With jockey Jose Lezcano in the irons, Zivo (3) won the Suburban Handicap at Belmont on July 5, the horse's fifth victory in as many starts this year.
Scott Serio/ESW/CSM (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)
By Jeff Bradley
August 28, 2014

In the final act of his former professional life, Joe Appelbaum picked a winner.

“The last thing I did in coaching,” says Appelbaum, “was recruit Victor Cruz to go to the University of Massachusetts. I’d been at five schools in seven years, from Hamilton College to Hofstra to Plymouth State to UMass. So I guess you could say, I went out on a high note.”

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But just as he had no idea that Cruz would go from the Colonial Athletic Association to a career as a Super Bowl winning, salsa-dancing wide receiver for the Giants, Appelbaum—a 46-year old, Manhattan-bred Yale grad—never imagined that the full-time dive he took into thoroughbred racing a decade ago would turn out as well as it has.

“Ever since I was a teenager, I was into the races,” says Appelbaum, who frequented Belmont Park and, during the summer, Saratoga Race Course. “I started out as a handicapper. Me and a group of my buddies liked to place some bets. Then, about 13 years ago, I claimed my first horse. One horse became two, became four, became too many.”

Appelbaum and his friends claimed their first horse for $50,000. Two weeks later, the horse was claimed by someone else for $75,000. And that’s how it all started.

“I bought another one,” Appelbaum recalls. “We won a race and we made some money and we bought more. It all happened organically. We were very focused on the racetrack at first. But after a few years, we did some pinhooking. We kind of fell into that by accident.”

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Pinhooking is turf-speak for “flipping”—buying a horse with the specific intention of re-selling it quickly for a profit. It takes a good eye. Sort of like recruiting a great wide receiver.

“When I say we fell into pinhooking, well, we bought a horse with the intention of racing her, and when we sent her to Ocala, Florida, to be broken, it was highly-recommended that we sell her because it was believed we would make a lot of money—and we did,” Appelbaum says with a laugh. “We bought her for like $60,000, and we sold her for $500,000. And we took off.”

Appelbaum's partner, Carlos Morales, is a former trainer and the son of a prominent Venezuelan breeder and trainer. The two men own a training center in Ocala, Fla.

“We don’t do that much pinhooking anymore,” says Appelbaum. “We develop a lot of horses for the track and manage horses for folks. It’s a lot of fun. But it’s a very competitive sport and there are a lot of strong opinions. So there are a lot of nerves managing all that.”

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Which brings us to this weekend and a horse named Zivo, a 5-year-old bay that Appelbaum manages for Tom Coleman, a boyhood friend who is now a Connecticut-based hedge fund manager. Zivo will run the Woodward Stakes on Saturday afternoon at Saratoga in what Appelbaum and Coleman hope is the beginning of a run to the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 1 at Santa Anita.

Like Appelbaum, Zivo is a New Yorker through and through.

“Zivo was born here in New York five years ago at a farm called Keane Stud, [which is] upstate in Amenia,” Appelbaum says. “Almost all of his races have been against New York breds, so he’s put together an amazing record. He’s never finished out of the money. His last race, the Suburban, a Grade II race at Belmont over July 4th weekend, was his first race ever against [out-of-state] horses at the highest level. And he won by three and three-quarter [lengths]. Moreno, the horse that finished second, came back and won the Whitney at Saratoga [on Aug. 2]. We decided to pass on the Whitney and target the Woodward. So, Zivo’s been up at Saratoga since the Fourth of July, trying to get ready for this race. We have some butterflies.”

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Coleman met Appelbaum more than 30 years ago at a sleepover camp near Saratoga. “If you became a counselor there,” Coleman says, “it was hard not to get sucked into the races.” A “Westchester County kid,” Coleman considers Zivo a part of his family. For good reason.

“I started buying horses with Joe in the mid-2000s, and I told him I wanted to buy a broodmare,” says Coleman. “That ended up being Zivo’s mom [American Skipper]. The first baby she had was premature and didn’t make it. We then bred [her to a stallion] named True Direction that Joe owned. It’s amazing. I’m an owner, raiser, gambler and fan. I’m sure none of the other horses in the Woodward were raised by a guy like me. I have a picture of my kids with Zivo when he was two years old.”

Courtesy of Tom Coleman
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Unlike the Forego Stakes, which will also be run at Saratoga on Saturday, the Woodward is not part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series. But it is a prestigious Grade I race. In other words, it’s going to be one huge test for Zivo.

“If things go well,” says Appelbaum, before pausing. “I’m an old football coach and I never like to get a race ahead of myself ... Coach Belichick would be very disappointed in me right now. But if things go well, the next [Breeders' Cup Challenge] race in New York is the Jockey Club Gold Cup ... And the Breeders’ Cup would be a great event to be a part of.”

Appelbaum has had horses who have run in the Breeders’ Cup before. Pashito the Che ran in the Breeders' Cup Sprint in 2010. Two years later, Turbo Compressor ran in the Breeders' Cup Turf. “Both finished last,” says Appelbaum.

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“The Breeders’ Cup is one of the few events in this country where horses come from all over the country, and all over the world. So the racing is really first-rate. You’re meeting owners and trainers, fans, bettors from all over the world, and it’s a lot of fun. To think where this all started and where it’s gone for me and my partners, I’d love to get back.”

date network time (et) race track winner qualifies for post times (et)
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.

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)