Over the past 25 years, Peter Leidel and his Yorktown Partners have invested in over 100 gas and oil companies in the United States. But it was his investment in one of the first Thoroughbreds he ever owned which has not only repaid him back in financial terms, but in pure joy. The TDN’s Patty Wolfe caught up with Leidel as he prepares to part with Lady Aurelia at this November’s Fasig-Tipton Night of the Stars.
TDN: Where did your original exposure to horse racing come from?
PL: I grew up in the Washington, D.C. area, actually in suburban Maryland. I did go to some horse tracks when I was younger; Bowie, Laurel, and I went to a Preakness race when I was high school, so I got a little bit of a toe in the water with the horse racing world when I was younger. I lived overseas as well. My father was with the CIA and State Department, so we lived in Germany, Argentina, Mexico. He became an ambassador in Bahrain. I went to the Kentucky Derby in 2011 when Animal Kingdom won. It was a very exciting experience. Everybody should have the Kentucky Derby on their bucket list. It’s an incredible day. So that kind of whetted my appetite.
TDN: What has the experience has been like, owning Lady Aurelia?
PL: It has been an absolutely incredible experience. I’ve been to Europe four, five times for races, including three times to Royal Ascot. My son and one of my daughters were there for the King’s Stand and they had a blast. For a one-minute race, it’s a full day’s experience. From getting up at 10, leaving the hotel, arriving at the track, all the way through dinner, it’s 14 hours for one minute. But that minute lasts a lifetime.
TDN: Were you in Deauville when she won the Prix Morny?
PL: Yes, she had won the Queen Mary at Royal Ascot and we flew her over to Deauville. So she’d been back and forth to the United States twice. It’s a pretty challenging campaign for a two-year-old to fly back and forth to Europe twice. We were treated like royalty by the hosts there, France Galop, and she was kind of the star of the program. The one thing the man from France Galop said is that the field went down from 12 horses to five when they knew she was entering, because they knew that coming off the seven-length victory at Royal Ascot, that she was the heavy favorite. And she pulled away and she won that one. It was a closer race, but she won that Group 1, and it was again just a fantastic day. And that’s such a nice horse town and such a nice track. It was really a great experience.
TDN: How lucky do you feel that you got to be involved in this horse?
PL: She’s a once-in-a-lifetime horse. I’d like to hope I find another one like her, but she’s the needle in the haystack. In her maiden race at Keeneland she set the track record for four-and-a-half furlongs and won by five lengths. And then onto Royal Ascot and Deauville and she won the European championship-the first time an American-bred horse had ever won the Cartier European championship for two-year-old fillies. That was a really special night as well, and a special award. It’s been a fantastic dream come true. I’ll have memories for a lifetime.
TDN: How many horses do you own now?
PL: I presently own nine horses, of which only two or three are racing. I have a couple of yearlings that are developing, and then I had a couple of weanlings that we were doing some pinhooking with. I have one racing in Australia and I guess I have two others racing here, so there’s three racing right now. But a couple of two-year-olds coming along that should start racing in the next month or so. So maybe I’ll have four or five racing shortly.
TDN: So you’ve caught the bug.
PL: I’ve caught the bug. I try to go the races as often as I can. One of the great aspects of horse racing are the people who are involved, the other owners. I have great co-owners, Barbara Banke and George Bolton. You couldn’t ask for better owners. The trainers, getting to know guys like Wesley Ward. We now have a couple horses with Chad Brown and Christophe Clement. I mean, just a great group of people. Even the jockeys; I got to meet Frankie Dettori and share a glass of champagne with him. Johnny Velasquez. So it’s just a fun environment. And, you know, it’s much more fun when you win, but even when you don’t, being at the track for a great day, whether it’s Saratoga or whether it’s Belmont or whether it’s Royal Ascot, it’s just a fun experience.
TDN: Do you have a model for your involvement? What is your plan?
PL: One, I like to own horses with partners. You can diversify and own more horses, but it’s also fun to have a partner and kind of share the thrills and have somebody support you if you have some setbacks. I do own a couple of horses 100%, but it’s almost more fun to have partners. And if you just have a couple of partners, you’re still a full owner and you’re still involved in the big decisions, you know, what to name it, which trainer do you use, sometimes which races to enter. When to sell, things like that. So I think that’s the ideal way. I’ve had much more luck with the fillies than I have with the colts, with Lady Aurelia being the best one, but I had a couple of other stakes-winning fillies. I haven’t yet had my big colt, but I’m trying. I’m not really in the breeding end of the business. I basically buy horses to race. That didn’t appeal to me, so we just decided that it was time to sell and make her part of somebody else’s broodmare band. I think she’ll be the crown jewel of any stable. She’s got and incredible pedigree. I think she’s going to be a fabulous mare for a lucky owner.
TDN: Has owning horses changed your life? And in what way?
PL: It has brought a whole different dimension into my life. A fun dimension. It’s a way, at my age, that you can vicariously or indirectly participate in top-level sports, and even though I’m physically not an athlete anymore, it’s fun to be in some of the big horse festivals. It has really brought another dimension to my life, and I’ve met some fabulous people through it. My family loves the horses as well. My son has become a real expert. At the auctions, he does all his analysis, but he follows it very closely, he gets to more races than I do, actually. My daughter, Jennifer, also loves it. Who can’t love the experience, really? It’s a lot of fun, so the family, my wife, also enjoy it. It’s a great family activity.
TDN: Have you brought any other people into the sport?
PL: Other than my family, not yet, but I do have some friends in the oil business who are getting very interested in it, and I think very soon I’ll have some new co-owners. They’ve been to the Kentucky Derby, we’ve had some get togethers at Keeneland, and they all enjoy it a lot. So I think I’ll soon have some new owners to introduce to the sport. Even if you don’t get the thrill of owning a champion like Lady Aurelia, there’s a lot of fun in the sport. Winning any race is a lot of fun. It’s competitive, but it’s rewarding, and I’ve just had so many great experiences in the seven or eight years I’ve been involved in horse racing. I hope I get another one half as good as Lady Aurelia.