Longtime horseman Kip Elser recently announced he will be shifting his focus toward public and private bloodstock purchases, evaluations and racing stable management under the new banner of Kirkwood Equine Advisory. Jen Roytz sat down with Elser to offer a closer look at the upcoming changes.
JR: We understand you did not open your training barn this year and will not be consigning at the 2023 2-year-old sales. You are obviously headed in a different direction. Can you discuss where your focus will be.
KE: Correct, we’ve measured the market as we always have and determined a strategic shift for Kirkwood is in order. My wife Helen and I decided that the timing was ideal do things a little differently. We are going to concentrate more on the buy side of the equation. We plan to continue to develop a clientele for whom to buy horses to race either individually or in partnership. Later in the year we intend to be purchasing yearlings and two-year-olds for clients to race. We will also continue our pinhooking partnerships, but I won’t be preparing or presenting them myself. All in the name of identifying attractive opportunities for the benefit of our clients.
JR: You have an incredible amount of experience in the racing industry; buying, selling and preparing horses all over the world. Talk with me about a bit about how your background as a consignor and lifelong horseman sets you apart as a buyer and advisor.
KE: I spent a 4 decades preparing 2-year-olds for the sales and racing. Good horses, brilliant horses, average horses. Oh, and some slow ones too. They all give you signs of what they are. Whether in the U. S., Europe, South Africa, New Zealand, or other stamps on the passport, I’ve tried to bring them along with the disciplined approach of, well you said it, a horseman.
JR: With all that experience you probably know your way around a horse better than most. What do you look for in a horse that you’re buying to race.?
KE: The most obvious is that they must show me they are capable of speed even if it is not a brilliant eighth of a mile. They have to be efficient and have the right attitude.
JR: With all of the overseas business you have done over the years, can you talk with me a bit about the differences between the U. S. and say the European or South African or even the New Zealand market?
KE: In the UK and Europe your judgement has to be much more subjective since the breezing surfaces are not nearly as uniform as they are here. The South African market has had a more severe COVID setback than most and is really just getting started again. New Zealand is very different in that the horses breeze (quite often in pairs) in several different locations close to their home base and convene for the sale several weeks after they breeze. That is just a few differences for starters. An understanding these types of nuances has helped us uncover unique opportunities for our clients.
JR: Our industry has not been short on controversy and people coming out of the woodwork to let the world know what needs to be improved. Talk with me about what IS. Going right in our sport right now.
KE: There are great developments in veterinary medicine being made all the time. We are making progress even if it is painfully slow in uniform regulation and enforcement. Aftercare is spreading a much wider net. Aftercare and accountability of our equine athletes after racing continues to make tremendous forward progress.
JR: With all that you have accomplished over the years, both for your clients and customers, what is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned in the business.
KE: Patience (though I’m still working on that) and that the little things matter, often more than we think.
JR: You have played a role in the careers of some incredible horses. Can you tell us a few you are most proud of?
Mucho Gusto comes to mind as one of the more recent and relevant success stories. We believed the colt’s value was significant and the early 2-year-old sale market just didn’t reflect that view. We pivoted to a later-season sale and our conviction on behalf of our client was rewarded. The buyers were of course rewarded too with a Pegasus World Cup winner.
KE: Another one that was a lot of fun was Plum Pretty. Our friends, John and Elizabeth Fort, live right down the road from us in Camden, and John always pulls out a few of my horses at the sale to inspect. As a 2-year-old Plum Pretty was a bit of an ugly duckling to look at, but he had no trouble seeing her potential. I was as surprised as anyone when he bought her, because he never said a word about liking her that much, but it sure was fun and rewarding to watch the ride she took them on, winning the Kentucky Oaks and the Apple Blossom, among others.
JR: This year is going to be much different for you than years past. What are you most looking forward to?
KE: What I am mainly looking forward to this year is the opportunity to go out and buy not just nice yearlings but also weanlings, broodmares and 2-year-olds for other people. Especially the 2-year-old sales that are coming up. For years as I have been preparing the 2-year-olds for the sales I have seen the qualities that have separated the good ones from the rest. It will be fun now to go out and buy some of those good ones.