Partner Fred Odell: Racing Brought My Family Together
Here, WPT learns more about the man and how thoroughbred racing brought his family together.
Q. Why the interest in racing?
A. I grew up on a farmette in Pennsylvania, liked animals, and thought the excitement of ownership would be fun. I first went to the track growing up in Pennsylvania - friends of mine used to take an old back road to Pocono Downs to watch the harness racing - and then after I joined the Coast Guard in 1989 I’d go to Pimlico on my off days. It was always just fun for me to see them run.
Q. Tell us about what brought you to WPT.
A. I always wanted to get involved in racing. A buddy of mine wanted to go in on some claiming horses at Penn National, but I said, “If I’m going to do this, I want to get the advice of the best professionals I can find.” I was looking at some websites and found West Point, so I gave them a call. They didn’t try to sell me a horse, they just said, “Why don’t you come up to Saratoga and let us show you around?” That was the start.
Q. Did you have any experience with horses?
A. Not really, but when my wife was a kid she used to do hunters over fences. She hadn’t been riding in a while, but our daughter Shelby, who is 10, wanted to start riding. Now our daughter jumps in shows and she’s doing very well - in her first five shows she was either grand champion or reserve champion - and it’s nice because they go to the barn at least twice a week to ride together. It was just the perfect storm of their interest in horses escalating and mine in racing coming together, and we kind of met in the middle. We went to Saratoga and met the Finleys and Tom Bellhouse, and these guys were amazing - really nice people. It was great because there wasn’t any pressure; they just said, “If there’s anything we can ever do for you, let us know.”
Q. Talk about your ownership experience with King Congie.
I didn’t see the horse run live his first two starts. Then he was going to run at Aqueduct and I told a friend of mine, “King Congie’s running tomorrow at Aqueduct, I’ve never been, let’s go.” Of course, it’s your own horse, you have to bet on it, and he won at 43-1. The whole way home we were yelling and screaming about it, and the next time he ran in New York it snowballed into this big group of people gathered at the house to watch him run. By the time he ran in the Tropical Park Derby we had 50 people at our house, kids and everyone gathered around the TV, screaming “Go, go!” and he won the Tropical Park Derby.
When he ran in the Preakness it became this experience, we had five our six families who went to Pimlico, and later in the summer we had a bunch of families come to Saratoga. The purses, the winnings and those things don’t even really matter - it’s an instant way to have good old-fashioned family fun.
Q. So the Partner lifestyle really brought your family together?
Anyway, Jeff Lifson said, “Bring the kids to the backside!” and he took us all around to see the horses I’d gotten involved in, let the kids pet and feed them, and answered all our questions. They got their picture taken with Rajiv Maragh, they got to see Shackleford, the Preakness winner, breeze. You could see in the kids’ eyes how much they loved it. They all got into it and were like, “We want to come here every morning!”
The parents realized how unique it was, too, like “Not everybody can do this.” Being a Partner with West Point makes you feel like you’re inside the ropes at the Masters, or sitting behind home plate. It’s like going to a major league game and the coach saying, “Here, come on down to the dugout with us for a while.” It’s not going to happen to the average person.
When you have five kids with an age range of eight to 17, standing with Rajiv on the backside, and you explain to them that in reality it’s like them going to a basketball game practice and getting their picture taken with LeBron James, that just doesn’t happen in other sports. Normally, a 17-year-old is kind of like, “Awwwww, really, I have to go to the races?!” After that morning he was literally telling all of his buddies how cool it was - and he can’t wait to go back.