If you’re a racing fan or a swimming fan or one of the 1.4 million Twitter followers of Michael Phelps, you you probably know that the Olympic swimmer and his coach Bob Bowman have dipped their toes into Thoroughbred racing.
The Marylanders own a piece of recent Pimlico stakes winner Cerro with Team Valor International and have two runners of their own with trainer Graham Motion – allowance horse Beatnik and recent 2-year-old purchase By A Hundredth under the name Charm City Racing.
But you probably didn’t know Bowman used to muck stalls.
“In the early ’90s I went out to California to work with a very famous swimming coach who retired from swimming and started training horses,” Bowman said last week. “The only way I could pick his brain was to go to the barn. I cleaned stalls, got really into it.”
The coach, Paul Bergen, trained Olympic swimmers and Thoroughbreds and set Bowman on a course toward both. After he returned to Maryland, Bowman had horses with the Boniface family as early as 1996 and later with trainer Ferris Allen. In 2008, Bowman Thoroughbreds’ Vanderkaay won the Dancing Count Stakes at Laurel Park. The locals probably thought the owner had something to do with notable Maryland breeders Tom and Chris Bowman and their family.
The coach got out of the ownership side of racing for a few years before returning with the recent purchases. Phelps came along for the ride.
“It’s brand new for him,” said Bowman, who used to take Phelps to the track when the future gold medalist was in high school. “After London (2012 Olympics), we were talking about racing and he said he wanted to get involved. He had been to the races a few times and saw how much fun I had owning horses.”
Phelps and Bowman visited Motion at Fair Hill Training Center last fall, and talked about the prospect of becoming owners. Motion trainee Beatnik, a Pennsylvania-bred from George Strawbridge’s racing operation, came first. Then they bought into Cerro, an Irish-bred by way of Italy, and Bowman bought a piece of Infinite Magic, another Team Valor runner.
Last month at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic’s 2-year-old sale in Timonium, Bowman and Phelps went a step further and bought a Rockport Harbor colt. They spent $55,000 and sent the horse to Motion. They named him By A Hundredth (the margin by which Phelps won the 100-meter butterfly at the Beijing Games in 2008) and, like all owners, are hopeful of big things. Motion’s racing manager Jane Buchanan did the bidding at Timonium, but Bowman was involved from the start and on the phone throughout the purchase process while at training camp in Colorado Springs. To start with, he sent Buchanan a list of five or so prospects he liked in the catalogue, she added a few and they went to work.
“I liked his pedigree number one, he comes from a very strong female family,” said Bowman. “We liked the way he moved in the breeze show and Jane had seen him as a yearling and liked him before. It was fun. We felt very good about it and I think we were actually really lucky to get him.”
Bowman and Phelps got “way outbid” on an earlier horse and are taking it slowly. They don’t see Charm City becoming an ownership powerhouse – or a full-time job – any time soon.
“We just want to have fun with it,” Bowman said. “You saw the price. We’re trying to buy a nice horse but not get in over our head.”
As for the training, the coach will leave that to Motion and Rick Mettee.
“They’re athletes,” Bowman said of horses and swimmers. “It’s a little different in that you can talk to the swimmers. The horses are talking to you in a way, but they can’t talk. In either case, you have to be really observant.”