And they win in only their second start with the 2-year-old Straight Luck
Corey Johnsen of CJ Thoroughbreds (center) welcomes Ronnie and Erika Bruce (left) to the Texas Thoroughbred Racing Club. The Bruces made it a family affair when Ronnie’s mother and step-father, Marilyn and Lou Meyer (right), also joined the club.
GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas — The Texas Thoroughbred Racing Club had its first winner Saturday, June 25, with only its second starter as the 2-year-old colt Straight Luck went wire to wire for a 4 1/2-length score at Lone Star Park.
The Texas Thoroughbred Racing Club was launched earlier this year to provide Texans the opportunity to experience the thrill of campaigning racehorses for a modest investment and with minimal risk through fractional ownership. The venture is an initiative of the Texas Thoroughbred Association New Owner Marketing Plan, which is managed by the Arlington, Texas, public relations firm Todd Company. CJ Thoroughbreds — the racehorse partnership headed by former Lone Star Park and Kentucky Downs track president Corey Johnsen, his son C.J. Johnsen and former Dallas Cowboy and Houston Oilers receiver Mike Renfro — manages the club and also is an investor in the horses.
The racing club’s overarching mission is to get new Texas owners into horse racing. With purchasing overseen by CJ Thoroughbreds, three juvenile horses were bought at the Texas Thoroughbred Association Two-Year-Olds In Training sale on April 6. A total of 41 units in the three horses were sold for $5,000 apiece, which covers the cost of buying the horses and expenses through 2022.
In its first year, the racing club attracted 42 first-time Thoroughbred owners, some buying multiple shares and others chipping in together on a single unit. Many were on hand to witness their first victory in only their second race with jockey Danny Sorenson riding Straight Luck for trainer Danny Pish. Straight Luck had led most of the way in his May 20 debut before giving way late to finish second by a half-length.
Renfro, CJ Thoroughbreds’ vice president of business development, acknowledged Straight Luck’s quick start was the best advertising one could have for the racing club and new horse ownership in general.
“Everybody wants to be associated with a winner,” he said. “The thrill of running second, we cheered down the homestretch in our first out. We had probably 40 people at Lone Star Park. It was like ‘ooohhh. So close.’ Then, ‘Gosh, that was really fun!’
“To keep that stretch drive going the other day and to actually cross the line first, the euphoria, the hugging, the high-fiving and the winner’s circle pictures — people who didn’t know each other four months ago, we’re on group texts together, talking about how fantastic the weekend was. Hopefully we build from there. That’s what it’s all about. We couldn’t ask for a better start.”
Next stop for Straight Luck: The $150,000 Texas Thoroughbred Association Futurity on July 17 at Lone Star Park. The futurity is for horses that went through the sales ring at the TTA 2-year-olds sale. The California-bred Straight Luck was the last horse offered, fetching $80,000.
“I’m like pinch me, please,” said investor Ronnie Bruce of Galveston, who bought additional interest in Straight Luck and is listed on the program with Texas Thoroughbred Racing Club and Ryan Duffey as the ownership. “I think the biggest thing you have to overcome is that people think this is the Sport of Kings and the average guy who works in a factory or works like I did in a retail outlet can’t put up $5,000 and have a horse running.
“We got into this in February, and here we are in June and we’ve run twice and won. I’m not saying that’s going to happen for everybody. But people tend to convince themselves that this can’t happen. We’ve met a lot of great people who are just like us.”
Bruce grew up in Columbus, Ohio, where his dad owned some Standardbred horses stabled at the county fairgrounds. He also previously owned a Quarter Horse, but the racing club is Bruce’s foray into Thoroughbred ownership after he retired following 39 years working for American Fence and Supply.
“I always enjoyed horse racing,” said Bruce, whose wife, Erika, is from Louisville, Ky. “I was about to quit my job and we were looking to spend a little money to go buy a horse. But I had no idea how to get involved. I didn’t know a trainer. I didn’t know a jockey. I didn’t know how to feed them or house them. My wife happened to see something on Facebook to ‘Own and Race a Texas Thoroughbred’ at Sam Houston Race Park. So we made a date to go there. Mattress Mac was there, spoke to the crowd. We got to sit down with Mike Renfro and Corey Johnsen. And for 5,000 bucks, they were going to house the horse and feed it, get the trainer. Heck, we couldn’t have been happier.”
The racing club members include first-time horse owners Wade Phillips, the former Dallas Cowboys head coach, and Dallas Park Cities award-winning homebuilder Reed Preston. Other notable investors include restaurateur Bob Sambol, founder of Bob’s Steak and Chop House; sports radio legend Norm Hitzges and his producer Donovan Lewis; Texas Horse Racing Hall of Fame member Bill Casner, co-owner of WinStar Farm’s 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver; former Texas Thoroughbred Association president Jeff Hooper, the chairman and CEO of Highlander Training Center, and prominent turf journalist and handicapper Gary West.
The Texas Thoroughbred Racing Club also bought the Texas-bred gelding Texas Clubman for $43,000 and the Louisiana-bred filly Breezy Belle for $37,000. She’s being pointed for a maiden race the same weekend as the TTA Futurity, Renfro said. As a son of the Texas stallion Grasshopper, Texas Clubman also is eligible for the Texas Stallion Stakes Series.