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Va. horse-racing conglomerate assembled through Craigslist

Horse owner finds shoppers to buy into thoroughbreds partnership through Craigslist.
By Brandon Weigel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 13, 2010

The first time Karl Nobert used Craigslist, it was to sell his old Audi. A teenager from Philadelphia took the train down to Union Station, test-drove the car out to Tysons and paid cash on the spot.

A few months later, emboldened by that success, Nobert, a 35-year-old lawyer from Sterling, decided to put online ads to a tougher test: He posted a call for strangers to join him and a partner in buying two 2-year-old racehorses and becoming partners in a racing conglomerate that now owns four horses.

In the tradition-laden, high-stakes world of thoroughbred horse racing, ownership groups usually emerge from long-standing friendships or business relationships.

"The most common way is word of mouth, dealing with your friends," said Frank Petramalo, executive director of the Virginia Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, which represents owners and trainers who race at Colonial Downs in New Kent. "I don't think I know of any partnership where the partners didn't know each other in advance."

Nobert, who already owned two horses, knew he wouldn't have enough money to train and board two more. He reached out to friends and family, but only one friend and his parents bought shares in his fledgling group.

"When you spend the money, and [the horses are] on their way here, you have no choice but to find a way," Nobert said.

So he did what millions do when they want to unload junk or find a job: He put a post on Craigslist.

Within a few months, he had 50 inquiries from as far away as Delaware and New York. They ranged from retirees who had loved going to the track as children to people who mistakenly thought he owned a farm and was seeking workers.

Some respondents were part of large, well-established groups; others wanted to invest just a couple of hundred dollars in a 1 percent stake.

Nobert was struck by how many answers were serious. "Legitimate people," he said. "They're not crazy. I know you think, 'Oh, Craigslist . . .' "

Nobert vetted prospective partners in his Upperville Racing by exchanging e-mails to gauge their interest. Next step: talking over the phone. If that went well, potential partners would receive an invitation to see the horses and meet with Nobert and trainer Donnie Yovanovich.

Through that process, Nobert wound up meeting two men who got the chance to live out their dream of owning a racehorse, something that would be financially impossible as individuals.

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