Merla and Gary Pollitt have found their own unusual way of betting on the races. They have become part owners of some thoroughbred horses that run in them.
Gary, who works as a pipeline inspector for about half the year, and Merla, a retired executive assistant in the education field, are best known locally as the developers of Pair-A-Dice RV Park and Campground on Northwest Boulevard. From outward appearances, they wouldn’t be recognized as participants in the rarified world of horseracing.
Only Gary has a background with horses. He competed in pony chuck wagon races and team roping competitions as a younger man in Alberta who grew up on a ranch. Merla describes herself as a city girl.
“I met this roper at a roping dance in Caroline, Alberta, and it was love at first dance,” she laughed.
They were happy in their semi-retired lives after selling the RV park, not expecting to get involved in racehorses, but opportunity knocked.
“Our nephew and his wife have 200 acres of property down in Kentucky, between Lexington and Louisville, right in horse country.” Gary said. “So they’ve got a spread down there and they run some horses. He was into horse racing in Alberta and now he’s kind of branched out into thoroughbred racing.
“And then they met a fellow named David Ingordo. He (Gary’s nephew) came up to Canada and they decided to put a Canadian racing syndicate together. So there’s probably about a dozen of us in Canada that formed the company and can buy shares in it. “
Shares sell for $5,000 each. The Pollitts aren’t major players in the syndicate, they admit.
“We own about half a hoof,” Gary laughed.
“Or maybe a whisker on the nose,” Merla added.
“We’re not the biggest shareholders, that’s for sure,” Gary said.
The syndicate, with Ingordo, who has his own bloodstock business (he made his name as the buyer of Zenyatta at auction, who went on to win more than $10 million racing and is now making her name as a broodmare), making recommendations, has purchased four horses to date. One died of colic complications but two have had success running as a two-year-old.
“We buy fillies, so that if they do well racing we can sell them for broodmares,” Gary said.
One, Jubiliant Vision, recently ran her second race, which she won at Churchill Downs (home of the Kentucky Derby).
“She won by four lengths, which is pretty good,” said Merla. “The odds were 5-2, not the favourite, but up there.”
Another, Brazen Pursuasion, has raced four times. In the first two she finished second and the next she won. Two of those races were in Churchill Downs in Kentucky and the last two were in Saratoga Springs, Fla.
The Pollitts are long-distance owners for the most part, but Merla and her sister went to Florida to see Brazen Persuasion’s fourth race.
“It was a Grade One stakes, that’s a $300,000 race, and she didn’t come out of the gate,” Merla recalled.
There was Merla, among a group of owners all “dressed to the nines” in case they had to be photographed in the winner’s circle, sitting in box seats to watch their horse. The owners were confused when they couldn’t see Brazen Persuasion as the horses rounded the clubhouse turn on a muddy track.
“She didn’t want to get her pedicure dirty,” Merla said. “She’d never seen mud before.”
Brazen Persuasion did emerge from the starting gate, but refused to run.
“She is now back on the farm in Kentucky and will probably be off until the first part of December and then she’ll start training again,” Gary said.
The third horse owned by the syndicate, Honorable Soul, developed shin splits while training. Screws have been inserted to strengthen the bone, and often horses that undergo the procedure emerge stronger than ever. Hopes remain high for a horse whose bloodlines extend back to Northern Dancer and Secretariat.
Last year, Gary and Merla went to Ocala, Fla., where the horses are trained, to see Jubilant Vision.
“They keep the stables so immaculate,” Merla said. “They bubble bath them everyday — they smell better than any woman I’ve smelled!”
Investing in thoroughbred horses isn’t for the faint of heart. The daily rate to keep a horse in a training facility is $100. And that’s before racing expenses. As a one-year-old, Jubilant Vision cost $30,000 at an auction in which 4,000 horses were sold over an 11-day period. Brazen Persuasion was purchased at a horse sale in Ocala as a two-year-old for $210,000.
As investors in the syndicate, Gary and Merla participate in regular conference calls to talk about whether to sell their horses and buy new ones or stick with the ones they have. The experience has given them an unexpected entry into a world they had little knowledge of. And they agree it’s been an enjoyable experience.
”We both look forward to that weekly email with an update on the horses,” said Gary.