While the thoroughbred racing industry is primarily male dominated, Sheila Rosenblum and her all-female syndicate, Lady Sheila Stable (Jill Zarin, former Real Housewife of New York City is a member!) are breaking the mold. Rosenblum’s horse, La Verdad recently won big at the Honorable Miss Handicap in Saratoga, and will run in the Ballerina stakes on Travers Day. She is also owner of American Pharoah‘s little sibling, Pioneer of the Nile.
We were lucky enough to speak with Rosenblum about what sparked her passion for thoroughbred racing, the challenges of running an all-female syndicate and her favorite part about visiting Saratoga. Get the scoop!
First of all, congratulations on La Verdad’s big win in Saratoga! That is incredible.
Thank you! Unfortunately, she didn’t do that well in it last year, but she’s had a pretty fabulous year so far! Four for four wins.
Could you tell us about yourself? I think our readers would love to know more about you!
I was born in Switzerland, and at the age of four I moved to Miami. I grew up a very, very, very serious ballet dancer. I learned determination and perseverance at a very early age from being in love with ballet. I went to the School of American Ballet in New York at the age of 13 during the summer, then onto London’s Royal Ballet School at 15 for two years.
I came back to New York and did a few more years in ballet, it was pretty much what I lived for and thought about until I was about 20. At that time, I was lucky enough to be represented by Wilhelmina and Ford modeling agencies.
Two things I couldn’t participate in while in ballet: skiing and riding horses. I’ve loved horses for as long as I can remember. I looked at them like four-legged ballet dancers, one has to be very focused and take very good care of oneself, have determination, talent and a sheer one dimensional focus.
I started riding and jumping in my twenties and I fell off a couple times. After breaking my shoulder jumping, I decided to do dressage, which is like classical ballet on horses. I then bought a Danish warm blood dressage horse but the focus shifted a few years into it, realizing I didn’t want to be a competitive dressage rider, but rather a full time mother to my daughter, Kara and son, Erik.
Five years ago, my husband saw me on a great dressage horse with an Olympic dressage rider/instructor teaching me and he was so impressed that he wanted to buy me a Grand Prix School Master dressage, but instead I asked for a racehorse. I went from saying I don’t want to be competitive anymore to buying a racehorse.
It was a very long, difficult haul. It was a quick, quick school of hard knocks with one thing happening after another. There were bad experiences but also a lot of good ones. The fact that I’ve stayed in the industry is very telling, and my kids are very impressed.
People ask me if I’m nervous and I say yes, I am nervous everyday about this! You can go day by day but truly, you never know. Horses are elegant, fragile creatures and the team needs to trust one another. It’s an area where trust is a great thing if one is fortunate enough to have a trustworthy team.
Do you think the competitive world of ballet has helped you prepare for the racing industry?
Absolutely. Neither are for the weak-hearted. It’s an adrenaline rush, but one has to really be ready to take a lot of downs and crises. It’s tricky… It’s like going out to do Swan Lake, the horses have to be really prepared.
The aspects of pure talent and the love to do it definitely carried over. The training has to be very good, especially the beginning training and I have an understanding of that from ballet. La Verdad’s half sister who is two years younger, Hot City Girl, started her training earlier and has done better with distance as opposed to La Verdad who loves to sprint. Each horse is different and it’s important to recognize that.
What started your passion and interest in thoroughbred racing?
The love of animals, I have just loved horses for as long as I can remember. The racing came years ago when I went to a race and said I would love to have a racehorse one day. It is just such a breathtakingly beautiful sport. The sheer exuberance and brilliance of watching them just carried on until I made it a reality.
I would not want to be a jockey though. I’ll be galloping on a beach and think about what it must be like going full speed on a racehorse! I have a great respect for the animal and the professionals that handle them.
What have been the highlights and challenges of creating an all-female syndicate?
Answering to a number of women… we all have big personalities and being responsible for us all, as it’s not just about me. It’s the responsibility of knowing that you want to do the right thing and have a successful and exciting win together as a team. When one of our stable’s horses won, we unfortunately were all over the country in separate places. I thought this would be a couple of east coast friends, but one is in Colorado, one is in California and one is in Phoenix. A few are in New York. To get all of us in the same state, let alone the same city, has been a challenge unto itself.
One thing I thought would be a challenge is that at the beginning of this, there were a few of the women who did not have a real passion for horses. However, watching that turn around has been awesome to witness.
We’ve all become really good friends. It’s a camaraderie. We’re people who all have something in common and now come together for family, friends, a fun girls night out and even board meeting instead of just being at the track.
Do you have any advice from your experiences to offer women who are interested in becoming involved in thoroughbred racing?
One should do one’s homework and know the team you’re with. I was on a Fox show recently, “Risk & Reward,” and I think the reward that comes with being part of a syndication is that one doesn’t have to take all of the risk. The expense and risk are extremely high when you’re doing it alone, which I know personally from my work with Lady Sheila Stable. With Lady Sheila Stable Two, Triumphant Trio, and my recent yearling acquisitions with Viven Malloy, these are like stocks where I am the managing partner but we all share in the risks and rewards. You put your money together, you fund the expenses but it’s much more minimal than doing it alone. In a syndication, one has to really trust the managing partner and I’m so grateful that these women place their trust in me.
You also have to trust that your trainer will be upfront with you if there is a problem with the horse. That is part of the racing business, as well as any athletic business. You have to trust your team. The people who run the barn are great, Linda Rice, my trainer, is great, the accountant is great!
What struck me when I met Linda, my trainer, is that I showed up and the horses looked so wonderful, happy and clean. I liked having a trainer nearby so I can see the horses on any given day. It’s important for those looking for a trainer to take notice of the little things. Are the stalls clean? Are the horses groomed? If the trainer is trying to impress a client, it’s the little things that matter and are extremely important for a healthy horse.
Follow your gut and your heart, always.
Lastly, what is your favorite part about Saratoga?
It’s like going back in time. Saratoga is so charming. The racetrack is beautiful. I also enjoyed my first experience in the champagne room, which one is invited to if one’s horse is in a Graded Stakes race! There is an excitement and adrenaline in Saratoga. I love Belmont and Aqueduct because I’ve had success there, but I wish they had the feeling of Saratoga and the excitement.
There’s something nice about the intimacy at Saratoga Race Course. It’s exciting when you’ve got that rush of seeing so many people there. In Kentucky, it’s all about college basketball and horses! In New York City, you really don’t see much of that and in Saratoga, there is just something very exhilarating about being around people who love to watch the horses. The buzz and excitement is one of a kind.
My home away from home in Saratoga is at The Pavilion Grand Hotel. They even named a cocktail after my horse, La Verdad! I’ve always felt welcomed and embraced in Saratoga, and this hotel and its staff embody that feeling.
I’ve got my fingers crossed for La Verdad’s run at the Grade 1 Ballerina Stakes on Travers Day!