American Keen to Foster Closer Kiwi TiesTuesday, Feb 4, 2020
American investor and thoroughbred enthusiast Dennis Foster first developed an affinity for New Zealand in 1983 and 37 years later is still going strong.
Foster was one of a number of international buyers active at the recent New Zealand Bloodstock National Yearling Sales at Karaka where he and business associates and friends Mike McMahon and Jamie Hill purchased a pair of colts to be prepared by Cambridge trainer Stephen Marsh.
With Foster the majority owner, the colts will join four youngsters the group bought at Karaka 2019 which have been entrusted to Marsh, in addition to a filly that Foster and Marsh bought from last year’s Ready To Run Sale of two-year-olds.
Foster and his wife Patty, who split their time between properties in Colorado and Washington State, first visited New Zealand in 1983 after being encouraged by a Kiwi he had met through his business dealings.
The multi-talented former pilot and corporate CEO has owned thoroughbred farms in Florida and Kentucky and has been involved in the horse business since 1973, having started in Seattle.
Foster liked what he saw, so much so that he and his wife tried to buy a property in the Waikato.
“There was a guy who was the head of the Heart Association in New Zealand, Bob Black and we met his son, so we went down there in 1983 and wound up staying in Cambridge for about four weeks,” Foster said.
“We ran the Hamilton-Cambridge marathon and looked at a few horses, as we were already racing back in the US and I tried to buy a small horse farm down there.
“It was around the time that Nelson Bunker-Hunt had bought a lot of properties so they didn’t want to sell any more property to outsiders and especially Yanks.
“It became a real headache so we just gave up on it.”
That setback didn’t deter the Fosters who continued to visit with friends over the years before their daughter decided she would like to make a permanent move to the country.
“We went back and forth, followed the racing there and had people come and stay with us,” he said.
“Our youngest daughter, who had worked as a translator in Russia with Motorola, as I was a CEO of a cellular company then, decided she wanted to go to vet school in Palmerston North.
“She got into bio-nano science, met a kiwi and got married and now has three kids and lives in Dairy Flat.
“She’ll never come back (to the US) and I don’t want her to as New Zealand is the best place for her to live and if I was raising my family again, I would be saying the same thing.
“So now she’s a mother with an SUV, a dog and three kids but she was a very good rider.”
Foster admits that he was never that interested in racing when growing up although horses did feature in his childhood.
“I grew up on a dairy farm although my grandfather had draught horses and I used to ride a morgan quarter-horse mix,” he said.
“I went and flew in the navy but when I came back I made friends with a young horse trainer where we were playing on a soccer team together.
“One day in 1973 he said to me ‘do you want to go down to the Longacres track in Seattle and watch me train’. So I did and it kind of went from there.
“We went to the Washington Yearling Sale where we bought two and then two more out of the field from a pea farmer.
“From that first crop of four we had all four win, including a stakes win.
“The next year I bought one that was the Longacres juvenile champion so I was hooked.
Over the years Foster developed and raced hundreds of horses including Borrego who won successive Grade One races in 2005 and retired a multi-million dollar earner.
“I was in a partnership that raced Borrego who won the Jockey Club Gold Cup (Gr.1, 2000m) and the Pacific Classic (Gr.1, 2000m), both million-dollar races,” Foster said.
“I also had a horse called Century City that ran third in a Breeders’ Cup Mile (Gr.1, 1600m) and won a couple of Grade Two races.
“The horse I liked the best was Phi Beta Doc who won the Virginia Derby (Listed, 2000m). He holds a record at Saratoga and I bought him for $8500.”
Success followed success for Foster as he used his business skills and philosophies to run an effective racing portfolio until he tired of the game somewhat in 2005.
“One of the things that has bugged me over time is the craziness to breed for speed in the US,” he said.
“Out of that you get a lot of fine bone and injuries. I also didn’t like the way some people ran their tracks, maintained them and the like so I raised hell with them.
“So that was racing through the nineties and up to 2005 where I got tired of it somewhat and scaled back.
“When Shaune, my daughter, went down to New Zealand, I said that is where I want to end up racing one day.
“That was also when Mike and Jamie had the same idea at nearly the same time so I said let’s go down there with the plan to buy two horses at not too big a price.
“I said if we’re going to do it, let’s do it right, so that was the start and my plan is to grow it.”
McMahon said Foster had been a key driver of success for a number of horseman he has partnered with over the years.
“We have worked for and partnered with the Fosters for 25 years,” he said. “Dennis is a hugely successful businessman and one smart, competitive guy. You don’t get to be a fighter pilot and a CEO by being cautious or dumb.”
Foster is thoroughly enjoying the way circumstances have unfolded to date and especially the association he has struck up with Marsh.
“I’ve travelled a lot and I’m kind of a wild hare and Stephen is also a wild hare,” he said.
“He’s a great trainer, there’s no bullshit about him and he and I can communicate really directly and have a great time.
“He is many many years younger than I am but it has all worked out well.
“Everything fits in New Zealand for me as I like the racing and the people in it and the way they take care of the horses.
“I think there are a lot of good operations down there and there are some impressive consignors.
“For the size of the country and the size of the market there are some pretty impressive breeders and they seem to work together well.”
While Foster still retains a business focus to his racing investments, he is keen to enjoy the pure pleasure of racing rather than on-selling horses.
“That’s how I pretty much survived from 1973,” he said.
“I always went in with a plan and an example was when the mare market got hot, we rode that for awhile and then got out of it.
“You’ve got to make those business decisions and if you get lucky there are places like Singapore or Australia that you can ship to.
“My clear intention now though is to race and take your good fortune when you can.”
Foster can envisage spending more time in New Zealand and is keen, once again, to secure the right horse property, with the biggest hurdle being the quarantine restrictions on his belgian malinois dogs, which he takes great pleasure in training.
“The navy seals use them and the Whitehouse Secret Service uses them,” he said. “They’re a tough dog to train.
“Animals have been a really big deal to us and we’ve had probably 700 racehorses over the years and have found homes for all of them. We just love animals.” – NZ Racing Desk