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May 21, 2016 | by: Bill Finley
Dan Schafer, who put up $1 million to secure a spot in the GI Pegasus World Cup, knows that virtually no one in the world of horse racing knows who he is. That could be because he’s never so much as owned a racehorse. Google him and you won’t find a thing.
“I am the mystery man in all this and I understand that,” Schafer said. “I almost want to stay that way. I am getting phone calls from people who don’t even know me, trying to figure out who the hell I am. Who is this Dan Schafer guy?”
He is someone who has $1 million, a vision and an intense passion for the sport, and that’s why he bought one of 12 spots for the $12 million race.
Schafer is 32 and describes himself simply as a racing fan. He lives in the Detroit suburbs, is involved in the pizza business (he declined to reveal the name of his restaurants and also politely declined to provide the TDN with a picture of himself) and started following the sport when very young. His grandfather would take him to the local tracks in Detroit and he was immediately fascinated by the spectacle of racing.
“My grandfather, he was more of a gambler, nonetheless, going to track and seeing horses run always intrigued me,” Schafer said.
While Schafer doesn’t like to talk about himself, he has no problem discussing racing, why he loves the sport so much and why he is so bullish on the Stronach Group’s creation of a $12 million mega-event.
Already a racing fan, Schafer’s interest in the sport went up several levels in 2000 when, at just 16, he made a Derby Week visit to Churchill Downs and ran into Bob Baffert.
“I just went there and was blown away by the tradition of the place, blown away by the spires, by just seeing something I had seen on television the previous 10 years of my life watching the Kentucky Derby,” he said. “I ran into Bob Baffert. I was just a 16-year-old kid and just knew him from seeing him win previous Triple Crown races. I was walking up to the front gate and I see this white Jaguar pass by with this man with shiny white hair and I said to the people I was with, ‘I’m pretty sure that is Bob Baffert.’ I just waited a couple minutes, he got out of car and I walked up to him, shook his hand and introduced myself as a fan. He took a picture with me. He was extremely nice and that’s one of reasons that experience was so special to me.”
Sixteen years later, Schafer had become a successful businessman and had the financial means to get involved in the sport. Yet, he wanted to be careful and wait for the right opportunity. When the creation of the Pegasus World Cup was announced, he said he didn’t have a moment’s hesitation about writing out the $1 million check to secure a spot–even though he still doesn’t have any horses.
“Over the last four or five years, I knew I wanted to get into the game, but was cautious about the way I did it,” he said. “I knew when I jumped into the game I wanted to make a pretty strong investment and that I had a few options. I could go to auctions, maybe buy some yearlings, maybe some 2 year old in training, maybe make a $500,000, $1-million investment and see what could happen from there. Then this Pegasus World Cup was created and jumping into the sport through that option seemed like a no-brainer.”
Schafer is among a handful of people who bought starting spots in the race, but do not own a horse with the credentials to run at that level. Like most, he will sit back and see what his options are.
“I can sell my stock, I can lease my stock, I can make a deal with another owner to run their horse,” Schafer said. “There are a lot of options out there. Come January, there will probably be eight or nine slot owners who don’t have a horse for the race. When all is said and done, we’re all going to be looking for horses. I’m probably not going to really look at this until after the Breeders’ Cup. That way you can see who’s running hard in the Classic, who’s peaking at the end of the year. I feel like we’re going to see a lot of horses emerge as the racing season goes on.”
Schafer hopes to eventually build his own stable and start a horse of his own in the Pegasus World Cup, but he said he had no specific plans about how to go about doing so.
No matter what Schafer does with his spot in the 2017 race or whether he aligns himself with the winner or an also-ran, it’s hard to imagine anyone more enthusiastic about the concept. Racing’s decline in popularity bothers him and he hopes to be one of the faces of a new generation of fans and owners.
“I really believe people like myself are the future of this industry,” Schafer said. “I am speaking about my generation, millennials. I am speaking about kids that have never been introduced to this great sport. I am here to stay. I want to revolutionize the game. I am part of a youth movement and I want to make sure we preserve this game for the youth, for our children and grandchildren. This is a sport so rich in tradition and continues to lose its way. It struggles to revolutionize itself and be relevant in a modern world.”
He believes something like the Pegasus World Cup is exactly what horse racing needs and hopes that the global industry finds a way to link it, the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic and the G1 Dubai World Cup into the “World’s Triple Crown.”
“The U.S. has a Triple Crown, England has a Triple Crown, Canada has a Triple Crown; the world did not have a Triple Crown until now,” he said. “The Breeders’ Cup Classic, the Pegasus World Cup and the Dubai World Cup will make up the world’s Triple Crown. Tennis and golf have four majors and now the world has three majors in one of the greatest sports around. If you win this Triple Crown you are like Pegasus, you’re mythical. You’re at the top of the chain in the sport’s history. I am so excited to be a part of this.”
You may not know Dan Schafer. But it sounds like you will soon.