Through the first half of 2011 the VIP Internet Stable is on a blistering pace to shatter its own records for wins and earnings in a year by a public partnership group. The harness racing group rocketed out of the gate in the otherwise ordinarily slow winter months to garner repeated Open and Stake wins at multiple major tracks. This has been a record breaking season for VIP and it's about to get that much better.
Last fall VIP Stable decided that if the stable were to be a major player in the following year's two-year-old game, they would have to assemble a crop of yearlings containing a quantity and quality that's never even remotely approached by a partnership group. What resulted from the Harrisburg, Lexington and other major sales were over twenty five high quality bred yearlings sired in states such as Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Kentucky and Illinois.
Explaining the philosophy of the yearling initiative, VIP Stable's founder and managing partner Ed O'Connor says "Stepping out and jumping into the yearling game with both feet is probably the best way to get into the big time events in the sport. We've found that with other horses like Giddy Up Lucky where it costs well into the six figure range, it can be expensive to buy your way into that. While that's clearly out of the ability of a lot of folks, getting involved with yearlings lets you get started at a much lower level. Payments are spread throughout the period while the horses are training down and it makes it more affordable. Sure it takes a little bit of luck to get that really special horse but I think everyone realizes that it's one of those things where you've got to be in it to win it."
After many anxious months of waiting as the babies trained down in astute fashion predominantly by trainer John Butenschoen, last Monday (June 20) marked the highly anticipated debut of a dozen two-year-olds that looked to qualify on the racetrack for the first time. Not only did all horses sent out to qualify at Pocono Downs that Monday morning exceed the tracks standard qualifying time for two-year-olds, many of them turned heads in the process. Among those was thecolt Camp Counselor (formerly Jack Moss Q) that was used throughout and still won by open lengths in 1:58; as well as Little Nicky B (formerly Van Halen's Comet) who romped home to win his baby race by nearly six lengths.
Asked about his prospects for the crop of two-year-olds, O'Connor told me "I think we're going to end up with several pretty nice ones. We think we've got several that are doing very good, and we hope to be competitive in the Jersey Sires, Pennsylvania Sires, New York, Kentucky Sires, Illinois-sired events and if things go well enough we'll have some grand circuit type of events. We went after a lot of pretty well bred yearlings last year and for the most part they've done well. We've only had a couple with some very small bumps in the road, and overall we're very pleased with the babies."
In addition to the two-year-olds that have already baby raced at Pocono, others have raced at Gaitway Farms and multiple Illinois-bred horses were able to qualify and win their first time out at Maywood Park. In the case of the Illinois two-year-olds, their value stands to increase even more dramatically pending what type of slot legislation in that state is ultimately enacted.
By any measure, it's a great success to have so many horses qualify this early in the two-year-old season. "I think that goes to reassure our partners more than anything that the plan we set out to last fall - to buy a large quantity of well bred yearlings, give them to trainers who do a good job in bringing them along, and put them in a position where they can hopefully do well - is working as we anticipated", says O'Connor. He goes on, "Certainly it's going to be up to the talent of the horses to how well they ultimately perform, but we think we've got several of them in a position that are well bred and if they're as good as we think they are, they'll have every chance to do well."
In addition to the number of two-year-olds now hitting the track, early season big money earners This Is Wyatt and Summer Camp are also returning shortly from time off. Joining an already stellar cast of stable stars such as Dan Patch winner Giddy Up Lucky, River Shark and Shacked Up, the summer will be heating up even more for VIP heading into July and the rest of the summer months.
"I think the success we have always comes back to working with good trainers, and having the trust and support of our partners", said O'Connor. "We've always tried to fill whatever demand for horses is out there, and as we've grown so has the demand for yearlings and overnight horses. I think we're at the point now where we've really become known as the pre-imminent partnership group in harness racing and we'll continue to meet the demand that comes with it."
Camp Counselor - #1 at Chester
Little Nicky B - #3 at Chester