By Dick Jerardi
Owning horses is not an inexpensive proposition as anybody who has been in the business for even a short time can attest. Marshall Gramm, along with partner Clay Sanders, a three-time leading owner at Parx Racing, understands the economics better than most because he is, in fact, an “economist” who heads the economics department at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn.
Gramm was in the area the last week of June to see the 23 horses he, Sanders and their partners, have at Parx with trainer Juan Carlos Guerrero. He was more than happy to sit down and explain how their Ten Strike Racing partnerships/syndicates have been developed and evolved as a way for people without the means to buy horses on their own to get involved in the game without having an overwhelming amount of risk.
“Our partners put up money and we hold a little for overhead to pay for bills,” Gramm said. “Clay and I make no money off management fees. We view this as, ‘hey, I could afford to buy one nice horse, let’s get our friends involved. Let’s buy six.’ It’s really a way to leverage our friends’ money and do this together. It’s really very much a partnership.”
Gramm and Sanders originally put together two small claiming syndicates, Mid Atlantic Thoroughbred Investments and High Point Thoroughbred Partners. High Point won the Parx and Monmouth titles in 2013 and was the ninth-leading owner by wins in the country that year.
“That sort of fell apart and Clay and I stayed together,” Gramm said. “We started buying yearlings and two-year-olds.”
They began buying under the banner of Ten Strike, the name of the horse that won the 1884 Tennessee Derby in Memphis when that was one of the biggest races in the country.
“Instead of buying one two-year-old or one yearling and syndicating out, making people choose between those horses, we buy six yearlings or a group of six horses and package them together,” Gramm said. “We do that every year.”
The fifth venture which they refer to as “10×5” just happened to include a horse named Warrior’s Charge, the colt that led the Preakness until the top of the stretch before finishing fourth. There are 51 partners involved in Warrior’s Charge.
“It was a thrill for all of us,” Gramm said.
Ten Strike had to pay a $150,000 supplemental nomination to make Warrior’s Charge eligible for the Preakness because he was not a Triple Crown nominee.
“When 51 of us are doing it, it’s much easier to foot the bill that way,” Gramm said.
It is quite a long way to the Chalet in the Preakness infield from Gramm’s first claim for $5,000 with trainer Don White at Philadelphia Park on Aug. 30, 2008. He won a three-way shake for Aunt Dot Dot, was offered $10,000, turned it down and “kind of never looked back.” Aunt Dot Dot, after eight non-winning races for Gramm, was retired to do what she was claimed for, become a broodmare. She is now the dam of two stakes winners.
Gramm gives great credit to all of Ten’s Strike’s trainers and can’t praise bloodstock agent/stable manager Liz Crowe enough.
Even as the stable has branched out with trainers in several states and has upgraded with horses like Warrior’s Charge who is trained by Brad Cox, Ten Strike has never stopped supporting racing at Parx.
“Clay and I started with Carlos in 2010,” Gramm said. “To me, Carlos is family. To me, Parx is home.”
Ten Strike was the leading owner at Parx in 2016 and 2017 and, according to Gramm, “we’re committed long term to Pennsylvania racing. We think the world of the Turning for Home program; we love racing here.”
That has shone through for years now.
“The claiming partnerships tend to be smaller,” Gramm said. “It’s a little bit of a leap of faith because when I claim a horse, if that horse runs poorly, he may suddenly be worth half that money. It’s not for the faint of heart.”
Ten Strike partners can buy in for as little as a half a percent of the total cost. It’s typically a bit more these days, but not so much more that it’s unaffordable.
“We want people who love the sport, get along well with others and appreciate these animals and who understand that we hope to make money with our investment in horses,” Gramm said. “We believe Warrior’s Charge is going to do well, but…this is a consumption activity. There is a lot of risk involved.”
Ten Strike and other partnerships like Kate and Greg DeMasi’s Pewter Stable at Parx and Truman High (Bristol Township) graduate Terry Finley’s West Point Thoroughbreds are a great way for newcomers to get a taste of ownership and perhaps, according to Gramm, “spread their wings” and start buying horses on their own one day.
Economists are nothing if not realists. Gramm is very definitely a realist. But what price can you put on seeing “your” horse leading the Preakness?
“We’re able to buy nice horses, something that we’d never be able to do on our own and lower our risk margin,” Gramm said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity. We’ve had a great time doing it and we’ve met amazing people.”