Best of 2020: H. James Bond
by Ryan Martin
Just one live race day – the New Year’s Eve card on Thursday at Aqueduct Racetrack – remains in 2020 to complete a remarkable year of racing action on the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) circuit. The NYRA Press Office checked in with a selection of New York-based racing personalities to get their reflections on the memorable year.
H. James Bond is a multiple Grade 1-winning trainer and a fixture on the NYRA circuit. Born in Rochester, New York, Bond began galloping horses at age 11 before taking out his trainer’s license at 16. The veteran conditioner heads the family-run Bond Racing Stable with his wife, Tina, and their sons Kevin and Ryan. In addition to the racing stable, Jim and Tina own a 100-acre farm named Song Hill Thoroughbreds in Stillwater, New York.
Bond’s numerous Grade 1 winners include Behrens, Val’s Prince, Tizway, L’Carriere and 1996 Travers winner Will’s Way. Bond has been named New York Trainer of the Year five times and is on the New York Thoroughbred Breeders, Inc. (NYTB) board of directors.
What was your favorite winning moment of 2020?
Bond: Winning the West Point with Rinaldi was huge. He was a household horse for us and the partners. I was just proud of all the horses. They all showed up and ran well. I was happy for our clients, they didn’t bat an eye during COVID. We got through it as a family and as a team and I didn’t lay anyone off. I was proud that we kept the whole team together. We have a pretty big payroll between the farm and the track.
Our Saratoga meet in general was just awesome. The horses ran great. It was sad a lot of owners couldn’t attend being out of state. More than anything, it was hard not seeing the fans who love to come to Saratoga. But we were very fortunate as a stable.
Was there a horse that you thought exceeded expectations this year?
Bond: Prioritize is a horse that I’ve always liked. We picked him out at the sale ourselves and didn’t pay a lot. He was always a solid, training horse who always did what you wanted. I had him on the turf at first and he was getting close-but-no-cigar in those stake races. He always worked well on the dirt in the morning so finally we took a shot on the dirt and the rest is history. After the Woodward [where Prioritize finished third], we decided to give him one shot in the Gold Cup [fourth] and give him a rest. I’m excited for him for next year; he’s in top physical condition.
What was the best ride on a horse of yours this year?
Bond: Every horse Luis Saez rode for us at Saratoga was memorable for me. He had it tough. He had a positive COVID test and he had to serve days [at first]. His Saratoga meet was probably one of the best Saratoga meets for a rider when you go back and look at it. He wasn’t riding Chad [Brown’s] 2-1 shots, he was riding [Jimmy] Bond’s 10-1 shots.
He was playing catch up in a sense and [agent] Kiaran [McLaughlin] did a great job stepping in and taking his book after Richard DePass retired. I think it’s a great story. He gives you a confident smile when he gets on a horse saying, ‘We’re good boss, we’re good’. He’s such a nice person and that smile of his is contagious. I think New York racing is lucky to have a rider of his talent.
How much do you enjoy racing on the New York circuit?
Bond: I’m on the NYTB board and my wife is on the NYTHA board, so we believe in New York. I have a $4 million barn and a private racing barn at Saratoga, so I’m all in. I came from humble beginnings and was lucky to have a lot of nice owners who gave me a chance. I want everyone in New York to have that same dream. You have to have a couple people who believe in you along the way. When you come into Belmont Park or Saratoga, you better bring a racehorse. A few weekends back, the New York-breds won a lot of the big races across the country and New York-breds are really showing what they can do on a major scale. We had the [Grade 1] Starlet winner [Varda] here at the farm for six months and we still have her mother, She’ll Be Right, here at the farm too. She’s in foal to Maclean’s Music.
New York-breds are serious horses, like Tiz the Law and so many others. It’s remarkable how great we really are. The purse structure is what brings horses. I was so happy NYRA realized that when you increase purses, people come. It’s hard to do, because you’re sort of speculating on whether or not they do come. We have a lot of history here with some of the greatest races of all time and they’re exciting to win. Whether it’s the Bold Ruler or the Ruffian, when you walk into Belmont Park and look at all of those pictures on the walls you get goosebumps. I want the next generation to get that chance.
I’m very optimistic. We’re getting phone calls from all over North America of people who want to invest 10 or 20 thousand dollars because they think it’s fun. That’s our job, to make it fun. I think sometimes the racing industry forgets that it’s an entertainment business and we have to try hard and take pride in what we do.
As both an owner and a trainer, what was the most challenging part of this year given the COVID-19 pandemic. How did you overcome it?
Bond: We were pretty nervous during COVID in terms of how things would rebound. We were very lucky. Most of the owners stayed with us, supported us and made it through. I’m just proud that the horses and help really jumped in. It was really a team effort. The guys held the barn together. I didn’t go back to New York City a lot, but I have a great team of people, including Kevin and Ryan who both do a great job. My wife comes from a financial background and she was very keen. We sat down and planned it out. We had 11 yearlings we were going to sell, but the Fasig-Tipton New York sale was cancelled, and we didn’t want to just take them to Kentucky and have them possibly not race in New York, where we could get breeders awards.
We watched what NYRA was doing on FOX Sports and we decided to be bullish. It’s what NYRA did in November; they got bullish. They raised the purses and the horses stayed as a result. The advertising for our ownership group on the television show helped immensely. We’ve already signed up for next year. We were lucky to have had the inventory. We had a lot of 2-year-olds ready to go. We breed a wholesome horse and we buy some, too.
Many of your better horses this year are ones that also are owned by you. Talk about Bond Racing Stables and what the ownership group is about.
Bond: It’s a lot of fun. We have people from all over the country that were sitting home and tired of watching replays of golf and football during the pandemic. They tuned into America’s Day at the Races. We keep 50 percent of everything and we sell each share for 10 percent. There are no maintenance fees. It’s just like owning 10 percent of a sports team. They share in the rewards and the headaches. A lot of them are homebreds.
It’s so satisfying. Of course there’s a risk factor for ourselves, but 50 percent is not so bad and it gets a lot of new people in the game to see if they like it, but it’s a team mentality that I really like. It teaches people about our game without getting hurt. We make sure that the horses get placed, my wife Tina is very strong on aftercare and retirement making sure they get to the next safe spot and we have so many great stories about some of our old horses. [Multiple stakes winner] Our Way found a home in Massachusetts and he was a very good racehorse. It’s nice to see horses like him go to the next level.
What NYRA race would you most like to win?
Bond: I haven’t won the Jockey Club Gold Cup yet. I love distance horses, so that race is something that I can hopefully put on my resume someday.
The 2020-21 winter meet at Aqueduct returns to action on Thursday, December 31 and continues through Sunday, March 28.
NYRA Bets is the official wagering platform of Aqueduct Racetrack, and the best way to bet every race of the winter meet. Available to horseplayers nationwide, the NYRA Bets app is available for download today on iOS and Android at www.NYRABets.com.
For additional information, and the complete winter meet stakes schedule, please visit https://www.nyra.com/aqueduct/racing/stakes-schedule.