Brown Road Racing provides opportunity for women in horse racing
by Mary Eddy
Women interested in learning the ropes of racehorse ownership now have a unique opportunity to become involved thanks to the vision of Michelle Borisenok, founder and president of a boutique partnership called Brown Road Racing.
Founded in 2018 with the purchase of a filly named Gotta B Bold, Brown Road Racing and its seven partners are enjoying the journey of racehorses from birth to retirement with Borisenok at the helm.
Borisenok said the inspiration for a partnership for women came from the scenes of families at the racetrack during her visits to the Oklahoma Training Track at Saratoga Race Course in the years leading up to the partnership’s founding.
“I could just see this vision of women taking their families and getting a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on at the racetrack, and it just felt like there wasn’t an avenue for it yet,” said Borisenok, a well-known philanthropist in the Capital Region of New York and an advocate for the advancement of women in business and society.
Borisenok first became involved in horse racing through partnerships and syndicates with her husband, Walt, spending the past two decades attending the races in the company of mostly men.
“I was in a male-dominated partnership and felt like I was left out of the decision making,” said Borisenok. “I saw a lot of male owners and trainers and thought about how so many women enjoy this industry but don’t know how to get involved with it. So, I wanted to allow women to share in the camaraderie of racing and to bring up the next generation. I truly believe that horses bring people together.”
The dream became reality when Borisenok purchased Gotta B Bold for $35,000 out of the Winter Quarter Farm Consignment at the 2018 Fasig-Tipton New York-bred Preferred Sale. A daughter of Freud, Gotta B Bold is named for the BOLD Women’s Leadership Group at the College of Saint Rose, Borisenok’s alma mater located in Albany, N.Y.
Borisenok’s commitment to the advancement of women includes a $1.2 million donation to the BOLD program, which allowed for the construction of the Michelle Cuozzo Borisenok ’80 House to provide the group with a place to hold meetings and address the issues women face in the community.
Gotta B Bold went on to be the first starter for Brown Road Racing, running three times in partnership with My Mary Stables before she was retired with a second career on the horizon. Gotta B Bold, along with a majority of Brown Road Racing’s runners, was conditioned by Ray Handal, who Borisenok said she selected because of his alignment with her ideals of transparency and equine welfare.
“I went to the backstretch to find a trainer when I started out. I met Ray and he really cares for his horses and takes the time to talk to the owners,” said Borisenok. “He takes the time to look at the horses as an individual: what’s in their best interest and what care they need. He communicates well with the partners before and after a race. It speaks a lot, especially for NYRA, about the quality and care for the horses that are on each property.”
Among their success with Handal was a breakout win in the 2021 Cicada at Aqueduct Racetrack with Just Read It, who also gave the partnership their first victory when she broke her maiden last January.
“That was so exciting,” said Borisenok. “She was awesome and it was a great partnership with Ken Russell and Ray. We saw her develop through the years. She took some time off and she really became athletic. It was an exciting time to be in the winner’s circle, especially for the Cicada.”
Borisenok said the Cicada victory was a turning point for the partnership.
“What an honor, and it gave us the momentum to get going in the industry and a great foundation moving forward,” Borisenok said. “It takes a village. I attribute that to our entire partnership, our trainer, and everyone behind the scenes.”
Brown Road Racing's website highlights five horses currently in training for the partnership, including a 2-year-old Mendelssohn colt with Handal purchased from the Fasig-Tipton Mid-Atlantic Fall Yearling Sale.
Along with introducing women to the thrill of horse racing, Borisenok said it is also important to share the entire journey of the horse from birth to retirement with her partners.
“I want to show the other aspect of retirement as well – what happens after a horse races,” Borisenok said. “We recently did a Zoom call with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation with our partners. It’s an experience like no other to follow the journey of the pregnant mare, to the birth and then through their life to retirement.”
Borisenok said that the small number of partners in the group is by design, allowing for a personal connection with each partner and a unique experience not offered by other outfits.
“We are a small boutique operation and I like to communicate with our partners about everything from sales to training to keep them informed on a personal basis,” said Borisenok. “They can help me make decisions going forward and we work together as a team to decide what’s in the best interest of the horse. A few of our members are industry professionals and some are going behind the scenes for the first time. They’re all very dedicated.”
The Borisenoks also own and operate Old Tavern Farm in Saratoga Springs where they breed and raise horses either for sale or to race under the farm’s name separately from Brown Road Racing. Borisenok said her roots in the Empire State, as well as the racing programs offered, are what led them to start a breeding business in New York.
“New York is home and NYRA is well-respected in the community,” said Borisenok. “It’s a thrill to have a thoroughbred racehorse on site. It’s a lifetime dream and New York has quality programs. The stakes races are outstanding, the trainers are professional, as is the overall environment. There’s no place like New York for horse racing.”
Borisenok, who founded Capital Business Ventures in 1985 and has conducted business in the Capital Region since, said there is a special atmosphere in the Saratoga area when racing begins each summer.
“We see the downtown area come alive with the Saratoga meet. It gives opportunity to the restaurants, shops, hotels, and women-owned businesses to continue to move forward,” said Borisenok. “NYRA is a huge part of helping the community.”
As Borisenok reflected on what her experience with Brown Road Racing has been like so far, including a win last summer at Saratoga with the New York-bred filly No Payne, she said it is important to continue to highlight the achievements of women in the industry and beyond to inspire the next generation.
“My happiness is seeing the excitement of my partners and following the journey of the horse, from training, to racing and winning, and then to their journey further on as they retire or become broodmares,” Borisenok said. “I want to help give women the opportunity to make an impact on society. In the thoroughbred industry, women do have the opportunity to succeed. The women who have succeeded give other women the confidence to do the same.”
For more information on Brown Road Racing, visit https://brownroadracing.com/.