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Adam Shinder/Recorder staff From left to right, Pat Baia, Aaron Cotugno and John Iannotti Ñ three of the partners in Take a Shot Stables Ñ are pictured Wednesday at Shuttleworth Park.


Local group puts big effort into claiming horses

Thursday, July 17, 2014 - Updated: 10:14 AM


When Aaron Cotugno and his partners were getting into the horse racing game several years ago, they realized they'd need a name for the new stable. It didn't take long to settle on one that fit like a glove both for both the sport so tied with gambling and the way the partnership planned to operate.

"We always kept saying, 'Well, what do you think of this horse?' and I'd say, 'Let's take a shot,'" Cotugno said. "So, I thought, 'Let's be Take a Shot Stables.''"

Take a Shot Stables, with its aqua-and-orange silks inspired by Cotugno's love of the Miami Dolphins -- "Plus, the orange is easy to see, and we like to be able to see our horse when they're all packed up," Cotugno said -- consists of a handful of locally-based partners. Operating on a small scale, owning only one or two horses at a time under the stewardship of trainer Rudy Rodriguez, the group is able to stay more involved with the decision-making process than if they'd made an investment in a larger stable or syndicate.

"You can find a partnership anywhere, but what we like about ours is that we decide what we want to do, we call the shots as opposed to you invest your money and let somebody else manage it," Cotugno said.

"We've got a good group of partners that have the same attitude we do in terms of keeping the money in and building the pot up, as opposed to cashing out," fellow partner Pat Baia added.

The partnership formed several years ago thanks to a close relationship between Cotugno's uncle, John Leggiero, and Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero. When Take a Shot Stables purchased its first horse, Cordero served as the trainer. After Cordero retired from training, he hooked the group up with several other trainers before finally pairing Take a Shot with Rodriguez in 2011.

It was a perfect match. The first horse Rodriguez claimed for Take a Shot, Celebrity Sighting, won its first three races in their silks. Then, as is wont to happen in the claiming game, Celebrity Sighting was claimed by another trainer.

"We claimed her and she won three races in a row, then she was claimed again for twice the price we claimed her for," Cotugno said. "There's not much better you can do in three months. ... But, you can't get attached to these horses. They're not pets, and they're not going to be around (in your stable) forever."

"It's a business," added Take a Shot partner John Iannotti.

Change is the order of the day when it comes to claiming horses. Owners and trainers need to constantly be on alert, either when they enter their horses for a claim or when a horse they're interested is entered for a tag.

"You've got to be ready 24 hours," Rodriguez said by phone from his barn Wednesday as he prepared for the Saratoga Race Course meet to open Friday.

The claiming process involves plenty of legwork, much of it on Rodriguez's end at the track as he speaks with his various clients about potential purchases. For Take a Shot Stables, Cotugno said the choice of what horse to put in a claim for comes down to work done both by Rodriguez and the Take a Shot partners.

"The most important thing in claiming is to do some homework," Cotugno said. "You need to figure out why a horse is in for a claim. There can be something wrong with the horse, the owners want to get rid of the horse, sometimes it's just they need to pay their bills -- those are the ones you want to try and grab."

It's certainly been a successful combination. In addition to Celebrity Sighting's success before she was claimed away, Take a Shot Stables hit a huge milestone in 2013 when Amber Coast gave the group its first-ever win at Saratoga Race Course.

A win that, due to work commitments, both Cotugno and Iannotti missed.

"We were working, and the rest of the guys were there," a rueful Cotugno said with a smile. "I won't let that happen again."

This summer, the partnership is hoping to strike gold again with Painted Poney, who comes to Saratoga off a third-place finish July 9 at Belmont Park.

For a lifelong horse racing fan like Baia, ownership is an unimaginable thrill -- and far different from what he might've expected when he first got into the game.

"I never realized how involved it was until I met Johnny and Aaron," he said. "There's so much knowledge in horse racing that Johnny and Aaron have that makes it really fun. It's like having an expert involved, as opposed to just a fan like myself or some of the other owners."

And while at some point, the group would love to become the next claimer Cinderella story -- something Rodriguez knows a bit about, having trained former claimer Belle Gallantey to a win in Saturday's $750,000 Delaware Handicap -- they're perfectly happy taking shots and calling their own.

"There's a difference between partnerships and what we do," Iannotti said. "In other partnerships, there's a guy that runs the partnership and he's the person that's gonna make money. Partnerships are good for racing fans, but if you're in the industry and you want to have a real partnership, you want to be in a partnership the way we are."

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