Since, well, forever, sports talk show host Jim Rome’s motto has been, “Have a take. Don’t suck.” Ironic then, that Rome admits what used to be his take on horse racing, for lack of a better term, sucked.
“It’s not a sport, it’s a bet,” is what Rome used to tell his listeners.
How times have changed. This Sunday at Del Mar, successful thoroughbred owner Rome’s horse Shared Belief, is expected to contend for the Pacific Classic, part of the Breeders’ Cup Win & You’re In Series.
A victory for Shared Belief would qualify Rome's horse for the Breeders' Cup Classic, to be run at Santa Anita in November, and a potential showdown with Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome. Not shocking then, that Rome has done an about face on horse racing. It’s not just a bet, after all, he says.
“Billy Koch (of the Little Red Feather Racing syndicate) approached my wife and I about buying a piece of one of his horses in 2007 and I really had no interest at all, Rome recalls. “But my wife Janet pushed me to do it, saying I needed a hobby. Then we experienced the first of many surreal moments in the ensuing years: the horse we bought into, Wing Forward, went from from last to first, and won in spectacular fashion in our very first race. The second the racing drug hit my bloodstream I was hooked.”
Hooked is an understatement. After that victory, Rome partnered on a few more horses and then started buying on his own, under the stable name of Jungle Racing LLC (Rome has long called his radio show the Jungle, complete with the Guns N’ Roses theme, "Welcome to the Jungle" as his intro music).
He quickly learned something every horse owner learns along the way.
“Horse ownership,” Rome says, “is an extremely risky proposition. When you have success, it's addicting, and then you want that feeling again and again, and you begin to chase it.”
Chasing it, Rome admits, led to Jungle Racing “getting our brains beat in and hemorrhaging money.” That is, until a horse named Mizdirection came around.
“Our first Big Horse,” Rome says. “ One of the loves of my entire life. A game-changer, if not life-changer.”
In 2012, Mizdirection - a 4-year-old mare - got her first Grade 1 victory, winning the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita. She repeated the feat a year later, winning as the favorite. The next lesson Rome learned was another hard one. The part of horse racing that got Rome as hooked as the winning was getting to know and understand the animals.
“The thing that had Janet and I investing more and more money in the game, and ultimately go out on our own with Jungle Racing LLC was the horses themselves,” Rome says. “We love them. All of them and everything about them.”
But now they had to understand the business. So Jim and Janet Rome sold Mizdirection at an auction for $2.7 million just two days after she’d won her second Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. Just last week, the Romes flew to France to see Mizdirection, who is now, as Rome calls it, “A mama.”
“Winning the first Breeders' Cup with Miz was one of the most spectacular and surreal moments of my entire life,” Rome says. “Other than the day I married Janet and the birth of my two sons, it may have been the greatest day of my life. And then repeating a year later may have been even better.
"You need to understand, before Miz, we couldn't even get into stake races, much less win them. The Breeders’ Cup was a pipe dream. Just getting into the gate that first time was one of the highlights of my life. After winning it the first time, I could have never won another race and I would have been fine. It was all gravy after that. It made all the bad beats worthwhile. I've always said, horse racing is a kick in the ass and a punch in the face, and I had my face caved in repeatedly. But none of that mattered after the first Breeders’ Cup win.”
Rome credits Bloodstock agent Alex Solis II, the 29-year old son of legendary jockey Alex Solis and grandson of trainer Bert Sonnier, for helping him put Jungle Racing on a winning track.
“Alex is my most trusted adviser,” Rome says. “Not only does he find the horses we buy, he acts as our racing manager as well. I trust him because he shoots me straight, telling me what I need to hear and not what I want to hear. He and his partner, Jason Litt, are keen evaluators of talent, and help us invest our money prudently. And he has put me in a two-time Breeders Cup Champion and an Eclipse Award winner for two-year-old Male of the Year. Brilliant young guy who is killing it and has an extremely bright future.”
The Jungle Racing team looks to take another step toward another Breeders Cup triumph this weekend at the Pacific Classic, with Shared Belief, who missed the entire Triple Crown season with foot injuries, but is expected to contend along with Game On Dude, owned by former major league player and manager Joe Torre.
“I've learned in this game, not to look beyond today,” Rome says. “I just hope Shared Belief comes out of today's work right, and ships to Del Mar! That said, if you're an owner, trainer or jockey on the West Coast, you want to run at Del Mar, you want to be in the Pacific Classic and, most of all, you want to have a shot to win it. Again, just a few years ago, I was thrilled to be a spectator at the Pacific Classic. To have a horse that people think has a chance to win a race like that, is a joke. I still look at our team all the time, and ask, "Can you believe we're even in this position?!"
|date||network||time (et)||race||track||winner qualifies for||post times (et)|
|August 23||NBC||4:30 p.m.||Ballerina Stakes||Saratoga Race Course||Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint||5:08 p.m.|
|August 24||NBCSN||8:00 p.m.||Pacific Classic||Del Mar Thoroughbred Club||Breeders' Cup Classic||8:44 p.m.|
|August 30||NBCSN||6:00 p.m.||Forego Stakes||Saratoga Race Course||Breeders' Cup Sprint||6:45 p.m.|
|September 27||NBCSN||6:00 p.m.||Jockey Club Gold Cup||Belmont Park||Breeders' Cup Classic||6:08 p.m.|
|September 27||NBCSN||6:00 p.m.||TBD||Santa Anita Park||TBD||6:30 p.m.|
|September 27||NBCSN||6:00 p.m.||TBD||Santa Anita Park||TBD||7:05 p.m.|
|September 27||NBCSN||6:00 p.m.||Awesome Again Stakes||Santa Anita Park||Breeders' Cup Classic||7:45 p.m.|
|October 4||NBCSN||4:30 p.m.||Jenny Wiley Stakes||Keeneland||Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf||4:35 p.m.|
|October 4||NBCSN||4:30 p.m.||Breeders' Futurity||Keeneland||Breeders' Cup Juvenile||5:08 p.m.|
|October 4||NBCSN||4:30 p.m.||Shadwell Mile||Keeneland||Breeders' Cup Mile||5:45 p.m.|
|October 5||NBC||5:00 p.m.||Bourbon Stakes||Keeneland||Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf||5:08 p.m.|
|October 5||NBC||5:00 p.m.||Spinster Stakes||Keeneland||Breeders' Cup Distaff||5:45 p.m.|