“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and imperfections.” ~ John Lennon
It had been hiding in the back of his mind, tugging at him with the determination of a young child desperately trying to get his parent’s attention, grabbing at their pant leg and pulling over and over again. It crept into his daydreams – the ones of his future, his family, his career, his life – asking the same question again and again. It was the one question that kept desperately trying to get him to listen:
“What do you really love?”
He found himself asking it in every memorable moment in his life:
As he dreamt of the days he stood by his father’s side as a child, praying for the two dollar bets his father played to pay off. The single sibling out of seven accompanying his dad to the track, basking in the one on one time…
As he reminisced of the Kentucky Derby of 1978, standing beside his father watching the Affirmed and Alydar rivalry play out in front of his eyes…
As he remembered the sweet smell of horse hair the first time he got close enough to push his face deep into the thick shag of a horse’s coat at twelve years old, taking a long inhale of that infamous horse scent. It’s a scent that takes a racing heart to a quiet beat, an angry fist to a softened hand, and a breathless chest to a deep rise and fall…
As he recalled the connection he felt that day, a connection that solidified a lifelong love, a connection to an animal he had admired from afar for so long…
In Germany, as a young man with the military, at the fall of the Berlin Wall…
As his military career was careening towards its final days…
As he moved into the corporate world, searching for a means of supporting his family where he put in hours of unfulfilling work day after day.
Finally, one day, Terry Finley had enough. “It kept coming back to me that the people who kept coming into my life that were really happy and passionate about their business and their life were the people in the horse business,” he said. Terry and his wife claimed a horse at Philadelphia Park, and the answer to the question that had been nagging at him for years became incredibly clear.
“What do you really love?” He asked himself. “Horse racing,” he answered, as he walked out of the insurance company he had been working for, burning all bridges and any hope of a return in the moment that West Point Thoroughbreds was born.
From that moment on, everything Terry Finley has done has been out of love and a passion for the sport, the people, and the horses in racing and in doing so, West Point Thoroughbred has continued to gain success. Now with over 500 clients and racehorses all over the country, Terry has become the access point for new blood coming into the sport. He allows trainers to do their job without the frustrations that can come along with dealing with multiple owners in a partnership; Terry takes care of the partners, the trainers take care of the horses. With that philosophy under foot, West Point allows partners to immerse themselves in racing thoroughly and without the stress of the smaller details that can overwhelm a new owner.
“We are a premium brand,” Terry states. “We don’t downplay the fact that we’re expensive. In return, a partner gets a team that’s fully staffed and is absolutely focused every single day on getting the horses they’ve invested in in being as successful as possible.”
The team around Terry Finley that makes up West Point Thoroughbreds is an expansive team of experts who each bring something different to the table. If he learnt anything about running a business from the military, Terry admits it’s the importance of a good team and the skill to run one. “It’s all about the people that you work with because you get differing views and different outlooks and different styles and all those things go in to a team,” he says. There are team members who specialize in the sales, some in marketing, some in training, others in the client experience, crunching numbers, and the list goes on until every aspect is taken care of.
With a team loaded with knowledge, Terry loves the challenge of adapting and growing and learning to find the most success for their partners. He pushes to be “forward in the foxhole,” as he puts it – a term reminiscent of his military days – where he’s always proactively working towards the next key to success.
“You keep learning and you see what people do,” he says. “There’s a big data element in our game and that data element is such that you can see what somebody’s record is. You can see how they do at the sales, so you’re constantly able to evaluate. This is a game that the most important thing is a great thing that we have in our business is the finish line. Either you get there first or you don’t. That’s what I love, because it always comes out; we just like to get our hands on the horses that have the right answers.”
It is the love for the finish line, and the love for the game that has kept Terry hungry for excellence and by surrounding himself with experts in all areas of his business, it allows him to enjoy the part of the business he is the best at – people.
At 14 years old, Terry found himself at Belmont Park as a swing groom. With a Meadows Stable horse in hand at the wash racks, a woman stepped out of her car. Honey blonde curls balanced high on her head, she looked over at the young boy with her horse in his hand, and greeted him with a simple “hello.” It’s a moment Terry admits he will never forget, the moment the legendary Penny Chenery acknowledged his existence, but it has also shaped how he treats people around him. When you’re in a moment with Terry, there is nothing else in the world happening. No matter how busy the environment is around you, everything in that moment stops as he completely engages with you:
“I guess through the years as I’ve seen [it with] more and more people, both successful and not successful. Being on the end of having somebody look right through you, it’s like – those are the things people remember. So, it’s all about people… we want to be respected and they want to be respected. How else can you better respect somebody than, when they’re engaging with you, giving them your attention? And it’s a constant challenge when you have a lot of people and you’ve got a horses, but, it’s good. I think that’s something that I will continue to work on…because I know what that means and I know how cool that is.”
For partners investing in West Point and, thus, Terry, that single trait is what takes the experience to a whole different level. Aside from the incredible expertise, knowledge, skill, and educational experience the team provides partners, one interaction with Terry gives the impression that he is a man who genuinely loves the sport and the people in it. He has dedicated his life to bringing new people into the game in a way where they feel seen and supported through the process, easing the fear and allowing them to fall deeply in love with the sport.
Ultimately, Terry’s success comes from an accumulation of the people he surrounds himself with and the person that he is. He’ll tell you how important karma is to his business, how he “inject[s] energy and positivity” into it every day of his life, and how treating people right is the guiding principle he practices.
In the end, with his wife beside him – the same way they started West Point Thoroughbreds 26 years ago – all those things got Terry and his team to the winner’s circle at the Kentucky Derby. When Always Dreaming crossed the finish line first, he not only answered all the questions for the West Point team, but he also solidified the answer to the one question that gnawed at Terry Finley his whole life:
“What do you really love?”