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Rancho Santa Fe racing enthusiasts’ investment in partnership pays off

La Vida Loca’s Drift King (No. 3) comes down the stretch for the first time in a 1 1/16-mile claiming race on the turf on Aug. 11. He ended up finishing fourth. Photo/Kelley Carlson
La Vida Loca’s Drift King (No. 3) comes down the stretch for the first time in a 1 1/16-mile claiming race on the turf on Aug. 11. He ended up finishing fourth. Photo/Kelley Carlson

By Kelley Carlson

When people heard that Steve Nagelberg was planning to form a partnership to invest in racehorses they thought he was ... well ... crazy.

“You know what? It’s a crazy life,” he responded. “Why not?”

It became the inspiration for his group’s name, La Vida Loca Racing Stable, a fun-loving bunch who pool their money together to buy thoroughbreds and cheer them on in a relaxed environment.

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Members of the La Vida Loca Racing Stable
Members of the La Vida Loca Racing Stable

The partnership initially consisted of 10 people; in the years since its inception, in 2008, it has grown to include 22 racing aficionados. The majority hail from San Diego County, including Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach and La Jolla; others are from Los Angeles/Inland Empire, Palm Springs and even Arizona.

Nagelberg, who works for Clear Channel, has been friends with most of the group members for at least 20 years. Quite a few are involved in radio and advertising, and some are acquaintances from the San Diego Tennis and Racquet Club. Friends of friends are involved, as well.

As managing partner, Nagelberg “gets all the blame and all the credit,” said fellow La Vida Loca member Dex Allen with a smile.

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Nagelberg has been a fan of the sport for years. His interest in racing was first piqued as a teenager, as his parents occasionally took him to Arlington Park in Chicago. Later, Nagelberg became acquainted with a trainer’s son after giving him tennis lessons and, in turn, he was introduced to life on the backstretch of the racetrack, which further fueled his passion for the sport. He also successfully gambled on horses with high school buddies at Maywood Park, Sportsman’s Park, Hawthorne Racecourse and Balmoral Park Racetrack in Illinois.

Eventually, Nagelberg developed a desire to become an owner. About 10 years ago, he attended a Kentucky Derby Day seminar presented by Jon Lindo at Del Mar’s Surfside Race Place, and had the opportunity to chat with the handicapper. Lindo, who is also a thoroughbred owner, gave advice to Nagelberg on how to increase his involvement in racing.

Three weeks later, Nagelberg joined with a group of owners and had his first horse, Daring General, who was trained by Bill Spawr and ridden by Laffit Pincay Jr.

Daring General had been fourth in the 1998 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and was named California’s champion 2-year-old colt that year, but eventually dropped to the claiming ranks. Although he was no longer a top-level runner, he provided Nagelberg with one of his biggest racing thrills to date.

“Being in the winner’s circle on Opening Day (at Del Mar in 2001) was a dream come true,” Nagelberg said.

After a few years of investing in thoroughbreds on his own, Nagelberg decided to form an LLC.

“I wanted something more formal and have more money to work with,” the Rancho Santa Fe resident said.

Among the partners who came aboard were Andy Feldman and Mark Silverstein. Feldman — a one-time regular at Belmont Park and Aqueduct Racetrack in New York — had owned horses in partnership with other groups such as Little Red Feather Racing. Silverstein, who spent his childhood at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia and Hollywood Park in Inglewood, had been involved with the Let’s Get Lucky Racing syndicate and owned stakes winners such as Valbenny.

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Nagelberg “plays ideas” off of Silverstein and Feldman, as they study race videos and observe horses, trying to find their next horse to claim. Occasionally, they invest in thoroughbreds with Little Red Feather Racing.

The majority of La Vida Loca’s horses to date have been claimers, including Carrie With a C, Hiho Geronimo, Dugan Bill and Deluxe Bus. They’ve also owned stakes runners such as Going for a Spin, second in this year’s B. Thoughtful Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park, and Times Gone By.

Currently, the roster consists of Lindz Winz, winner of this year’s Irish O’Brien Stakes at Santa Anita, Magic School and Unusual Beam, all with trainer Barry Abrams; Drift King, conditioned by Mike Mitchell; and Deal ‘Em, trained by Jack Carava.

Everybody in the partnership owns all of the horses, but the percentage of ownership varies. They each pay anywhere from $2,500 to $20,000.

“We own a hoof each,” Allen joked.

Various group members venture to Del Mar in the afternoons several days a week. Nagelberg said the investors love to watch their horses get saddled in the paddock. Oftentimes, they will bring their children in the mornings to see the thoroughbreds and meet the trainers.

“Everybody has fun, and everybody knows everybody else,” Nagelberg said.

On the first Sunday of the Del Mar meet, La Vida Loca arranges a get-together, and members delight in a day of betting.

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And the socialization extends beyond the local meet — the investors congregate at the Surfside Race Place to catch action at other tracks once the Del Mar season ends. They have also gone as a group to Betfair Hollywood Park and Santa Anita Park to watch their horses race.

“The point is to own a part and have fun,” Nagelberg said.

Feldman said he enjoys the experience.

“(It’s a chance) to be out with friends, not talking politics,” he said.

For more information about the group, go to

lavidalocaracing.com

, or find its page on Facebook under La Vida Loca Racing.


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