Call it “beginner’s luck” if you’d like, but Louisville attorney Ronnie Sheffer’s career as a Thoroughbred owner is off to a sizzling start.
Sheffer’s first horse – a 2-year-old filly named Georgie’s Angel – gave the Henderson, Ky. native and Western Kentucky University product an incredible thrill when she rolled to an impressive 6 1/4-length victory in her career debut at Churchill Downs on July 4, the closing day of the track’s Spring Meet.
Last Friday the unbeaten daughter of Bellamy Road gave Sheffer and his wife, Anne, another special moment when she scored an impressive victory in the $100,000 Schuylerville Stakes, the opening day feature at the prestigious summer racing meet at Saratoga in upstate New York.
Georgie’s Angel, the odds-on favorite in the Schuylerville trained by Todd Pletcher, won by 1 1/2 lengths under jockey John Velazquez.
“When she won on the Fourth of July at Churchill Downs, my wife and I were yelling and screaming – I said we were in a state of shock,” Sheffer said. “It was the same thing up there.”
Big targets ahead
The win boosted the unbeaten filly’s earnings to $95,820 with bigger targets lying ahead. The most prominent near-term goal is the Grade I Spinaway Stakes, Saratoga’s premier race for 2-year-old fillies on Sept. 4.
Looming a bit farther down the road is the $2 million Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies will be run on Friday, Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs.
The path that led Sheffer to buy the filly that is now an early contender for championship honors in the 2-year-old filly division started with a phone call from Jack Conway, the uncle of Kentucky Attorney General and horse owner Jack Conway.
Didn’t tell wife
“He called me about buying her a year ago, and I didn’t even tell my wife because I knew what her vote would be – she wouldn’t want to buy a horse,” Sheffer said. “So I just bought it. I didn’t tell Anne about it until about two or three weeks before I knew (Georgie’s Angel) was going to have to race. But now she’s hooked – she loves it now.”
If the story of racing newcomer becoming an almost immediate success with a stakes win at venerable Saratoga is not good enough, there are other intriguing angles that to Sheffer’s story – angles that are especially attractive in New York.
Georgie’s Angel’s sire was raced by George Steinbrenner, the late owner of the New York Yankees and Sheffer named his filly in honor of the man known to Yankee fans as “The Boss.” Although Sheffer, who owns the filly in partnership with Ronald Stocks and Betsy Wells, describes himself as the “world’s biggest” fan of the Boston Red Sox, named the filly after the longtime face of the Red Sox’s arch-rival. Steinbrenner was also a Thoroughbred owner and breeder and had his closest brush with Kentucky Derby success with Bellamy Road, who ran seventh as the favorite in the 2005 Derby.
About the name
“Because she was by Bellamy Road, who was Steinbrenner’s favorite horse, Kelly Wietsma (president/CEO of the racing public relations firm Equisponse) said I ought to name him Georgie’s Baby,” Sheffer said. “My wife is an ordained minister, and her father used to call her ‘Angel’ all the time, so we named her Georgie’s Angel as sort of a compromise.”
Remember that Independence Day debut victory for Georgie’s Angel? July 4 was Steinbrenner’s birthday.
Sheffer’s relationship with Pletcher, a five-time winner of the Eclipse Award as America’s top trainer, grew out of his representation of Velazquez and several other jockeys a few years earlier in their bid to wear advertising on their pants while riding in the Kentucky Derby.
Through that relationship, Sheffer also got to know Weitsma, who represented Velazquez and other jockeys, and Pletcher. As Sheffer considered the possible purchase of the filly, he consulted with Pletcher, who offered to train the filly after the new owner completed the deal.
Pletcher said after Friday’s Schuylerville victory that the Spinaway would probably be the next start for Georgie’s Angel.
“We’ll see how she bounces out of it, but it’s good spacing (between races),” Pletcher said. “Now we have a little extra time.”
And Ronnie Sheffer has quite a racing prospect on his hands and, in baseball terms, has hit a very long ball in his first time at the plate as a Thoroughbred owner. It’s a shot that would surely have made his filly’s namesake smile.
Fewer than 100 days remain until the Breeders’ Cup, so we have yet to see just how far that ball will travel. But if the smile on her owners’ faces at this early stage of the career of Georgie’s Angel can be used as a measure, Ronnie and Anne Sheffer and their partners have hit a home run.