Some people travel the country and the world to see rock stars perform on stages and in venues. For Debbie Nakayama, her rock stars have hooves and perform on turf and dirt tracks.

“These horses are my rock stars,” Nakayama said. “Like, I’ve been to Kentucky. I’ve actually got to pet and touch American Pharoah. It’s like meeting Paul McCartney to me.”

But Nakayama took an additional step — buying shares in racehorses — and on Saturday she experienced one of the greatest thrills in the sport. A colt she partially owns, Seize the Grey, won the Preakness Stakes, the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.

“I don’t even know how many people own this horse,” 88-year-old trainer D. Wayne Lukas joked in the moments after the race.

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The answer: 2,570 people, all of whom joined the group for their own reasons. Many of them congregated near the winner’s circle, donned Seize the Grey hats and high-fived their co-owners.

Nakayama fell in love with the horse in 2022, when she was in to Saratoga, New York, to watch racing. After seeing the Hall of Fame ceremony at Fasig-Tipton, she went over to watch the sale. There, she saw a horse that reminded her of one of her favorite horses, Arrogate.

Arrogate was named the World’s Best Racehorse in 2016 at age 3. He retired one year later. Three years after that, he was euthanized at 7 years old after suffering a neck injury (a racehorse can live 25 to 30 years). He was lost early, Nakayama said, so Arrogate had little time to sire foals.

But this yearling looked just like Arrogate, and so Nakayama investigated. She found out the yearling, named Seize the Grey, was in fact Arrogate’s son, and she “fell in love.”

Nakayama has been involved with racehorse syndicates since 2017. She has bigger shares in other groups but is involved in MyRacehorse, which offers microshares. In 2022, MyRacehorse opened the opportunity to buy in as an owner of Seize the Grey.

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Nakayama usually buys shares in horses near Maryland so she can watch them train and race, but Seize the Grey was a no-brainer despite the fact he trains in Kentucky. His being trained by Lukas, a Hall of Famer who won his first Preakness 44 years ago, sealed the deal. Two years later, she got to reunite with the horse when he made Preakness after winning the Pat Day Mile Stakes.

Nakayama didn’t have tickets but participated in the events leading up to the race and met with the horse.

“Just getting to see him — I was with a friend up at Saratoga then, and I pulled him out because he just is so beautiful — I think the whole way home from New York, that’s all I talked about, never knowing that I was going to own a piece of him a year later,” Nakayama said.

From thoroughbreds to pony pullers

Members of the owner group for Seize the Gray, celebrate after he wins The Preakness Stakes.
Members of the ownership group for Seize the Gray celebrate after he won Preakness. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Just as horse racing is for elite horses, it was also meant for elite humans for a long time. You could dream of owning a horse, but unless you were born into it or had a few million to toss around, it wasn’t a reality.

Syndicates, which allow people to buy a small share (like 1 or 2%) as a fractional ownership structure, have started to break down those barriers. MyRacehorse has made ownership even more accessible by offering microshares.

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Nancy Vaneenenaam started watching horse racing with her late father in Michigan. He was a teacher, and she became one too. A worthy profession but not one that allows people to buy racehorses.

Then Vaneenenaam watched Authentic win the 2020 Kentucky Derby and saw MyRacehorse was a co-owner of it. She looked into the company and was sold on the idea.

“You get the experience because you get to go watch them race; you go in the winner’s circle,” Vaneenenaam said. “It’s like having a horse, but it’s so cheap to do. It’s very doable.”

She has 13 horses, she said while laughing and covering her husband John’s ears. He quipped that he finds out she bought into a new one when he sees a new hat for a new horse come in. He was wearing her Seize the Grey hat.

Likewise, John Hundley joked that his wife, Tanna, shouldn’t know how many horses he’s bought into — although he did just buy Tanna her own share in a horse.

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“I made her [a fan],” John Hundley said.

“He told me the other day, I bought you one, and it was one of my mom’s favorite songs,” Tanna Hundley said. “I was like, ‘Now I get it.’”

John Hundley explained that, in addition to not having the money to become a racehorse owner the traditional way, he doesn’t have the knowledge. MyRacehorse has employees who do the research on the front end and others who take care of the horse, train them and make decisions.

The Hundleys first bought into Straight No Chaser, and the horse won its first race. They thought “this was easy,” they said together with a laugh.

Robert Josephberg said ownership through MyRacehorse is “a thrill and an opportunity to be a horse owner and not really have any money at risk.”

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Everyone described their participation in MyRacehorse as a hobby and not an investment. Though the Preakness purse is $2 million, the trainer and jockey get a share and there are considerable expenses associated with getting a horse to this event. Which is to say: The win isn’t a windfall. It’s about the experience of seeing them train, meeting the horses and the trainers and joining a community of owners.

“It’s the thrill of the victory, not the return,” Josephberg said. “You got to be realistic.”

Never pass on a gray

Before Vaneenenaam’s father died of a stroke, she promised him they would own a racehorse together someday. He always told her “never pass on a gray,” so when she saw an opportunity to buy into Seize the Grey, she couldn’t pass up on it. She said he would have loved this.

Like Nakayama, John Hundley likes to buy into horses he can easily watch. But he has always been a fan of gray horses and of Lukas, so he bought into Seize the Grey.

Seize the Grey was at Fasig-Tipton as a yearling, and Debbie Nakayama saw him and fell in love. A year later, she bought ownership shares through MyRacehorse. (Photo provided by Debbie Nakayama)

BloodHorse Magazine reported that 2,566 other people had the same idea as these four. The original shares were offered for $127 for 0.02% equity.

Only 10 3-year-old horses out of the 20,000 born each year make Preakness, so when owners found out Seize the Grey was racing, buying tickets was a no-brainer.

“D. Wayne Lukas, our trainer who’s 88, he said, ‘You owners are going to love this. How often can you say you have a horse in the Preakness?’” Vaneenenaam said. “Very hard to do. This is very hard to do.”

Vaneenenaam came from Michigan. Josephberg and his son came from New York. The Hundleys flew in from California. None had ever been to Preakness before. All said Seize the Grey was the reason they came.

“If Seize the Grey could come out of this thing with a win — I have no idea,” Hundley said before the race. “I’ve been doing this long enough to know no great expectations — but we’re here.”

This article was updated to reflect that Debbie Nakayama has been to Kentucky but not to the Kentucky Derby and that MyRacehorse began selling shares of Seize the Grey in 2022.