Famed economist John Maynard Keynes’ notion of “animal spirits” is regularly invoked to explain the emotions that imbue entrepreneurs and investors with “a spontaneous urge to action,” often at great personal and financial risk. The enterprise of Thoroughbred horse racing and breeding has endured for more than two centuries precisely because of the animal spirits that drive some humans to seek out dicey propositions.

Breeding and racing fast horses are monetarily and emotionally perilous endeavors that can end in dashed hopes and broken hearts. Mating the best to the best guarantees nothing and the finest racehorse is one bad step away from the sidelines or retirement. Yet, at the pinnacle, there is the satisfaction and exhilaration that come with raising or racing a champion.

People who choose to breed and race horses are inveterate risk seekers, or else they would find a more stable line of work or hobby for their restless energies. The larger-than-life turf impresario Colonel E. R. Bradley was an archetype–a gold miner, professional gambler, and bookmaker. Similarly, racehorse and racetrack owner Art Rooney used his pari-mutuel winnings to buy the professional football franchise that became the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Not surprisingly, many prominent owners have made their fortunes in such feast-or-famine ventures as energy exploration, diamond hunting, and ranching. The American oil patch has been a particularly plentiful source of players, and more recently oil scions from the Middle East have come into racing prominence.

Today, a new generation of eminently successful entrepreneurs–inventors and innovators of products/services and founders of companies, too numerous to name–have followed suit. These high flyers realized financial success, thus enabling them to become deeply involved in the adventure called racing that has intrigued and mystified people for hundreds of years.

In the ballad “Run for the Roses,” Dan Fogelberg croons of a horse with a ‘chance of a lifetime in a lifetime of chance.” Chance and racehorses are inseparable companions, on Derby Day and all the other days of the year.

Copyright © 2013 The Blood-Horse. Used with permission.