Every time Sixby Hanover trots the Cumberland Raceway the 4-year-old horse has a strong following.
Owned by the 20-member Ivory Pine Syndicate, Sixby Hanover’s harness racing career is in the hands of a rare if not never-seen-before partnership structure in the world of Maine standardbred racing.
While it’s common in thoroughbred racing, which Maine doesn’t have, “I think it’s pretty rare in Maine, especially in standardbred racing,” said John Morgan, the group’s manager, a partner, and social studies teacher at Westbrook High School. “We may be the first one, at least that I’m aware of.”
Morgan grew up going to races at Scarborough Downs and started with a few current partners with minuscule ownership shares – like 0.001 percent – of horses through MyRaceHorse. They wanted more, angling for a horse of their own.
The partners include a couple involved in horse racing – thoroughbred bloodstock agent Frank Alosa and Augusta Economic Development Director Keith Luke, a part-owner of 2022 Belmont Stakes winner Mo Donegal – but the majority of partners are racing fans. The partnership also includes teachers, financial professionals, and friends or family of the initial partners who signed on after learning about the group.
“If you look at the partnership, we’re teachers, retirees, we’re not millionaires,” Morgan said. “There were 20 of us. We threw in $600, and that was enough to have a budget for a pretty good horse with reserves in the bank.”
Of the 20 partners, 14 live in Maine. All but one have lived in Maine in the past. Each partner owns 5 percent. And they’re not done. The group hopes to make an offering on a thoroughbred horse in the next year or two.
Pat Malloy of Cumberland found out about the syndicate from Portland resident Hal Madsen, a longtime friend. Over bowling, Madsen informed Malloy that one partner had dropped out and Malloy opted in.
“I think I own the tail and part of the ear,” he said.
Madsen found out about the partnership through social media, connecting with Morgan on Twitter about horse racing and soccer.
“I love it,” Madsen said. “Absolutely love it. It’s something to do every Saturday afternoon.”
Sixby Hanover is stabled at Norton Farm in Falmouth, the oldest continuously operated single-family owned farm in the state. The horse is trained by Mike Graffam. His son, Nick, is the horse’s driver, and his daughter, Bethany, is Sixby’s caretaker.
Sixby Hanover will run in Cumberland through mid-July and is expected to compete in the Maine county fair circuit through the fall.
Morgan, who also runs the Gorham-based Roosevelt Soccer Club, called harness racing an “open sport.” The barriers to entry are – relatively – low.
“That doesn’t exist in any sport in the U.S. except for horse racing,” Morgan said. “It’s not impossible for us to say one of our goals in the next 30 years is to have a horse run in the Kentucky Derby.”
Greg Levinsky is a Portland native and follower of local sports. He is an alumnus of Deering High School and Boston University whose work has appeared in The Boston Globe, Detroit Free Press, and several Maine newspapers. He can be reached at [email protected].