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Hawthorne Race Course

Hawthorne Racecourse (11/25/11)

Contact: Ron Uchman
(708) 780-3700

John Haran: Multifaceted

John Haran probably isnít your typical trainer. Heís also not your typical owner. In fact, he might not be typical anything. Heís an intense but charming Irishman from County Sligo who seems to have his hands into everything involving Illinois racing.

ďWhat lies do you want me to tell you?Ē accompanied by big smile and a loud laugh, was the way our conversation started out. The rest was every bit as entertaining.

John came to the US years ago but still retains more than a bit of the distinctive Sligo accent. ďIíve been in the United States for 26 years but Iíve always been around horses. My grandfather was a blacksmith. I started off owning a couple horses in Ireland. Then started breeding them.

ďAfter I came here, I didnít have much to do with horses but after six or seven years I got one. That turned into two. That went to ten. Ten went to 20. Twenty went to 50. Fifty went to 100. Right now I have about 200.

ďI have two stallions here in Illinois. I breed most of my mares here every year. I keep all my foals. I have 40 2-year-olds this year, along with 32 yearlings for next year. We had another 32 foals this year. I have 40 mares plus the race horses. I guess, counting them all, I have over 200 horses.

ďIíve been in construction for the last 25 years but, with the way the economy is, things have been slow in that business. Iíve built hundreds of homes over the years but that has slowed considerably. Iíve had quite a few trainers over the years but had a trainerís license because I used to prep my horses myself and you needed a trainerís license to train at the training center. As things kept getting slower in construction, I just thought that I might as well train my horses myself. That was about three years ago.

ďItís more fun and less expensive.

ďWhen you have such a big stable, taking seven or eight weeks off, the way we do in Illinois, gets too expensive. You need to get a lot of checks just to pay for the operation and you have to find the money somewhere. Iíve gone down to Oaklawn the last few years. I have 20 stalls down there and I keep about 20 in training up here. Plus, I have about 10 or 12 two-year-olds down in Kentucky. I get them ready down there, I have a 600-acre farm in Kentucky, but finish them off up here.

ďMy farm in Kentucky, Eagle Valley Farm, is for sale. Itís a beautiful place but I donít really need it. What Iím doing down there, I could do up here just as easily. Every time I go down there itís a day down there and a day back. Thatís two days of needless travel.

ďI have some yearlings, some mares and a couple of stallions down there. I only bred one of the stallions, Crypto Star, this year. Iím going to take the mares I bred to him down there and foal them up here in the spring so they will be Illinois foaled.

ďDepending on how this legislation goes, Iím probably going to have to cut my broodmares down because itís not making sense any more,Ē said Haran. ďThey arenít writing enough Illinois-bred races so I have to run against open company most of the time. I might also have to get rid of my stallions and send the broodmares I do keep to better stallions in Kentucky.

ďI donít like to use a lot of medication on my horses. Frank Kirby trained for me for three years and I was able to see what he could do with little medication and I followed the same program. It does seem to help. I havenít had many problems with my horses. Every horse I ran is still running. They arenít running at a high level because I keep dropping them trying to get checks. Itís all about the checks. They keep the program going.Ē

John is thankful for his great help, here and in Kentucky. ďSpecial thanks go out to my Asst. Trainer Carlos Ramirez, Robert Traylor and staff at the farm in Kentucky who break all the yearlings every September and October and to Art Antrim at the training center where he preps all the babies for the racetrack.Ē And he has gained new-found respect for his fellow horsemen since becoming a trainer. ďI have a greater appreciation for what they do. They work their butts off. In construction, I would often get up at 4:00 am to get to work but it wasnít every day. As a trainer, I would have to get up at 3:00 am at Arlington (a bit later here) and have to do it seven days a week, 365 a year. That takes a lot of dedication and many of these people have been doing that for a long time.

ďEverybody struggles in this game. Unless you have a decent horse you have a tough time. Iíve bred hundreds of horses over the last 20 years but have had very few good ones. Maybe that was my fault since I bred mostly to my own stallions but I also had some top-notch Kentucky stallions and it didnít make any difference.

ďFrom gestation to the starting gate, itís about four years for most horses. Eleven months for gestation, weaning, yearling, 2-year-old. Then you have to put $15,000 to $20,000 into them before you know if they can run or not. Plus, 50-60 percent of the two-year-olds donít start.

ďI spent $1,000,000 three years ago upgrading my mares. I went to the sales and bought mares carrying foals and dropped them here in Illinois. Some of those horses are two-year-olds now and just getting to the track. The quality of the mares should improve my stock. You have to have pedigree and you have to have a race mare. For some reason you seem to get better runners from mares that have raced.Ē

Haran is also heavily involved in the ITHA and has been to Springfield on numerous occasions to try to get relief for horse racing; specifically trying to get legislation passed that would allow slot machines to be installed at Illinois racetracks.

ďIím just trying to get whatís right. If we canít get something done, I donít know where we will be in two years. When this impact money is gone, where do we go? Weíll be back to last yearís purses. If thatís the case we might all go out of business. Itís not getting any cheaper to take care of these horses. The prices on everything keep going up. Feed, vets bills, gas and diesel, they keep going up. I grow my own hay and straw. If it wasnít for that, my costs would really be out of control.

ďIím a board member of the ITHA. ITHA President Mike Campbell and Executive Director and General Counsel Glen E Berman are doing a great job and they are hopeful that something will get done. I also want to thank Dan Sullivan of the ITBOF. Theyíve got some good lobbyists down in Springfield. We have a good accountant. At the end of the day, as long as you have good business people looking out for your interests, you have a better chance of things turning out well. It does get costly but you need to speculate to accumulate as in any business.

ďWe need to make sure any bill that comes out is written properly. We didnít realize at the time that the bill was written that the money coming from the 10th casino was going into the general fund and not specifically designated for the horse racing industry. The state will have their say on how much we get. That wasnít the way it was supposed to be.

ďBut, Iím also hopeful that a solution will be found. I hate to think of the consequences if one isnít.Ē

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