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.
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.
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.
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 http://www.equibase.com under “Entries.”