joe besecker passes 1,000 wins

By Dick Jerardi

Joe Besecker owned horses in partnerships for decades. The horses began to run just in his name at the start of the 21st Century. As we hit the 2010s, he began to implement a plan.

“It became with the advent of slots and increased purses a pretty nice business opportunity if you could exploit the inefficiencies that are constant in the racing game,’’ Besecker said. “So that was the big change, kind of the increase in the economics of the sport and you could deploy a business model over top of that.’’

Besecker, a Saint Joseph’s University graduate, was uniquely positioned to marry his love of horses with his understanding of business. As the founder, president, and CEO of Emerald Asset Management which is located in Lancaster, his business acumen was obvious. Apply some of those principles to racing horses and voila, you get sustained success.

“I love racing,’’ Besecker said. “I’m not afraid to bet a horse. It’s not about betting. Right now, you’re taking huge advantage of the reduced herd because the herd is down dramatically. You’re also taking advantage of the ability to run at different venues. There is a cost involved, but if you can overcome that cost, we do take a lot of state breds from out of state and bring them into the state.

“There are just a lot of inefficiencies that exist and if you can take advantage of some of those and go from a lower percentage trainer to a higher percentage trainer and move to a different state with the state-bred situation…There’s a lot of trainers that aren’t particularly good at the condition book. You can tell by where they run them. It doesn’t make sense.’’

Jeff Matty, also a St. Joe’s grad, manages Besecker’s racing operation.

“He’s critical,’’ Besecker said. “The business aspect of racing is chaos whether it be licensing and registration…There is no consistency on the financial side. Some places, you can’t wire, some places you can. In the registration process, some places still have old-fashioned papers. That takes a lot of effort. The more horses you have, the more effort that takes.’’

From 2014 to 2021, Besecker’s horses, racing mostly in the mid-Atlantic, but also, at times, with a string in California, have won 774 races and $16.5 million in purses. He’s had horses at Parx with trainer Carlos Guerrero. Right now, he has horses at Parx with trainers Scott Lake and Jamie Ness.

In 2019, he was the leading owner at so many meets it was hard to keep up. The stable won 199 races and nearly $5 million in purses. At his peak, Besecker had 130 horses racing with eight or nine trainers. But, by the end of the year, Besecker decided it was time to get out, concentrate on his business, charitable foundation, and family.

So, he held a dispersal sale that December at Timonium. A total of 95 horses brought $3 million. A week or two after the sale, he sold all but two of the rest of the horses; approximately 145 were sold in all.

He didn’t know then, but his timing was perfect. Three months later, racing was shut down in much of the country because of the pandemic. If Besecker still owned all those horses, it would have been an economic disaster.    

In 2020, he got back in just a touch, with 142 starters, 38 wins, and earnings of $1 million. In 2021, he got all the way back in with 408 starters, 103 winners, and stable earnings of $2.3 million. Besecker is back to owning 90 horses so he didn’t get out for long.

“It may be more,’’ Besecker said. “It’s hard for me to keep track of the mares and foals.’’

He won his 1,000th race on Aug. 14 at Del Mar as the great Trevor Denman brought Diva’s Finale across the finish line in style: “What a win for owner Joe Besecker, 1,000 wins as an owner.’’

Diva’s Finale’s trainer Doug O’Neill, who has Besecker’s horses in California, had a poignant video message: “Joe, you did it man. I’m sure when you won your first couple of races, you had no idea that you’d be winning a thousand of these. So, just all the men and women that you’ve employed along the way who have been able to work alongside all of your amazing horses, what an amazing achievement, hopefully, we can win another thousand. Knowing the way you are Joe, I know 2,000 is right around the corner.’’

Besecker’s best horse unquestionably was Aztec Sense, a horse he claimed for $12,5000 in 2017. In 2018, Aztec Sense went 8-for-8 and earned $408,540. Four of his wins were at Parx, including the Turning For Home Stakes, the Sal DeBunda PTHA President’s Cup, the Pa. Derby Champion Stakes, and a starter allowance. Aztec Sense was named Park Horse of the Year for 2018.

“That guy gave it to me every time,’’ Besecker said.

And the horse absolutely loved running at Parx.

“There is no doubt his favorite track is Parx,’’ Besecker said at the time.

Besecker sold around 60 of his horses late in 2020 and plans to do the same thing this December.

“It’s just like clearing out a portfolio,’’ he said.

And then he will be building it back up again. The record now is 4,778 starters, with 1,039 winners, 834 seconds, 648 thirds, and earnings of $20,456,284. The horses may change; the results do not.

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