Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Livin’ The Dream With An ‘Extended Family’

There were quite a few people standing on the apron at Turfway Park last Saturday, and Kelly Colliver was not quite tall enough to see over them as the field for the G3 Bourbonette Oaks turned for home. She heard a part of the call over the loudspeakers and was able to make out that one of the sophomore fillies was four lengths in front at the top of the stretch, though she didn't catch a name.

“I couldn't see what was going on,” Colliver said. “My husband is fairly tall, so I asked him who was ahead by so many lengths, and he said, ‘We are.'”

Excitement coursed through the 47-year-old real estate appraisal expert, and moments later Purely a Dream recorded her first graded stakes win under veteran jockey Robby Albarado, crossing the wire two lengths in front of her competition. The victory earned the daughter of Pure Prize a chance to start in the Kentucky Oaks, a place Colliver and her 15 partners in Livin the Dream Racing Stable (spelled without the “g”) hadn't even dreamed of.

“It's pretty exciting to even have that in the conversation,” said Colliver. “The Bourbonette wasn't even on the table until a few weeks ago, but she'd just been training unbelievable coming off the layoff.”

Purely a Dream has been a good investment for the partnership thus far, running second on debut at Keeneland last fall, then breaking her maiden over a mile on the turf a few weeks later. A poor finish in an allowance race at Churchill led trainer Kenny McPeek to suggest giving her a break over the winter, and it seems to have been exactly what the spunky chestnut filly needed.

“She's quirky,” laughed Colliver. “She's very sweet, but she does not like her hooves picked out. She's very proud of herself, but she doesn't want to be fooled with when it comes to stuff like that.”

Though the jubilant winner's circle celebration may have obfuscated it, the Livin the Dream syndicate has had graded stakes success before. Colliver, the co-managing partner, began the group in 2007 with the idea to purchase a single filly at the Keeneland September Yearling sale.

“I honestly always thought it was a sport that only the wealthy could be involved in,” she said. “I had a friend of a friend that invited me into their partnership, and that's where I met Hal Burge, the other co-manager of the Livin the Dream partnership since its inception. After several years in another partnership, we just said ‘hey, why don't we do this ourselves, and invite who we want to invite to join us?'”

Placing their trust entirely in McPeek, Colliver and Burge sent him to the 2007 sale with a budget of $60,000. The trainer struck gold that very first year; the filly named Dream Empress won the Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades in her third lifetime start. She followed up that performance with a second-place effort in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Each year since, Colliver and Burge have organized another group under the nom de guerre Livin the Dream, adding the year of purchase to the official forms to distinguish the partnerships from one another. They keep to the same pattern, sending McPeek to the September sale each fall to pick out a yearling filly, budgeting between $60,000-$70,000.

“More than half of the current partners in Purely a Dream were also partners in Dream Empress,” Colliver said proudly. “They've ridden the wave along with us because we've had a couple not-so-nice fillies in between.”

While success on the track is certainly a bonus, Colliver said that it isn't the sole reason for Livin the Dream's existence. So many of the original partners have stayed involved in order to benefit from other unique aspects of the partnership.

“We all just really enjoy the whole process, the breaking, the training,” Colliver said. “So many of us like to go to the morning workouts and visit in the afternoons at the barn. Luckily, Kenny McPeek and his staff are really open to us being around and being present in the barn. That's what made it more attractive for the people we invited in.”

Additionally, neither Colliver nor Burge take any commission for their managerial roles.

“We don't mark up anything, we don't charge anything to run the partnership,” said Colliver. “For 10 years running, we have done it strictly for the fun of it. People say we're crazy for not doing that, but we want everyone to be on the same playing field as us. We just want you to feel a connection with the horse and with the rest of the partners, to keep it intimate. We've kind of become an extended family.”

The Livin the Dream family is anxiously awaiting the filly's next start, which Colliver said will likely come in the G3 Appalachian Stakes, a one-mile turf contest on April 13 at Keeneland. After that, McPeek will have the ultimate say-so as to whether to take a shot in the Run for the Lillies.

“We do not tell the trainer what to do or where to place her,” Colliver explained. “He swings for the fences. If he truly believes that she's training well enough over the dirt, and her performances have been strong enough to take a shot at the Oaks, then we're along for the ride.”

Livin the Dream takes a similar approach at each year's Keeneland September sale, allowing McPeek total freedom of selection with the group's funds.

“We give him a budget, and it must be a filly and a Kentucky-bred,” said Colliver. “Other than that, she just has to have four legs and whatever he sees in her.”

Purely a Dream is the ninth of 10 fillies McPeek has so far selected for the group. Colliver has been nothing but pleased with the success of each of the 10 partnerships, if not on the track, then in bringing people together to enjoy the Sport of Kings.

“None of us in the syndicate over the years have come from a family of horse racing, or worked in the horse industry,” she said. “Every single one of us is just a die-hard fan and lover of the sport and the animal.”

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