Democracy in Saratoga
By Anthony F. Hall
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
The Sport of Kings is No Longer the Exclusive Preserve of the Few
Among the yearlings that will be paraded through this weekend’s Fasig-Tipton sale in Saratoga will be some consigned by Fort Christopher’s Thoroughbreds, LLC, a farm owned by Bolton Landing resident Christopher Shelli.
Last year, a thoroughbred colt owned by Shelli fetched $230,000 at the sale; in 2012, he purchased the colt’s mother “Fear This, ”while still in foal to the stallion Ice Box for $5,000. The yearling’s buyer was Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito.
“I’m good at what I do,” laughed Shelli as he sought to explain how a hunch had turned into a good investment. “Seriously, luck plays a role. That, to me, is the interesting thing. Thoroughbred racing is unlike any other sport. You can find yourself competing with the best owners in the business, at the highest levels of racing.”
With his farm manager, Annemarie Toomey, Shelli operates the 70 acre farm in Fort Edward, 20 minutes from the track.
“All winter, we breed and foal thoroughbred broodmares. In the summer we transition to selling our horses in Florida, Kentucky, and at Saratoga, and to lay-ups, rehabilitating racehorses from the track. It’s nice to see a racehorse go back to the track after an injury, knowing that we played a part in rehabilating the animal and returning it to a competitive level,“ he said.
Shelli created the farm from vacant hay land in 2009. He wanted to be near Saratoga. He also “wanted to build a state-of-the-art facility that would attract a clientel from Kentucky. We have the only radiant heated foalling barn in New York State,” he said on a recent tour of the farm.
Shelli, who grew up in Latham, is also a bloodstock agent. He buy’s and sells broodmares, weanlings, and yearlings for his clients, many of whom are local residents. He also selects stallions, creates mating analysis for broodmares and negotiates stud fees for a his clients.
“My friends who work on Wall Street say I’m not doing anything different from what they’re doing, I just have a nicer office,” he said “I have some clients who view a horse as just another part of their portfolio. They want to maximize the return on their investment. Some take a hands-off approach. Others, I talk to daily. For them, it’s a hobby.”
Shelli says “it’s a good time to be involved in racing. New York State offers incentives to attract breeders to the state. There’s a huge amount of money in the breeders’ fund. And the size of the purses have grown; that’s drawing the best horses to our tracks.”
Shelli says individuals can invest in a thoroughbred race horse for as little as $5,000.
“It used to be a rich man’s hobby. One owner had thirty horses. Now, on average, there’s four or five owners for each horse. The sport is affordable. With a 5% stake, you’re entitled to all the perks that were one the preserve of a few. The days of the old school owners are fading; partnerships are the way of the future,” he said.
Thoroughbred racing is still a sport worthy of kings, even if it now accessible to teachers and retired state troopers, doctors and lawyers, he said.
“There’s nothing like having a horse finish at Saratoga,” said Shelli. “A win is a win anywhere, but there’s something especially thrilling about being at Saratoga. That’s the pinnacle. That makes you feel like you’re part of history.”
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