Most owners of racehorses don't have much more to do than pay the bills and smile prettily for the winner's circle photograph. Glenn Lane's life in the thoroughbred business is a little bit different.
He starts studying the Racing Form at 6 every morning and spends four hours poring over past performances, looking for horses to claim. At 10, he starts telephoning his trainers who are based at different tracks around the East. After spending an afternoon at the races, Lane will come home and bury his head in the Racing Form again.
The regimen is so demanding that Lane is worried about suffering burnout before he turns 30. But his work is paying off. In the last two years, he has ranked among the top race-winning owners in the United States. More important, he has made money with a stable of claiming horses -- something almost impossible to do.
Lane has had a passionate enthusiasm for racing since he was a child. He grew up 10 minutes from Monmouth Park, where his grandfather had a few horses. By the time he was in junior high school, he was reading the Racing Form daily (the back issues are still in his basement) and when he was a student at Lehigh University he spent more time at the track than he did attending lectures.
Lane helped his grandfather manage their operation, but he confessed, "We'd done very badly; I loved the game but my opinions weren't any good."
He wanted to get involved in the sport more seriously, but he didn't know how to do it without losing his shirt. Then he discovered "the sheets."
A successful horse owner, Dennis Heard, told Lane about the speed figures being calculated by a New Yorker named Len Ragozin. The subscribers to Ragozin's service get a small sheet of paper for every horse on a day's program that evaluates their previous performances and indicates the direction their future performances will take. "I liked the idea of dealing with things I could quantify," Lane said, "and this approach was coherent, crisp and simple."
Lane became a Ragozin disciple in 1981 and started studying the sheets religiously. He spotted a horse named Mouse Corps who was running in New Jersey, unable to win, but whose performances indicated he would be able to win against similar competition in New York. Lane took the plunge, claimed Mouse Corps for $40,000, won three straight races with him, and eventually won a stakes race at Aqueduct. That was the beginning.
Because he wanted to claim horses and shuttle them from track to track, Lane needed trainers at all these tracks. He quickly found that his approach conflicted with a lot of traditional thinking.
"The biggest problem I had at first was with bad trainer relationships," Lane said. Some trainers resented being told whom to claim by somebody hundreds of miles away -- especially since Lane may have never laid eyes on the physical animal. Often they didn't like it when Lane told them to drop a horse in class in an effort to get rid of it. "When the sheets predict that a horse is about to tail off," Lane said, "I want to drop him, but the trainer doesn't want to get rid of a horse he thinks is sound."
Eventually, Lane found trainers who came to understand his unorthodox way of doing business. His main trainer now is his old friend Heard, who has 18 of his horses at Monmouth Park. And even some of the skeptics have come to respect his methods.
"What I try to do," Lane said, "is claim a horse who is coming into a period of good form. I'm not looking to improve horses, but to get horses who are already running fast enough that they'll win races if they continue to run that fast."
In December 1983, he found a filly who epitomized the type he was looking for. Sweet Missus was running in a $12,500 claiming race at Calder, yet her figures indicated she was capable of winning a $50,000 race at Aqueduct. Lane claimed her, sent her north and learned that even he had underestimated her potential. Sweet Missus went straight up the class ladder, won the Grade I Top Flight Handicap in New York and earned more than $200,000 before Lane sold her.
After that windfall, Lane temporarily found he was losing his enthusiasm for the day-to-day grind of the claiming game. But he is hard at work again, managing 18 horses in New Jersey, three in New York, nine in Pennsylvania, one in Maryland and one in Florida and moving them around like so many chess pieces.
He knows he can't expect many big scores like Sweet Missus, but in a sport in which more than 90 percent of horses are money-losers, it is a triumph to manage a large stable of claimers and survive.