Six years ago, Dick Brooks Jr. left his position as general manager of a Baltimore car dealership to begin a career in real estate. But he detoured into the world of thoroughbred racing and, as a horse owner and syndicate manager, has had no reason to regret his move.
With one of the richest and most important races in the history of Brooks' Charisma Stable fast approaching -- the $200,000-added Selima Stakes at Laurel Race Course Saturday -- Brooks pondered the route ahead and considered roads traveled.
"In the automobile business, people would come in with their fists up, ready to fight," said Brooks, 36. "They'd have major investments at stake, and they'd be furious when something went wrong. It was a 9-to-9 routine that I could never get away from. The hours were long. They still are, but now they're rewarding."
Brooks bought his first horse, Sailing Annie, for $10,000, and she earned nearly $45,000. He then formed a limited partnership and purchased the 100-acre Three Cousins Farm in Hydes, Md., about 10 miles north of Towson. The partnership leases Charisma Stable to Brooks.
The operation has grown steadily and, on Saturday, Brooks will send Cosmic Tiger against several other respectable 2-year-old fillies in the Selima. The field includes I'm Splendid, winner of the Schuylerville Stakes at Saratoga in July, and Silent Count, winner of the Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland earlier this month.
For a chance at the possible $150,000 winner's share, Brooks must pay a $10,000 supplemental fee to enter Cosmic Tiger. The fee is a record high for Brooks, but he remains undaunted.
"We haven't ever been in this position," he said. "But it's not the price to pay that matters; it's what you've got to work with. She's done everything we've asked of her and more."
Cosmic Tiger began her career inauspiciously. She made her debut at Pimlico July 16 against $30,000 maiden claimers, losing by a nose despite a loose stirrup. Since then, she hasn't raced for a claiming price, and she hasn't lost.
After Cosmic Tiger's initial start, Brooks and trainer Charley Lewis selected apprentice jockey Martin Ramirez to replace Ben Feliciano. Cosmic Tiger then won three straight, and her handlers entered her in the $50,000 Signature Stakes at Philadelphia Park.
Cosmic Tiger had led throughout in winning each of her races, but she rallied from sixth place to win by a nose over Triomphe De Naskra. The victory, worth $33,150, increased her lifetime earnings to $52,800.
"Marty Ramirez and she have a special relationship," Brooks said. "Marty drops by the barn to see how 'his' filly is doing. A fellow came up to me and said, 'How come you're using an apprentice?' I said, 'Because . . . he's going to be famous.' "
Ramirez will take Cosmic Tiger 1 1/16 miles Saturday, 2 1/2 furlongs farther than she's ever raced. "Her ability speaks for itself," Brooks said. "She can go to the front or come from behind. She is extremely versatile."
A victory would significantly enhance Cosmic Tiger's broodmare potential, which greatly affects Brooks. He heads 20 partnerships -- 10 limited, 10 individual -- that own groups of three and four fillies.
"With fillies, you know you're not going to win the Kentucky Derby," Brooks said. "But you can win a lot of money. After that, we try to sell their offspring or race them."
Brooks' investors consist of professionals and horsemen. "Basically, I'm selling fun," he said. "And most of my investors love to be around the farm. They come out, have a picnic, make a real day of it. But you still have your problems.
"We've had valuable mares get colic and die, mares that are worth $100,000 but are only insured for $50,000 because the insurance premiums are so high. We've had foals . . . that have to be destroyed while they're in your arms. We've had it all happen.
"This is not a game for the weak of heart."