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Makah veterinarian establishes racing business

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WALNUT CREEK, Calif. - It may be a long way from the Makah reservation at Neah Bay, Wash., to the Golden Gate Meadows race track near San Francisco. But when you're as focused on your goals as Dr. Mike Parker, destinations are never in doubt.

Raised on the remote Makah reservation, by the eighth grade Parker had caught a severe case of horse fever. By age 14 he had read every horse book he could get his hands on at the school library and set his sights on being a jockey. By age 15 and well past the prerequisite jockey peak of 5-feet 2-inches in height, he changed his mind and set out to be a race horse trainer.

By age 16 he decided training wasn't the right path and chose to combine his love for science with his love for horses. An equine veterinarian was what he would be. And one day, one day, he would have a string of race horses of his very own.

Parker never lost sight of his dreams. In 1989 he graduated from Tufts University in Boston with his doctorate in veterinary medicine. Ten years later friend and ex-college roommate Ken Santi called him up and prompted him to get started on the race horse dream.

"Every time I would visit him after I got out of vet school he would say, 'Well, are you going to get the race horses yet?' And I would say, 'No, not yet. I can't afford to do it.

"So about a year and a half ago he said, 'Well, I don't want to have one foot in the grave. Let's do it."

Santi became Parker's first investor in a yearling colt named War Paint Dancer.

Within a week of his first purchase, Parker had gathered $16,000 from eager friends who heard about his start up in the racing business. Eight shares in War Paint Dancer quickly sold. So Parker went out and located another yearling, a well-pedigreed filly from Seattle's Slew's line called Ruby Slew's Day. Almost before he knew it, Parker was in the race horse business.

He chose the name Alki Roma for his stable, using the Makah word 'Alki' meaning welcome and adding the word Roma in honor of his first investor Santi's Italian American ancestry.

Parker makes it clear that having an experienced thoroughbred track vet heading the operation is a huge advantage for his investors.

The process of vetting a horse at a sale - evaluating conformation and conducting radiographs and endoscopic exams can be very costly on a per horse basis. For racing enthusiasts who don't blink dropping an average $600,000 for a yearling at the Keeneland auction, vet bills are insignificant. But for the buyers like Parker in the $50,000 and under range - the savings is vital.

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"At our level we're trying to get the horse that slips through the cracks because people can't pay to have them all evaluated," Parker said. "I research like a maniac on the pedigrees. And last time, I looked at 90 horses at one sale to get the two of them that I did in July."

A year and a half since his first purchase, Parker and his investors own four 2-year olds and two 3-year olds.

Shares are sold in individual horses, with each partner owning 10 to 22.5 percent. Alki Roma owns 10 percent of each horse and operates as the managing partner. Cost of shares varies between $1,000 and $12,500. Investors are responsible for all expenses including stabling, training, feed and entry fees. Once the horses start running, purse distributions will be paid monthly to each partner.

Although most horses don't go on to become winners, those that do can be expected to earn an average of $100,000 to $300,000 per year for as long as five years.

And lest investors think that buying a less-expensive colt or filly means less in potential winnings, Parker reminds them that Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew and Kentucky Derby winner Real Quiet were purchased for less than $20,000. And many other less-expensive and lesser-known horses have gone on to be solid stakes winners.

Now that he has the horses - and he plans on buying at least five to 10 more every year - it is Parker's dream that some will go on to be decent stakes winners at good tracks like Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields. His ultimate goal is to produce at least one entry in at least one of the Triple Crown races, the Kentucky Derby, Belmont or Preakness, within the next five years.

Chuck Hudson, a friend for the last 20 years who works at the Columbia Intertribal Fish Commission in Washington, said he has no doubts Parker will take his dream all the way.

"He guaranteed this would happen from the first time I met him. He always said there would be a day when he would bring together his Makah pride, his love of horses, his savvy as a horseman and as a veterinarian and as a lover of the sport of racing and roll it all together in that first race.

"You knew it would happen. But just not when."

When that first race will happen is precisely the question Parker is asking himself. War Paint Dancer was scheduled to start in a maiden allowance race at Golden Gate Fields in December, but got pneumonia.

"That's the horse business," says Parker, somewhat ruefully. "Ruby Slew's Day will hopefully start first in March. But I don't want to say anything and jinx it."