Justify’s Ownership Group Is Complicated

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Getty China Horse Club's Teo Ah King (right) pictured with Justify's jockey MIke Smith.

The answer to who owns the race horse Justify is complicated. The short explanation is a lot of people do, as the ownership stake is split among four groups. China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners LLC, Starlight Racing and WinStar Farm are all listed as owners of Justify.

According to CNBC, WinStar Farm is the majority owners with a 60 percent share. China Horse Club is next in line at 25 percent. The remaining groups owns 15 percent which includes George Soros. The large ownership group marks a shift in horse racing which some have been critical of, but it is a way for groups to share the costs while spreading around the risk associated with a thoroughbred. Justify was originally purchased in 2016 for $500,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale.

“Any industry, if it stays stagnant and doesn’t move with the market and the times, will die a death by 1,000 cuts,” Michael Wallace, racing and bloodstock manager for the China Horse Club, explained to the Baltimore Sun. “Racing is no different. So we’re seeing changes, and they need to be embraced…When you’re buying and selling colts, everyone knows there’s an element of risk to it. To some degree, it’s a numbers game. You feel you’ve got to buy a certain amount of horses — somewhere between 20 and 25 — to make the model work. By having partners, it just allows you to spread your capital farther.”

As with anything, the more people involved can make it more difficult to get things accomplished, but legendary trainer Bob Baffert notes it has not been as difficult as it may seem.

“There’s a point man, and it’s Elliott [Walden, WinStar President], so I just basically talk to Elliott, and he talks to everyone else,” Baffert explained to Baltimore Sun. “It’s pretty easy and simple, really. I just tell him the way it is, and he understands everything. We have mutual respect.”

WinStar Farm is based in Versailles, Kentucky, and owned by Kenny Trout. According to WinStar, Trout established his first horse farm in Nebraska in the early 1980’s, and WinStar’s current farm makes up more than 2,700 acres.

WinStar has experienced awe-inspiring success in all facets of the industry, including winning some of the most coveted Thoroughbred races in the world—the Kentucky Derby (G1) in 2010 with Super Saver, the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) the following year with Drosselmeyer, and the 2017 Belmont Stakes (G1) with Creator. WinStar’s far-reaching accomplishments also include an Eclipse Award in 2016 as North American’s outstanding breeder. WinStar regularly ranks among the top 10 North American breeders and has been in the top five each year since 2012.

China Horse Club was founded by Teo Ah Khing, whose desires go beyond finances to increase the popularity of horse racing in China. According to The New York Times, China Horse Club has about 200 members, and there is a minimum of $1 million required to be part of the ownership group. The New York Times described how the group operates, as well as Teo’s ambitions.

The China Horse Club has about 200 members, according to its vice president, Eden Harrington. Membership costs a minimum of $1 million, according to some reports, but Mr. Harrington said the club offered different tiers of investment and that the fee was a credit that went toward the purchase of horses. He declined to give a range, and the club does not disclose the identities of members, who include wealthy citizens from China’s mainland and beyond…

Teo Ah Khing, the man behind the high-flying club, is a self-described billionaire from Malaysia with big ambitions. Mr. Teo, a Harvard-educated architect, does not want to just win races, he wants to build a horse racing mecca in China, where gambling is still illegal. He has also broken ground on a horse racing “resort and lifestyle development” in St. Lucia, a Caribbean island that currently has no thoroughbred industry but does have a citizenship-by-investment program that provides passports to anyone who invests $100,000 in the country — an attractive perk for wealthy Chinese citizens who want to escape pollution and seek better education for their children.

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