of pluses for the English owner and it will be interesting to see if it has any effect on the Breeders’ Cup.
Drug use is a massive issue in US racing. Are you pleased there has been a move towards a complete ban, with lasix prohibited in Graded juvenile races in 2012?
This has been a very controversial topic in America. There are studies that support a ban and I support a ban on raceday medication. However, implementing it is going to require some commonsense. Individual states make their own rules and we don’t want to see any hasty judgements that create a ban in some states and not in others.
My prediction is that we’ll see a phased out implementation of the ban over four or five years. Then there’ll be other drugs that can stop bleeding that will take their place and can be administered the day before.
Prize-money in the UK lags behind other nations, including France and America. Does this need to be remedied or is it less of a priority in your view?
Prize-money is a big priority; it attracts the best talent. If the UK is going to compete for the best horses the government needs to find a way quickly to support purses. The public likes racing and doesn’t want to see the sport lose out to other countries like France with their purse support and incentives.
At the present time French racing looks ready to eat UK racing for lunch. And that’s very sad. I am adamant that the UK racing hierarchy should lobby very strongly for increased purses.
Having been a Director of New York City Ballet and produced a number of films, including one that earned an Academy Award nomination, do you see a common thread running through racing and the Arts?
There is a common thread in dance of extreme athleticism and training, which is necessary for both great dancers and racehorses. In fact, so many of the world’s best artists have enjoyed success from their paintings depicting dancers and horses.
The training that dancers and horses have to undergo from their youth to maturity involves very specific types of exercise of different muscles connected with speed and quick motions. There is something about that movement of both that attracts me and keeps me spellbound.
You have been quoted as saying that fine art “can lift the spirit, enhance culture and inspire all who pass”. So what does racing do for you?
I try to appreciate what an artist has created or what a racehorse has created in its performances. I find it very satisfying to study the history of a piece of art and, likewise, the breeding of a horse, putting together the gene pools. It is very uplifting, rewarding and inspiring when you understand what went into making something unique, whether it’s fine art or a fine horse.
In such a varied and busy life how do you manage to keep up to speed with so many horses in training? And how often do you get to see them run in England?
After meeting up with Fiona Shaw, who had been shipping some of my horses around Europe, I offered her the job as my racing manager and she has very successfully helped me expand my European operation. Fiona keeps me up to date on a daily basis with all my European horses and advises me on breeding at the sales. I study the academics of breeding very carefully and follow on a day-to-day basis all my European horses, their training rituals and even make suggestions, passing them through Fiona.
Aaron Cohen is my racing manager in North and South America; he keeps me very informed and I devote much of my time reading and learning about every aspect of the worldwide thoroughbred industry. I treat this as a great sport, but also as a business. It is of great satisfaction to do well and earn a profit in such a challenging industry.
There is nothing like being on the ground in these countries, travelling to the various racing centres and experiencing the sight, sound and excitement. I am often in South America, have been to Europe three times this year and I visited the Deauville sales in August.
How did you start your association with the Jeremy Noseda stable? Who are your other trainers and what are their qualities?
I heard from many people about the merits of Jeremy and he has done a wonderful job with my two-year-olds this year. I also have great respect for Luca Cumani and Ed Dunlop, who has recently come aboard.
Luca has a unique ability to develop horses of great stamina and he saddled Manighar to finish seventh in the Melbourne Cup last year and he is heading out there again. I also have a trainer in France, Jonathan Pease, who has enjoyed great international success.
Who advises you at the sales and do you prefer to buy the progeny of US or European sires?
Fiona Shaw and Susan Leahy, from Ireland, advise me. And Aaron Cohen, based in New York, helps me with purchases in the rest of the world. I have always been very open to the best bred lines available.
In order to have the greatest chance of success you have got to breed the best bloodlines, the best to the best. I am a voracious breeder and do extensive research. When I see a new opportunity, it doesn’t matter where the sire stands; I am on to it – and fast. I like to be there ahead of the rest of the world and consummate a deal as quickly as possible.
You sold your Juddmonte International winner Electrocutionist to Godolphin and then saw him win the Dubai World Cup. Was that agonising or were you pleased for his new owner, Sheikh Mohammed?
I was pleased to see Electrocutionist continue at the highest level for Sheikh Mohammed, who has contributed so much to the sport as an owner, breeder and racecourse developer. He personally came to my box after the World Cup and expressed his delight. I had absolutely no regrets. In fact, it gave me a great deal of satisfaction being part of that great racing carnival in Dubai.
Having enjoyed some great moments in racing round the world, which has been the most memorable?
I believe my greatest moment is still before me, the best is yet to come. But there was a special moment. It was at Saratoga in 1992 in the Alabama, a prestige race for three-year-old fillies. When the track came up a sea of mud I wanted to scratch November Snow, but my trainer Allen Jerkens talked me out of it.
We won by a nose and as I stood out on the track, up to my knees in mud, a friend pointed out that my coat was covered in mud. I simply replied, ‘Yeah, but it’s great mud!’ November Snow was the first Grade winner by Storm Cat and went on to be champion three-year-old filly.
Your colours (burgundy, yellow rising sun) really stand out on a British racecourse. How did you choose them and what do they represent?
The name of my farm and stable back in the 60s was Rising Son, spelt s-o-n, not as my colours were registered s-u-n. But I wanted to prove to my father, who had told me to get out of racing, that the business would prove viable and that my fortunes would be on the up.
So I chose the colours to express that anticipation of the rise of my stable. I was going to demonstrate that I was the ‘Rising Son’.
Harvard N Yale won the Newmarket maiden that launched racing’s latest superstar Frankel. Can you see your colt reaching such dizzy heights?
I hope the best is yet to come with him. We are all very excited about his prospects and obviously he’s got off to a good start [since ran second in a Newbury conditions race]. He is a homebred, which gives me extra satisfaction, and his sire Smart Strike has had international success with 2007 Horse of the Year Curlin, amongst others. And you’ve got to be smart to go to Harvard and Yale, haven’t you?
You were a lieutenant in the US infantry. Did your experiences in the army have a profound effect on your life and outlook?
It taught me great discipline. Also great respect for people, having served alongside some who gave their lives for their country. I was also honoured to represent our country in Finland as the United States Ambassador.