A group of dedicated racing enthusiasts assembled on East Avenue each morning last year to soak in what little bit of horse racing they could outside of the Oklahoma Training Track. Though the views were limited, the same group of more than a dozen fans and photographers lined the fence each day without fail, thrilled to talk horses for a while instead of the usual pandemic discourse. This year, the view is different for the East Avenue crew, and so are the circumstances that bring them together.
As the summer began to wind down in 2020, Barry Bornstein, a photographer and East Ave. regular, made a joke to friend Jeff Deet that if the group owned a racehorse, they would be able to make it inside the gates and get back into racing action.
Shortly after the half-serious conversation with Bornstein, Deet got serious and reached out to longtime friend Carolyn Karlson, a New York breeder who got to know the group when she would pass by on the way to visit a horse she had stabled on Fifth Avenue. Inspired by their dedication and passion, Karlson knew she had a perfect horse to get the partnership going.
“Jeff mentioned to me one day that he wished they owned a horse to be able to get into the track,” said Karlson. “I told him that I had a yearling that I was looking to sell half of, and so they formed the East Ave. Racing Stable.”
That yearling is now a 2-year-old named Vallelujah, a Teuflesberg filly appropriately named for her Valentine’s Day birthday. Though this is the first time Karlson has introduced newcomers to the role of horse ownership, she said things have gone well for the partnership with Deet as the managing partner.
“There was a lot of leg work done by Jeff to ensure it would all fly in terms of the name, the silks, the licensing of all the partners,” Karlson said. “That was all his domain, and it all went well. Everyone enjoys being here. Here’s a group of people that got creative in how to be a part of this business in a way that has been a win-win for everyone.”
With East Ave. Racing comprised of 18 partners, the camaraderie seen each morning last year comes through in the way the partnership approaches decision-making.
“In horse racing, everything has got to go right. It takes only one thing to throw you off track. And by the grace of God, we have been so fortunate,” said Deet. “I had my own partnerships with people in the past, and so the partners asked me if I would be the manager, but they’ve had a voice in everything we are doing.”
One of those partners, Bob Giordano, was a staple on East Ave. last year, one of the first people to congregate at the Oklahoma fence at the beginning of the season. Reflecting on the change in scenery from last summer to now, Giordano is relieved to be watching a horse of their own from backstretch.
“We’d all catch the sunrise, shoot the breeze, get to know each other,” he said. “In this partnership, the people are happy and learning about racing. We have a lot of laughs. And it all started from sitting in that chair, gathering around with masks on. Now, we’ve got a piece of and can be back here.”
Karlson and about a dozen partners watched their filly gallop under trainer Robbie Davis on the main track Aug. 5. The group hurried to the chute to see “Val” school at the gate for the first time since she arrived at Saratoga this summer. Two weeks later, she successfully breezed from the gate, going a half-mile in :49.25. Her most recent work was a half in :49.55 Travers Day morning.
Though she sometimes has a mind of her own, the Vallelujah was patient and breezed well for Davis.
“She’s professional but she’s got a temper,” said Davis. “She rears up, she acts like she’s getting electrocuted if she gets bit by a fly. She’s up underneath me and dragging me around. I had to strengthen her and we got her to gallop a mile without getting tired. Then she bucked me off one day and told me she wanted to do more. I’ve been impressed with her. I only have one 2-year-old, so I have to make my one count. She puts a grin on my face.”
Davis said training for a group like East Ave. Racing has been memorable and fun, their trust in him making his job easier.
“They’re the greatest group of people. I see a camera every way I look, so I just smile the whole way around the track. I have known a lot of these guys for a while, and I talked with them a lot last year. They’re die-hards. It’s an honor. They give me free rein. There’s no pressure. If we have to wait until she’s 3, we’re in no hurry.”
Feeling fortunate for all the experience has given him, Deet hopes the partnership can give back to people in the community who have not been able to experience racing as he has.
“We would like to extend the offer to any veteran to reach out and come spend a day at the races with us, on the partnership,” Deet said. “We want them to get involved and we want to give back. Anything we can do for veterans as a group is very important to us.”
Karlson said that kindness and the way in which the partnership formed is what makes it one of the great stories in racing since the pandemic.
“This is such a positive story after such a tough year,” she said. “That’s what really touched me. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to sell part of (the filly). I didn’t want to; her being a homebred, I get attached. But this has worked out perfectly because I now have her and 17 new friends.”
Davis hopes Vallelujah will make her debut over closing weekend in a 1 1/16-mile maiden on the grass.