Five years ago, Anthony MacDonald was busy campaigning as the PC candidate for Guelph in the provincial election.
Now he just might be helping save the harness racing industry with a fractional horse ownership business TheStable.ca.
The PEI native has spent virtually all his working life driving and training horses, winning over 3,000 races and close to $30 million in prize money.
But he was convinced to take a stab at politics in the 2014 election.
He was motivated. The slots-to-tracks program had just been cancelled. Longtime horsemen were selling up. The industry was in crisis.
“I got the idea for TheStable.ca right after I got the shit kicked out of me in politics,” says MacDonald, who finished second, but 11,000 votes behind Liberal incumbent Liz Sandals.
“What we've managed to do is build something in an industry that was virtually people waiting for a funeral,” says MacDonald, who created the business with wife Amy.
“We built something that’s never been seen before and never been done in this way and we did it in the worse time that I’ve ever seen as a horseman .... We modernized it, and that’s something that needs to be done for the entire industry.”
Affordable ownership is the ticket for the industry, he says, allowing people that are interested in the sport to become involved at an affordable price.
TheStable.ca has been so successful so quickly that it could help define the industry moving forward.
Last year TheStable.ca spent (US)$1.18 million on yearlings.
For as little as $100, TheStable.ca lets people own a percentage of a racehorse. People choose which horse they want to buy into, how much they want to spend, then follow the horse as it progresses in its career.
Owners pay $25 a month per share in fees to cover training and a bit more for incidental costs when your horse starts racing. Those rarely reach another $50 a month for one per cent ownership, MacDonald says.
Money the horse wins is divided accordingly. You want out, you can sell your shares in house.
You get regular updates of the horse, can visit the barn, talk to the trainer. There’s even bi-weekly drone videos of your horse training.
“One per cent of our best horse would cost a few hundred dollars,” MacDonald says. “For as little as $100, you’re a horse owner.”
MacDonald didn't invent fractional ownership. But he's supersized it and modernized it on a scale never seen before.
MacDonald, currently recovering from a spill at Mohawk that left him with a badly broken wrist, partially collapsed lung and broken elbow, says TheStable.ca isn’t for people looking to get rich.
“We don’t want to leave any thought or feeling that this is about making money. This is solely about entertainment,” MacDonald says.
“If you’re talking about your retirement funds or your kids education, go invest your money somewhere else. I don’t want that.”
Fractional ownership groups aren’t just a way to invigorate the racing stock. They bring people to the tracks, something the industry has been tried everything to do since online gambling and the internet started keeping many regular track-goers at home.
“Our clients come to the track. They don’t watch their horses race online or at home, they come to the track,” MacDonald says. "We need that in this industry."
Nelly Boileau, who runs TheStable.ca stables, gives a visitor a tour of the barns.
She moved down from Montreal and had offers of work from several horse trainers.
“I chose Anthony. He cares about the horses. He cares about the industry,” she says. “We have 130 horses and he knows every one of them.”
TheStable.Ca currently consists of 134 horses that are owned by combined 656 people in 11 different countries.
Based out of Tomiko Harness Centre south of Guelph but eventually with horses racing in 11 different parts of North America,
TheStable.ca employs 42 people, has a monthly feed bill of $30,000 and an annual hay bill of $140,000.
MacDonald, who has travelled to Australia to talk about TheStable.ca, says there is no “too big” for the business.
“If you have any interest in becoming an active participant in horse racing, we make it as easy as any place on earth.
“It’s affordable entertainment at its best.”