How To Acquire A Racehorse and The Search For the Club Horses

If you are going to be a racehorse owner – you need a racehorse!

There are a number of ways to acquire a racehorse. We’ll discuss each briefly and then delve into how we are going about acquiring ours.

1) Breed your own. This is the most expensive way into racehorse ownership. First you must have a broodmare, then pay to breed to a stallion. Gestation is 11 months and then it’s another two years before they hit the racetrack. All total, you have expenses for a minimum of three years.

Zenyatta and her 2012 foal.

Zenyatta and her 2012 foal.

2) Purchase a horse at a sale. The Washington Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association (WTBOA) holds a yearling sale each year. This year’s sale is August 18 and held at the Sales Pavilion at Emerald Downs. The majority of the horses in the sale are one year old and the sale is a live auction where you bid on the horse that you would like to own. Since the horse is one year old, you have your purchase price plus the expense of breaking and training the horse to prepare it for the races. Depending on the horse, they may be ready to race by their two-year-old year or three-year-old year. There are other sales around the country that have two-year-olds in training and horses of racing age. You may recognize Keeneland and Fasig Tipton as two sales company names.

Hip #48 at the 2014 WTBOA Yearling Sale sold for $28,000.

Hip #48 at the 2014 WTBOA Yearling Sale sold for $28,000.

3) Purchase a racehorse in training privately. This is an ideal way to purchase a racehorse. By purchasing privately you are able to do a pre-purchase exam with your veterinarian to check the horse’s overall health and soundness. The pre-purchase exam may help identify pre-existing conditions and save you money down the road. If the horse is already in training it can go straight to your trainer’s barn and continue it’s preparations to run. Of course, you just have to find another owner willing to sell! The other benefit is that there is no sales tax.

4) Claim a horse. Claiming horses are the bread and butter of horse racing. Claiming races account for the majority of races run in America. In a claiming race a horse is listed for a “tag” or price. This is the price for which it may be “claimed.” By running in a claiming race, anyone else may “drop a claim” for the horse provided they are licensed and have the appropriate funds with the horsemen’s bookkeeper. Running in claiming races carries a risk that you may lose your horse, but at the same time allows you to run among horses of a similar level where it can be competitive.

The 2014 Emerald Racing Club horses Anelina (pictured) and Dancing Yodeler were claimed from Golden Gate.

The 2014 Emerald Racing Club horses Anelina (pictured) and Dancing Yodeler were claimed from Golden Gate.

Claiming a horse is the quickest way to acquire a racehorse but it can be risky. The claim must be dropped into the claim box and time stamped no later than 15 minutes prior to post time. Therefore you have short window of time to see the horse walk to the paddock and make the decision to drop a claim based just on the horse’s past performances and appearance. State rules vary slightly, but for the most part, if you drop a claim, you own that horse once the gate opens regardless of it’s performance. If the horse is scratched on post parade or in the gate prior to the running of the race, you do not get to own the horse.

California recently put into effect a claiming rule that protects new owners in the event that the horse is injured while racing. If the claimed horse does not cool out to the state vet’s satisfaction in the test barn, the claim can be voided and the horse returned to the previous owner.

If more than one person drops a claim on the same horse then it goes to a “shake.” And it is quite literally a shake. You place as many peas as there are people into a jar and each person shakes out a pea one at a time. The new owner of the horse is the one that gets the #1 pea.

Upon being claimed, a plastic tag is hung on the horse’s bridle immediately after the race when they come back to be unsaddled. This identifies the horse as being claimed and then they are escorted to the test barn. At the test barn, the new owners’ groom will take off the bridle of the previous trainer and place their halter on the horse. Then that’s it – the horse now belongs to the new owner and will go to a new stall.

You may have heard about “jail time.” When you hear this term, it is referring to a set of rules at a track that puts claimed horses in “jail.” The jail time is the time that the horse has before they are free to run at another racetrack. This is intended to protect the horse population at a given track. If you claim a horse at Golden Gate, you may not race the horse elsewhere for 45 days OR you may run the horse back one time at Golden Gate and then be free to race it elsewhere.

Claiming races may sound complicated, but once you understand the process it sheds a whole new light on the racing business and maybe even your handicapping!


Our trainers, Larry and Sharon Ross, have been actively searching for our next horse. While Sharon trains the string at Emerald Downs, Larry is currently at Golden Gate in California evaluating potential claims and pursuing possible private purchases.

In the last two months, we have identified five potential claims that we have opted to pass on. Reasons that have prevented us from filling out a claim slip center primarily on learning specific details regarding each horse’s soundness that would prevent them from having a successful career at Emerald Downs.

We have “dropped a claim” (meaning we filled out a claim slip) on two separate horses, but in both instances we were “outshook.” Outshook means that multiple trainers dropped a claim on the horse and we weren’t lucky enough to shake out the right pea.

And finally, we have done a pre-purchase vet exam on two others. In each pre-purchase exam, we discover a physical condition that we did not feel comfortable with.

The first was a gelding that looked extremely promising on paper. To Larry’s practiced eye, he looked uncomfortable jogging and we opted to x-ray his knees. The result was discovering some bone calcification that could potentially chip off in the joint in the future – resulting in a bone chip. Bone chips can be removed, but it is an expensive surgery and takes time to recover. Given that this was a horse we were looking to purchase for less than $5,000, that would not have been a wise decision.

The second horse we had examined was a filly that also looked good on paper and looked like a fit for the dirt at Emerald Downs. Examination revealed that she had a likely infection in a tooth that may or may not have reached the jawbone. While this is something that can be treated and heal, we are looking for a horse that is ready to run for this season and we don’t have the luxury of granting a couple months off.

And so the search continues. Want to join in the fun? Check out entries for Golden Gate Fields and comment below! We are sticking to $3,200 – $12,500 claiming price so those are your parameters. Remember, Golden Gate is a synthetic surface so you’ll be looking for a horse suitable for a dirt surface at Emerald Downs. If you make a selection, and we pass on the horse, I’ll explain why.

You can find entries at under “Entries.”



24 thoughts on “How To Acquire A Racehorse and The Search For the Club Horses

  1. Hi Sophie
    This is so cool! I get to give input on a horse our club might claim. I am probably too excited but here goes; Maybe take a look at ‘Nina’s Dragon’ in race 4 @ GG on Saturday. The claiming price is 9k. She has done very nicely over the last 6 months in the meet, with 3 wins & 2 places in the last 5 races. She was foaled on 4/13/10. The last work on 3/28 looked pretty good. She is the favorite in the race @ 3-1.
    Thanks, Rick Dalzell

    • Hi Rick!

      Here’s what we “see” when we look at Nina’s Dragon.

      He’s five – a good age, and a gelding, also good.

      His record for 2015 is impressive with 4 starts, 2 wins and 2 seconds. When we go deeper into those races we see that two were for $5000n2x (non-winners of two condition claimer). These are essentially $5,000 claiming races but with conditions that make it easier for the horse to win. Next he ran for two races that were for $8000n2x (non-winners of two condition claimer). Again, these races likely had conditions that made it easier competition.

      So what we interpret from all that is that his level of competition is likely the $5,000 claimer level and at a claiming price of $9,000 on Saturday that might be more than what he’s worth. Granted, that’s not to say that he won’t run well and continue on his good form. It just means we would wait for a horse like that to drop back down to his appropriate level before we’d be willing to fill out a slip!

  2. The best option in my opinion this weekend would be Saturday 04/04, 4th race. Nina’s Dragon. Compari in the same race looks good, but a 9 year old makes me nervous. Thanks for letting us give our opinions!

  3. Hi Sophia I see Up the Alley is in again on Sunday.   Also I will be at orientation (Shari is a club member). I will be wiling to share my experience of last year.   Yodeler is training like a monster! Good luck in finding the right horse and another epic season!Glenn

  4. Hello Sophia!

    I have been keeping my eye on claimers at Golden Gate for Left Coast Thoroughbreds (aka Jim) and was very interested in a lightly raced filly named Wild Delilah. She is a 4 yr old Bay filly by stakes placed Grey Memo out of Wild About Grant. She has a few races on dirt and was successful though the rest on Golden Gate’s synthetic surface. Both parents as well as the dam’s sire were successful on the dirt. She has run between $3,200 & $5,000 over her last 5 starts with 1 win, 3 places, and a show, she has 11 lifetime starts with 9 on the board.

    We were super interested in her and I hope that the information helps you out. It would be neat to see her racing for the club. If Larry takes a look I would love to know what he thinks.

    here is the equibase link:

    Talk to you soon!

    -Maggie Kenison

  5. This is all very exciting and I can’t help but to agree that a decision to claim Nina’s Dragon on Saturday seems as if it would be very tenable. Also, I wonder what the prospects of “Mr Make Believe” who goes tomorrow would be. He seems as if he’s made a career out of being a good horse, I wonder if his age is an issue.

    • Hi Shane!

      Looking at his lifetime starts, 26 is actually quite lightly raced for an 8 year old. He’s got some large gaps in his history suggesting some potential soundness issues. Most recently between Feb 2014 and Nov 2014.

      He’s had one start on dirt and it was on a sloppy track so it’s hard to gauge how well he’d adapt.

      You got the right race, wrong horse! We claimed Charlie Thomas out of the same race. Mr Make Believe finished last in the race today.

      • Charlie ran a very nice race, this is so very exciting. Thanks for the great updates.

  6. I would like a horse that can run in the rain. I like the 4 horse in the 7th race on saturday at golden gate. First time starter. The trainer is bad ass from santa Anita. This horse hasa sibling who won 225k. 397 tomlinson for wet track that’s what I would want

  7. I would like frank to look at a filly in the second race on 4-5 at golden gate. Her name is up the alley, she runs long and looks good on stats, 90 speed figure!

  8. Hi Sophia
    I don’t know if you know this, but ‘Nina’s Dragon’ won his race today. Just thought I would share that with you. And yes I did have a bet on him. I really like the looks of ‘Charlie Thomas. If he trains & races well maybe he could be a factor in a stakes race this year. That would be so cool!
    Talk to you soon.
    Rick Dalzell

  9. Hi Sophia
    I agree with glenn&shari above with a horse running today in the 2nd race called ‘Up The Alley. She is on a 2 race win streak going for 3 today. Claiming price is 10K

  10. It’s exciting to see that we have our horse now, and a big welcome to Charlie Thomas! Last year I followed this blog and really enjoyed seeing how well Sophia managed the club, and provided everyone with information on what was happening with both horses every step of the way. This year I joined ERC and am looking forward to being an owner. I do have a question that I hope isn’t awkward, after reading Sophia’s post about deciding when to drop a claim on a horse: how do you get details of a horse’s condition prior to dropping a claim? You mentioned that Larry Ross’s experienced eye noticed something about one possible candidate for a claim. But how does one go about getting more specific information about a horse’s physical condition when he belongs to someone else, when one wants to claim him?


    • Hi Lauren,

      Great question! In some cases, you can just ask…but often, you don’t necessarily want everyone to know that you have your eye on a horse. In the case of Charlie Thomas, we knew that Emerald Downs trainer Dan Markle had him previously (the start prior). We approached him to see if he planned to claim the horse back and to see if he’d share any information on the horse.

      But…not all trainers are forthcoming with information and they may provide misleading information so that you don’t claim the horse! So it really comes down to Larry watching the horse coming down to the paddock and then taking the risk. Claiming is risky because you don’t have complete information on the horse beforehand and you just don’t know what you are going to get.

      Does that answer your question?

      • Yes, thanks, Sophia. Going to have a good look-see is never a mistake before putting cash on the line, in just about anything we do.

  11. Has anybody looked at Red N Black Attack in race 7 on Thursday. Looks like he could be pretty flashy…. Wonder what’s up with him, I see he won a big race in which he was claimed but not much else.

  12. Hey Sophia,

    Spending Plan in Race 4 on Thursday looks to be a nice little claimer Mare. What do you think?

    • Hi Devin!

      You are quite the handicapper! Spending Plan looks like she’s found a spot where she’s competitive and is likely favorite. As a 5 year old mare, our first question would be why has she only had 5 lifetime starts? I.e. what caused her to start once as a three-year-old, and then have a year off and come back as a five year old maiden. She’s running in conditioned company (non-winners of 2 lifetime). Once she wins that second race (maybe even on Thursday), she moves to N3L or Open where she would meet much tougher – i.e. horses that may have won many more races. That is what we would call “out of conditions” (there will be another blog post on that). We’d equate $6,250 N2L at Golden Gate to $5,000 claimer at Emerald. Do you see how she broke her maiden for $8,000? And now is in for $6,250 NW2, which is the equivalent level. She could be a great claim…but not without more information on that big gap.

      • I seem to always forget to look for the NW2L and such, just excited trying to find one I guess. That makes perfect sense though. This process is not nearly as easy as I expected it to be. haha Happy to be learning.

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