The top owner in harness racing by wins and earnings in each of the past six years and already on the cusp of eclipsing their 2016 earnings little more than halfway through the 2017 racing season, VIP Stable could be in the midst of a career year. Ed O’Connor created the fractional ownership group in 1999 with the hopes of giving people an affordable way to become a racehorse owner.
VIP Stable races about 50 horses across North America, including a handful of Thoroughbreds in training with Gary Contessa. Each year, the stable replenishes their roster with a fresh group of yearling Standardbred prospects aimed at competing in the rich sire stakes programs in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
“We buy well-bred horses, but we don’t buy six-figure type horses,” O’Connor said. “So we look at things that may not have the sires who are as popular, but who have proven themselves. We look for a little bit of value and we’ve had a whole bunch of success in the past with these type of purchases.”
The bulk of VIP Stable’s 2- and 3-year-olds train with John Butenschoen at Wingate Training Center in Wind Gap, Pa. Others, though, are spread around the stables of Tom Fanning, Mark Harder, Bobby Brower, and Brian Brown.
This year, VIP Stable sports a class of 17 freshman, nearly all of which have already qualified. This Is Horse Racing’s Brandon Valvo caught up with O’Connor, along with trainer John Butenschoen, to learn more about some of the partnerships 2-year-old class.
John Butenschoen Stable:
Glider Man: After two qualifiers, finished fourth on debut in a Pennsylvania All Stars leg at Pocono July 2 and third last time in a leg of the Pennsylvania Stallion Series at The Meadows July 12. The son of Yankee Glide and I Gotta Feelin cost $30,000 at the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale and is a half to multiple Pennsylvania bred stakes winner Broadway Socks. “Little sick in his last start. Throat inflammation, displaced his palate, so I’m giving him some time. He’s got some talent. Probably not an ‘A’ type colt, probably a ‘B’ type colt. I’ve had some luck with Yankee Glides in the past and he sold for the right price. He’s a typical Yankee Glide. Low key, level headed, trots nice.”
House Hubby: After a second and a win in two qualifiers, the Cantab Hall colt finished six on debut at Harrah’s Philadelphia after making a break in a leg of the Pennsylvania Stallion Series and galloped again to a fifth place finish July 31. The $70,000 purchase out of the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale is a half to open stakes winner and half-million dollar earner Modern Family and multiple Pennsylvania bred stakes winner Colbert. “Qualified okay. Same thing, got a little sick on us. We had a little virus go through the barn. Had to work on some breathing issues with him, but he trained back well and scoped good after we trained him, so we went ahead and entered him. He comes from a good family. We’ll have a better idea of what type of colt he is after a start or two.”
Karma Wins: Purchased in an online auction for $22,200, the son of Western Terror and Her Mattjesty is a half to Pennsylvania bred stakes winner E Z Noah, who was owned by VIP Stable and trained by Butenschoen. Finished sixth on debut after making a break in stride in a $13,000 overnight at Harrah’s Philadelphia July 16. “He came from the online sale. I went out to the farm and took a look at him. Ed did the bidding on him. I like the family. We had a good horse with that mare and I thought this was the best looking colt the mare had in a while, so we took a gamble, didn’t have to pay a whole lot. Similar to E Z Noah as a 2-year-old, never really lit the world up.”
Nixie Volo: The trotting filly by Yankee Glide out of No I’m Not cost $22,000 at the Lexington Sale. She made a break in each of her first two starts in Pennsylvania-bred stakes company at Pocono Downs and The Meadows July 4 and 11, respectively. “She’s okay. She trained down good and unfortunately made a speed break coming off the turn at Pocono and I don’t know what quite happened at The Meadows when she made a break the second time. She acts like a nice little filly. When she made a break, she got on a quarter a little bit and we had to put a couple staples in, but that’s healing up nice. We’ll have to re-qualify her and she’ll be a nice filly down the line.”
Paprike Blue Chip: The $7,000 buy from the Goshen Yearling Sale won at first asking in a $13,000 overnight at Pocono June 27 before finishing off the board in his Lawrence B. Sheppard Pace elimination at Yonkers July 8. After a fifth against open company at The Meadowlands July 14, the son of Roll With Joe finished fourth in a leg of the New York Sire Stakes at Monticello July 24. He’ll start from post 4 in NYSS at Saratoga Wednesday night. “He wasn’t a very big colt, but he was put together right. Who knows why he brought seven (thousand). You can’t second guess your value on them. If everybody wanted to marry red-headed women, there would be a lot of lonely blondes and brunettes. It’s a matter of what people see in a horse. Just a nice little colt. Good attitude. Good gait. He’s in the Sire Stakes up at Monticello. He should be a fun little horse to get around New York.”
Tom Fanning Stable:
Phat Blue Chip: The first Standardbred yearling to sell at public auction in 2016 cost just $9,000. Phat Blue Chip finished third on debut in his elimination of the Lawrence B. Sheppard Pace at Yonkers July 8 before finishing fourth in the $110,500 final the following week. The son of American Ideal finished seventh from a tough post in New York Sire Stakes at Monticello July 24. “Phat Blue Chip was right down the center for us. The sire was right, the price was right, he fit in New York,” O’Connor said. “Racing in New York, you don’t have to have a gigantic, muscle-bound horse. You kind of want to have something that’s a little more on the medium size to get around the half-mile tracks. This one kind of just looked the part for us.”
Mark Harder Stable:
Art Dancer: The $20,000 Harrisburg purchase beat older horses in his debut at Harrah’s Philadelphia July 4, but was scratched lame out of a Stallion Series leg the following week. “He won his first start out at Harrah’s. He went (1):53 and a piece. That was a really good start,” O’Connor said. “All along as he trained down, he looked like he had some talent. He wasn’t real flashy, but he was doing his work. He’s really taken off over the last couple months. He’s really encouraging. He jogged sound since and seems fine and should be back in a couple weeks.”
She Said So: The Well Said daughter cost $40,000 in Lexington last fall and looked well worth it when making up a 10-length deficit to win her lone qualifier at Harrah’s Philadelphia July 11. She finished second Thursday afternoon in a $13,000 overnight at the same venue, but made a break last time out in an overnight at Harrah’s July 28. “This one looked a little flashier, a little more interesting the whole time. She looked like one of the better fillies we have. She qualified pretty good. I think she had a little sickness, so she just qualified last week. We’re hoping for a good start with her. We staked her pretty heavily and are hoping for some good things.”
Stolen Art: Cost $50,000 at Lexington. The Art Major colt is out of Hilarious and is a half to multiple Ontario Sire Stakes winner Milliondollarsmile. Stolen Art finished seventh in his debut at The Meadowlands July 14 and fifth in a division of the New York Bred Excelsior Series at Monticello July 24. He’ll race in an New York Excelsior A division in Saratoga Wednesday night. “His qualifiers have been okay. We think he’s got a lot more talent than he’s shown so far. He’s been a little skittish, a little green. He’s shown high speed training down. Mark is starting him in the Excelsior Series to try to braven him up a little bit. We’re cautiously optimistic, but we need to give him some time to develop.”