Alex Sausville is up for a game of horse.
As a senior guard on the Scotia-Glenville boys’ basketball team in 2014, he went 8 for 13 from 3-point range as the undefeated Tartans beat East High to win the Class A state championship in Glens Falls.
But to say he’s “up” for a game of horse these days has nothing to do with making creative shots and everything to do with the night shift – 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. – watching pregnant mares.
He recently completed the six-month Thoroughbred Breeding Management Course at the Irish National Stud (INS) in County Kildare, Ireland, during which one of his responsibilities was to keep an eye out for any mares going into labor and helping with the delivery.
His eight 3-pointers in the 2014 championship game was a tournament record; his eight “assists” on foal patrol at INS was a one-night personal record.
“You start to see legs popping out, and we’ve got to go,” the 26-year-old Sausville said on Aug. 2 during a lunch at BL’s Tavern on Front Street in the Stockade.
Sausville was making a short visit home to see family, catch the races at Saratoga Race Course with his father, Mark, and shadow a bloodstock agent at last week’s Fasig-Tipton Selected Yearlings Sale.
Then he was back to Ireland for the next phase in his quest to build a career in racing management, which begins on Monday in the Godolphin Flying Start Program, an exclusive, prestigious two-year management and leadership course that will take Sausville and his 11 classmates to England, Kentucky, Australia and Dubai, besides Ireland.
Sausville is the only American who was picked for this class, a terrific privilege for someone who did not grow up in a racing family (other than his dad taking him to OTB as a kid), but also a measure of how committed Sausville is to his chosen career path.
“You know, from my days in basketball, working for something and working on your weaknesses, that’s what G [Scotia head coach Jim Giammattei] taught us, that’s what my dad taught us, that’s what Glenn [Stopera] taught us, rest his soul,” Sausville said. “One thing I’ll admit, the work ethic and the drive that was taught to us at Scotia doesn’t go away. Even if you wanted it to, it doesn’t go away.
“I mean, I kept the INS students up a lot during the windows in the classwork, because I had Australian racing on at 3 in the morning. They’re like, ‘Who’s watching racing now?’ ‘Nobody.’”
“He realized early in his decision to get into horse racing that he was really going to have to work two, three times as hard and put in that time,” Mark Sausville said. “I think a lot of that came from the basketball program. He got a lot of it from me, unfortunately, from my days at Schenectady and watching how I would try to keep kids accountable.”
Mark Sausville was an assistant to Gary DiNola when Schenectady High won a state championship in 1998, then Mark took over the program for 12 years and won another title, in 2001.
He was an assistant at Scotia, with the late Glenn Stopera, who died last summer, to Giammattei when the Tartans won the state and Federation championships in 2014 with a starting lineup of Joe Cremo, Scott Stopera, Dom LeMorta, Mike Palleschi and Alex Sausville. (Scotia won another state title in 2015 after Sausville graduated).
Mark Sausville said the horse racing lightbulb really went on for Alex 10 years ago, when they attended the Belmont Stakes, won by Union Rags.
“When we went to the Belmont Stakes that one time and they sang ‘New York, New York,’ I think that was the one shining moment for him where he was like, ‘Wow, this game is really, really exciting, if people can come here to do this,’” Mark said.
“I never imagined he would study the breeding and race results as hard as he did. ‘Hey, Alex, let’s take a break, let’s go play some tennis or go shoot some hoops.’ And he’s like, ‘No, I can’t take a break right now, Dad. There’s something I might miss.’ Or, ‘I’ve got 15 races in Japan I still have to watch.’”
Besides conventional classroom work and lectures, the six-month INS program included hands-on experience in foaling and breeding.
Alex Sausville, one of 30 students from around the world living together in a hostel during the recently completed course, assisted mares during deliveries, if they needed it, and was on hand to help control the process of stallions covering mares.
“That’s one of the biggest perks of the Irish National Stud course, is that they put you in these different scenarios,” he said. “There’s nights when you’ll have zero, and you’ll sit there and walk and check the mares all night and get nothing. And there’s nights like that where you have one mare, you bring them in, you do it, you finish, you clean up, you sit down and the next one’s going.”
Prior to the INS program, Sausville bounced around a variety of stops as he built his base of knowledge and experience, what he calls “the zigzag that’s become my life now.”
A St. John Fisher University graduate who played basketball for the Cardinals, Sausville has been through the University of Arizona’s year-and-a-half Race Track Industry Program, which has produced the likes of Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher.
He has also participated in the Kentucky Equine Management Internship (KEMI) program, worked for the Breeders’ Cup, Stone Farm in Kentucky and in the racing office at Colonial Downs in Virginia.
“Went from New York to Arizona, from Arizona to Ohio for an internship, went back to Arizona,” Sausville said. “Kentucky. What was after Kentucky? Virginia, at Colonial. Back to Breeders’ Cup in Kentucky, down to Florida for Todd, back home for a bit and then back to Colonial. Back to Kentucky with Hunter Valley, and then from there home and then Ireland. And now France is going to be a quick three-day trip [prior to beginning the Godolphin Flying Start].”
Saratoga fans probably haven’t heard of most of the horses Sausville has worked with in Ireland, but they’ll know these: Malathaat and Colonel Liam.
Sausville spent three months two winters ago working as a hotwalker for Pletcher at Palm Beach Downs in Florida, and frequently was tasked with chaperoning those two stars to and from the track for workouts and leading them through post-work cooldowns.
Malathaat went on to win the Ashland and Kentucky Oaks last year, then came to Saratoga and won the Alabama on her way to an Eclipse Award as top 3-year-old filly in North America. She was second to Clairiere in the Shuvee three weeks ago.
“It was good,” Sausville said. “He’s a great guy to work for in the fact that as long as you do what you need to do, he’ll let you work. There’s no operation that is more structured or well-run.
“Malathaat was wonderful. She was very timid, but she was very nice and just kind of getting back into things. I would walk her out to the track, when she came back I’d get her, walk her back in, hold her for her bath, then I’d give her the walk after. Sometimes I had to sit in the stall with her, and she’d get her feet soaked and just kind of help her as she’s coming back.”
Getting accepted to the Irish National Stud program was a big breakthrough for Sausville.
His roommate was Andrew Buick, brother of Willliam Buick, a Norwegian who is one of the top jockeys in Europe and made his Saratoga debut a winning one last weekend when he won the Saratoga Oaks Invitational on With The Moonlight.
Andrew Buick was among Sausville’s INS classmates waiting in the hostel kitchen while Sausville took the most important phone call of his career so far, a month and a half after the preliminary interview in the Flying Start application process..
“The application process is very intimidating,” Sausville said. “So I was sitting in the hostel kitchen with all my classmates, eating lunch as a group. If you get a phone call, you’re good. If you get an email, you’re out. So the phone rings, you see that Irish number, and I ran out of the room, almost knocked over my chair and I’m outside and answer the phone.”
It was Clodagh Kavanagh, the Flying Start executive director.
“She asked how I was doing and asked what I did that day. Of course, that day, I went and picked garbage out of a field,” Sausville said with a laugh. “As she’s talking, I hear a knock on the window, and it’s Andrew, my roommate. He gives me a thumbs up, thumbs down. She said, ‘I have good news for you,’ and I went like this [thumbs up], and I heard the whole kitchen cheering. It was a really cool feeling. When I went back in they all stood up and were giving me hugs.”
“It’s been a dream for awhile since he’s heard about it, and he’s met so many nice people through the network who have helped him,” Mark Sausville said. “As far as the program, I was out in Ireland and talked to some old gentleman in a museum, and he just beamed when I mentioned the Flying Start. I never realized how big a deal it is, especially for a kid who isn’t coming from a horse racing background. I think he’s very proud of that.”
The Flying Start’s mission statement, in part, “is to recruit the most talented people worldwide and to give them a professional training and experience unmatched by any other, in turn achieving our vision of producing committed leaders working in existing and emerging markets contributing to the long term success of the Thoroughbred industry.”
Graduates have gone on to work as bloodstock agents, trainers, administrators, broadcasters and managers of ownership groups for some of the biggest operations in the world.
“They [Scotia basketball coaches] really emphasized pushing yourself through and getting outside your comfort zone, which is what Alex bought into if you want to be great at something,” Mark Sausville said.
“Right now the goal is to be a racing manager,” Alex Sausville said. “So, working for ownership syndicates and pretty much managing their stable. In the long run, I hope to head up a racing and breeding operation.
“I guess it’s the same thing that stems from basketball. It’s two years of training. That’s the way I look at it. I’m excited to get on the course, but, to me, I’m most excited to see what I can be in two years.”