Rancho Santa Fe philanthropists team up in horse racing through ‘Lady Fairbanks’


By Kelley Carlson


“Lady” is ginger-haired and sassy, yet sweet. She also has big teeth and eats like ... well ... a horse.

Her name is Lady Fairbanks, and among her owners are members of Las Damas de Fairbanks, a 28-year-old social and philanthropic group that holds fundraisers for a different charity each month.

About a year ago, Las Damas co-president Michele Stephens approached West Point Thoroughbreds about making a presentation discussing racing and ownership to the group. West Point creates and manages racing partnerships, which allows people to own percentages in racehorses. Stephens herself was already involved with West Point — among the horses she owns with the team is El Gato Malo, winner of the San Rafael Stakes (Grade III) and the Lone Star Derby (Grade III).

In late April 2011, West Point representatives spoke to Las Damas members, addressing topics such as what happens behind the scenes and the history of the sport. In addition, some shares were available in a couple of horses owned by the partnership, including an unraced 2-year-old chestnut filly.

As an added incentive, Las Damas members who were interested in ownership were given naming rights to the filly, according to Nancy Ury, vice president of West Coast operations for West Point.

Six women — all residents of Fairbanks Ranch — came forward and bought percentages in the horse, with high expectations for her future. Along with Stephens, Las Damas co-president Sandra den Uijl, vice president Marianne Hoffman and members Lori Poleshuk, Frances Splinter and Agnes Baralett became owners. Collectively, they came up with the name Lady Fairbanks.

“We’re hoping we have a good horse,” Stephens said.

So far, the filly — trained by Craig Dollase — has made three starts. She finished fifth in her first outing, on July 7 at Hollywood Park in Inglewood, and then narrowly missed breaking her maiden with a runner-up effort on Del Mar’s opening day. Lady Fairbanks’ most recent start was Aug. 21 when she finished third behind Sister Moon, who set a track record for 5 1/2 furlongs.

According to Stephens, Lady Fairbanks will rest until this fall, and may possibly make her next start at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia.

While Stephens already had a stake in about a dozen racehorses — through West Point and a couple of other partnerships — other members of the Las Damas group were new to the sport.

Poleshuk had once been a horse owner and competed on the show circuit. She said she was looking for a way to be around horses once again, so the idea of owning a share appealed to her. But until the start of this year’s Del Mar meet, Poleshuk had never been to the races.

Hoffman had some exposure to equines — her father enjoyed riding, but she said that because his horse sometimes spooked, it caused her to have a fear of the animal.

These days, “I’m getting comfortable,” she said. “It’s more fun when you have a stake in a race ... It’s really exciting to be a horse owner, even if it is just a fraction.”

Although she didn’t grow up around them, den Uijl said she loves horses. Having attended Del Mar’s opening day for the last five years, “I figured maybe it would be a good time to start investing since I come a lot,” she said.

Splinter explained that she wanted in on the partnership so she could meet new people. A relative newcomer to the area — she moved from Canada two years ago — Splinter said it’s a way to open up socially. But she added that she also enjoys horses.

Den Uijl, Hoffman, Poleshuk and Splinter indicated that they would be interested if the chance arose to own more racehorses.

“What a great opportunity to get women involved in the world of horse racing,” Stephens said. “Thanks to West Point for letting us do that; there are five new women now involved in the sport.”