For those who closely or casually follow Horse Racing that are not familiar with Marshall Gramm, he is not only a successful pari-mutuel and tournament handicapper, he is also one of the founding partners in Ten Strike Racing, which offers partial ownership of horses in their stable.
Growing up in Washington DC, and with no one in his immediate family having an interest in the sport, Mr. Gramm gravitated towards Horse Racing because of his affinity for statistics and problem solving. This led to him becoming a very successful handicapper, he’s qualified for the NHC on 4 different occasions, and in 2008, he purchased his first racehorse. In 2010, he and Clay Sanders would own their first horse together. These two eventually would form the group that today is known as Ten Strike Racing. Their name is from the horse TEN STRIKE, who won the very first Tennessee Derby in 1884, a race that was contested every year until 1906 and whose prestige at the time was only rivalled by the Kentucky Derby itself. The State of Tennessee outlawed gambling in 1907, effectively ending Horse Racing in the state. Mr. Gramm and Mr. Clay, who both live in Memphis, decided to pay homage to the State’s Horse Racing history by naming their group after the first Tennessee Derby winner. Mr. Gramm was gracious enough to grant 5minutestopost.com a telephone interview while he was at Saratoga. This interview was conducted Friday, July 28, 2017.
[5minutestopost] For those not familiar with Ten Strike Racing, or racing partnerships, can you explain the concept of”fractional ownership”?
[MG] Well, the average person can’t afford to own a stable of horses, so when me and Clay (Sanders) got together we realized that, separately we could own a horse or two each, but if we joined together and could get some other of our friends, we could all own several horses, so that’s how the original concept of the group came to be. We offer shares in the horses we acquire anywhere from as little as 1% up to around 15%. We have horses on all levels; we claim horses, we go to the 2 year old sales in training, we have Stakes caliber horses as well. We even have 3 home breds in New York right now. When we first got the partnership going, we would all list our names for the ownership section of entries. So to simplify things on from the perspective, and for monetary reasons, we decided it was best to place all the horses owned under 1 name, and that’s how TEN STRIKE RACING came to exist.
[5minutestopost] Well Ten Strike has been very successful in 2017, your winning percentage is 24% so far and In The Money percentage is at 60%, has that success led to an increase in people inquiring into buying a share of one of your horses?
[MG] Yes, actually this is the first year we’ve taken in perspective clients from the outside. What I mean by that is before this year we had kept the partnership group among our friends and even friends of friends. We wanted to make sure the people involved with the group had the same passion for racing and for the horses we owned. Our home base is Oaklawn Park and every year around the Arkansas Derby we host an Arkansas Derby party for our group and employees.
[5minutestopost] Do to often try to get to the track in the morning to see your horses train or afternoon to see them race?
[MG] Absolutely! My job as a Professor at Rhodes (in Memphis) affords me the ability to do these things. I don’t teach during the summer, so this allows me to visit different tracks like Laurel, Fair Hill training facility, Monmouth, of course Parx, then ending up Saratoga. But when Oaklawn is running during the winter, my schedule is flexible enough that I can catch our horses running there.
[5minutestopost] Would you consider yourself a “hands-on” owner?
[MG] No, me and our partners let the Trainers decide things like where a horse should be spotted, as far as upcoming races and future plans. Certainly we don’t interfere with the day to day training of our horses, because we have great confidence in our Trainers doing that. I may see a race that I want one of our horses considered for, and I will mention this to the Trainer and if I see a horse entered that looks interesting, I’ll go ahead and claim it. But those are exceptions, generally speaking we’re very hands off of the decision making for our horses training.
[5minutestopost] So you’re no Jerry Jones then?
[MG] (laughs) No, no way!
[5minutestopost] You bought your first horse in 2008, how did this come about? Were you always interested in getting in as an owner?
[MG] Yes, I had been for a long time. I grew up in Washington DC, and we didn’t even have cable TV then, we wouldn’t get it until 1989. So to find out what was going on, I would get the majority of my news/information from the daily newspaper. It was in those newspapers that I saw they had a whole section devoted to horse racing, at least a page or two everyday. Andy Beyer had a column, and they had analysis/selections as well. It made me curious, eventually I would be going down to the local drugstore to get a racing form. Later on I bought all of Buyer’s books on handicapping, so that’s really how it all started as far as me becoming interested in racing.
To answer your question about my first horse, there was a mare running at Philadelphia Park (now Parx) named Aunt Dot Dot, who I had been studying and keeping an eye on for a while. Well one day I saw she was entered in a $5,000 claimer there, a buddy of mine claimed her for me. Of course we had to win a three way shake for her. Immediately after we won the shake, I was offered $10,000 for her right then, but I declined. As it turns out, I still have her, and she’s now a successful broodmare, all 4 of her racing foals have won and one of them became a Stakes winner.
[5minutestopost] You’re a handicapper as well as an owner, you’ve qualified for the NHC multiple times, how has the way you handicap changed since becoming so involved on the ownership side of the sport?
[MG] It’s changed it profoundly. Before, I was a big speed figures guy, but now, I’ve certainly become more of a class handicapper, we’re all learning more and more about pedigree as well. Also a big thing that’s changed, and I do think Handicappers pay enough attention to, is reading the condition books. You can really get a good idea of what horses might be best suited for that particular race , seeing where they fit in. That also makes you look at trainer angles, and more importantly, trainer intent. And while I still am devoted to speed figures, they don’t tell everything. For example, you could have a $7,500 horse who runs at the level and he can run a huge speed figure. But move him up a couple of levels, he probably won’t be able to repeat that figure versus classier horses. So yeah, being an owner has definitely changed my approach .
[5minutestopost] Do you enjoy playing tournaments or pari-mutuel betting more?
[MG] I enjoy both, but I prefer the live bankroll tournaments over the NHC format of Win/Place, because I think it’s a lot more like I and most people probably bet. I’m going to play the BCBC (Breeders Cup Betting Challenge) in November, and just qualified for the NHC again recently. I still like playing the NHC, mainly because when I get to Vegas its like a convention for horseplayers, and I love being around people who are passionate about the sport and handicapping. That’s why I love coming up here to Saratoga, the crowds are all about the racing.
[5minutestopost] You mentioned Liz Crow earlier, who’s listed as your Stable Manager of TSR but you’ve also referred to her as the Agent as well. Do you feel The Horse Racing Industry as a whole is doing enough to hire women for executive positions?
[MG] Honestly, I’m not in a position to answer that. I believe if you have talent, skill, drive and passion you’re going to be successful. We didn’t look at Liz and say, ‘Hey we hired a woman for that position ‘ or ‘well we hired two female trainers for our group ‘. We hired them because they were great at their jobs and we felt the most qualified to fill the positions.
[5minutestopost] Fair enough. I don’t know if you read the article “David vs Goliath: The Growing Divide between small and large stables in U.S” basically, it details the struggles of the smaller stables. What, in your opinion, can the smaller stables do to better compete with the larger ones?
[MG] The larger stables have an advantage in every facet of the business. They are able to hire the best employees, including assistant trainers. The large stables usually have about 3-4 assistant trainers, most who are more than qualified enough to go out on their own but realize they can make more money as an assistant there than they probably would venturing out on their own. We’re not a large stable by any means , we have about 24 horses. One of our trainers is Brad Cox, when we first started working with him he didn’t have a big stable, but now Brad has over 100 horses in his barn. It’s hard to blame the owners for wanting to put their horses in the bigger barns because they more often have the most success, not just on track but the business end as well. The bigger barns also get more leeway and breaks from tracks just because they may stable a large amount of horses at that track. It’s unfortunate that this is happening, but… the reality is I’m not sure of what can be done to make it better for the smaller barns.
[5minutestopost] In recent weeks and months the expression”grow our Sport” has been associated a lot with the sport of horse racing, what idea or ideas would you like to see implemented to help “grow our Sport”?
[MG] I would definitely say lower takeout is the number one thing that should be done. Slots in Casinos have about a 10% takeout, table games like poker and blackjack only give the house about a 4% edge.But then, racing, you have bets that have as much as 30% takeout on exotic bets like Trifecta…. it’s hard enough for an experienced handicapper to make a profit with these rates, someone who’s new to the track, it’s almost impossible for them to show a profit. So these people get frustrated and don’t return, but if takeout was lowered, it could certainly increase the chances of new fans thinking they can make money. That’s why I don’t criticize anyone who just plss a certain Jockey or Trainer or even a certain number of a horse, because they’re probably going to do just as well doing that as the average person who handicaps. There’s also a perception that handicapping horse racing is too complicated, and that simply just isn’t the case. Horse Racing is no more complicated than any other sport, like say basketball..
[5minutestopost] Or football..
[MG] Yes, what I’m getting at is the sport isn’t as difficult as it’s perceived to be. Also, another thing I would is make historical data for the sport more accessible for free. If you want to look up a baseball players stats from the 1920s, you can find several sites that have that information and don’t charge anything. But if I want to look up the past performances for a horse from the past, you generally have to pay for this which makes no sense. I mean, I understand sites like DRF and Equivalent charging more for advanced handicapping information, but not for historical data.
[5minutestopost] How does your family feel about your involvement in Horse Racing?
[MG] They’re fine with it, I have 3 kids and they all enjoy going to the track, as well as my wife. She’s not passionate about it like I am, but she gets that it’s a passion of mine. They go with me on these road trips during the summer visiting different tracks when I don’t have to teach, and they enjoy it plus we get to spend it together.