If you ask Adam Lazarus, the path to success starts with a winning attitude. The mindset served him well as an athlete in high school and college, and has led to an accomplished career in sales. But after 20 years as a horse owner in South Florida, Lazarus knows that victory at the racetrack can be elusive. That has not, however, tempered his enthusiasm for the game.
“As is so often the case, the first horse I bought was a complete dud, a disaster,” he remarked stoically. “I actually went 0-for-23 to start as an owner. But after that first experience, right away I said, ‘Can we do it again?’ I was hooked.”
Horse racing wasn’t his first love. The New Jersey native was a huge sports fan as a kid, but the action at nearby Freehold Raceway held no interest. Instead, he grew up playing baseball and basketball and soccer. “That helped pay for a big chunk of college,” he said.
Lazarus earned a degree in Communications from Appalachian State University in North Carolina. His aspiration was to work in sportscasting or perhaps as a scout. But plans changed after his family relocated to the Sunshine State.
“When I first graduated college, I got a job immediately as a sportscaster at a small TV station in New Jersey,” he explained. “That gave me the grandiose idea that I could get a job anywhere. I quit my job when my family moved, and found myself in one of the toughest markets for TV that there is. After sending out 100 resumes, I thought, ‘Adam, you are not getting a job in the sportscasting field. What am I going to do?’”
With time to kill as he figured out Plan B, Lazarus decided to spend an afternoon at Calder Race Course. An admitted stats geek, he was immediately drawn to the wealth of information available in the Daily Racing Form.
“I was a big fantasy sports nut – that’s still true today,” he said. “I took one look at all the numbers in the Racing Form, and I got interested. I liked handicapping, I liked trying to figure out who was going to win. That was my first experience, and from there it took off. I became a real fan. I devoured all the information I could find. I fell in love with racing.”
Lazarus’s career was also taking off, but not in the direction he’d anticipated. A family member introduced him to a contact in the office equipment business.
“Both of my parents are in sales, and if you had asked me, I’d have told you, ‘I don’t care what I do, I’m NOT going into sales,’” he said with a laugh. “But I found someone who took me under their wing and, lo and behold, I followed in their footsteps.”
He added, “There hasn’t been a day since I started in this business that I’ve regretted it.”
It came of something of a surprise that sales actually fed Lazarus’s desire to finish first.
“Sales is very competitive,” he explained. “The most successful people are those who want to win. During interviews, candidates are asked why they think they’ll be good at sales, and they’ll say, ‘I’m a people person.’ Wrong answer. You have to take care of your customers and do the right thing by them, of course. But you want people who want to win.”
Lazarus has been a member of the Xerox team for 13 years, and his accomplishments in his career allowed him to get more involved in racing. Once again, a member of the family provided the right connection.
“My Dad saw that my interest in racing was continuing to grow,” he remarked. “He and [trainer] Bill Kaplan were golfing buddies, and he put us together. We all went out for Chinese food, and Bill shared the ins and outs of becoming a horse owner.”
Focused on the upside, Lazarus took his savings – which included Bar Mitzvah money that had been accruing interest since his grandfather handed him the envelope – and went shopping for a horse with Kaplan and one of his owners. The trio ponied up $45,000. The investment did not pan out financially, but it had its benefits.
“Bill was not just my trainer, we were friends,” Lazarus said. “He was my mentor. I was kind of a pest; I would go out to the track every morning to watch the horses work and I always wanted to know more and more. I sat on the golf cart with him, and he gave me an education. I learned the business from him.”
After his first foray into horse ownership, Lazarus looked into joining one of the established partnerships. That did not appeal to him, so he considered the alternatives.
“I thought about it, and decided if I could sell photocopiers, which are pretty hard to get excited about, I could get people excited about buying a race horse,” he recalled. “I put an ad in the Racing Form, I distributed 100 flyers at the track, I put them in people’s car windows, and from that I was able to put together a partnership of nine complete strangers.”
Pinnacle Racing Stable was born. The new ownership group pooled their resources and purchased a horse for $20,000. The horse did not turn out to be a winner and, sadly, died. But, against Kaplan’s advice, Lazarus had put up the money for pricey mortality insurance, and was able to refund his partners’ money.
“They all decided to roll the dice again on horse number 2,” Lazarus said. “We picked up another horse and finally won a race and we were off and running.”
Still, the enterprise was struggling, and Pinnacle’s manager was beginning to have his doubts.
“I started to think, maybe this isn’t for me,” Lazarus said. “No one in my family, to that point, had said anything to me about it. But my Dad did suggest that I take a year off. Then I got fired up. I thought, if I take a year off, I’m done, I’m out. I decided I’m not quitting. I went to Bill Kaplan and asked him to go in on one more horse, 50-50, and he agreed.”
It was a winning decision. Lazarus and his partners had $15,000 to spend, and Kaplan was going to match them. They took their combined funds to the 2009 OBS April Sale, hoping to find a horse for between $20-30,000. By the final day of the auction, they were still shopping. Kaplan was ready to punt and wait for OBS June, but Lazarus was having none of it.
“I was determined that we’d find a horse that day,” he said.
The team went over the list one more time. There was a Concorde’s Tune filly with a solid breeze, did she make the list? After a bit of arguing back and forth, they agreed that yes, she did. Consigned by Ocala Stud, she was hammered down to Pinnacle for $22,000. It was the buy of a lifetime.
“The filly turned out to be Musical Romance,” Lazarus said.
Musical Romance was a dream come true. The Florida-bred proved to be not only durable, but very, very fast. Over four seasons, she made 41 starts, with a record of 12-6-8. The return on that initial investment was $1,681,885 in purses. Her crowning achievement was a 1 1/4-length triumph over 11 rivals in the 2011 Grade I Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, a win that earned her the Eclipse Award as champion distaff sprinter. The following year she added the Grade I Princess Rooney Handicap to her impressive resume, and capped off a once-in-a-lifetime experience for her owners by selling for $1.6 million to Katsumi Yoshida at the 2012 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November Sale.
“I know that finding Musical Romance puts Pinnacle in the 1% category in racing, so I don’t talk about it a lot,” Lazarus said. “I don’t bring it up, but it is always in the back of my head. She spearheaded my continued participation in racing.”
She also was the catalyst to Lazarus’s involvement in the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.
“Musical Romance was the reason I ran for the FHBPA Board,” he said. “I knew I was given a gift. The way I look at it, I owe the game something.”
Elected for the first time in 2012, the owner was once again to eager to learn all he could about a new side of the industry. Lazarus has focused on Communications, and serves on the Backstretch Committee. But a great deal of the time and energy he devotes to the FHBPA is as Chair of the Aftercare Committee, and President of Florida Thoroughbred Retirement and Adoptive Care (Florida TRAC).
“We always made a point of finding good homes when we retired horses for our partnership, so aftercare is a natural fit for me,” he said. “I believe in horse retirement and doing right by the horse. Giving back to the horses is one of the best things anyone in this sport can do.”
Lazarus also wants to do what’s right for the owners and trainers. He’d like to see more horsemen call Gulfstream Park home.
“We need to incentivize horses to come to Florida,” he said. “We need to recruit outside outfits.”
Lazarus continues to recruit for Pinnacle Racing as well. He estimates the stable has brought more than 100 first-time owners into the game. His goal is to educate and engage.
“Every Sunday night, I send a video update of 8-10 minutes on how are horses are doing,” he said. “We have 35 active partners, and about 70 who get the updates. Every weekend I meet people and talk about what we’re doing. We get the word out on social media. We want to keep people involved.”
Lazarus is looking to add to the three-horse Pinnacle stable currently in training, but he knows that finding another Musical Romance is unlikely.
“I understand that it will probably never happen again,” he said. “But Musical Romance gave me so much. It changed my relationship with my family and the attitude they had about my involvement in racing. That horse changed my life; she made it a better place.”
For Lazarus, getting involved in horse racing has been a win-win.
Photo 1: Adam Lazarus, Pinnacle Racing Photo
Photo 2: Adam Lazarus (right) and his father, Pinnacle Racing Photo
Photo 3: Bill Kaplan and Adam Lazarus, HorseRacingFla.com Photo
Photo 4: Musical Romance takes the Breeders’ Cup F/M Sprint.