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Investing in Racehorses, Despite the Long Odds

One morning this past summer, Ahmed Zayat was in a stall at Del Mar racetrack in California alongside the 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.

“I was kind of cuddling with him, lying down on my back, giggling, and he starts licking me … it was hilarious,” he said.

For Mr. Zayat, 53, “life is about moments, moments that go beyond,” he said. “That was one of those.”

You could forgive Mr. Zayat his giddiness. After all, American Pharoah, a 3-year-old colt nurtured in Kentucky by his Zayat Stables had made the owner the envy of the racing world just weeks before at Belmont Park by becoming the first horse to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.

And at the end of October, American Pharoah won the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, his final race before retirement.

He earned a total of $8,650,300 for Mr. Zayat and was a boon for horse racing this year.

Yet success in racing to Mr. Zayat isn’t all about American Pharoah. He is among a handful of investors, wealthy and less so, who see diversification as the key to profits, or at least as a way to mitigate risk — hedging bets by owning multiple horses or through shared ownership. These hard-nosed owners are bucking the odds in what is usually seen as a fun and status-enhancing sport for people of means, but not a very good investment.

It helps that sales of thoroughbreds are strong in a brightening economy, especially since American’s Pharoah’s victory, offering hope to an industry facing mortal competitive threats from lotteries and casino gambling in recent decades.

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