Nothing Standard about Master of All Trades

Geoff Stein and Dave Reid | Equine Photo


Question. After Taylor Made, which consignment sold the most yearlings in a single sale at Lexington this year? Here's a clue. Its principal also co-manages the company that hosted record turnover at the same auction.

If you need an extra steer, this gentleman additionally manages the syndicate behind the hottest stallion of his type in the land. Yes? No? Well, okay, does it help if we add that he also put together the ownership of a record-breaking mare that banked $5.5 million on the track?

Enough already. Because if you haven't identified David Reid by now, that will only be because you aren't making the sideways step from our own business to the world of Standardbreds.

Somehow, though both call for many common attributes, there tends to be relatively little crossover. But the energies driving such a remarkable resume have in recent years tipped Reid over the confines of one environment to embrace parallel challenges, albeit on a milder scale, in the other. And while he resists any delusion that he might replicate the game-changing impact he has had on harness racing, he certainly showed a pretty immediate touch with Thoroughbreds.

Indeed, one of the earliest investments of the Ice Wine Stable he established with another major Standardbred force, Frank Antonacci, has since become one of the most upwardly mobile Thoroughbred stallions in Europe. No Nay Never, who entered Reid's life as a Scat Daddy yearling found by Wesley Ward in 2012, has rapidly catapulted his fee at Coolmore from €17,500 to €175,000.

The Preferred Equine sales agency Reid founded with the late Geoff Stein in 1989 has meanwhile developed a Thoroughbred division; while besides a customary handful with Ward, Reid and Antonacci have another eight or nine with the latter's son Philip, who had made a promising start to his Thoroughbred training career over the past two years.

If it's hard to condense the sheer breadth of Reid's engagement, then there's no mistaking the twin columns supporting it. Because you can only try all this stuff with an exceptionally questing, an energetic nature; and you could only pull it off–most obviously in simultaneously operating the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale ($65.3 million trade this fall, at an average $73,690) and its premier consignment (145 head sold for $11.3 million)–by having the absolute trust of fellow horsemen.

“I do love action,” Reid acknowledges. “We breed, we race, we trade. If we can go somewhere and try to be successful, we're going to try it. On the other hand, we don't like to fail. I just always want to do things on the up and up. Integrity's number one. But yes, for sure: I do love the sales, I love marketplaces. It is a unique situation, where you can be a sales manager, at a major sale, and a consigner at the same sale, but I also consign at all the other sales. And I've been able to handle those two positions within our industry with no problems whatsoever, for nearly 30 years.”

As so often, elite achievement turns out to be founded in a stubborn humility. Recalling the quarter-hour or so Reid and Ward spent with the Queen of England in the royal box, after No Nay Never won the G2 Coventry S. at Ascot, he says: “Well, listen, I'm a country boy. I grew up on a farm, and never would have dreamed to have that opportunity. You kind of pinch yourself. I must say that Wesley and Her Majesty did most of the talking!”

The point is, this modesty is seamless with the way he describes the evolution of a portfolio that feels pretty unique in the wide world of horsemanship.

“Listen, education wasn't my strong suit,” he says with a shrug. “So I'm probably more of a trial-and-error type of guy. Or the old thing of imitation being the best form of flattery. So I watch successful people, and people who are less successful, and just try to figure out what they might be doing right or wrong. But challenges every day are good. I do have a lot on the go, a lot of irons in the fire. But I have good staff, a good team, so I have been really blessed with that as well.”

So far as Thoroughbreds are concerned, he certainly associated himself with an exemplary model from the outset: initially when introduced to Ward one day at Saratoga, just down the road from the dairy farm where Reid was raised; and in turn when paired with the Coolmore partners in No Nay Never.

“Meeting Wesley is really how we got the ball rolling in the Thoroughbred business,” Reid says. “We'd had horses with him a couple of years when he called me up from Keeneland and said, 'Listen, there's a horse here might be falling through the cracks. He just has a little maturity issue, but that's no problem for me, I can back off him.' Everyone has success stories after the fact. But I can sit there in church on a Sunday morning and tell you Wesley Ward was always a believer in that horse, right from the hammer. And the early training reports were fabulous, he was already telling me in February how talented the horse was.”

So it was that a failed pinhook–No Nay Never had slipped from $170,000 in the same ring as a weanling to $95,000 at the September Sale–actually proved precocious enough to make a trademark Ward debut at the Keeneland April meet, win at Royal Ascot and then return across the water to win a Group 1 in France.

“And the whole time we understood that [Coolmore] was obviously an outstanding organization from A to Z,” Reid stresses. “Truthfully, they've been great partners on all levels. There's nobody, in my opinion, that knows the trading and breeding of horses better. They have a size and scope that's fascinating to me. Obviously, Mr. Magnier believed in Scat Daddy for a long time, the whole team has bought into it, and it's been outstanding for all involved.”

But even partnership with the best in the Thoroughbred business couldn't supplant Stein as the most precious influence on Reid's career. Their paths first crossed when Reid took a job after college on a Standardbred farm near Saratoga, where a bunch of horses incautiously leveraged to a bank were sent for a repossession dispersal. A couple of appraisers were sent up from New York–and one of them turned out to be Stein. They jumped into the back of a pickup together and hit it off so well that eventually they would combine their talents, downstate in Westchester, for 25 years until Stein's abrupt and premature loss in 2012.

“We built it up together, Geoff and myself,” Reid explains. “Started small, very small. But part of the reason why we're where we are today, in my opinion, is that at the time you couldn't feed two families just being an agent. We had to diversify. So you start buying mares, syndicating stallions, a little bit of everything. And that way you just increase your knowledge, as you go along, tenfold.”

One of the things that really got them rolling was a deal put together for the emerging Moni Maker in 1995.

“I'd like to think she's known all through the horse world, having retired as [then] the richest female of all time, regardless of breed,” Reid notes. “She had an international career, raced here at two and three and then she went to Europe from four through seven. So she kick-started us a little bit.”

From this side of the fence, however, what's most interesting is Reid's curiosity for fresh perspectives as such a seasoned achiever on the other.

“In the Standardbred industry, the market is a little more regional,” Reid reflects. “We really have no Asian market, for instance, no California market per se. Whereas the global market of the Thoroughbred industry is fascinating. Because within that, you have more turf racing in Europe, dirt racing here, sprint racing Down Under. That's very intriguing and makes a diversified market, which obviously creates interest from all over the world. I would certainly say I've enriched my knowledge greatly by participating in the Thoroughbred market, and that it has helped me manage my Standardbred one better.”

Not that each industry will invariably absorb innovations from the other. Staging the first Standardbred 2-year-old sale, for instance, proved a limited success; it was from the Standardbred registry, equally, that the Thoroughbred community borrowed and then renounced a proposed stallion cap of 140 mares.

So far as the latter is concerned, the most obvious divergence between the breeds is artificial insemination, which heightened Standardbreds' exposure in genetic diversity. But nor, it turned out, was like being compared with like in experimenting with a 2-year-old sale: even the most precocious Standardbred won't master its vocation in presentable fashion before June at the earliest.

“They train down in a more structured way, don't have the ability to go race speed naturally,” Reid explains. “They have to learn the gait; and they have to learn their endurance. From December all the way through June, they're dropping X seconds every month. So it's a whole progression. We tried it, and I'm not saying we won't revisit it: we actually had some success with horses that went on and did well. But it was more difficult because of those differences, and now we have mixed sales in July and August that allow the horses to get there and go on and race.”

A more successful emulation has been online trading, Reid having observed how necessity became the mother of invention for many bloodstock auctions during the pandemic. In February, he opened an online portal that has been renewing as often as every two weeks. One dynamic he observed, towards the end of the summer, was the trading out of stock to fund the next cycle at the fall yearling sales.

“Obviously we've seen the success that they had down in Australia and New Zealand with the online market,” Reid remarks. “I watch Fasig-Tipton and Keeneland doing their onlines, and we follow Tattersalls and Arqana from afar. So that's another thing we bit off, in 2022, that adds to the craziness! But in fairness, we've been very satisfied. With horses that race on a much more frequent basis [than Thoroughbreds], we're finding success marketing online through our networking connections and clientele.

“I'm still a huge believer in the live market and live auctions. Probably a certain segment of the bloodstock industry will always be that way. But we've found that fluidity in the marketplace allows owners to create their own calendar for turning over their assets.”

For all his restless, imaginative endeavor, Reid is not trying to reinvent the wheel. He stresses the modesty of his Thoroughbred imprint–measurable in dozens, as against 1,000-plus Standardbreds processed by his agency every year–and the simple pragmatism of any adaptations learned.

“We've done a little bit of everything,” he says. “We've done 2-year sales, with other consigners; we've consigned yearlings ourselves up in Saratoga and Kentucky. But listen, it's only ever been on a small-time basis. There's a lot of knowledgeable people in the Thoroughbred game. And it's a deep marketplace. When we're marketing [Standardbred] yearlings, in our industry for the most part it's the trainers doing the physical inspection and selection. Whereas the Thoroughbred market is very agent-driven.”

But then the Thoroughbred itself, after all, is a different beast. Standardbreds soak up more racing–Moni Maker won 19 of 20 starts as a 3-year-old–and are built to do so.

“I think they're hardier, for sure, with more bone,” Reid says. “But more importantly, regardless of the gait [i.e. trotter or pacer], they always have two hooves on the ground at one time. I think that is probably a big factor [in their soundness]. Also Thoroughbreds, in the gate, go from zero to 40 in a matter of seconds. Whereas for Standardbreds it's mostly mobile starts.”

And a different stamp of horse can produce a different horseman, too.

“I think so, yeah, I'm probably a different bloodstock evaluator, in that I would prefer to see horses off the shank and in the field,” Reid remarks. “That's just my upbringing. It's probably not a popular trait, especially in Thoroughbreds, but maybe it's sometimes a bit of an edge or niche.”

Exploring the Thoroughbred world, for Reid, has partly been a natural leakage of curiosity and partly sheer circumstance. Since 2005, for instance, the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale has been renting Fasig-Tipton's facility and everyone, from Boyd Browning to the grooms showing the stock, encouraged Reid that his skills were surely somewhat transferable.

Now there has been fresh impetus from Philip Antonacci, a Flying Start graduate who has sampled the methods of elite Thoroughbred trainers all round the world. Reid's association with the Antonaccis goes back to the Moni Maker days. The family has long operated a prominent Standardbred nursery, Lindy Farms in Connecticut, while Frank is also an owner of the Red Mile harness track in Lexington. But Philip's “defection” to Thoroughbreds has already yielded a Grade II podium with Fauci (Malibu Moon), while he has had two winners from four starters at the current Aqueduct meet.

“Frank is supporting his son and it's beautiful to see,” Reid says with enthusiasm. “Frank and his brother Jerry have been incredibly successful building up their businesses up in the Northeast, and they take it to the next level whenever they can. They're very hard-working, frugal people who have been in the business generationally.

“I've known Phillip right from birth. So it all evolves, just keeps going. I know that I wouldn't be where I am today without my Standardbred industry clients having been so very loyal. Just as my staff, my friends, my colleagues are all a huge part of my success. And truthfully, that's probably the main reason why people succeed or fail: your relationships, within your organization and externally.”

Sure enough, that's exactly how he has cultivated the Thoroughbred dimension to his career.

“In the last six or seven years, we definitely are more involved,” Reid says. “We have more mares, we have shares, we breed. But there's a lot of segments in this business where you have to be well capitalized, you have to be well networked. And networking takes a long time. But I think we're doing well. I guess longevity is worth something: we've been around a long time, and hope to be around for a long time to come.”

Needless to say, the core Standardbred operation never stands still. Reid's latest excitement is managing a meteoric young stallion, Walner, a share having recently been auctioned for $750,000.

“Obviously we've been very successful in the Standardbred business, and that's still our primary focus,” he reiterates. “But you have to be conscious that things are always changing, always moving. Right now, we have a pulse on all aspects of the Standardbred industry. The Thoroughbred business, huge as it is, it's harder to get a global pulse on it. The two are interconnected at some level, but still vastly different.

“I wouldn't call their different ways of doing things right or wrong, just different. We all think we're great judges of a horse. But we've all seen horses that we don't judge fair go on to do superior things; and the opposite, where you think something is going to be spectacular and it's disappointing. So is it the training method? Is it the environment? Is it the personalities involved? Is it the micromanagement?”

All he knows is that two factors are essential to every horse, of any breed: luck, and aspiration.

“There's always been a Standardbred marketplace, but I would like to think that we've raised a level of professionalism in that space in the last 30 years,” Reid says. “But it doesn't matter what you do, you have to be lucky. I'm a big believer that stars line up for a reason. But I'm 57, and still wake up every morning, very eager to learn, to try different things and continue to grow. And I hope I never lose that inspiration, because when that day comes, I don't know what I'm going to do.”

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