Horses are getting ready to race in the 141st Kentucky Derby in Louisville, Kentucky.
Horses are getting ready to race in the 141st Kentucky Derby in Louisville, Kentucky. - 
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Make a bad investment choice, and it can feel almost as if  you were kicked in the stomach. But then again, some investments can kick you in the gut — literally.

"They can kick, they can bite," says Sheila Rosenblum of her nine horses. Rosenblum is owner of Lady Sheila Stable and the head of the all women's racing syndicate Lady Sheila Stable Two. "I happen to have some very nice horses but some naughtier ones too," she says.

At 8:00 A.M. on a drizzly, muddy weekday morning, Rosenblum is at Belmont Racetrack on Long Island watching the grooms check her horses to make sure they're sound before they’re exercised. But aside from a small handful of women working as exercise riders, or in the stables, Rosenblum is the only non-equine female in sight.

Traditionally horse racing is a male dominated industry. But now, Rosenblum, and women like her, are changing the industry. All of the investors in both of the syndicates Rosenblum oversees are women.

“It's exhilarating, it's challenging," says Rosenblum of working in the mostly-male industry. "It's tough as heck. But I love it.”

According to the National Thoroughbred racing association, the average price of a racehorse is $60,000. But prices can go up into the millions. One of the most expensive horses ever sold, Seattle Dancer, went for $13 million as a yearling in 1985. But at his retirement, he had only netted about $150,000. Prospective owners beware.

“They’re going to have to find somebody to buy their horse. They’re going to have to find someone to train their horses," says Laurie Wolf, co-founder of the all female syndicate – Starladies Racing. "It's not like something you can just look up in the yellow pages," she says.

For newcomers, notes Wolf, horse racing can have a steep learning curve.

“It sort of seems like a secret club," she says. "Unless you're in the business, it seems like it's not an easy business to walk right into."

Last month, La Verdad, a horse owned by Sheila Rosenblum, won a $200,000 race. But Rosenblum acknowledges the business of horses is a risky one. While they may be huge and strong and fast, horses are also fragile. All it takes is one wrong step or a blown tendon.

“This is Wall Street for horses,” she says.

For owners, it can feel like they’re betting on the horses even when they’re not betting on the horses.

80 percent of horses don't earn a profit, says Dan Metzger, president of the thoroughbred owners and breeders association. But a lot of owners, he says, get into racing, not to make money. "Some people buy yachts. Some people join country clubs," he says. And some ... buy horses. Horse owners, says Metzger, are risk takers. "They're looking to hit lighting in a bottle. They're looking to hit the horse that's going to win a major race."

But since the financial crisis, investors have been less willing to take a gamble on a horse, says Alex Waldrop, President and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

"You're seeing people at every level, men and women, who are a little more risk averse, who are being a little more cautious," he says. As a result, more investors are seeking out opportunities to buy, not a horse, but a piece of one, investing in syndicates, like the kind that Sheila Rosenblum and Laurie Wolf run.

More investors, says Waldrop—men and women both—are good for business.

When she first became involved in the business of horses says Rosenblum, she faced pushback for being a woman in man's world. "It was a fact," she says. "I paid my dues. I'm still paying them."

And, she notes, many of the young thoroughbreds in the stable are also preoccupied by thoughts of females. But she says, it's a different breed, they're thinking about, altogether.

 

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