QandA with Kerry and Alan Ribble of Ribble Farms

Horse Racing Radar
Rich Bieglmeier
Rich Bieglmeier is a Staff writer for Horse Racing Radar
Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The wife and husband team of Ribble Farms, LLC are this week's guests on the Player's Edge Podcast. Kerry and Alan Ribble share some fantastic family history to America's Past-time, personal stories and connections to Oaklawn Park and Louisiana Downs that stretch for decades, advice for those who might like to own racehorses and possibly the greatest Christmas Gift, ever.

 Your father was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers. You were probably too young to see him play, but do you have any memorabilia like baseball cards, programs? And what sort of stories did your dad tell you about being a professional baseball player?  


Kerry Ribble: My dad loves telling stories about playing with Brooks Robinson.  I have a nephew named after Brooks and when he was born Brooks R. sent signed baseballs to all the boy grandkids. 


I remember friends in Jr. high coming to me and showing me my dad's name in Brooks Robinson's biography from the school library.  Lynch isn't a common name and they wanted to know if I knew the guy. 


Brooks always said that my dad was a better catcher than Brooks, who was a shortstop, but apparently Brooks ended up being able to hit a curveball better than my dad.  I only heard in this past year that my dad passed up a baseball scholarship to LSU to go pro.  I think he has questioned that decision through the years.  


HRR: Your dad also started a horse racing publication, Inside Connection, for Oaklawn Racing Casino and Harrah's Louisiana Downs. What role did that play in you becoming interested in horse racing? 


Kerry Ribble: As far as I can remember, my dad has been involved in the publication.  So, we ended up hearing a lot about the tracks and the betting aspect of the sport.  My mom and dad's enthusiasm and being close to both these racetracks sparked our original interest in making trips to the track as spectators. 


One of our first dates was to Oaklawn Park and we spent a day of our honeymoon at LA Downs.  I think that is why Alan gave me a racehorse for Christmas in 2015 - trying to make up for a less than stellar honeymoon destination.  Though at the time it was a treat to get to the racetrack.  LA Downs was in its heyday.  


HRR: What handicapping tips did you learn from your parents? 


Kerry Ribble: These past two years my mom and dad have stayed at our Hot Springs home during the Oaklawn race meet. We analyzed races and talked horses every waking hour. 


I can't begin to tell you all the things that I learned listening to him during a time when what he was saying meant something to me as a horse owner and a person who is always combing the past performances looking for horses to claim.  He never picks a maiden win last to win its next race...I cheat a little and will put one in my exotic bets.  There are no computers involved in his selection process; he is old school and can read a racing form like a master.  He has a system for all his calculations.  


He also has a secret Exacta Key system horse formula that he has shared with me.  Sometime, I need to share that with you other handicappers and see if you can tell me why the angles for that system work. 


Once he makes his top selections, he will most often give a nod to a horse based on the trainer and jockey records.  I probably don't do that enough, but should.  I can handicap a mid-level claiming race all day long because I am searching for a horse to claim, but give me a bunch of high-level horses and I get lost.  They are all just too good.  


HRR:  You went to the University of Oklahoma and are an oil and gas businessman, founder of Atlanta Exploration Company. How did horse racing become part of the picture?     


Alan Ribble: I wanted to get involved with something totally different on my weekends than work.  Going to the track became our "hobby", but I quickly figured out that betting on the horses was tough.  However, buying and racing horses was a business where everyone involved wins when your horse wins.   While it is work studying horses and thinking through their future prospects, it is rewarding when a good horse is bought or claimed. 


HRR: In what ways are exploring for oil and gas like searching for championship thoroughbreds?    


Alan Ribble: I learned really fast that these two businesses are very much the same.  When drilling wells, some are complete losses, some are OK, and one or two are great and pay for all the other mistakes and hopefully more.  With our horses, we have had the same results.


We have claimed some that we raced, they never placed, and then we gave them away.  Others paid their way, but that was about it.   However, we have had a few "money horses" or horses that paid for the whole barn with their winnings.  My experience in the oil business has taught me to not let the washouts stop me from still looking for the horses that can be real winners.


HRR: Tell us about how you decided to own racehorses and start Ribble Farms, LLC? 


Kerry Ribble: Alan and I bought a home in Hot Springs and found ourselves spending weekends at the races.  We met jockey, Terry Thompson, through a mutual friend and Alan reached out to him about helping him find a trainer to help us purchase a horse.  Alan kept this all a surprise and that is what he gave me for Christmas in 2015 - All wrapped up in a box was a picture of the jockey, our new trainer, David Vance, and a bronze horse with a poem indicating we were getting an animal...I had to figure out the horse part.  My kids told him that it was going to be the best Christmas gift ever or the biggest bomb of a gift ever.  So far it is a gift that keeps on giving.   


Alan Ribble: I really didn't know how Kerry would react to claiming horses, especially when someone else claims them from you right after they race.  However, while we do get somewhat attached to our horses, we have realized that a part of the business is that they move to another barn at some point.  Our jockey got off our first horse after its second race for us and told us the horse just wasn't that fast.  It was claimed in that race and Kerry's reaction was "Can we claim another one in the next race?"  At that point I knew then she was hooked.  


HRR: How many horses do you have in the barn now and how big do you want to get? 


Kerry Ribble: We have scaled back this past year.  Covid uncertainties for horses to race in 2020 caused us to take a pause.  We are currently feeding 3 horses. Our 4th was claimed a few weeks back. In the claiming game you are sort of a revolving door of horses and claiming at Oaklawn is crazy. 


A good horse will end up being a 15-20 way shake where most other tracks you might be in a 5 way shake for the same horse.  We have been testing several business plans and haven't landed on exactly where we want to be.  I would have as many as a barn will hold, but I don't see the training bills.


Alan Ribble: I really don't have a number of horses that I want to carry.   If we think a horse can win at their racing level for a while. I want to keep it until they prove otherwise.  If a horse is for sale or in a claiming race that we feel strongly about, I will try to get him.  However, we have definitely learned that when a horse starts slipping, let it go fast.  


HRR:  What is the most rewarding part of owning a stable of racehorses beyond winning races? 


Kerry Ribble: I love the challenge of finding a horse to look at to claim in hopes of finding one that can advance to the allowance level of racing - so you could call it "horse shopping".  I also thoroughly enjoy working and learning this business with Alan.  We are on an equal playing field with our knowledge and can talk for hours about the horses. 


Alan Ribble: I think I have enjoyed learning a totally new business with Kerry.   As a couple, this is something we can talk about for hours.   We have discussed whether to drop a claim a horse from the time I get home from work until bedtime.  Several times a week, I come home from work and her first response is "What do you think about this horse?"


HRR: What advice would you give yourselves if you could rewind and start Ribble Farms from scratch? 


Kerry Ribble: I think that I might tell myself to lower my expectations.  We landed on the horse BAD STUDENT in the first few months of starting out.  That horse won for us in some of the most exciting ways.  He won his first race for us right after we claimed him at Oaklawn with Terry Thompson on board and next at Churchill Downs for our first time at the Twinspires. 


I think that he won 8 or 9 races for us and was in the money about that many times.  That is just unheard of starting out and we were spoiled thinking that getting to the winner's circle was easy.  It just got us hooked and now that is how we think it is supposed to be all the time.  We are gradually letting the reality of the business sink in.  It is hard to win horse races and especially at our home track, Oaklawn Park, where the purses are the highest in the nation.  


HRR: Alan, Boomer Sooners? Are they ever going to break through in the BCS Playoffs and win the Championship?   


Alan Ribble: Yes, Oklahoma doesn't like being second to anyone for long.  I really hope they get their BCS Championship the year AFTER the Razorbacks win theirs.  WPS (That's not Win, Place, Show).  

Join us for more from Alan and Kerry Ribble on this week's episode of The Player's Edge and how you too might wind up being a horse owner and starting your own barn.