Mike “Hotdog” Utley wasn’t sure what he was buying into when approached last year about acquiring part-interest in Yes It’s Ginger, a winless 4-year-old filly who’d been off for a year. But he trusted trainer Greg Foley, who already planned to buy into the horse on behalf of a partnership spearheaded by his sons.
“We rolled the dice, and I tell you what, it was a good roll. A really good roll,” said Utley, who runs his family’s Edward Utley Jr. Inc. beer and wine distributors in Henderson. “I’ve known Greg a long time. If he was going to get in it, as long as he was the trainer and we were going to be partners, I thought it was a good deal.”
Utley’s faith in Foley has turned into the ride of his life as a racehorse owner. Yes It’s Ginger won her first start for her new trainer and Brilliant Racing’s new partners last summer at Ellis Park – and then won right back. Her fifth win came in her last start, taking Lone Star Park’s $75,000 Chicken Fried Stakes by four lengths for Utley’s first stakes victory.
Yes It’s Ginger will be entered in Sunday’s $100,000 Kentucky Downs TVG Preview Ladies Sprint, running in either that 5 1/2-furlong turf race or three days later in Indiana Grand’s $65,000 IU Hoosiers Stakes at five furlongs on grass.
Foley said the 5-year-old Yes It’s Ginger will be entered in both races with a decision to be made later. The Ladies Sprint is one of four turf stakes Sunday, the second day of Ellis Park’s Kentucky Downs TVG Preview Weekend, created as a launching pad to stakes at Kentucky Downs’ September meet. Four stakes also will be held Saturday, three on turf as well as an overnight stakes on dirt.
Utley makes no secret that he hopes Yes It’s Ginger runs at his hometown track, where he’s a fixture at the races and also sells a lot of beer. But he said that call is completely up to the Foleys and Brilliant Racing.
“It’s been a great ride,” said the 59-year-old Utley, who has been a regular at Ellis Park since first going with his dad about age 12. “All the guys in the group, we communicate, send out a text, keep everybody updated. Everybody’s happy. They’re all riding this good ride. Because I’ve been on some bad ones. I’ve been in it a long time. I had several horses back when my dad was living. The first horse I was actually part of was trained by Greg’s dad, C. Wesleys Tiger. Greg’s dad, Dravo, trained the stud, Tiger Lure. Goes back a long time with the Foleys.”
Brilliant Racing is a Louisville-based syndicate whose founding members include Churchill Downs and TwinSpires.com
racing analyst Joe Kristufek. He approached Greg Foley’s son and assistant, Travis, about buying half-interest in the filly, who was back in training after having arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone chip. The Foleys’ Tagg Team Racing partnership – named for Travis, his brother Alex and dad Greg, with the last “g” being Group – agreed and the trainer then asked Utley if his group wanted to invest. They did, and got almost immediate gratification as Yes It’s Ginger won — and won again — at Ellis Park’s 2020 meet.
“Her form looked good,” Greg Foley said. “She was still a maiden but had run second and third, had a good chart. I went out and watched her gallop. She looked great. She’s made a little money and now that she’s got some ‘black type’ (stakes win or placing), she’s got a little value to her as a broodmare.”
“The Henderson group had been wanting to get involved with us in some capacity,” Travis Foley said. “That was just the first opportunity. He said yes, and the rest has been a good year and a half. We’ve had a blast with her.”
Utley’s group involves nine people from the Henderson and Evansville area. He said some are racing fans “and some aren’t. But everybody is getting to know it. Everybody is getting to have fun. So everybody is a fan now.”
If Yes It’s Ginger runs at Ellis, Utley estimates his partnership group alone will have 100 people in attendance.
“We may only own 25 percent, but we’re having 100 percent of the fun,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how much you own of it, hey, you feel like it’s yours.”
Yes It’s Ginger has earned most of her $237,266 in purses since Brilliant sold half-interest. Far from having any seller’s remorse, Kristufek is thrilled how things have gone.
“This is our first horse with Foley, and it couldn’t have gone any better,” he said. “Travis’ group and Hotdog’s group, the way things worked out for us to find such fantastic partners, I think we’ll always be involved with them. They like to have a good time, they love racing, and what a great first horse to experience ownership with. It couldn’t have worked out any better.”
Foley has two other horses under consideration for the Ladies Sprint in Skinny Dip and Dance Rhythms.
Skinny Dip has never raced on the turf, but it’s not for lack of trying: She has been in three races taken on the grass and put on the main track, with two wins and a second.
“She’s bred for the grass,” Foley said. “It’s Mike and K.K. Ball’s filly, and they’ve always wanted to try her on the grass at some point. She’s a nice filly but hopefully will step it up a notch on the turf. Big, gorgeous filly. I got her this winter. She’d been laid up for a little while, and Mike asked if I’d take her to the Fair Grounds. I’ve loved her from day one.”
The 6-year-old Dance Rhythms, an eight-time winner, was third in last year’s Ladies Sprint. She has two seconds and five thirds in nine races since then.