Todd Luther getting chance to succeed thanks to better stock
interview by Gordon Waterstone
Native Ohioans growing up not too far from the Delaware, Ohio, fairgrounds, brothers Todd and Greg Luther always dreamed of winning the Little Brown Jug, the famed race for 3-year-old pacers that is contested annually at the fairgrounds in September. First, with Greg as the trainer, and later, with Todd taking the helm, the dream seemed a far-fetched idea as the stable consisted solely of claimers and overnight horses.
But then came a change in strategy. With Todd doing the training, Greg was able to fully concentrate on his company Greg Luther Coaching, a marketing and real estate coaching business. When the COVID-19 pandemic severely impacted the world, with people staying home, Greg’s online business thrived.
The Luther brothers then made another decision that completely changed their involvement in racing. Because of his financial success, Greg was able to go on a buying splurge, upping the ante considerably in adding top-class horses to their stable, which he named Black Magic Racing. The buying binge began at the January 2021 Tattersalls Winter Mixed Sale at the Meadowlands, when Greg purchased the two sale-toppers: Chief Mate for $220,000 and Captain Kirk for $215,000. Big purchases later in the year included Katie’s Lucky Day, who went on to win the Kentucky Filly Futurity at Red Mile.
As 2021 came to an end, Todd—who is based at Winners Training Center in Ohio and a winter home at Spring Garden Ranch in Florida—took some time to speak to USTA Editorial Specialist Gordon Waterstone about the stable’s year in racing, and what to expect in the future.
HB: What is your background in racing?
Luther: My dad, Sonny, painted cars and my mom, Debbie, did insurance, but my grandfather, John Robinson, worked back in the day for Gene Riegle. That’s who I learned from, my grandfather. He was a very smart man. I started with John (Robinson), got addicted, and couldn’t get out.
HB: After graduating high school, you went right into racing?
Luther: I had some scholarship offers from some colleges for baseball, and it was a toss-up what I wanted to do. But the horses got in my blood. I was always helping, and John got sick when I was graduating (from high school). He was a man of few words, but he came in one day and said how bad his stomach hurt after he jogged one. He went to the doctor and found out he had stomach cancer. I don’t think it was a month after that when he passed away. Greg had 10-15 horses at the time, and he asked me if I wanted to do it full time, so I went in right out of high school.
HB: How’d that go?
Luther: I did it for myself for a while and then Greg and I had a little spat like all brothers do. I worked for some others, like Mike Medors. For a couple years I went with Brian Brown and that’s where I learned a lot more. That’s where I learned more of the baby side.
HB: Did you meet your fiance, Toni Dale Hollar, while working for Brown, as she is his niece, and the daughter of Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association track representative Amy Hollar?
Luther: I met Toni when I started working for Brian and we figured we’d give it a go. We are now engaged. She is Amy’s daughter and Amy is something else (laughing). My goal every day is when we have a family chat, to get her blood boiling—even over something little, to where she goes, “Why don’t you just shut up?”
HB: What led to the decision to go on what has been a prolific buying spree the past year?
Luther: Greg always talked about it. We always had claimers and a few open pacers that would jump around here and there. When COVID hit . . . his online business really took off. So he said, “You know what, we’re going to go and buy a bunch of babies and some Grand Circuit horses.”
HB: What was the primary goal?
Luther: Greg’s main goal is to win the Little Brown Jug. He wants to be in it, and he wants to win it. That’s what we are shooting for. Of course, we keep buying trotters. He always gets mad at me because I tell him we need trotters, and he says, “I can’t win the Little Brown Jug with a trotter.” (laughing)
HB: You and Greg dubbed this the “million-dollar experiment?”
Luther: Yes. It started as that, but it escalated very quickly. Before Greg knew it, he bought a little over a million dollars of babies and then the Meadowlands sale came, and I think he spent half a million dollars there. Every time we talked it was, “Should I buy this one, should I buy that one.”
HB: You need the racehorses to help pay for the babies?
Luther: Yes, that’s what Greg wants to do—keep buying racehorses on the Grand Circuit level. We bought conditioned claimers before, anything to help make a little money to cover the babies. That’s everybody’s goal and his goal, to cover the expenses because the babies can get very expensive. We had 35 babies [last year]. By the end of [last year], we [had] close to 80 horses.
HB: Where did the name Black Magic Racing come from?
Luther: Greg and I were always messing with names and stuff. That’s something he came up with. He was always down as owner on everything, and once he started getting more horses, he put it in the LLC. I don’t think Black Magic means anything; I think it’s something he liked when he was messing with names, and he stuck with it since. He always jokes around he’s going to change the name, so we’ll see.
HB: Now that 2021 has concluded, what grade would you give yourself for this “experiment”?
Luther: For this [past] year, from me learning the Grand Circuit and trying to compete on that level, I would probably rate myself a “B.” We’d always hang around 20, 25, 30 horses, and we stepped up to 50 horses, and all of a sudden we have 80. Greg’s scaling it up at a very large amount. For the first year of this we did around $2.5 million (in purse winnings) and he was happy. My goal for [this] year is to get to $4 million or $5 million.
HB: Any chance you were profitable in 2021?
Luther: No. Greg will tell anybody that. He does not absolutely expect to make money in this business every year. He is enjoying what he does in harness racing.
HB: How is your relationship with Greg?
Luther: We are in contact every day. Other trainers have a bunch of owners in the barn. Brian Brown might have 60-70 owners. I’ve had some guys that wanted to come to me, but it’s nice having one owner in the barn except for Charlie (Taylor, who co-owns Catch The Fire) and the guy with Katie’s Lucky Day, as we kept a piece of her. So out of almost 80 horses, Greg has a partner on two of them. It’s nice to make one phone call and let him know what’s going on in the barn.
Greg is a hands-on owner; he loves being there. I have no problem with him being there, as he was in the business, so he still knows what needs to be done. He’s a tinkerer; he loves to come in and tinker with stuff. It’s a hobby for him.
HB: What would be your biggest disappointment of 2021?
Luther: My biggest disappointment so far—and I don’t know if it’s a disappointment because he got hurt—would have to be Captain Kirk. He won in (1):47 and a piece in the Roll With Joe at the Meadowlands on a (“good”) track. He was just starting getting going. We had raced him four times when he hurt a leg. Nothing serious. I could have had him back for Lexington and the Breeders Crown, but we decided to do what’s right and give him as much time as we could and hope for [this] year.
HB: You supplemented Katie’s Lucky Day to the Kentucky Filly Futurity and she won. Was that the highlight of your season?
Luther: The Kentucky Filly Futurity, by far. That was huge. Also, when Catch The Fire won the Dan Patch. The ride those two took me on the first year was definitely a high.
Sitting in the floral chair (after the Filly Futurity at Red Mile) was something. And to be with Greg, my brother. We never dreamed of something like that.
HB: You bought Katie’s Lucky Day early in the year, she had a great year, and then you put her up for sale on onGait.com in December and she was purchased for $450,000. Although Black Magic Racing retained a piece and you still train her, why sell?
Luther: Selling, Greg thought she’d never be worth more than she was at the moment. I told her he should keep her because the broodmare side was just as valuable. He said,“I can’t win the Jug with a trotter.” The guy who bought her, Patrick Hoopes, it was his first horse. Greg said he’d keep a piece of her, and we’ll work together. Greg loves getting new people in the business. I get to keep training her and that’s the reason Greg wanted to retain some of her.
HB: Greg also operates the website sellmyhorse.com where people offer to sell him horses. How has that gone?
Luther: Greg probably gets a couple horses offered a day. Agents call, so he’s always busy, but Marc (Reynolds) is the main one he talks to all the time. We probably bought about 15 off of there.
HB: Going back to highlights of the year—although it wasn’t with one of your horses—you were involved in saving the horse at Northfield Park when it got loose and ran into the infield lake. Did you see any danger at the time?
Luther: There were sires stakes that night and we were in the paddock watching the first race. We saw everybody go running outside, so Toni and I went out and we saw the horse running loose. Next thing I see is the horse running across the infield and I told Toni the horse wasn’t stopping. I took off running, threw my phone. The horse went in, and I went in on the other side.
I didn’t know whose horse it was, but I wasn’t going to stand there and watch something bad happen. I had to try and do something, and it worked out, between me and the outrider and everybody that was there. Luckily, there was some mud so we could stand just a little bit, but he (the horse) kept sinking. We got him out and luckily there was no bad outcome. Everybody was saying thank you and asking why I would do that. But you don’t think about it at the time. I would hope that if it was one of mine that somebody would try and do the same thing.
HB: With the stable expanding rapidly, is there any limit?
Luther: We’ll go with the flow. We can always sell horses. But it’s very nice that if we see one we want, that I can call Greg and he has no hesitation to buy it.
HB: With such a big stable, how many people work for you?
Luther: Right now we have about 12 working for us. When I move back (from Florida to Ohio), I will have to get a few riders. So we’ll be up to 15. It’s so hard to find help in this business, so Greg said to run an ad and see if we can get some. He’s had some people contact him, so that’s a good thing. Sometimes people just want a change, and this barn is worth it.
HB: Who handles all the bookkeeping?
Luther: Toni is the main one who keeps the barn going when I’m on the track. She does it all. She does the training bills. I fill out a training sheet and she prints it off and hands it to the workers. She is the main one.
HB: What are your goals for 2022?
Luther: I’m going to set very high goals for myself and try to cash in on every one of them. Greg sets high goals, and we try to reach them. [Last] year was better than I thought. A few horses got hurt, but I think [this] year, if I can keep them sound, it will be fun. For [last] year, for the first year of us doing it, I’m very happy with that.
I would love to get to around $4 million and I think we have the caliber of horses and the help to get there, if we can keep everything healthy.
HB: If I asked you 10 years ago where you’d be today, would you have imagined being where you are?
Luther: Absolutely not. I figured we’d be racing claimers and having fun doing that. You always see the big races and you always dream of being in them. [Last year was] my first year, and Greg put the trust in me, and the type of horses he bought to be in them—not only compete in them, but to win some of them—it’s absolute amazing. And for sure it’s fun. You have your ups and downs, but there were a lot of ups [last] year. HB
Gordon Waterstone is a USTA editorial specialist. To comment on this story, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.