Thursday October 2nd, 2014

The drive south through New York, from Saratoga to Belmont, gave Terry Finley some time to reflect on his nearly 25 years in the thoroughbred racing business, and to talk about some of the horses that have brought him his greatest thrills, including Commanding Curve, who finished a fast-closing second to California Chrome in this year’s Kentucky Derby. But more than the horses who run for West Point Thoroughbreds, the Saratoga-based partnership he started in the mid-1990s, Finley likes to talk about the 25 classmates of his from the U.S. Military Academy who have joined him along the way, and the joy the game has brought them.

“You learn a lot of great lessons at West Point,” says Finley, who graduated from the Academy in 1986 and served in the Army until 1991. “And it sets a vast majority of people up for a lifetime of service and excellence. But more than that, the friendships you make. The West Point guys who make up our group, we’re closer than we’ve ever been. It’s as strong a bond as you can ever get. It’s so fulfilling that racing has helped us all remain so close.”

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The silks of West Point Thoroughbreds are Army black and gold, with a single star on the chest. Finley says that about 10 years ago he had to do a little talking with the folks at West Point to make sure that the design of his silks was O.K. If it was O.K. a decade ago, then it’s got to be more than O.K. now, since West Point Thoroughbreds has grown to become of the largest, most successful syndicates in the game.

“I started in 1991, when I was still in the Army,” Finley says. “Then we went full-time in the mid-’90s when partnerships were a lot less prevalent than they are now. I always had a passion for the business and always thought it would be amazing if I could make a living out of this. My wife and I started the business with a single horse at Philadelphia Park, and now with the team we have, we are the largest partnership in the country. We have 65 horses, 525 clients all over the country, and this is what we sleep, eat and breathe every day.”

(It must be pointed out that Finley and his wife, Debbie, do take breaks from racing to watch their son, Ryan, play in MLS for Chivas USA. The 2012 Big East Offensive Player of the Year at Notre Dame, the 23-year-old striker began his career with the Columbus Crew in ’13.)

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Finley was on his way to Belmont Park on Wednesday because he was preparing to watch a 2-year old gray filly named Ring Knocker run in the Frizzette Stakes. The Frizette is a Breeders’ Cup Win & You’re In race, with the winner earning a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies on Nov. 1 at Santa Anita Park.  West Point Thoroughbreds bought Ring Knocker in July 2013 for $52,000, which seems like a bargain since she’s sired by Birdstone, the winner of the ‘04 Belmont Stakes.

“We bought her last year as a yearling and she’s still a maiden,” Finley says. “So she hasn’t won. She finished second twice up at Saratoga, but has put in two really good efforts. We don’t usually run maidens in Grade I stakes races, but we think she deserves a shot and this is the time of year, right before the Breeders’ Cup, [that] you’re going to take a shot with young horses.”

Not winning, Finley explains, is relative.

“It speaks to how tough the competition is at Saratoga,” Finley says. “If [horses] come out of Saratoga, and if they’ve run competitively enough, that means they’re talented, even if they’re still maidens. So, that’s the thought process. One good break up at Saratoga, [and] she wouldn’t be a maiden. We’ve found that with 2-year olds, you shouldn’t let not winning at Saratoga deter you, or you’d be holding back every horse. ... The worst thing you can be is too aggressive. And the worst thing you can be is too conservative. So it really depends on the horse, and we think she can handle it.”

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Should Ring Knocker win for the first time, West Point Thoroughbreds will have placed two horses (Commanding Curve is the other) in the Breeders’ Cup, an event Finley calls the “two days I look forward to as much as anything.”

“We’re looking at four horses who could be in the Breeders' cup,” Finley says proudly. “We’ve got a horse called Twilight Eclipse, who is definitely going. He cost $1,000 as a yearling and has now made $994,000. We run Ring Knocker on Saturday and we run Ring Weekend on Saturday as well. Rock Me Baby, will run on Saturday at Santa Anita. If we get really lucky, we’ll have four, and that would be absolutely amazing for everyone in our group.”

True to Finley's roots, the names for both Ring Knocker and Ring Weekend have academy ties. A ring-knocker is a sometimes derogatory term in the regular army for West Point graduates. Ring Weekend refers to the autumn ceremony at which senior cadets receive their class rings.

The names are just another way for Finley to bond with his West Point classmates over their shared thoroughbred adventure. Victory would be another.

Breeders' Cup Challenge Series TV Schedule
Win & You're In
date network time (et) race track winner qualifies for post times (et)
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.

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