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Learning from her mistakes

Monday, July 28, 2014
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— Sheila Rosenblum was a ballerina who went through The Royal Ballet School in London and the School of American Ballet.

She was also a model, working for agencies like Wilhelmina (think Iman and Beyonce) and Ford (think . . . well, just grab every copy of People magazine from the last 20 years).

Because of ballet, there’s one segment of modeling that she is ill-equipped for: “I could never do a foot ad,” she said with a laugh. “I have the bloody toes to prove it.”

And yet, she never really knew from bloody until she dipped one of her powerful toes into the waters of thoroughbred racing ownership.

For two years, it was a bloodbath.

Against her family’s better wishes, though, Rosenblum took her lumps, learned her painful lessons and hired trainer Linda Rice to put some corrective surgery on Rosenblum’s approach.

After an allegro start that resulted in crash after tumble after spill, Rosenblum’s racing operation has achieved an adagio rhythm of success, most notably by the favorite in today’s Grade II Honorable Miss at Saratoga Race Course — La Verdad.

The 4-year-old New York-bred filly has won nine of 11 starts and represents the stability Rosenblum has desperately sought and found once she joined forces with Rice and formed Lady Sheila Stable.

“You hear about actors toiling away for 10 years and then they say they’re an overnight success,” Rosenblum said by phone from her Southampton home on Saturday. “Each and every negative horse-related thing that can happen has happened to me. I was taught in the school of hard knocks. When I went to Linda, things just changed.

“In a male-dominated business, this filly has put me on a new plateau.”

Financial wherewithal was never a stumbling block for Rosenblum. She said she once sold a necklace to pay for a horse.

In 2011, she and husband Daniel put an apartment at 515 Park Avenue in Manhattan, described as an example of “serious floorplan porn” by the website Curbed, up for sale for $31 million.

She was high society and had the resources to spend stacks on racehorses, then quickly found out that winning with thoroughbreds takes a little bit more than Monopoly money.

Rosenblum first began buying thoroughbreds four years ago.

It was a disaster from the start, and went downhill from there.

In 2010, Rosenblum got in a private sale dispute with Pavel Kusmin, the German owner of a filly named Neon Light, that led to a federal civil lawsuit and countersuits that took a year to resolve. Rosenblum eventually got possession of Neon Light, and Neon Light promptly bombed as a racehorse in the U.S.

“I learned so much the hard way,” she said. “The mistakes I’ve made . . . I had no business buying eight yearlings. It’s like trying to do e-trading with no background in trading.”

Even Rosenblum’s children, daughter Kara, now 17, and son Erik (15), begged her to stop this foolishness.

Having been through the cutthroat worlds of modeling and ballet, Rosenblum dug in instead.

“Ballet is a little off the beaten path. You have to be passionate, devoted and resilient,” she said. “You have to be used to pain. It’s a focused, intense life.”

The most important lesson Rosenblum learned was to do her homework when picking a trainer. Nobody’s going to feel sorry for the rich lady who failed at racing, but she’s capable of laughing at herself and doesn’t take herself too seriously. She is serious about being competitive in this sport.

Having gone through two trainers and intent on moving her horses from Kentucky to New York so she could be close to them, she interviewed five New York-based trainers two years ago, then Rice, and that was it.

“She and her husband came to the barn and they got out of an Escalade, and my first impression of her was that they were obviously well-to-do people,” Rice said. “When she arrived, she was a very attractive woman, and her husband seemed like a very sharp guy. But I had no idea who I was meeting.

“She enjoys the horses. She said we’re the perfect mix, because I’m very practical, very straightforward, very down to earth, and she’s a little highstrung, as she says. She said ‘Thank God we’re not both highstrung.’ ”

Rice gave Rosenblum some hard news about the horses she was taking into her barn: they were “alright.” Not great, just alright. Still, Rice weaved her magic, found the right spots and got them into the winner’s circle.

In the meantime, Rice knew La Verdad was on the verge of being sold by clients of hers in Florida, was getting offers of about a half-million or so, and convinced Rosenblum to take the leap.

The daughter of Yes It’s True, whose name means “the truth,” has earned over $600,000 and won the Grade II Distaff Handicap at Aqueduct in April.

She could be one of the best female sprinters in the country.

If that’s the case, perhaps she’ll run back at this meet in a race called the Ballerina, and wouldn’t that be a grand coda?

 
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