Vincent Viola, the chairman and CEO of Virtu Financial, knows the importance of acquiring information and having a strong team of advisers. That’s why it’s no surprise his decision to buy a stake in Freedom Child, one of the leading contenders for the 2013 Belmont Stakes on June 8, appears to have been a good one.
“[Our thoroughbred racing operation] is a business,” said Viola, whose company specializes in electronic market-making and financial technological services. “I apply the same discipline I apply on Wall Street. I think the game is a wonderful sport that brings out the best in humanity. I’m very bullish on the game as a sport and business. Many of the same principles [from business] also apply to [thoroughbred ownership]. I try to collect and apply as much data from as many sources as possible. I then strive to execute a business plan with responsible discipline and flexibility.”
In 2011, Viola and B. Wayne Hughes’ Spendthrift Farm bought a stake in Freedom Child after West Point Thoroughbreds purchased the ridgling for $350,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale. So far, Freedom Child has two wins in six starts, including a 13 ¼-length score in the Grade 2 Peter Pan on May 11 at Belmont.
Viola regularly attended Aqueduct Racetrack and Belmont Park with his father when he was growing up in Brooklyn. After graduating from the United States Military Academy in 1977, he has gone on to a diverse career which has included achieving the rank of major in the United States Army Reserves, being an energy trader at the New York Mercantile Exchange, serving as the NYMEX’s chairman, and buying a stake in the New Jersey Nets (now the Brooklyn Nets) and the Atlantic Yards project.
Along the way, Viola became involved in thoroughbred racing, campaigning horses under the J.V. Stables banner and standing Traitor, winner of the 1996 Grade 1 Futurity, at stud.
“I bought horses, but I also wanted to learn every facet of the game,” said Viola. “I was fascinated by the business and economics of breeding, particularly, ‘the making of a stallion.’ I bought Traitor, a son of Cryptoclearance who was owned by Alfred Vanderbilt and had to be retired when he injured himself when he spooked going through the tunnel to the paddock at Belmont. I started buying mares for him, but I wasn’t as studied as I now am and threw any sort of mare at him. He still was able to sire a few nice horses, like Megoman, who was second in the Hawthorne Derby.”
Viola dispersed his stable in 2003 before returning to the game in 2012.
“My passion for racing was a constant in my life, a source of excitement and fun,” said Viola. “I had to get involved again.”
Viola became associated with Terry Finley, founder and president of West Point Thoroughbreds, after they were introduced by a mutual friend at a thoroughbred auction. Like Viola, Finley is West Point graduate.
“West Point graduates have a special bond,” said Viola. “You could have graduated 10-15 years apart, but that bond transcends time. I don’t do much without first consulting Terry.”
Viola also considers Queens native Mike Repole, who has entered three horses in the Belmont Stakes, to be one of his personal friends and key advisers.
“We’ve been friends for the past six years, and he’s been nothing but a phenomenal adviser and consultant,” said Viola of Repole, who is slated to send out Overanalyze, Unlimited Budget, and Midnight Taboo in the Belmont.
Anthony Bonomo, who also grew up in Williamsburg and now serves on The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) Board of Directors, is another one of Viola’s confidants.
“Bonomo taught me how I should approach the business this time around,” said Viola.
Viola’s wife, Teresa, also campaigns horses, and the husband and wife make all of their racing-related decisions together.
“[Teresa] predicted Freedom Child’s success after seeing him run,” said Viola.
Viola, who has his yearlings broken by Jimmy Crupi’s New Castle Farm and by Kip Elser’s Kirkwood Stables, said he will appreciate the Belmont Stakes experience because he knows the sport is notorious for its vagaries.
“It’s absolutely surreal [having a favorite for the Belmont Stakes],” said Viola. “Being around the game all my life and as an owner, I understand how challenging the game is and how lucky I am.”