Eli-te Company

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by Steve Sherack 

After Tammy the Torpedo (More Than Ready) blitzed home to a jaw-dropping debut win over the grass at Saratoga last summer, trainer Chad Brown turned to co-owner Jay Hanley, pulled on his shirt and said, “The one we have in the barn is a lot better.” 

Talk about calling your shot. 

With a perfect five-for-five record and just a shade under seven figures in earnings–including a sensational victory in last term’s GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Santa Anita–Lady Eli (Divine Park) heads into Saturday’s GI Belmont Oaks Invitational as the one to beat while negotiating 1 1/4 miles for the first time against 13 rivals. 

“It has been equally humbling and extraordinary,” said Hanley, who, along with Sol Kumin and a pair of silent partners, operate as Sheep Pond Partners. 

Hanley continued, “I’ve spoken to guys in the game in their 60s saying that they’ve never seen a filly with a turn of foot like this in their lives. It’s hard for me to even put that into perspective, frankly. It’s really been amazing.” 

Hanley–the principal of the Nantucket, Massachusetts-based Hanley Construction & Development–met Kumin, the former chief operating officer of SAC Capital Advisors LP, when Kumin was looking to make some renovations to his house. The location of Kumin’s piece of property? Sheep Pond Road. 

“We met about nine or 10 years ago or so,” Hanley, 43, explained. “He was a new home owner in Nantucket at the time and needed some renovations done. A friend of a friend hooked us up and our relationship grew from there. Eventually, I owned one horse by myself–he would always ask questions about her–and he ultimately cornered me at a cocktail party with a couple of his buddies. My horse [Wild Grace] had just won at Saratoga [in August 2013] and I was telling them all about it and how great it was and it all just started from there.” 

Sheep Pond Partners currently owns approximately 25 horses, the majority in partnership, since launching in 2014. One race before American Pharoah (Pioneer ofthe Nile) completed his historic Triple Crown sweep in the GI Belmont S., Sheep Pond, along with partners Michael Dubb and Bethlehem Stables LLC, were celebrating a 14-1 upset win courtesy Slumber (GB) (Cacique {Ire}) in the GI Manhattan S. The 7-year-old was acquired for $200,000 as a horse of racing age at last year’s KEENOV sale. 

Kumin, along with NFL star wide receiver and Breeders’ Cup Ambassador Wes Welker, also campaigns Undrafted (Purim), winner of last month’s G1 Diamond Jubilee S. at Royal Ascot. The 40-year-old launched Folger Hill Asset Management, a hedge fund backed by $1.2 billion in capital, earlier this year. It currently boasts 55 employees. 

“It’s been incredible–three Grade 1s in seven months,” said Kumin, who splits his time between Boston and New York. “Everyone just keeps saying to me, ‘You have no idea how lucky you are. This doesn’t happen. It’s not like this.’ I honestly feel really lucky. Jay and I have been buddies for a long time and Chad has taken us under his wing and it’s been awesome. We’re all basically in the same age bracket, too, and it’s been a lot of fun. We’ve surrounded ourselves with good people that we trust and we’ve been really lucky.” 

While trips to Saratoga–Hanley’s late mother was from nearby Fort Edward–had him hooked since childhood, Kumin’s path to racing went through Charm City during his college days. 

“I had always loved to gamble,” Kumin commented. 

“When I went to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, I played lacrosse there, and if we ended up in the top four in the country, we’d get to go to the Preakness on our bye weekend. While all my friends were in the infield, I was trying to study the book and do some handicapping. I always had a soft spot for racing, but didn’t really have time for it once I graduated college and moved to New York and started working 100-hour weeks. The last couple of years, though, we bought a couple of horses, and all of a sudden, I just saw myself getting hooked.” 

For Kumin, a father of three, racing has quickly become a family affair. 

“Now, it’s become a big part of my life,” he explained, admitting that Lady Eli’s success has been the main reason. “My wife loves it–Lady Eli is named after her. I have three little kids and take them to the track all the time. We go to the barns and they feed the horses peppermints. They just love it. They’ve helped name them and keep all the horses’s pictures in their rooms, too.” 

He concluded, “I love the [making the] deal part of it. I love the animal. I love the game. I love the gambling. I love the whole thing.” 

After obtaining degrees from Bucknell University and Harvard University, Hanley spent about six years as a fixed income analyst in San Francisco and New York. He later switched gears and launched his construction company in 2002. Like Kumin, Hanley, a married father of a three-month-old son, shares a similar enthusiasm and passion for racing. 

“I used to trail after my grandfather as a kid and he taught me everything there is to know about the horses–the tote board, the backstretch, the gambling/handicapping aspect, etc,” he said. “I absorbed everything from him. He was my biggest influence. My mother and father were big racing fans as well.” 

Hanley continued, “I don’t think I ever really dreamed that I’d be a horse owner, but when I got to a point in my business career where I had enough money to contemplate it, my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and I figured that I might as well buy a horse then while she could enjoy it. She named the first horse that I bought, but I really did it for my father, so he could have something to do [while the family was grieving]. It was my family that got me into racing, and once I was bitten, the combination of these majestic, beautiful animals, and all the underlying math and complexity that is horse racing, just got me at a young age.” 

Now, back to the aforementioned, “one in the barn.” 

Lady Eli, bred in Kentucky by Runnymede Farm Inc. and Catesby W. Clay, passed through the sales ring twice. Bradley Thoroughbreds purchased Lady Eli for $160,000 as a KEESEP yearling before pinhooking the dark bay for the same amount through the Eddie Woods consignment at the 2014 KEEAPR sale. 

An Eclipse Award finalist after going three-for-three at two, the half-sister to multiple graded winner Bizzy Caroline (Afleet Alex) picked up right where she left off with a facile win in Keeneland’s GIII Appalachian S. Apr. 12, then successfully stretched to nine furlongs in impressive fashion while overcoming a traffic-filled voyage in Belmont’s Wonder Again S. May 31. Her winning dam Sacre Coeur (Saint Ballado) produced a filly by Blame in 2013 and a colt by Ghostzapper in 2014. 

“She hasn’t done anything to deter us or dissuade us from believing that she can handle the added distance,” Hanley said. “But she still has to go do it. As good as she’s been, there still is that question mark. But she’s training essentially the same way that she has her whole life and she’s getting stronger, which bodes well for her getting the distance.” 

Hanley concluded, “We have 40 people coming down to Belmont this weekend. We have a big crew and we fully understand that she’s driving this all.” 

For the Sheep Pond Partners, the ride continues at 5:46 p.m. Saturday.

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