How to Acquire a Racehorse

In horse racing parlance, we’re into the stretch run for opening night, Saturday, April 8.

In fact, Wednesday marks the one-month countdown to live racing. So beginning today, we’re offering daily updates to help inform and update Emerald Racing Club members of everything in store for 2017.

First of all, it would be impossible to have a racing club without racehorses .ERC policy has always been to sell our horses at the end of each season and begin the following season anew. To that end, ERC trainers Larry and Sharon Ross and Mike Puhich are actively pursuing runners to proudly carry our green and white silks in 2017. Our goal is to acquire at least two runners for 2017, including one ready to race by opening day.

In a post here last year, ERC founder Sophia McKee posted an excellent rundown of the various ways to acquire a Thoroughbred. (Pay particular attention to #3  and #4.)

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 with foal in Kentucky 

2) Purchase at a sale. The Washington Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association (WTBOA) holds a yearling sale each year. This year’s sale date has not been set, but generally the sale is held the Tuesday following the Longacres Mile at the M J Alhadeff Sales Pavilion at Emerald Downs. The majority of the horses in this sale are yearlings and the sale is a live auction where you bid on the horse that you would like to own. Since the horse is only a yearling, 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 2-year-old year; others don’t begin  until age 3. There are other sales around the country that auction horses ready to compete almost immediately. For example, Pegasus Training and Rehabilitation Center in Redmond is offering a 2-Year-Olds in Training & Horses of Racing Age Sale Set on Tuesday, March 21. These horses are pretty much ready to be bought and shipped to a racetrack and begin racing.

Here’s video of Zenyatta selling as a yearling for $60,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale

3) Private purchase. 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 preparations for competition. Of course, you just have to find another owner willing to sell! The other benefit is that there is no sales tax.

4) Claiming a horse. Claiming horses are the bread and butter of horse racing and compose over 80 percent of the races at Emerald Downs. In a claiming race a horse is listed for a “tag” or claiming 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. A horse that has been competitive in $25,000 claiming races could invade a $10,000 claiming race and likely win in a cakewalk–but almost certainly would be claimed at a bargain price by his new owner and trainer. Thus claiming races greatly insures that horses are matched evenly.

Claiming a horse also 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 also has a 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.)


The Equibase chart above illustrates that Archie Graham was claimed for $8,000 at Golden Gate Fields on March 24, 2016. I hope you can make it out (pardon my shaky computer literacy with photos and charts, I’ll improve) but the last line reads Archie Graham was claimed by Sharon Ross; trainer Larry Ross. This simply denotes that Sharon Ross–on behalf of ERC–claimed Archie Graham from the 2nd race at Golden Gate on March 24, 2016. When the horse arrived at Emerald a month later, the ownership was changed from Sharon Ross to Emerald Racing Club.

A couple of other things about claiming races:

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.


Red tag = claimed

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!

Wednesday’s topic: Barn Rules


5 thoughts on “How to Acquire a Racehorse

  1. Hi Boris, I will contact you tomorrow and have your membership finalized including your specific issue. Thanks, Vince

  2. Pingback: How We Buy Horses | Emerald Racing Club

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