MarketWatch Interview: Mark Cornett
By Teresa Genaro
February 5, White Abarrio romped to a 4 1/2-length victory in the Holy Bull Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park. The moderate longshot (8-1) has won three of his four starts; his lone loss came in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) last fall at Churchill Downs. After the colt's maiden win by 6 3/4-lengths at Gulfstream, White Abarrio was purchased privately by Mark Cornett and his brother Clint, who campaign their horses at C2 Racing Stable. Original owners La Milagrosa Stable retained a share in the 3-year-old grey/roan colt, who sits fourth on the list of horses with Kentucky Derby qualifying points with 12.
MarketWatch: How did you get involved with racing?
Mark Cornett: I was a roofing contractor and I sold that business in 2001 to work in Thoroughbred racing full-time. I was involved in the racing business before that, and I had a real passion for it. I have the drive to succeed and am good at it, though I've had to change the business model a couple of times.
I'm not like most other owners; this isn't a hobby for my brother or me. We're in this as a business, and we treat it like a business. About 15 years ago, we focused on fillies and mares because you've got two opportunities to make money with a filly: on the racetrack through purse earnings and residual value if you sell at the right time.
MW: Did you consider keeping fillies and mares to breed?
MC: We had a large breeding farm in Texas, and we were the leading breeder there with the leading stallion in 2008. It was called Turf Express Stud, and we were partners in Running Stag with Stronach. He ended up being the leading sire in Texas, and he was sold to Korea in 2008. We decided to get out of the breeding business and focus full-time on buying fillies.
That's how I ended up buying Blind Luck and Dubai Majesty . It was kind of crazy that horses I'd picked out won Eclipse Awards in the same year. In 2010, Blind Luck was the Champion 3-year-old filly, and Dubai Majesty was the Champion female sprinter. Back then, we never really focused on colts unless we had a client looking specifically for them.
MW: When and why did you shift your focus from fillies and mares back to colts?
MC: After Hurricane Irma hit Florida, I went back into contracting. There was so much damage here, and so many people needed work done, and I ended up buying a roofing company from Miami and moving it to Naples, where I live. I did that for about four years.
When I decided to get back into racing, the team took a different direction. We decided to go for 3-year-olds and get on the Kentucky Derby trail.
MW: Who is your team?
MC: I've done a lot of horse partnerships over the years, some with my brother, some without. I'm always involved in one way or another, as the racing manager, an owner, or the bloodstock agent. I've put partnerships together that I didn't have an ownership interest in and managed, and some where I participated as owner.
The current partnership is between my brother and me. We've got about 10 horses.
My vet is Dr. Jonathan Allen at Gulfstream; I've been using him for about 15 years, and I've flown him all over the country to vet horses. He vetted Blind Luck for me and our two other Eclipse Award winners.
We use only two trainers: Saffie Joseph Jr. and Chris Hartman. I've also been trying to get a horse for Phil D'Amato for about six months. I tried to claim a nice horse for him and got out shook.
MW: How did you come to own White Abarrio?
MC: The horse ran once for trainer Carlos Perez, and I happened to be at Gulfstream that day, and I saw his race. He's everything I look for in a racehorse. The way he split horses out of the one-hole as a first-time starter showed me his mental capacity. He was behind horses, and it didn't both him at all. When the jockey asked him to go between three horses at the quarter pole, through a not-very-big hole, he did it like a seasoned racehorse.
In my opinion, his stride is perfect, and he moved at a very quick pace. His turn of foot was just incredible inside the eighth pole.
MW: What made you decide to send the horse to trainer Saffie Joseph?
MC: Matt Muzikar is a very good friend, and we've had a lot of success over the last 25 years. I called him and said, "Matt, I've got a horse I'm in love with, I'm in Naples, Fl., and I want the horse-based at Gulfstream." I thought the horse could go through the 3-year-old series in Florida and point towards the Florida Derby.
Matt gave me some insight into the trainers down here, and he recommended Saffie. Saffie and I got on the phone and talked for probably an hour, and we're on the same page as far as our philosophies on horse management and communication. I require a lot more in-depth thought and analysis from my trainers because they're my eyes and ears. I told him point-blank: I have to get accurate information to work together to manage every horse to the best of our ability and get everything we can out of every horse.
I asked him about different scenarios, his thoughts on when and how to ship before big races. Everything lined up, and I like his motivation and drive. He's still young, and I like dealing with up-and-coming trainers, getting in their barns, and helping to develop their progress if I can.
MW: What were your thoughts on White Abarrio's performance in the Holy Bull?
MC: I had quiet confidence the whole time. He really didn't get to run his race in the Jockey Club whatsoever, and our plan out of that race was to either go to the lead or sit right off the lead as he did in the Holy Bull. He has a very high cruising speed, and we needed to take advantage of that.
He's a brilliant horse. In the paddock, he did everything he was supposed to do. Sometimes you get nervous before a race, but this time I didn't. I thought that he'd take a big step forward if (jockey) Tyler (Gaffalione) could get him in the correct position, which he did.
White Abarrio was sick for two weeks and missed two works, and lucky Saffie had him dead-fit before then. We were going to do basic maintenance drills, but it's a big question mark any time you miss two works.
Based on everything so far, I feel like he can move forward off the Holy Bull with the correct spacing of races and a full training schedule. We're hoping for a big performance in the Florida Derby, which will give him three races off the layoff, and hopefully, he'll be peaking on Derby Day.
Photo credit: Coglianese Photos