Dare Sutton discovered an intense passion for horse racing after watching Rags to Riches and Curlin duke it out in a “battle of the sexes” in the 2007 Belmont Stakes. That passion was channeled forth into a revolutionary idea. Last fall at Keeneland, herself, Sam Bussanich (@sbussanich), and Sophie Shore (@Shore_Sophie) came up with an idea that led to the creation of Nexus Racing Club- an ownership group for young people that provides them closer access to the sport of horse racing. Nexus is currently involved with three partners and plans to expand in the near future. While Dare is pursuing a Doctor of Optometry degree, she plans to stay committed to Nexus and enjoy horse racing for years to come. We thank Dare for taking time out of her schedule to interview with us and to help us learn more about Nexus Racing Club and her ideas for attracting and retaining a new fanbase.
5 MTP: When and how did you become a fan of horse racing?
DS: I’ve always watched the Derby every year and I’ve always loved horses all my life. But I would say it was 2007. I watched the Derby that year with Street Sense, Hard Spun and Curlin, and then Curlin won the Preakness. Then came the Belmont Stakes- it was Rags to Riches and Curlin, and seeing Rags to Riches win- that was the race that got me. I started following it and I knew all horses, I knew all the trainers, the people, the jockeys and everything, and that’s when I really became a fan and was following the sport much more closely. I just got hooked on it and I hadn’t even been to the track before. I was at Keeneland that fall and ever since I’ve been all about horse racing. Some people are crazy about football or baseball or hockey but horse racing has been mine. I guess I’m on my 10-year anniversary!
5 MTP: How did Nexus Racing Club come into existence?
DS: Sam (Bussanich) and I went in the paddock last fall at Keeneland and I just told her, “Maybe we should get some young people together and just buy a horse.” And that was the beginning of it. Sam brought in Sophie (Shore) and I were all kind of talking about it. Over the winter we met with an attorney and she pointed us toward the club direction. She said that based on our demographic and where we wanted to go, that a club model would be the better option. But then we started thinking, we needed some credibility. You know we’re just three girls and none of us come from a family in racing or anything so we needed to somehow partner with owners. We knew Craig (Bernick, President of Glen Hill Farm) from Twitter and were able to get in contact with him. And we just went with our idea. After months of developing it, once we got with Craig, he liked our idea and wanted to help us and then we brought in two other partners: StarLadies Racing and LNJ Foxwoods. We tried getting everything setup- and it took time just to think it through and develop it- but once we got it, we hit it right and we think so far we’ve been doing a good job with it.
5 MTP: How involved are you in the managerial aspects of NRC?
DS: With Nexus, this club is managed by the founders. There’s nobody outside managing it. We do have some advising from Megan Jones, who was also involved with Glen Hill Farm, and Tom Proctor. Craig is very important in advising us and giving us advice and any insights we need for anything. But managing the club is done by the three of us. My role has primarily been maintaining and keeping track of our money. So financial aspects, any legal aspects, all the paperwork. I’m more into partner relations, so with our partners- Craig, StarLadies, and LNJ Foxwoods, that involves talking with them and having the lease agreements. I send out the weekly emails and I do a little bit here and there with social media and talking with members. I also help with trying to get involved in any race day aspects- making sure members can have the race day experience like getting in the paddock and have a good race day. Sam does more of the social media aspects and she’s been trying to get us Nexus gear and shirts with our logo. And Sophie has been providing us a lot of support and advice and she’s been there for a lot, and we work good together. It’s definitely a team effort but we come together and make it happen!
5 MTP: What is the interest level of most applicants? Are they already big fans of horse racing or are they curious and want to learn more? Or is it a diverse mix among different levels of interest and knowledge?
DS: It’s a very diverse group so far. We have a lot that are involved already maybe through media or they work in a barn or are involved in some other way. But we have a lot that are more so fans and are looking for a way in. They want to meet people and they want to see what it’s like to have that aspect to follow a horse and be connected to the horse. It’s a good mix of people who have been a little bit involved already working in the industry, or some who aren’t and maybe want to, so they want to find a way into the sport. So Nexus has helped provide that gateway for them. It’s interesting to see where everyone’s from and learn their backstory to the sport and how they became fans. And Sophie has brought some of her friends that don’t know anything about the sport except for her, so she tries to advise them to join Nexus so they can learn more. So it’s a good mix of people.
5 MTP: How many members do you currently have?
DS: We are currently at 44 active members. It’s a good group and we’re just trying offer the best experience for them.
5 MTP: What does the membership fee cover?
DS: So the $100 membership fee is to be a member of the club and right now we have some (expenses) that come with starting a business, so it helps us cover those fees. It helps us make sure we can provide a good experience for members. When they pay the fee, they are basically getting an ownership-like experience. They’re not owning equity- that’s why it’s such a low fee- but they’re able to see what it’s like to follow a horse, get email updates, follow the progress of a horse leading up to a race and how they are training. They even (get to experience) the lows. Right now Mo Buckets, one of our fillies, she’s laid up for a bit and that’s just part of the ownership experience. Firefoot, who provided our first win with so much excitement- it was such a thrill, and when she ran in a stakes it was so exciting- well recently she had an injury that was career-ending. She brought us some highs and some lows in such a short amount of time. And while it’s disappointing, I think that’s a good experience- it’s part of being an owner. And any type of race-day activity, such as paddock access, sometimes we’re able to get box seats, and if we’re lucky, winner’s circle pictures and going into the winner’s circle if we win. We try to arrange if they are able to go on the backside and watch training. We have conference calls once a month with our members to let them talk to each other and connect that way. We also have conferences calls so they are able to ask questions with Craig Bernick, and we’re hoping to have more special guests. We’re planning to have a few events in the fall at Keeneland. We’re also working with Horse Country to provide Nexus-exclusive tours. I think the membership fee is very low and it’s such a good price to get people in and experience the sport from an insider’s aspect. That’s really what it covers- just getting a thoroughbred racing experience.
5 MTP: How is NRC prepared to address exponential growth in membership? If a significantly large number of club members attended a race
DS: That is something we have thought about a lot when we were developing. What if we had this problem of where we had a horse that’s good enough to run on a big day like Derby Day, Travers Day, or the Breeders’ Cup? Obviously we probably can’t get ticket deals if membership goes above 100. I mean we hope we can get as many members as possible but if you have a big race day you can’t have that many people if they all want to come. Our plan right now is we have a priority list- we hate to do it that way, but we can’t give tickets to everyone- but we would do it based on who joins first. If we have 30 tickets available, we’d offer that to the first 30 people who joined and, based on that, it would continue on down. That’s why we try to tell (prospective members), the more people we get in early, the better. We hate to leave anyone out, but that’s not something we can really control if we have our certain seats. But even if a member can’t get seats with us they can still come that race day and still get in the paddock before the race, and if the horse is to win that day, they can get in the winner’s circle.
5 MTP: You currently have lease agreements with Glen Hill Farm, LNJ Foxwoods, and StarLadies Racing. Are there any plans to expand agreements with owners beyond those three?
DS: We definitely plan to expand. I’m from Kentucky, and Sam goes to UK, and Kentucky loves horses. So we’re wanting to find a partner who has a horse based in Kentucky. That’s really a goal right now. We’re talking to a couple people so hopefully within the next few months we can have a good announcement on that. We definitely plan to grow and add a few partners in the future. Whenever a member joins, if they’re joining right now, they will be on any horse that is part of this club. We have plans to add more partners and get couple more horses so Nexus is just getting started. We have two horses now but hopefully we will have a few more soon.
5 MTP: What is the process in terms of getting a lease with a certain horse? If an owner has a slew of horses, you aren’t going to be partnered up with all of them in order to keep membership fees low. So how does that work?
DS: Basically, we talk to an owner and we have a lease agreement which is written up by our attorney, and make (our intentions) clear to them: with this lease, (owners) retain all the rights and make all the decisions regarding the horse. We’re asking for the access: have the experience of owning this horse, following its training, and experiencing race day with the horse. So we talk to them that way to make sure they know that they maintain the rights and we’re not looking to make any equity on the horse. They keep all the purse money and all the trophies. We have a lease agreement, they read through it, then they can sign it and then we sign it, and then they are able to pick the horse. If they want to be a part of Nexus they can pick out whichever horse they want to be a Nexus horse. We want a good partner/person as an owner and we hope for a good horse to be partnered with Nexus. We try to make sure the owners get a lot of the “shot calling.”
5 MTP: What is the primary vision that you are hoping to achieve with NRC?
DS: Well I would say my primary vision is I hope that we bring young people in closer to the sport. Nexus is like a gateway to connect (members) to people in the sport and the horses and give them a good experience and show them how fun this sport can be. And hopefully Nexus can transfer some of these members into becoming owners later once they are cycling past their age bracket. I hope that we create lifelong, educated participants in the sport and hopefully fans and handicappers too because that’s what the sport needs. And I think if you bring people in earlier, the better. The sport needs to have young people more engaged and connected to it and that’s what Nexus can do, that’s what we can offer.
5 MTP: You’re currently studying to be an optometrist. Are you going to be involved in helping manage Nexus for the long haul or is this something that you’re going to do temporarily until Nexus gets big and then hand over the reins? What is your long-term plan?
DS: Nexus feels like my baby. We created this racing club. I really care about it very deeply and it’s something I put time into everyday to make sure that we’re doing well and what can we do to be better and what else can we do with the program. So I’m definitely in it for the long haul. This is something that I love very much. I mean obviously we are a young person club so I don’t know if they’ll kick me out when I’m older (laughs). I have a little while to go before I get kicked out, but for now I plan to stay with it and manage it for however long. We’ll see in one or two years how we’re doing, take it weeks and months at a time and just see how we can keep going. But for now I feel like we’re doing very well. The thing is we’re a brand new idea in a sport based on tradition. New ideas can be a little bit difficult to break in, but for a new idea and a new concept, it can be hard to get young people to want to be in and want to do this. But I think once you find the right people, I feel like the horses will be our main “spokespeople.” They’ll do most of the talking for us once we hopefully catch some success on the track and obviously we’ve had a winner already but once we have more success I feel like that’s going to help us.
But back to your question, it’s definitely something I’m in for the long haul and while I’m going into a profession outside the horse industry, I feel like that something racing needs is people who are very passionate about this industry and the sport to be outside. And I hope that I can serve as a bridge to help bring more people into the sport. I’m hoping while I’m in Indiana for school, maybe I can bring some people down to Churchill and show them what it’s like. Take them into the winner’s circle and the paddock and show them what it’s like to be up close, take them on the backside. And hopefully I can be an ambassador for the sport outside and bring people in. And that’s something that I can do and many other people can do that are passionate about the sport as well. But I would say I’m not going anywhere from Nexus or I’m not going anywhere from the horses at all. I’m very passionate about it. I plan to stay involved in the future no doubt.
5 MTP: What message do you have for young fans who may be interested in joining Nexus or who are skeptical?
DS: I think with the $100 membership fee people might shy away from it because it might be too good to be true or maybe they don’t want to put the money into it. I would say why not? This is a new idea that young people should support if they’re interested and we have great partners with us and great people behind us, and we’re offering an experience to young people that’s never really been offered before. And we’re trying to show what it’s like to be an owner to bring people closer to the sport and to connect them to industry leaders. If you might be on the fence or aren’t sure about it, check us out! We have our website, we have articles written about us and it’s a great opportunity, why not? It’s a good chance to get involved and already so many members have had cool experiences. A guy went to the paddock for the first time and he said it was the coolest thing and one of the guys went up in a box seat. So we’re offering these experiences that wouldn’t be offered otherwise. We’re just trying our best through the club to give this experience for young people that really isn’t available unless you have prior connections. And hopefully young fans will see that it’s a great opportunity right in front of them and it’s an affordable membership fee. We’d love to have anyone who is interested whether they’re passionate about the sport or if they’re slightly interested.
Follow Dare on Twitter, @DareSutton, as well as @NexusRacingClub.
Or visit https://www.nexusracingclub.com/ to learn more about it!