If the thought of a frosty mug and a cold brew sounds appealing, then the place to hang your racing hat is the Its A Stretch Stable. (September 16, 2007)
The partners were hoping to celebrate on Saturday night [September 15] when a pair of their two-year-olds were competing on Super Night, an array of stakes for Illinois-bred horses worth a total of more than $1 million in purses.
It is the showcase event of the year at Balmoral Park in suburban Chicago.
Unfortunately for the crew, neither of their entrants in the $260,000 Orange & Blue Championships ever contended and each finished eighth.
The two youngsters – the filly Westside Gritty and the colt Woody’s Shark Bite -- are trained by John Butenschoen. They also share the same sire and breeder,and Fox Valley Standardbreds.
And both are named for favourite watering holes.
“I think we picked the bar theme because we agreed it’s something that we all do well – drink beers and tell jokes,” mused Ed Bardowski, spokesman for the stable. “We’re really pretty down to earth as a group, despite having very different backgrounds.”
Bardowski, the director of [institutional] client services for SEI Investments in Oaks, Pennsylvania, grew up in South River, New Jersey, 20 minutes from Freehold Raceway.
“I always went to the races with my parents and was fascinated by the horses,” he recalled. “I could truly sit there and watch them all day, and I always wanted to be involved on a grander scale.”
Bardowski, who resides in Royersford, Pennsylvania, wanted to share the ownership experience with others and formed the Its A Stretch Stable with trainer John Butenschoen and his wife, Jackie, of Marengo, Illinois.
The other partners are Shawn Swenson from Madison, Wisconsin, Gene Schick of Elgin, Illinois; Claude Gendreau of Buffalo Grove, Illinois; Dr. Kenneth and Patricia Walker of Fox Valley Standardbreds in Sherman, Illinois; Dennis and Carrie Hansen of Sugar Gove, Illinois; James and Sandra Zilli of Delafield, Wisconsin, and Jean Goehlen of Aurora, Illinois.
They are a diverse group, some with deep roots in harness racing and most already connected to Butenschoen.
“Shawn Swenson’s family has been in the business for some time,” Bardowski noted.
“His grandfather [Wayne Carey] owned Speedy Rodney [who competed in the 1964 Hambletonian and was a top sire]. He’s a 30-something like me and just loves the game.” Swenson, 30, is a commercial real estate lender with US Bank in Madison, Wisconsin.
“Jean Goehlen is the granddaughter of George Alexander [who was inducted into harness racing’s Hall of Fame in 1990],” he explained.
“She used to run a small boutique breeding farm for trotters. She’s a wonderful woman and loves to win and be involved in the game. Her grandfather was very involved in the sport and sponsored the Review [stakes] at Springfield [Illinois]. That’s one race she’s dying to win.
“Gene Schick is a real estate entrepreneur,” he said. “John’s mom works for him, and he’s been a patron of John’s for seven or eight years. He wanted to split the risk [in a partnership] and have fun.
“Claude Gendreau owns about 50 or 60 horses and has been with John for 15 years,” Bardowski continued. “Claude is a small animal orthopedic surgeon.
“Dennis and Carrie Hansen – he’s a teacher and coach at a local high school near John – wanted to buy yearlings but didn’t really think he could be effective and support the risk on his own,” he noted. “This partnership is a perfect vehicle for him.
“Doc and Pat Walker own the largest breeding farm in Illinois and have been with John for more than 25 years,” he said.
“The Zillis are restaurateurs in Wisconsin and have been involved in racing for more than 15 years,” he added. “They own some of The Quiet Mon.”
“Its A Stretch Stable is a partnership that John Butenschoen and I created,” Bardowski explained.
“We bought about 15 yearlings last year and are looking to do the same this year. Some of the partners are folks we've worked with in the past. Unlike others, there are no management fees, and it is run ‘as is’.....we're not taking any fees for running it.
“Many of the partners are old friends, and we have a lot of fun at the sales and naming the horses,” he noted. “One of our themes is naming them after our favorite watering holes, and those that we have are doing very well.
“It's just a bunch of guys having fun and enjoying a game that is supposedly ‘dead,’ but we make it easier on owners because we're concerned about their bottom line not just ours,” he added.
The pair of pacers who competed in this year’s Orange & Blue Championships have performed well for the stable. Woody’s Shark Bite, a $17,000 yearling purchase, has finished in-the-money in five of eight starts for $15,925 in earnings while Westside Gritty, a $9,000 yearling, was first or second in five of seven starts and earned $21,614.
The success of The Quiet Mon, who banked $314,600, finishing first or second in all 14 starts before he was sidelined with an injury in June, was the inspiration for the It’s A Stretch Stable.
“We’re doing this because we all had a great experience with The Quiet Mon and our other partnerships,” said Bardowski. “We proved last year, and I think we’ll prove this year, that you can make money with yearlings, even where the markets are depressed.”
The Quiet Mon was named for an Irish-style pub in the US Virgin Islands that was the inspiration for a Kenny Chesney song lyric.
Bardowski moved down the beach for naming ideas for some of this year’s two-year-old crop.
“The horses with ‘Woody’ in the name [Chad’s Woody Shak, Meet Me at Woody’s and Woody’s Shark Bite] are named for Woody’s Seafood Saloon,” he explained.
“Woody’s is about six steps from The Quiet Mon in the US Virgin Islands. The owner, Chad, is a great guy and very friendly with Kenny Chesney, and his place has been in a number of Kenny’s videos.”
West Side Gritty’s name was inspired by the tavern Nitty Gritty on Gammon Road in Middleton, Wisconsin.
“I think it [Its A Stretch Stable] signifies our goal of getting people into the yearling game,” noted Bardowski. “We were oversubscribed our first year and have been active at the sales this year already.
“We're looking for partners, buying Illinois-breds,” he explained.
“It's kind of like the David vs. Goliath thing, regarding the sales,” he added. “Most people think that the little guy doesn't have a shot at getting a good one. We've done that twice already this year and, coming off The Quiet Mon, we'd like to capitalize on it.
“We're not looking for 100 people -- just a few other partners that would like to take a swing,” he said.
Like a surfer chasing the perfect wave, Bardowski yearns to keep The Quiet Mon experience going with another crop of youngsters. The Quiet Mon himself is back in training, too.
“The Quiet Mon is the best horse I’ll ever have,” said Bardowski, who takes a hands-on approach and traveled all over North America to warm up the multi-stakes winner as well as others in the stable.
“I get choked up when I talk about the horse because even though the trip has been short, it’s been amazing, thus far,” he noted. “I know plenty of people that have been in the business far longer than me and deserve this horse more than me.”
Now he hopes to share the experience with others as well – even if it’s a stretch.