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.



9 thoughts on “How to Acquire a Racehorse

  1. Ahh, Zenyatta! A Zenyatta moment forever etched in my mind is certainly her run in the 09 Breeders Cup. If you haven’t watched it in a while it’s certainly always worth a YouTube view. Certainty one of the great races but for me nothing will ever top Lava Man’s run in the 06 Hollywood Gold Cup. It’s a must watch!

    These are obviously beloved and historic horses but above all of these are the memories forever etched in our minds and hearts by and with Charlie Thomas. These are memories that could last a hundred lifetimes and words will never explain the love we have for him.
    It’d be nice to see all of our club races over the last two years re-broadcast on the jumbotron!

  2. If Larry Ross claims another horse or 2 for the club at GG, it would be nice to run our claimed horse at GG once to possibly win a purse & then be free to enter him or her at Emerald without jail time.

    • This is a possibility, however, the horse would not be able to run in the Club’s name because we are not licensed owners in CA. Also, you risk losing the horse to someone else claiming it. The jail rule is 45 days OR the end of the meet, whichever comes first.

  3. Emerald Downs is a beautiful track and on a beautiful morning, I always thought it would be nice if our horse could just walk and feel the sunshine with us! Perhaps in memory of Charlie Thomas, maybe we could do this on July 30th at the fundraiser for retired racehorses?

  4. Jeff has a good suggestion about running another claimed horse at GG to avoid the jail rule. Does that rule still apply if a horse is claimed within days of GG closing, when the horse would likely be leaving that track to go elsewhere anyway?

      • Thanks Sophia. You mentioned that if we were able to run him in CA (which we can’t), he could get claimed, and we sure don’t want to see THAT happen. Better to wait, tedious as that can be, and remember that that waiting will mean that Archie will be a fresh horse in his first start for the club.

  5. OK, still a little confused. So if Larry Ross claims another GG horse for the club, we can run the new claimed horse a Emerald at our choosing after the GG meet ends? Not have to wait 45 days?

    • That’s correct. So by way of example say you claim a horse at GG on their last day, you could run it elsewhere immediately. The jail rule is intended to keep a horse population at the track. Once the meet is over, that no longer matters.

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