American horse racing was centered in New York up through the mid-1800s, at which point seemingly every state not named Kentucky decided to ban the sport as a way of eradicating gambling. While the Bluegrass State has remained firmly entrenched as the center for all things equine ever since, New York may be on the uptick, and owner/trainer Chad Summers is happy to do his part for the community where he grew up.
“I grew up on Long Island from a town where there weren’t a lot of racing fans,” he said. “I had one buddy who I used to bribe with Carvel ice cream to get his dad to pick us up and take us to the track.”
While other tracks were closer to the populous and ran for longer than six weeks per year, Summers quickly learned to appreciate the specialness of a track located in upstate Saratoga Springs.
“In New York, there are so many different activities that you can do, so horse racing sometimes falls on a back burner,” he said. “At Belmont and Aqueduct, it’s one of several different activities that you can do (in the area), but Saratoga’s just the opposite. At Saratoga, the locals live for the track’s season. People come in from around the country, from around the world. This is the summer place to be. As a kid, I’d go with my dad and brother, and we’d come for a week during the summer. That was our one nice family vacation. We’d get a log cabin and come out for the races.”
Years later as an adult, Summers first noticed the unique fervor that a local horse can create when, in 2004, he went to Parx, a Pennsylvania race track that was home to that year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones.
At the time, a crowd of 3,000 at Parx was considered great for a race day. The number of people who showed up for Smarty Jones’ first workout after he won the Derby? According to the New York Times, over 4,000. For a workout. At 8:30 a.m.
“It was crazy,” he laughed. “It was like the pride of Pennsylvania was riding on Smarty Jones.”
Summers returned to New York with that sense of state pride and used it to fuel his endeavors, which have been made more lucrative thanks to a racing program that provides additional benefits to horses bred and foaled in the Empire State. His current champion, Mind Your Biscuits, was named the 2016 New York-Bred Horse of the Year and has greatly benefited from the program’s incentives for locals.
“If you win open company races (against horses not from New York), there are bonuses,” said Summers. “When we won the Belmont Sprint Championship, we got a $20,000 owner’s bonus, just because he’s a New York-bred and he won an open stakes race in New York.”
Biscuits’ success has been well-documented: wins in the Grade 1 Malibu, the Group 1 Golden Shaheen, the Grade 2 Amsterdam, and the Grade 2 Belmont Sprint Championship to go along with runner-up finishes in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint, the Grade 3 Gallant Bob, and the Grade 3 Gulfstream Park Sprint. With each performance, his fan club continues to grow.
“Biscuits’ following has gotten so popular that twice now, he was trending nationally (on social media) after his races,” said Summers. “In horse racing, that’s something that hasn’t really happened a lot. It gives me a lot of joy, representing a horse that’s become so popular. People buy into the story.”
Many of the people buying into the story are his fellow New Yorkers, which brings back an old memory.
“It’s similar to how Pennsylvania got behind Smarty Jones, how California got behind Chrome,” said Summers. “When you’re not Kentucky, there’s a lot of pride in following one of your own. I equate it to the Olympics, when we root for Team USA; we’re going to follow it a little closer. It feels like they’re your team.”
While many breeders have yet to turn their gaze north, don’t tell Summers, who believes that Biscuits’ successes will win hearts and minds over to New York stallions.
“He’s a New York-bred who was bought for $30,000,” said Summers. “It gives anyone who’s ever wanted to buy a horse the hope that you can buy a horse, and he doesn’t have to be by (leading sires) A. P. Indy or Tapit (to be successful). It can be by a New York-bred. That past stigma of being a New York-bred is gone.”
Recent history suggests that Summers is onto something.
“Look at what the New York-breds have done the last 3-4 years,” he said. “La Verdad, Haveyougoneaway, Effinex, there’s a ton of nice New York-breds that have been turning the story. Before, it was, ‘Oh, you’re a NY bred, you can only win NY-bred races.’ Now, as a solid NY-bred, if you stay sound, you should be able to make $150,000. This is an industry where it’s not easy to make money – you’re happy if you break even. But if I can tell you that you have a good shot at making $150,000, you’re going to sign up right away. I honestly believe that the NY-bred program allows owners the opportunity to do it. That’s how you can have smaller owners like us who can buy a horse for $30,000 and dream big.”
The 4-year-old colt’s big dream will be attempting to chase down his third career Grade/Group 1 victory when he enters the Forego on August 26.
In the meantime, Biscuits is spending his summer the same way his trainer used to: enjoying Saratoga.
“He loves it here,” said Summers. “It’s open, he loves the crowds, he loves having his picture taken, and that’s what Saratoga is all about.”
Stay tuned next week and all year long as racingdudes.com follows Chad Summers and Mind Your Biscuits on their quest for vengeance in the Grade 1, $1,500,000 Breeders’ Cup Sprint on November 4, 2017.
Next week’s story: “Stable Update: Chad Summers Profile #4”