What does serving in the military have in common with racing horses?
Both require significant teamwork, said Terry Finley, CEO of West Point Thoroughbreds, a racehorse partnership based out of Saratoga Springs, New York.
On Friday, Finley’s team will have the opportunity to demonstrate that teamwork when one of their thoroughbreds, a 2-year-old named Decorated Invader, competes against horses from all over the world in the Breeders’ Cup.
After graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1986 and serving in the Army for four years, Finley reconnected with his childhood passion and launched West Point Thoroughbreds in 1991.
“I think after you’ve had the honor of the experience at the academy, you take away the fact that everything’s got to work together,” Finley, who grew up going to the racetracks, told Military Times. “There can’t be a weak link, and if you do have a weak link, you have to address that.”
Just like a military unit, the same rings true in the horse racing business where grooms function as the sergeants, partners as the generals, and trainers and jockeys as commander on the field, Finley said.
“Really, every part has got to be strong, every part’s got to be growing in the same direction,” Finley said.
In a cross-sectional twist of fate, Finley’s circle also includes another West Point graduate: Bill Sandbrook, who served in the Army for 13 years after graduating from West Point in 1979, and now is the chairman and CEO of US Concrete.
Together, they are owners of a thoroughbred racing horse with a military-inspired name: Decorated Invader.
“I wanted it to scare every other horse that it raced against, and I thought it was the perfect name,” Sandbrook told Military Times.
Decorated Invader, whose father was named Declaration of War, has the opportunity to do just that when he competes in one of the world’s biggest horse racing contests, the Breeders’ Cup in Santa Anita, California.
After months of training, Decorated Invader made his racing debut on July 13, 2019, in Saratoga, New York, placing second. Weeks later, he secured his first victory in his next race on Aug. 10 also in Saratoga, followed by another victory on Sept. 15 in Toronto, Ontario, in Canada.
That last win paved the way for him to compete in the Breeders’ Cup, an international contest that involves 14 championship races and includes awards totaling more than $30 million. Decorated Invader is slated to participate in the Juvenile Turf race on Nov. 1.
According to TVG, the official betting partner of the 2019 Breeders’ Cup, Decorated Invader’s odds are 7:1 as of Oct. 21, meaning one would make a $7 profit off of every dollar one wagers. Additionally, the implied probability to win is 12.5 percent, per TVG’s calculations.
“Our confidence level is absolutely sky high,” Finley said. “Probably as high as it’s ever been with a horse that we’ve run in the Breeders’ Cup.”
On Saturday, Decorated Invader is also set to go up against his half-brother Peace Achieved, whose father is also Declaration of War. Peace Achieved’s odds are 11:1, according to TVG. The implied probability to win translates to 8.3 percent.
The statistics and mathematical models behind horse racing fascinates Sandbook, who taught math at West Point while he was in the Army.
“You can also have lots and lots of statistics that you can put into various degrees of sophisticated analysis to try to predict the winner,” Sandbrook said.
“It’s a big chess game to me, so I’m always competing against myself” Sandbrook said.
Although Sandbrook has long admired horses, it was only recently that he got involved in a partnership with Finley as a partial owner. The two met in 2015 during a Thayer Leader Development Group at West Point conference held at Nasdaq.
Initially, Finley sensed that Sandbrook was interested in his business but wasn’t ready to dive right in quite yet.
But in 2018, Sandbrook started to get involved in a partnership with West Point Thoroughbreds and has since been a majority owner of several horses, including Decorated Invader, who was purchased as a colt in Sept. 2018 for $200,000.
The money isn’t what interests Sandbrook about horse racing. He wants to win.
“I went after big trophies, and you only get big trophies if you win big races,” Sandbrook said.
Last year, one of the horses Finley and Sandbrook owned made it to the Kentucky Derby and placed fifth. After the Breeders’ Cup, Decorated Invader will have some down time to rest as Finley and Sandbrook plan what next year will look like for him.
"There are some really, really big races especially next summer that we would put a big circle around,” Finley said. “But it goes without saying our focus is on that next Friday.”
Finley said racing horses like he does in the U.S. is a testament to the American dream as he noted these large races attract competitors from all over the world, including horses owned by royalty in the Middle East. But the U.S. is different because it doesn’t matter who your parents are and politics are irrelevant when it comes to racing horses, Finley said.
“Only in America can this happen,” he said.
“If you have the fastest horse, you get those big trophies that Bill talked about and you win the big races,” Finley said. “That in and of itself is emblematic I believe of the American dream.”