Team Valor’s success with syndicated horses begins with selection.
What separates these equine prospectors from their rivals is an ability
to spot talent before it rises to the surface.
From inception, it was decided to
place the primary emphasis on talent. This flew in the face of the
conventional wisdom used by Team Valor’s competitors and
traditionalists, who focused first on pedigree.
"We had limited funds in the
beginning," said Barry Irwin, "and we wanted to get the most
horse for the dollars spent. So we put talent first. We also relegated
pedigree even farther down the list.
"Second to talent, we placed
athleticism. Next came soundness, followed by temperament. Pedigree
became our last consideration. We wanted to get the most bang for our
buck and pedigree costs money, money that most times is never returned
to the investor."
Over the years, the syndicates
produced top runner after top runner, most of which had pedigrees that
Political Ambition, the pair’s
initial syndicated runner, is a case in point and illustrates the type
of animal that would come to typify an Irwin/Siegel runner. Bought as an
unraced colt at the beginning of his 3-year-old season from Kentucky
Governor Brereton C. Jones, the colt attracted the pair’s attention
because of the manner in which he breezed at Santa Anita. He did not
work particularly fast, but he looked brilliant in motion.
The week Political Ambition won the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby, a breeding
to his sire sold for a paltry figure of just $100. Kirtling, the sire of
Political Ambition, stood at stud for many years, yet never sired as
much as one other stakes winner.
Twenty years later, Team Valor is
still pulling rabbits out of a hat. Consider the case of Cashier’s
Dream, who sent even veteran breeders and researchers to their books to
find out something about her sire, the unheralded Service Stripe. They
could be forgiven their ignorance, as Cashier’s Dream was, after all,
the first horse ever bred in the state of Michigan to win a Grade 1
In 2006, Irwin spent $16,700 at the
National Yearling Sale for a filly in South Africa by a stallion whose
stud fee was less than $500. The following season at 2, she won 2 of her
first 3 starts, including the Grade 3 Strelitzia Stakes.
The stable over the years has won
major North American races with horses selected as yearlings, unraced
2-year-olds and lightly-raced stock. Horsemen and fans alike have
marveled at Team Valor’s ability to uncover new stars year after year
and wonder how Team Valor does it.
"There are no tricks to the
trade," said Irwin. "It’s just a matter of skill developed
over a long period of time through trial and error.
"I once asked an old horseman, a
guy famous for picking out champions, how he did it. Here is what he
told me. ‘You know, I play a lot of gin rummy. I have played against a
lot of sharp players, some of the best in the world, I’d say. Well, I
won more than I lost, a lot more. But I only won by a little bit. I was
just a little bit better than the other guys. You only have to be a
little bit better to win."
Playing with a short bankroll against
the heaviest hitters on the planet, Team Valor has used the full range
of its poker-playing skills over the years to stay one jump ahead of the
It is one thing to be able to spot
talent, but entirely another thing to be able to fully realize this
potential and maximize it.
Team Valor has been able to develop
top racehorses because of reasons as follows:
- Type - they can recognize "type," which involves
being able to figure out what a horse is best suited to achieving in
terms of distance, surface and racing style;
- Team - they participate as part of a "team" with
their trainers to guide the horses through the developmental phases
of their racing careers;
- Coach - they have the mentality, temperament, skill and
style of human athletic coaches and use these tools in working with
horses and trainers.
In order to be able to recognize
"type," one must possess an understanding of physical
characteristics as it relates to the pedigree of the horse. "The
pedigree of a horse," said Barry Irwin, "is not just a piece
of paper, it is a cataloguing of ancestors that each had their own
‘type’ and, in some way, passed it on to the next generation.
"Figuring out ‘type’ can be
very confusing, because in many instances it is not readily apparent
from looking at a horse or its pedigree which ancestor or ancestors it
will ultimately most closely mirror."
The stable over the years has etched
its name into the history of the Turf by being able to determine
‘type’ that was not readily apparent. When Prized won the
Breeders’ Cup Turf he became the first and only horse ever to win that
$2-million race without a previous start on grass. His sire, Kris S.,
had never run on the grass and had yet to be recognized as the leading
grass sire he would become.
Martial Law had raced solely on grass
in England for Sheik Mohammed. His sire, Mr. Leader, had been a multiple
stakes winner on grass in America. But he was bought for $60,000,
imported specifically with dirt racing in mind and, in the colt’s
third start in America, won the $1-million Santa Anita Handicap. The
stable recognized Mr. Leader was a substandard grass sire and
capitalized on this understanding of 'type.'
When Team Valor delivers a new horse
to its trainer, it explains to the horseman why it decided to add the
horse to its stable, what its goals are for that animal and how it
thinks the horse should be handled in order to reach that goal.
During the career of the horse,
especially in the beginning, Team Valor constantly works with its
trainers in fine-tuning the developmental process of the animal, in
order to make sure that its vision of how the horse should develop is
"When we buy a horse," said
Irwin, "we have a vision of what it can achieve. Most of the
trainers we have worked with have respect for our opinion and have seen
us transform enough horses over the years from no-names to Graded stakes
winners that they readily accept our input.
"Horses of ours are hand picked
and placed well, so they rarely get lost in the shuffle."
Irwin undoubtedly would have been a
coach had it not been for a passion for horse racing. The same skills
and understanding Irwin would have used to coach human athletes in track
and field have been transferred to the equine arena.
"I can see myself having been a
college track coach," said Irwin. "And what I would have done
as a coach--prospecting kids from the inner city, developing their
bodies and temperaments at a university--is what I am doing now with
Team Valor is respected as much for
its placement of horses as it is for its selection and development of
As good as Team Valor’s general
statistics are, its stats are even better in stakes races. The key to
compiling stats as impressive as these is Team Valor’s placement of
"We run to win," said Barry
Irwin. "The reason we have such a fantastic record is that we are
completely realistic in the evaluation and placement of our runners.
"When we run a horse in a race, it is with the conviction, not the
hope, that we are running the horse where it belongs and with the
expectation that we are sending out a winner.
"In order to compile a racing
record like ours, one has to be intimately familiar with the competition
and have the ability to honestly assess one’s own horse. We try to be
as brutally frank with ourselves as is humanly possible. We try to take
emotion out of the equation when we decide where to place our
Irwin emphasized that Team Valor’s
record is extra impressive because "we don’t run in the minor
leagues and we race horses at the highest level. In the last few years,
we have run only one horse in a claiming race."
Over the years, racing enthusiasts
have learned not to second guess Team Valor when it runs a horse that on
paper does not appear to belong.
When Martial Law was entered for the
Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, bettors and the press corps thought it was
crazy to put a 50-to-1 shot in the million-dollar winter classic,
especially since the owners had to pony up $40,000 in supplementary and
entry fees. But he proved he belonged by not only winning for a $103.60
mutuel for a $2-bet, but his final time has been bettered in the history
of the race only by Affirmed.
When Team Valor paid $50,000 to
supplement the English colt My Memoirs for the Belmont Stakes even
though he had never run on dirt or won a Graded stakes, skeptics scoffed
once again, yet the 18-to-1 longshot came within three-quarters of a
length of running down Horse of the Year A. P. Indy to finish second in
the Triple Crown race.
There have been countless other
important scores by horses that seemingly did not belong:
- Kirov Premiere stepped off a plane to thrash colts in the Rutgers
Handicap to be come only the second filly in history to win the
Grade 3 event;
- Eastern Memories took the measure of mighty Cigar in the Grade 3
Volante Handicap at Santa Anita at odds of 18 to 1;
- Mighty Forum scored at odds of 65 to 1 over Fastness in the Grade
3 Kelso Stakes at Belmont Park;
- Captain Bodgit upset the seemingly invincible Pulpit in the Grade
1 Florida Derby;
- Star of Cozzene turned out the lights on Champion Lure in the
Caesar’s International at Atlantic City.
- Irridescence shocked the planet’s best mare when she took the
measure of Breeders’ Cup heroine Ouija Board in the Grade 1 Queen
Elizabeth II Cup in Hong Kong.
- Becrux surprised a top international field to win the Grade 1
$1-million (Canadian) Woodbine Mile.
- Sweet Stream scored one of the biggest upsets in French racing
history as she toppled Pride among others to take the Group 1 Prix
Vermeille at Longchamp at huge odds.
Team Valor horses always get bet. They
get bet because they are live as live can be.
No stable stocked with partnership-owned racehorses and precious few
others can boast the results of this stable. More people have owned an
interest in a Grade 1 racehorse with this stable than any other based in
Consider since 1987 with more than 300
runners the significance of the following:
- 1 in every 2 runners has won or placed in a stakes race.
- 3 in every 8 runners has won or placed in a Graded stakes.
- 1 in every 4 runners has won a stakes race.
- 1 in every 6 runners has won a Graded stakes.
- 1 in every 7 runners has won or placed in a Grade 1 race.