Little Red Feather Racing didn’t invent the concept of fun, but everyone involved with the ownership group certainly has perfected it.
Watch them anywhere, morning workouts, paddock, box seats, the group’s Santa Anita Park suite, or the Verandah Café at Del Mar, and you’ll see an abundance of smiles and laughter. When a Little Red Feather [LRF] horse wins, the path to the winner’s circle can resemble a New Orleans second line.
As spontaneous as LRF outbursts appear, they don’t magically happen. They result from continual behind-the-scenes efforts of founder and managing partner Billy Koch and managing partner Gary Fenton, who have shepherded the partnership group for more than 20 years.
“The one consistent truth about this game is that it’s really hard,” Koch said. “You’re talking about a sport with living, breathing creatures. You don’t know if they’re having a bad day, you don’t know if they don’t feel good, you don’t know if something’s bugging them. There are so many factors. It is so hard to win and be successful.”
So, Koch and Fenton, while laser-focused on success, never forget to have a good time striving for those victories. They work hard to make the journey fun for everyone involved.
“We tell people from the day they call that this is not something to do for financial gain,” Koch said. “We don’t even like to call it an investment. We know we are selling an experience, and that experience needs to be fun and allow them to be part of a community—even better, a part of a family.”
Koch and Fenton also realize that the experience goes well beyond coming to the races when a partnership horse runs. It begins as soon as someone buys into one of the fractional ownership groups that LRF offers.
Koch and Fenton understand the math: In every race, often with a field of five to 14 horses, most owners are going to lose. For those who win, the payoffs can be huge. One of Little Red Feather’s first horses, Singletary, won the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Mile and during his career earned $1,754,312. But the odds are against any owner, whether they belong to a partnership group or solely own the horse.
“In a great year, 75% of our partners will leave the racetrack losing,” Fenton said. “So we want to create the best ownership experience possible 100% of the time. Our entire business is always thinking about how we can improve the ownership experience, in the mornings during workouts, in preparation for the race. We’re pondering and monitoring this constantly.”
Little Red Feather’s evolution has benefited from technological advancements. Partners can learn about their horses from a vast array of outlets — a website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs, and podcasts. Koch spends most of his mornings at the racetrack watching workouts, talking with trainers, finding out what the latest is with the LRF stable, which usually numbers about 100 horses when young horses and breeding stock are counted.
Little Red Feather grew out of some early partnerships that Koch, a lifelong racing fan, put together. He soon brought in longtime friend Fenton, a lawyer who could help with the legal side. While their skills complement each other, both Koch and Fenton handle just about every aspect of Little Red Feather, whether it’s marketing, acquiring horses, hiring trainers, or putting together the information that goes to the partners.
Little Red Feather’s successes have ranged from horses owned solely by the group to horses LRF bought into. Egg Drop, for example, was solely owned by a Little Red Feather partnership. She won three consecutive graded stakes, including the 2013 Grade 1 Matriarch Stakes, and later sold for $1.9 million. Midnight Storm, owned in partnership with co-breeder Alex Venneri, won such races as the 2016 Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile and earned $1,783,110, and is now a stallion in California.
Midnight Storm ran third in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Mile, and LRF often has runners in Breeders’ Cup events. In the 2022 World Championships at Keeneland, the partnership was represented by Nagirroc, third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf; grade 3 stakes winner Comanche Country in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf; and grade 2 winner Gold Phoenix in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf.
In looking for more ways to enhance the ownership experience, Koch and Fenton have expanded the types of partnerships LRF offers. Perhaps the most popular is the one-year claiming fund, called the SoCal Fund, where people put in a one-time fee and become almost immediate owners through the claim box.
“We average owning five to seven horses within the year, and the partners get about 20 starts,” Fenton said. “It’s instant action.”
Little Red Feather has a pinhook division that buys and sells horses at sales, as well as groups that participate in breeding. Koch and Fenton strive to have something for everybody. One aspect that universally interests the 500-plus partners is aftercare.
“When I talk to a new investor, if there is a top five question, aftercare is always one of them,” Fenton said. “It’s usually the first or second question. It’s incredibly important to our partners to make sure our horses thrive in secondary careers.”
Koch and Fenton make aftercare a priority as well. They started LRF Cares, a charitable organization to provide aftercare for LRF partnership horses, and Koch is president of CARMA, the California-based nonprofit that provides funding for rehabilitating, retraining, and/or retirement of California-raced Thoroughbreds.
“I think aftercare is one of, if not the more important aspect of the game that we have to pay attention to and that sometimes gets overlooked,” Koch said.
CARMA grew out of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, and in that same spirit of giving back, Fenton now serves as chairman of TOC.
“It’s almost the same skill set,” Fenton said. “Instead of representing 500 partners, which I do on a daily basis with my business, I now help represent 6,000-plus California owners as well. I’m not alone, there are 15 of us on the TOC board. They are very active, and work hard for our members in their voluntary roles.”
When those behind-the-scenes efforts work, California racing runs more smoothly. And when Koch and Fenton’s behind-the-scenes efforts work, Little Red Feather partners have the time of their lives.