How to Acquire a Racehorse

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

There are a number of ways to acquire a racehorse. As we just announced, we acquired Archie Graham via claiming but this isn’t the only way to acquire one.

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 Tuesday, August 23 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.

Here’s a video of Zenyatta selling as a yearling for $60,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale (if you are viewing in email, you’ll have to visit for the video to play):

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.

2015 Emerald Racing Club horse Charlie Thomas was claimed in California for the Club, then claimed from the Club at Emerald Downs, and once more reclaimed for ERC.

2015 Emerald Racing Club horse Charlie Thomas was claimed in California for the Club, then claimed from the Club at Emerald Downs, and once more reclaimed for ERC.

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.

The dreaded "claim tag" (red circle).

The dreaded “claim tag” (red circle).

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.

In the case of Archie, we are opting to ship him to Emerald Downs and sit in jail for 45 days. This means he won’t be eligible to run until the week of May 13. This allows for two things to happen; 1) he gets a brief rest and 2) he has a chance to acclimate to the dirt surface.

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!

Archie Update:

Trainer Larry Ross reports that Archie came out of his race in good order. He’ll be looking to make shipping arrangements for him from Golden Gate to Emerald Downs and with any luck he’ll be here in the next week.



Meet Archie Graham!


Congratulations! You are now the owners of Archie Graham, a 4 year old, grey gelding. He was claimed for $8,000 out of the second race at Golden Gate Fields in California (Full Chart).

Archie Graham broke well and ran evenly to finish third in the 1 mile race on the Tapeta surface.  archie_headshotHere’s what we liked (Archie Graham Past Performances):

He’s a consistent runner with a lifetime 18 starts, 3 wins, 3 seconds and 3 thirds for an in the money (ITM) percentage of 50%.

He has run primarily on turf and synthetic surfaces, but beat Mr. Takahashi back in May 2015. Mr. Takahashi came to Emerald Downs and won at $15,000 and $25,000 claiming levels. Archie has raced twice on dirt with two third place finishes.

He has run long and short with modest success and appears to be a versatile horse that could be a closing sprinter or route horse.

Trainer Larry Ross will advise us on the best time to ship him to Emerald Downs after we see how he comes out of his race.


  1. Get your license. Instructions are in the Welcome Email. If you haven’t received the welcome email, please send an email to
  2. Save the date! Emerald Racing Club Orientation is Sunday, April 10. More details to follow.







Registration Closed

Registration for the 2016 Emerald Racing Club is now closed. We have reached 200 members!

If you are interested in the Club for 2017, please email to be placed on the notification list.

Reminder: Save the date – Sunday, April 10 for Emerald Racing Club Orientation. Details to follow.