Since he was a kid, Justin Nicholson has been around horses.
His dad started owning horses when Nicholson—now 26 and a resident of Chevy Chase—was only 2 or 3 years old. Less than two decades later, Nicholson had taken over most of the operational side of the family's horse business—going to horse sales and talking daily with the horse trainers.
When he started law school at Georgetown University, Nicholson couldn't stop thinking about horses and the horse racing business, so after a year of law school, he left to start his own horse racing syndicate.
Nicholson founded 90 North Racing Stable as a business through which the public may buy shares in 90 North's horses and enjoy the full experience of owning a racehorse without the expense of buying and maintaining an entire horse.
"I figured I was cheating myself a little by not giving myself a shot at making this a full-time thing for me," Nicholson said. The idea was to "take what was [a private business] for my family and myself and make it public so that people can buy shares in the operation."
The 90 North Racing Stable, a Bethesda-based business, soft-launched last fall, and is just starting to pick up steam now that the horse racing season is here. Nicholson's first clients were people he knew already, but the list of shareholders in the business has grown since then, with partners coming from several states.
The idea is to "bring race horse ownership to people who probably didn’t think it was a good fit for them," in terms of financial costs or in terms of the time and effort it takes to put together a network of people to maintain a horse or stable, Nicholson said.
The syndicate buys the horses for its stables (currently, there are five horses on its roster), and trains them with top trainers.
At the helm of 90 North's stables is Jimmy Toner, "a highly respected and experienced horseman" who has worked with horses owned by Nicholson's family for more than 20 years.
“Jimmy has won many of the sport’s biggest races, including a Breeders’ Cup, and he’s done it all without compromising the care he takes for each horse,” Nicholson said in a statement. “In all the years we’ve worked together, and all the races we’ve run, I’m confident we have never put a horse on the track that was not physically prepared to run, and get back to the barn safely.”
The horses are stabled at either the Fair Hill training facility in Elkton, the Belmont Park/Saratoga Race Course in New York (Nicholson's home state) or, in the winter, the Palm Meadows training facility in Florida. Shareholding partners in 90 North's horses can visit the horses at any of the stables, and are invited to watch them race from within the paddock of a race track. If a horse wins, the partners join the horse in the winner's circle after the race.
"We want our owners to experience the best this sport has to offer, and that means running [their horses] in the best races as often as possible," Nicholson said in a statement.
With Fair Hill so close to home, partners from the Washington, DC, area can easily visit the horses whenever they're stabled and training there.
"I think it’s the best training place for horses in the country," Nicholson said of Fair Hill, where 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro was trained. "It’s a great place to be able to take people out ... to see their horse. ... Watch the horse in the morning, and give them carrots" after the horse's training session is over.
Shares in the syndicate can be under $1,000 and can run higher, depending on what a partner wants to do. For the price of the share, a partner gets to experience what it's like to own a horse during the horse's racing years. And, if the horse wins, there would be a dividend, too. When the horse is sold, partners receive a share of the proceeds.
Each horse in 90 North's stables is its own LLC—its own company. "Therefore, when someone buys a share, they're buying the corresponding interest in that company that owns the horse," Nicholson said.
Nicholson has set up the syndicate to be very transparent.
“My goal is to bring horse racing to the public’s doorstep, especially in the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic,” Nicholson said. “I want to be able to bring a group of people into a room, look them in the eye, and tell them that racing is neither a sport only for the super-rich, nor a sport full of cheaters and wrongdoers," added Nicholson, who has been holding happy hours and other events throughout the region to introduce people to horse racing. The events also function as networking events for the partners.
Partners also have access to a special part of the syndicate's website, and receive email updates on how their horses are doing in training and racing.
The name, 90 North Racing Stable, refers to a poem, "90 North," by Randall Jarrell. Nicholson first read the poem in high school as part of a poetry paper.
"It's about a young boy imagining what it's like to reach the North Pole all through his childhood, and then as an adult he finally gets there. Ninety North is the top of the world (literally and figuratively)," Nicholson said in an email to Patch.
Following along as a horse gets into top form, and watching the horse improve, race by race, is an exciting experience—one that Nicholson looks forward to bringing to as many fellow horse enthusiasts as possible.