It’s 7:45 on a Monday night and my cell phone starts vibrating. I see that I’ve got an email. A few minutes later, there’s another email. The primary author is a man named Mike Piazza. He’s not the guy who played for the Dodgers and the Mets. He is, however, a guy taking a swing at a dream born out of an unmistakable passion for horse racing.
On this particular night, the emails include several pictures and video of a 2-year-old filly out of Noonmark, being auctioned at the Ocala Breeder’s Sale. Piazza is looking to buy and, up until the moment the purchase is complete, he relays every bit of information to the partners of “Zilla Racing Stables” on this email chain.
Just when everyone getting the emails, myself included, thinks the updates have ceased, another furious stream of messages begins and flows into the next day…
“Bad news; bone chip in back knee. Our girl has been returned. Back to the drawing board…”
“…We like (Hip) 690 a lot… We are vetting 822… I’m very disappointed no Noonmark filly…
“… (found) another Noonmark filly (534)…it sold for $37k, however the seller had (set a reserve) of $39k… we decided to talk to the seller… we agreed to buy 534 for $40k pending a full veterinary exam…”
The filly would pass her exam – a relief to Piazza, who had spent weeks analyzing bloodlines, watching videos of 2-year-old horses and, for the past few days, studying the looks of those same horses inside a sales ring. He did all of it with the guidance and help of stable trainer, Linda Rice, and her assistant, Josie Palmisano. Everything Piazza learned, he passed along to the 20 or so other partners associated with Zilla.
“I place a big value on communication,” Piazza told me, after buying the horse. “To me, you don’t really experience being an owner if you’re not kept in the loop.”
Piazza’s emphasis on transparency is what initially impressed me most when we first spoke about a month earlier. I had contacted him after reading a tweet from @zilla16ny (Zilla’s official twitter handle), which mentioned that the group was looking for partners who could buy into a race horse for a little as 1%.
“For the most part, I’m dealing with partners who are 3% to 5% owners,” Piazza said. “They’re not in this to make a million dollars. They’re not in this for anything else but the experience of owning a race horse and everything that comes with it.”
That was an experience that I had wanted for a long time. My interest was further piqued when Piazza told me that since launching last Summer, Zilla had claimed two horses, Concert Stage and Ultimo Principe. The two had run eight races, posting a 2-2-2 record, along with 2 other fifth place finishes.
Sure, there are other racing partnerships out there but I had never come across a group quite like this. An opportunity to own a thoroughbred for as little as a couple hundred dollars up front – how quickly could I sign up? As it turned out, Zilla had shares available in a horse it was about to claim at Aqueduct. I sent in my paperwork and joined the team.
A few days later, I began hearing those familiar phone vibrations. Through another email chain, team members were bouncing thoughts off of one another about a few horses who were being eyed for a possible claim. The first horse the team had settled on was Road Agent. On April 7th, a claim was put in and the horse went on to win by more than 13 lengths. Any excitement was short-lived, as Zilla was out shook for the horse by David Jacobsen.
It would take ten days for the partners to settle on another horse who met the the team’s standards and also fit within its budget. After getting a final vote of approval from Linda Rice, a $30,000 claim was put in for a 3-year-old named Sky Lover. The process was exciting but nothing was more exhilarating than seeing a photo of our new horse – the first horse I’ve ever owned.
Not only was it a thrilling experience for me, I could tell by the email exchange between the other partners, that they too got a rush out of it. And it didn’t matter that most had invested less than a couple thousand dollars – they each owned a slice of something bigger, something special.
“That’s the best part,” Piazza said. “Every time I get an email with something enthusiastic, telling me I’m doing something good, it kind of fuels the whole thing for me even more.”
Piazza said Zilla is still looking for investors in its recently purchased Noonmark filly. The horse, who was bought for $40,000, represents a higher risk for a potential investor but also a much higher potential reward.
“A 2-year-old might never make it to the track,” Piazza said. “But it’s like opening a Christmas present. You don’t know what you have… but getting the present, unwrapping it and the anticipation of what’s inside that wrapping paper – that’s what’s exciting.”
As already noted, surely there are other racing partnerships which are worth exploring if you, like me, have always dreamed of owning a horse. However, my experience thus far with Zilla has been wonderful and well worth the minimal investment (relatively speaking) that I’ve made. Not only has the team been accessible and always ready to answer this newbie’s questions, it’s just an amazing feeling to be able to say, “I own a race horse!”
Written by: DanonymousRacing.com