Wright Takes Flight With Pinhook Grad Angel of Empire

Sam Wright | Tattersalls

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Sam Wright has been purchasing racehorses for clients across the globe since founding Equine Investments International three years ago, but the Hong Kong native may have found his most successful graduate to date in the fields of Kentucky where he picked out three foals for a pinhooking partnership of friends. The trio included a son of Classic Empire who, after RNA'ing for $32,000 at the 2020 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale, sold to Albaugh Family Stables for $70,000 at the following year's Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Named Angel of Empire, the colt heads to Louisville as a serious GI Kentucky Derby contender following victories in the GII Risen Star S. and GI Arkansas Derby.

“It was amazing,” Wright said of Angel of Empire's dominant victory at Oaklawn Apr. 1. “You never really know what these horses are going to go on and achieve on the racetrack. And for him to do what he did in New Orleans and to back it up in Arkansas, it stamps him as a pretty serious and genuine Derby prospect.”

Wright and a group of friends annually put together a pinhooking partnership and it was that group that led him to  Christian Black's Forgotten Land Investment.

“In 2020, I approached Christian Black and I told him I was looking to buy some stock privately for a group that I do pinhooking for and he said he might have some opportunities for me,” Wright recalled. “So in late summer, probably just around the September sale, he took me out to various farms where he had some foals. I basically was looking at his stock in the field. I came across three horses that year. It was a Mendelssohn, a Practical Joke and a Classic Empire. I bought into all three of those horses for this pinhooking group. Two of them went on to sell, one sold at Fasig for $110,000 and the other sold at Keeneland for $80,000. And the Classic Empire RNA'd.”

“He was a typical first foal who had a lovely action and was very calm and good-natured,” said of the young Angel of Empire. “I was just really impressed with how he handled himself. I went to see him twice and I saw a real athlete there. When he was a weanling, he was just really small and we just kicked him down the line to Keeneland the following year. He was an awkward horse throughout much of that period and then he became really leggy. He was never that robust individual that you were really taken by, but the thing that he always had was that he was always a great mover. He really lowered his head and just walked. I was really happy with how he developed at that time. He was at Nicky Drion's from when he RNA'd until he sold when he sold with Hunter Sims at Warrendale.”

Of the sales result at Keeneland in 2021, Wright said, “You buy for basically just over its stud fee, to yield that type of return, it's not going to make you rich and sort your life out forever, but it certainly was a decent return. Whoever bought for the Albaugh family has a great eye because he was in the later books, I think he was a book 4 or 5 horse, he just always presented himself really well.”

Eschewing the sales ring for buying off the farm is one way Wright looks to find value for his clients.

“I like buying horses privately,” he said. “There is some good value there, obviously. Buying horses in the marketplace sometimes can determine value from other people's perspective. But to go and look at horses in their natural setting, it tells you a lot about them. It tells you their demeanor. You're going to see how they handle things and you're not really taking them out of their own element. I have had some success doing it. I enjoy going out there and seeing the horses in their natural settings and being themselves.”

For the 31-year-old Wright, being born in racehorse crazy Hong Kong may have set the trajectory for the rest of his life.

“I was born and raised in Hong Kong, so I am a Hong Kong citizen and a U.S. citizen,” Wright explained. “My parents are American. They were over there for professional reasons since the early 80s and have recently moved back. I was born and raised over there and did the typical Pony Club into show jumping route. I ended up representing Hong Kong at quite a significant level in show jumping. I rode in shows all across the world, in Asia, Europe, the States.”

At the same time, Wright was introduced to the racing industry by 13-time champion jockey Douglas Whyte.

“Hong Kong is a place where racing is kind of the only professional sport,” Wright said. “It's huge. Everyone in town talks about. They love punting on it. It's almost like being a serious celebrity. As a young boy, I basically attached myself to Douglas Whyte. He became a second father and a mentor to me. Douglas took me under his wing as a young child. He exposed me to horses and going to trials and being at the track. We developed a close friendship.”

Wright went on to graduate from the University of Arizona's School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences with a degree in Horse Racing Management. And from there, his education in the industry only intensified.

“For my first gig out of Arizona, I was doing some stuff for Joe Miller at Kern Thoroughbreds,” Wright said. “From there, I spent a year in Christophe Clement's system–I went through grooming horses, going to the track and getting all of that kind of experience as one does in a training barn.”

From the track, Wright turned to the sales ring where he worked for Justin Casse for several years, first with his Casse Sales consignment and then shopping at auctions around the world.

“Justin gave me the exposure of being involved in a consignment,” Wright said. “I spent a lot of time with Justin and really learned to respect him. He afforded me the opportunity to go around to sales and start doing a lot of his sales work for him and for his brother at the time. And that gave me a lot of exposure to different things; conformationally looking at horses and not only domestically in the States, but he took me to Europe and Australasia. I spent about five years working under Justin. He was probably one of the main reasons why I have developed a decent eye, in my opinion. I owe a lot to Justin Casse.”

In 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic, Wright decided it was time to go out on his own and he launched Equine Investments International.

“I was starting to get away from doing Justin's stuff and I wanted to start focusing on Hong Kong,” Wright said of the decision to launch his own company. “Douglas got his trainer's license and more opportunities were coming my way to buy horses for clients. I thought it was a good time to have my own LLC and it's not like I can't still do work for other people if need be. But I wanted to start making my own brand and my own name.”

He continued, “The pandemic made things a little more stressful, but the private market in Hong Kong was still quite active. That really was amazing to have that opportunity to have me ticking over during what was probably a really tough time for people.”

Wright spends half the year in Kentucky and half the year in Hong Kong, where the majority of his clients are based.

“They are mostly Chinese people who race in Hong Kong and overseas,” Wright said of his client base. “A lot of my business would be based overseas. I attend yearling sales and breeze-up sales globally, but what I really like to hone in on is private sales. I like to buy racehorses with proven track records. I'd rather spend that extra money and go buy something that has some form, rather than taking a chance on something.”

The web site for Wright's Equine Investments International stresses the concept of racing-centric investment portfolios. Does Wright think his clients can make money in the sport?

“I think they certainly can,” he said. “I think you have to be strategic about it. You've got to have your finger in a lot of different pies and not just focus on one thing. But racing needs some new blood and some new exposure. I think people should be able to get involved. With what My Racehorse has done with the microshare level and I think the syndications in Australia, people can certainly have fun and shouldn't be solely focused on investment, but I think there is money to be made.”

Wright's focus is on taking advantage of the global marketplace.

“I think the goal for myself is to be a participant in global bloodstock,” he said. “I think the world is getting smaller. Obviously with social media and new technology, it's easy to access people all over the world where it may have not been 10-15 years ago. I would like to be a global participant in every market. And I'm doing that to an extent now. I buy a lot of horses in Australia and New Zealand, Europe, Ireland and France and here in the States. I am covering quite a few markets.”

Angel of Empire's spot in the Derby starting gate goes a long way to validate Wright's life work.

“To have horses in these types of races is why we do this,” he said. “It's gratifying to say I have spotted some young talent that has gone on to produce what he's done on the racetrack. It's challenging, as you know. There are only 20 horses in the starting gate and to be one of the 20–and I'm expecting he will be in the top three or four in the betting–to have a horse go on and do that is a serious achievement.”

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