By Emily Shields
Louis Neve falls somewhere between eternal optimist and realistic businessman.
That is why Neve pushed through the economic crisis of 2008, staying involved in horse racing and breeding while many in California were shuttering their barns. He adopted his racing philosophy from his commercial cut flower business: “If you don’t do well with one crop, there’s always another crop coming up behind it.”
With this kind of confidence and due to his perseverance, Neve has watched his racing empire blossom. This summer he enjoyed one winner after another, including a spectacular three-win day with California-breds on Aug. 21.
Before he ever pursued a longtime dream of owning and breeding horses, Neve was focused on his 40-year-old flower business.
“We grow primarily hypochromic roses,” he explained, “which I’ve been doing for 40 years. The business is family-owned and in its third generation. I always enjoyed horse racing and had a dream of breeding horses, but it wasn’t until 2004 that I bought a Smokester filly privately.”
On one of Neve’s 90-acre flower ranches in Petaluma, he set aside 50 acres to devote to his budding horse business.
“I built a five-stall barn and started buying some broodmares out of Kentucky.” He learned quickly that he needed help.
While browsing through an issue of Blood-Horse one day, Neve saw a tiny advertisement for bloodstock agent Chad Schumer. On a whim Neve gave Schumer a call, only to discover the agent had recently moved to nearby San Francisco. Over lunch Schumer and Neve began both a business partnership and a friendship.
“He bought a few mares for me in Kentucky and Florida, and after they foaled I bred them back,” Neve said. “That was my first crop of yearlings ready for sale, but they were entered in the Barretts sale shortly after the big NASDAQ/Dow Jones meltdown of 2008.”
Neve’s seven yearlings were evaluated as being worth between $100,000 and $200,000. Instead, he sold them for $21,000 total, before expenses.
“That was a punch in the gut,” Neve said. “Both the flower business and the horse business went into the dark zone for the next several years. I kept breeding, trying to stick it out, but times were tough. My friends and family didn’t know what I was doing, but I thought if you sell it, you’ve got nothing. But if you hang on, everything has a chance to go up. I didn’t want to be a statistic.”
Neve credits both Schumer and California bloodstock agent Eric Anderson as being “two really good, honest people I can rely on.” Anderson’s advice is another reason Neve was able to stick through during the rough economic times and come out well.
“With Mr. Neve we discuss matings, with his suggestions and mine as well,” said Anderson, “and then we banter back and forth until we have a pretty good idea where we should book mares. Usually in California we are utilizing the top proven sires, from the late Tribal Rule, Ministers Wild Cat, etc. We have purchased a few mares in foal to Bellamy Road and another one in foal to Papa Clem this past year.
“He has bred and raised some nice horses, sold some nice horses, and raced a few winners, too. He is in it for the long run, and with his handful of young and producing broodmares, he is set up to achieve even greater successes.”
One of Neve’s first big successes came with a Cal-bred named Avanti Bello, by Include—Masterful Lass, by Mizzen Mast. Neve originally had him entered in the 2013 Barretts October sale but bought him back and decided to try his hand at racing again. Avanti Bello broke his maiden impressively first out, winning by 1 3⁄4 lengths at Golden Gate Fields.
“I knew we would sell him then,” Neve recalled. “Sure enough, a week later I sold him to (trainer) Doug O’Neill. Everyone needs a good sale of a broodmare, yearling, or racehorse in this market.”
Avanti Bello is now stakes-placed. He finished third in the recent E.B. Johnston Stakes at Los Alamitos behind the good runners Ambitious Brew and Soi Phet.
Another stakes horse from the Neve breeding barn is Cowboys Don’t Cry. The Cal-bred son of Include—Mt. Swoosh, by Mt. Livermore, sold for only $1,500 at Barretts and was from the same Neve-produced crop as Avanti Bello.
“I had two mares at Airdrie Stud in Kentucky,” Neve said, “and one of them was scheduled to go to Include, which ended up producing Avanti Bello. I was trying to get Mt. Swoosh to Stevie Wonderboy, but she couldn’t get pregnant. So I thought, let’s just breed her to Include, too.”
Although Cowboys Don’t Cry didn’t wow buyers at the sale, he has become a consistent type while racing in Canada. After breaking his maiden in May, Cowboys Don’t Cry finished second in this year’s Alberta Derby and third in the $200,000 Canadian Derby (Can-III) behind winner Academic, who went on to win the British Columbia Derby (Can-III). Just 15 days after that effort, Cowboys Don’t Cry won an allowance race to increase his record to two wins, three seconds, and three thirds from 14 starts.
On Aug. 21, Neve enjoyed watching three horses he bred win races at two different tracks.
“I knew I had the three running,” he recalled. “The first that won was Fortyninergameplan (a daughter of Game Plan) by a nose at Ferndale. I couldn’t believe it—I was so happy. Then Chief of Staff (a son of Majestic Warrior) won by 6 1 ⁄2 lengths at Del Mar. I was jumping up and down and told my wife, ‘You know what? We have another one in an hour.’ ”
That runner was Olympic Lady, a daughter of Fusaichi Pegasus who ran away with Del Mar’s seventh race to score by 7 1⁄4 lengths.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Neve said. “It’s hard enough to win one, let alone two or three.”
That weekend Neve had three wins, two seconds, and a third from six starters bred in his name.
“It’s kind of getting a little fun now,” he said. “I have mares in foal to nice sires, and the horses are kicking me out those nice California breeder awards, which really put you over the top. I have six weanlings right now, and three of them are exceptional babies. I have three mares in foal. I wasn’t enjoying it for a few years there, but I am now.”
Neve’s horses are racing well all over the continent. Judge Carr, a Cal-bred gelding by Mizzen Mast, has a record of eight wins, nine seconds, and nine thirds in 42 starts, earning $169,134 while running predominantly at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races and Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort. Cal-bred Janes Ship, by Sea of Secrets, won at Remington Park Sept. 12. Sweet Boss, a Cal-bred daughter of Street Boss, won consecutive races at Golden Gate Fields over the winter.
“As long as you have smart, honest people advising you, you can always look forward to the next foaling crop,” Neve said. “There’s always a tomorrow. In life that’s what people need, something to look forward to. Otherwise you get stuck. That’s part of the love of the game and why people keep breeding and racing. They can keep looking forward.”
By Emily Shields