By Joe Bianca
Every so often, a name unbeknownst to the horse racing community shows up at a marquee sale and jumps right into the deep end, duking it out with the biggest players in the sport for some of the top-priced offerings. Those immediate investments don’t always work out, as there tend to be reasons, manifested over decades, that the heavy hitters have established themselves. It helps, however, if like OXO Equine’s Larry Best, you’re committed to playing the long game. Saturday, the first piece of a foundation was set for OXO when Best’s Instilled Regard (Arch) scored convincingly in the GIII LeComte S. at Fair Grounds and established himself as an early GI Kentucky Derby contender.
Best bought six horses–three colts and three fillies–as his entree into racing, starting with a pair of yearlings for a combined $900,000 at the 2016 Keeneland September sale. He saved his big splash for the following March’s Fasig-Tipton Gulfstream Sale, buying an Uncle Mo filly for $1.5 million and a More Than Ready colt for $1.1 million from the Cary Frommer consignment. He continued his spree at OBS March, going to seven figures each for a pair of juveniles from the Tom McCrocklin consignment. After forking over $1.1 million for Hip 349, a Tapit filly out of a graded stakes-placed daughter of four-time champion Azeri, Best went in for $1.05 million on Hip 515, a colt from the second-to-last crop of the late, outstanding sire Arch who breezed a quarter-mile in :20 4/5.
“He was just a great specimen of a horse,” Best recalled of Instilled Regard’s OBS appearance. “He had everything you’re looking for. Well-balanced, about the right size, had a good breeze. He was just a standout.”
Instilled Regard made his debut going 6 1/2 furlongs Sept. 2 at Del Mar, showing late interest to be second by a half-length to American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile)’s full-brother St Patrick’s Day. Third behind ‘TDN Rising Star’ and Monday’s Smarty Jones S. winner Mourinho (Super Saver) after that, the dark bay graduated by open lengths when stretched out to two turns Oct. 29 at Santa Anita. Despite being a little light on speed figures to that point, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer tried the colt in the GI Los Alamitos Futurity Dec. 9, and his confidence was rewarded, as Instilled Regard jumped way forward to be runner-up at a tick under 18-1. Saturday, he put it all together, kicking away from previously unbeaten ‘Rising Star’ Principe Guilherme (Tapit) and 11 others at the New Orleans oval.
“He was fit and a lot of credit goes to Jerry,” Best said. “It’s been consistent for four months, each time out, he seems to grow and progress. I think he was ready for that race and he ran well.”
Best worked for Boston Scientific for 15 years as Chief Financial Officer and later as Executive Vice President of Finance & Administration until 2007, at which point he left to found OXO Capital LLC, an investment fund concentrating on specific medical devices.
“We’re focused on breakthrough technologies in what’s called the ‘structural heart space,’ attempting to repair and replace heart valves,” Best explained. “The last 10 years, I’ve been focused on that, figuring out how to treat an untreated population.”
As for entering the racing world in such a big way so suddenly, Best is under no illusions about how much he still has to master. He is also grateful that he has been welcomed with open arms by an industry always looking for new owners.
“It’s a really new space that I’m educating myself on,” Best said. “I’m very new and a novice at this point. But everyone I’ve had the opportunity to deal with in the Thoroughbred industry has been very kind and has offered guidance. Everybody’s just been great and I continue to learn.”
Instilled Regard has already put Best ahead of the game in many respects, giving the owner an early Triple Crown contender in his first racing year. But the 68-year-old is consistently taking the long view and, like a hardcore businessman, knows not to evaluate the success of his substantial investments so soon.
“I’ve said many times that I don’t think about returns this early,” Best said. “He is one horse who has progressed well and we’re having a lot of fun, but it’s way too early to think in terms of returns. We’ve got a lot of races ahead of us hopefully and we’ll see how it goes. All horses are different and mature differently. I’m thrilled to have one that’s doing so well, and I’ll keep my fingers crossed.”
After the waves he made last year and with Instilled Regard’s success fresh in mind, Best surely won’t take anyone by surprise when much of the industry descends on Ocala in two months for this year’s March sale, but true to form, he remains noncommittal on whether he’ll be making headlines again.
“I don’t buy that many horses, so it depends on what shows up,” Best said. “There are sales I go to where nothing gets me excited, so we’ll just have to see how the 2-year-olds in training look this year. I certainly plan to look at what’s available.”