Hightstown, NJ — For several years, Michael Holmes and his sister Sarah kicked around the idea of starting a Standardbred racing stable. After watching one of their father’s horses win a Pennsylvania Sire Stakes championship in 2018, the talk turned to action.
Michael, 27, and Sarah, 30, launched Lexington-based Happy Hour Racing last fall, bringing together a group of people from the Thoroughbred and Standardbred industries, plus college friends, to purchase five yearlings. All five horses made it to the races this season, with two wins and a total of 15 top-three finishes in 34 starts so far, good for $134,096 in purses.
Both of the stable’s victories came on the New York Sire Stakes circuit and the group is hoping to visit the winner’s circle at Lexington’s Red Mile soon. Hit Show, a 2-year-old male trotter, finished second in a division of the Kentucky Sire Stakes on Aug. 31 at Red Mile and is ninth in points in the series. That same day, its 2-year-old female trotter Heaven also finished second in the KYSS and is 11th in points.
The Kentucky Sire Stakes championships are Sunday at Red Mile and the consolations are Saturday. The draws for both days are Wednesday.
In addition, Happy Hour Racing’s 2-year-old female pacer Coconut Beach won on Aug. 30 at Vernon Downs in a division of the New York Sire Stakes and is 13th in the points in the series. The New York Sire Stakes championships and consolations are Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
“We’re hoping to have a good weekend,” Michael Holmes said. “We’re excited. We’ve got 70-plus shareholders and it’s been a lot of fun for all of us so far. It’s been a blast.”
Michael and Sarah are no strangers to racing, both Thoroughbred and harness. Their dad, New Zealand native Tony Holmes, and mom Susan have a small commercial Thoroughbred breeding operation, Marula Park Stud in Lexington, and have also bred Standardbreds. Tony was the co-breeder of millionaire trotter Guccio as well as his stakes-winning full brother Lagerfeld.
Last year, Tony’s Windy Corner, which he also co-bred, won the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes final for 2-year-old female trotters.
“It’s in mine and Sarah’s blood,” Michael said. “We were following dad’s filly that he raced. Now we’re hooked. We talked about (starting a stable) for several years. We saw Windy Corner and we got all excited and decided to start a partnership. The bug kind of hit us a little later but it’s been exciting.”
Michael is in his fifth year working in finance for Thoroughbred breeder WinStar Farm. Sarah has worked with several Thoroughbred operations and is now at the family’s Marula Park Stud.
Happy Hour Racing owns two horses, Coconut Beach and Generous Pour, on its own and shares ownership on the remaining three — Oreo Dream Xtreme, Heaven, and Hit Show. Coconut Beach, Heaven, and Hit Show are trained by Erv Miller; Oreo Dream Xtreme and Generous Pour by John Butenschoen.
Following the conclusions of the Kentucky and New York sire stakes, Coconut Beach, Heaven, and Hit Show are staked to the Grand Circuit events in Lexington, not to mention the Breeders Crown in Canada.
“We were just extremely happy to get to the races,” Michael said. “We’ve at least seen what kind of talent we have. It’s been a good start.
“It’s exciting. With the Thoroughbreds, they race every one or two months and we’re getting entries every other week. It’s a lot of action. That’s what we wanted. We wanted to show people the purse money that’s out there (in harness racing) and how frequently they race. We’re hoping we can bring the sport some new owners. Some might branch out and buy horses on their own.”
Michael said Happy Hour Racing has no intentions of expanding in the near future.
“We don’t have any plans to buy any more horses as of right now, but we’re open to doing whatever we have to do to make this work,” he said. “Fingers crossed. We’ve been fortunate so far. I’ve really enjoyed it and I know Sarah has too.”