By Perry Lefko
Adriano Sorella is in the business of selling ads for dating websites, but his real love is owning Standardbred racehorses.
The affable Canadian owns Union Ad Sales, which is employed by major internet sites that help people find their perfect partner. In a way it’s similar to Sorella’s commitment to finding that one special horse.
Sorella has been owning and racing standardbred racehorses since 2007. He has celebrated some big wins, in particular the Little Brown Jug, one of the most storied races in the sport, in 2013 as the majority owner of Vegas Vacation.
And it’s races such as the Jug that stoke his passion for the sport.
“It’s the thrill,” he says. “You want to win. A lot of people that are in this business want to win. There’s no other person that wants to win more than me. I just want to win. That’s plain and simple.”
“Anybody can put together a really, really good team. It’s a matter of putting together a really, really good team that clicks. If you notice it’s not working after the first year you put that team together, then you start making changes until it clicks.”
It’s a strategy that has worked for Sorella, who keeps investing in his passion for harness racing, but it didn’t start out that ambitiously. He first ventured into the business becoming a partner in some relatively-inexpensive Thoroughbred racehorses, then he switched to Standardbreds.
“As you get older, you kind of learn more things along the way,” he says. “Back when I started, I was gung-ho about the industry, but I liked Standardbreds just because of the aspect that you could race more than Thoroughbreds. You could race every week. There’s the thrill of it and hopefully you can make some money. A lot people (interested in getting involved in ownership) are afraid to talk to other owners, or trainers, but if you know yourself it’s something you want to do and you have a little bit of money that you want to invest, most of these people will take you on.”
He bought his first Standardbred racehorse in 2008, through a program set up by the Standardbred Breeders of Ontario Association to introduce new owners into the sport. They would be mentored with an experienced owner, who would be one of the partners and work with a pre-assigned trainer to provide education and information for all of the group members. Each member, including the trainer, contributed a onetime fee of $4,500, which paid for all of the horse’s training fees for its first two years of racing, after which it would be sold and the group dissolved.
Sorella had a choice of two groups, choosing the one trained by two-time Canadian trainer of the Year Casie Coleman. The horse, MG Home Run, did not do particularly well. Conversely, the group Sorella didn’t join did exceptionally well with its horse.
“They ended up making some good coin,” Sorella says. “Each and every one of them made probably close to $40,000. We didn’t make any money.”
But Sorella found a common bond with Coleman and stayed with her, becoming partners in some racehorses she purchased, one of them Vegas Vacation. Purchased for $32,000, Vegas Vacation became one of the top three-year-olds in his crop, which included Captaintreacherous, one of the sport’s biggest stars in recent years. It meant Vegas found himself repeatedly racing against a more dominant horse. But in the Jug, in which Captaintreacherous didn’t race, Vegas Vacation had his day, as did Sorella.
“The reason I talk about it a lot is because I know people have been trying to win it their whole lives, and only so many people have done it,” he says. “There’s been 69 winners of the Jug and I’m one of them. It happened so quickly. Did it spoil me? It might have because I expect so much more out of these horses. It also enabled me to go out and buy better horses and invest more money.
“It was an awesome year, Vegas made all kinds of money (almost $1 million) and we had some other horses that were surprises. Scandalous Hanover was kind of a throw-in on a deal we made for another horse and she picked up the pieces and made a ton of money for us. Horses like that carry the entire stable and allow you to put money back into bank account.”
But 2014 was like a shot of reality, specifically how good luck can go the opposite direction. Vegas Vacation suffered a leg injury that sidelined him for the season and overall the stable did not do well.
“You lose the horse that made you all that money, it’s kind of a setback,” Sorella says. “It lets you see both sides of the realm. There is a good and there is a bad, I can understand it, but lucky enough for me I had the good right at the beginning. When people say you don’t make any money in this business, I actually don’t believe them. I say you can make money, you just need a little bit of luck and a lot of perseverance.”
To underline that point, he invested more last year than in any other year.
“I know there’s guys out there that have millions and millions and millions invested in the game, but they’ve also been around the game for so long that they have a lot more champions or horses that did well and went on to become stallions,” he says. “For me, I just keep investing in these young horses and hopefully I get a good one. This past year, I ended up buying a lot more than I thought I would buy, spent a lot more money than I thought I would spend.”
“It all comes down to what you want. I’ve been spending more and more money every year in the game. I’ve taken more risks and wanted more out of it. It’s a business that I plan on staying in.”
He says he feels nervous before every race, his heart beating faster knowing that in the time it takes to complete a race – less than two minutes – anything can happen – good or bad. The best horse doesn’t always win.
“You always want them to do well, especially if you know you have a half-decent horse,” he says. “If you’re being told the whole time by the trainer ‘you have a nice horse’, it’s kind of like with your kid and the feeling you get when they score a goal in Little League soccer or hockey or something like that. It’s the same thing, you’re kind of proud.”