For Teresa Palmer, the concept of family goes far beyond the bond of common ancestry. It’s the foundation her family’s breeding and racing business is built upon. The gregarious, long-serving FTHA Board member believes that a family atmosphere creates the teamwork and dedication that are vital elements of the success of Winner’s Circle Thoroughbreds, the farm that she and husband David started from scratch more than 20 years ago. Among the key personnel over the years at the farm, located in Morriston, Florida, are actual family members: daughter Tiffany, who has a degree in nutrition and is in charge of the farm’s feeding, therapy and rehabilitation programs; and son Nicholas, a fledgling trainer who just opened his own operation at Palm Meadows this spring. The Palmers have two other sons, David, Jr., who operates a business in the Palm Beach area, and Thomas, who is graduating in December with a master’s degree in Architecture from the University of Texas.
Born in Cuba, Palmer immigrated to the United States with her mother and two of her brothers when she was five years old. Her father, part of the opposition to the Castro regime, was jailed as a political prisoner when they left. He was released and came to America two-and-a-half years later as the household settled in the Palm Beach area and grew to include Palmer’s third brother. Though the family wasn’t involved in racing and didn’t even follow racing closely outside of the Kentucky Derby and other big races, Palmer says got into the sport because of a passion she shared with her father.
“My dad was a real animal lover and I got my love of animals and horses from him.”
Her husband David, on the other hand, grew up in California and his family often attended the races at Hollywood and Santa Anita Park. It was David who introduced Teresa to the races after the pair first met in South Florida at age 15.
“Oh, we went to all the tracks, Calder, Hialeah, Gulfstream and even the Standardbreds,” Palmer said with a laugh. “It wasn’t for betting or anything, just we just loved the horses and the atmosphere of the races. For me it was love at first sight. We both said to ourselves that someday we will have horses.”
Years went by and the young couple, married at age 17, were busy building both a general contracting business (which David still runs) and a family. They really didn’t have the time or funds to be owners, but when they happened upon an opportunity to own a small piece of a horse via a partnership group with trainer Bill Kaplan at Calder, they jumped at the chance. Alas, it didn’t turn out to be what they were looking for and after a short time they bowed out, but the good fortune of meeting Kaplan, a well-respected South Florida conditioner, was to pay dividends later.
The couple still harbored the desire to get involved in the horse racing business, but they wanted to do it their own way.
“We kept up with racing, did a lot of research and educated ourselves by reading the industry publications like the Blood-Horse, and studied breeding and all the statistics involved,” Palmer said. “One day David called and said I think we can afford to buy one horse. So I cold-called Bill Kaplan, this was many years after we had been involved, and told him I don’t know if you remember me, but we had a piece of a horse with you years ago and we are ready to get another one and we’d like you to train.”
Kaplan said that yes indeed he did remember them and gave the neophyte horse owners two really important pieces of advice. First he suggested that they purchase a yearling from the OBS August Sale and the second sage recommendation came when he introduced them to horsewoman Ann Carter to assist in showing them the ropes. Palmer went to work with Carter in developing a strategy and budget, studying the sales catalogs, and examining the pedigrees of all the gray colts in the sale.
“Ann and my daughter Tiffany, who was 12 at the time, went to the sales with me and we did our due diligence checking all the horses on our short list till we came up with one that I really wanted,” the horsewoman said. “That turned out to be Mr. Livingston.”
The son of top sire El Prado (Ire), hammered down at $42,000, was a huge success for the Palmers, winning 10 races including the Grade III Palm Beach at Gulfstream Park as well as six other black-type stakes, amassing earnings of $429,285. Not bad for the first horse you bought out of a sale!
“He gave us so many thrills and we still have his sister and two of his daughters as broodmares on the farm today,” Palmer said proudly.
The experience with Mr. Livingston led the Palmers to purchase a plot of land in Morriston, just outside of Ocala, which is now their Winner’s Circle Thoroughbreds farm and training/rehab facility. They have since added more land and are fractional owners of the Sunnyside Farm complex, a shared training center that is equipped with a six-furlong racetrack, allowing them to be a full-service operation.
Palmer has a rule that all employees have to be familiar with the each and every horse on the farm, the training and the breeding side go hand in hand. That philosophy has worked; their broodmare manager has been with them for 14 years, and two other key members of the staff have been with the operation for 8 years. It’s remarkable the success that the Palmers have had in a business, given the lack of practical experience they had before jumping in the deep end.
Aside from the aforementioned Mr. Livingston, the Palmers have bred and raced graded-stakes placed Tesoro de Amor, stakes winner Wild Bout Tiffany (named for their daughter), Arkansas Derby runner up Storm in May, stakes winner Cajun Schill, and their latest success story, Cheermeister, who won both the Grade III Sweetest Chant and Herecomesthebride Stakes at Gulfstream Park in 2020. The Palmers also pin-hooked the Grade I winner La Coronel, who they purchased as a yearling for $37,000 and sold at the OBS April sale for $375,000. They helped break Florida-bred millionaire Extravagant Kid as well.
Being a FTHA Board member is a role that Teresa takes great pride in.
“We are elected by our fellow horsemen and that is something that I take very seriously,” she said. “Faith is something that is important to me and my husband. We have a responsibility to the horses first and to the racing industry second. I don’t take that responsibility for granted. One of my goals being on the Board is to make Florida racing great. We have an astute Board full of smart, experienced horsemen and women.”
Teresa is on the FTHA Board’s Benevolence, Legislative, Bylaws and Election Committees, but horse welfare is and always will be her biggest concern. Another issue at the forefront currently is the Horseracing Integrity and safety Act (HISA). She, like many horsemen and women, is a bit apprehensive about the new federal HISA program that is going into effect on July 1 because there is so much to digest at once.
“The FTHA Board understands and is sensitive to the concerns of our horsemen and women as the HISA regulations approach,” she said. “We will do our very best to keep our horsemen and women informed and help assist them as we approach this new phase of our sport together.”
Palmer, who has also been on the board of the Ocala Farm Ministry for five years, is effusive in her praise and love for the Thoroughbred industry.
“We have seven grandchildren and they love the horses and the farm,” she said. “It’s really a family affair and it’s mine and David’s prayer that it will be a lifetime love and passion for our children and grandchildren as it has been for us. We are grateful and feel very blessed to be a part of these incredible animals and this beautiful sport.”
Photo 1: Teresa Palmer (center) at the Annual Awards Dinner. Coglianese Photo
Photo 2: Teresa Palmer. RJ Weisler/Winner’s Circle Photo
Photo 3 & 4: Winner’s Circle. RJ Weisler/Winner’s Circle Photo
Photo 5: La Colonel. Coady Photography
Photo 6: The Palmer Family grandchildren. Palmer Family Photo