How We Buy Horses

In response to a recent blog, a club member asked an excellent question regarding McDove and Distinguishable.

It basically involved the process in buying horses for Emerald Racing Club.

As I’ve written earlier, there are four main ways to a acquire a Thoroughbred  racehorse: buy at a sale, claim, purchase privately, breed your own.

For our purposes, the first and last options don’t make sense, simply due to time constraints. Thoroughbreds do not begin racing until age 2 and since the vast majority of horse sales involve yearlings, it takes a year for your newly purchased horse to get to the races.

Breeding your own Thoroughbred is even more time-consuming. A broodmare is bred to a stallion, followed by an 11-month gestation period, followed by two years of growth, breaking and development. A three-year process, and that assumes that all goes well. For reasons of mental and physical maturity, it’s not uncommon for horses wait until age 3 to debut.

Incidentally, buying at a sale or breeding your own are both fine ways to be involved as owners, and there is always a chance of hitting a home run; California Chrome earned over $16 million despite having rather humble breeding. But a 5 1/2 month racing season simply isn’t long enough for either of those endeavors.

So for the Emerald Racing Club it has always been to either claim or purchase privately. Archie Graham, for example, was claimed for $8,000 last year, and Anelina (2014), Charlie Thomas (2015), Dancing Yodeler (2014), Diamonds Dena (2016) and Tribal Waters (2015) were all acquired for ERC via claim.  More on how claiming works.

The results have been excellent. In its first three years, Emerald Racing Club has won 7 of 22 starts with earnings of $59,307–32 percent wins and nearly $2,700 per start. (20 percent is considered excellent in Thoroughbred racing.) At the end of the year, too, ERC members got back $178 in 2014, $403 in 2015 and $278 last year.

But the problem has been finding horses to claim, a situation that seems to get a bit tougher every year. Last year, for instance, we claimed Archie Graham in late spring and he didn’t race until May 15. Things turned out well, of course, as Archie Graham won twice and earned over $18,000. Our second horse, Diamonds Dena, we claimed until late July and she didn’t fare nearly as well. Combined they made nine starts which was great, but we want to up that total a bit if possible.

In my talks this winter with Emerald Downs President Phil Ziegler, he repeatedly suggested trying to acquire horses that would be ready to race in April at the beginning of the season. Toward that end, we hired Mike Puhich to join Larry and Sharon Ross on our roster of trainers, and as ERC Registration began in February we immediately began to scout potential claims. Larry Ross was looking in Northern California and Mike Puhich predominantly at Oaklawn Park, a track in Hot Springs, Ark. renowned for its full fields and fertile ground for claiming activity.

All of us study past performances in the Racing Form, watch videos of races and look for horses that might be a good fit at Emerald Downs. We generally look in the $5,000 to $15,000 claiming range, preferably horses with either a penchant for winning and/or room for improvement. It’s an inexact science, to say the least, and even a horse that looks promising on paper still has to pass the eye test, as we want to have  a sound and sturdy racehorse for the season.

We looked and looked and looked, and anybody that follows Golden Gate Fields realizes its slim pickings down there. Meanwhile, Puhich along with Emerald Downs Director of Publicity Joe Withee spent several days at Oaklawn Park, and although they saw a few interesting prospects, they saw nothing to pull the trigger on.

So for this year, buying privately began to seem like the way to go. Our trainers all have a good idea of what to look for, and we discussed several potential horses. McDove and Distinguishable both had a big advantage in that they were reasonably fit and ready to go, and neither would be changing trainers; McDove remaining with Ross and Distinguishable with Puhich.

Before transferring any money, however, we did our due diligence. I watched Distinguishable train in person, on video, and watched all of her previous races several times. McDove was checked over at Golden Gate and given a clean bill of health, and I might add that given the Ross’ track record with the Emerald Racing Club, they would seem to know a good candidate for ERC when they see one.

There was no quibbling over the price of either filly. In our judgment, Steve McDonald with McDove and Dr. Mark Dedomenico with Distinguishable were both very reasonable and the deals were made. That both are 4-year-old fillies is pure coincidence, but since McDove has two career wins and Distinguishable only one, they won’t be competing against each another for now.

Hopefully this sheds a little light onto the process. We won’t really know, of course, until we race them, but for now we like our two horses.

Also, a major part of this year’s ERC is to explain specifics in what to look for when buying racehorses and how to form owner/trainer partnerships. Jody Peetz, one of the leading owners at Emerald Downs, has offered to spend an entire day sharing her knowledge on these very subjects and we plan to do it.

One other thing, Larry and Sharon Ross train McDove and Mike Puhich trains Distinguishable, and we rely on their expertise to select races for their horses.

And speaking of Distinguishable, Puhich said she most likely will arrive here Tuesday afternoon, and I’ll let everyone know when they can see her at the barn and on the track.

I will be out Sunday morning at 8:30 a.m. if anyone would like a tour or to answer questions.


14 thoughts on “How We Buy Horses

  1. Vince,
    Thank-you so much for all the amazing updates and postings so far this season. This is going to be another wonderful year, can’t hardly wait for opening day.

  2. Vince,
    Thank you for doing a great job in keeping the Emerald Racing Club going. I appreciate all of your time and effort and to everyone for bringing the racehorses into our lives. We do love the horses!

  3. Hey Vince do we have barn names for our girls? I’ve been calling Mcdove Dovey when I’m bragging her up at work. But I Distinguishable sigh I can’t just call her Dis seems just rude.

    Can we get t shirts made again this year? I thought it was really cool to know all our other members.

    Thank you again for the awesome post.

    • Veteran ERC members know that Thoroughbreds often have two names–their official name that appears in the track program and a nickname at the barn. However, after talking to Sharon Ross and Mike Puhich, neither horse has a nickname yet. Just plain old McDove and Distinguishable.

      Incidentally, naming a racehorse is an interesting process. Names can be up to 18 characters, including spaces and punctuation. All horse names must be approved by The Jockey Club and there are a lot of rules about what you can’t use: No initials such as C.O.D., I.OU., etc. No names ending in “filly,” colt,” “stud,” “mare,” stallion,” or any similar horse-related term. No names of actual persons unless written permission to use their name is filed with The Jockey Club. No names clearly having commercial significance, such as trade names. No names that are suggestive or have a vulgar or obscene meaning or considered in poor tastes. No names form the restricted list (Hall of Fame members, Kentucky Derby winners, etc.)

  4. Thanking you, too, Vince. From a previous blog post, where someone asked about why the club members didn’t get a say in what horses were purchased, I’d like to add this: I’ve done some reading about it, and from a number of different articles I learned that owners frequently work with buyers whose job it is to search for prospects that match the owners’ goals. That is what I feel our purchasing process in the club has been like. With 200 owners, most of whom I assume are inexperienced in the business, leaving the choosing to the membership would be time-consuming at best. I appreciate the good job of explaining the process of searching for, and choosing the fillies we get to enjoy this season. And great job finding runners who are affordable, healthy, fit and ready to go on day one!

    • As I wrote, it’s an inexact science and not all trainers are alike, or owners for that matter. It will be a point of emphasis throughout the season to ask various horse people–trainers, other owners, breeders–how to spot potential in a racehorse, both on paper and in the flesh. Thanks, Vince

  5. Vince,

    Your new members should also know how you “sell” the groups assets at end of season. What they bought for 10K is sold for 1K, with no input from the members. Perhaps each of us should have first option on purchasing. Steve

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Steve, You raise a good point. The club operates until closing day of the Emerald Downs season, and last year Archie Graham was sold to a former Emerald Downs club member and Diamonds Dena was sold back to her former owner/trainer at a healthy loss, but with the understanding she would not race again and become a broodmare. We felt that retirement was the best option for her. For owners who race exclusively at Emerald Downs, the value of claiming horses dips a bit at the end of the season. By the time you pay four months of boarding (October, November, December, January) and two months of training (February, March) the off-season cost for a Thoroughbred is about $3,500 to $4,000. I will try and explain that process better this season and certainly update ERC members on possible purchases. Thanks, Vince

      • Did this “healthy loss” stem from her being considered as only a broodmare and not capable of racing again? In other words, if she was capable of racing again the price would reflect that by being higher. And in the other blog it is now discovered she is indeed being raced again against this agreement. Should the club now be entitled to compensation for the broken sale contract and potential lost $? Is this going to be looked into legally?

        I would agree with Steve that owners must certainly be given first purchase option if pricing is equal. It wouldn’t be difficult to put out to the members prior. As for boarding, I don’t know about all members but we own 10 acre horse property with stalling facilities and several horses. While I am not personally overly interested in ex-racer horses maybe someone else may be. Or if the price is dirt bottom (as above) maybe more so for others.

        Anyway, first purchase option really should be granted to the members that are currently the horses legal owners. Input should be sought for sure and would not have to be any more difficult than an email and price.

      • Hi CJ, You are exactly right. Her sale price would have been higher if she had been sold as a racehorse, and not a broodmare. That was the agreement we made last September. I will write an update Tuesday.

  6. New member should also be aware that our assets can quickly become a liability. As we have learned from the club their is no guaranties in horses racing. Thankfully we all get to wash our hands financially and emotionally from the horses at the end of the racing season. Other people have stepped up to take care of our horses that are no longer able to run due to injuries or retirement. It is a huge financial commitment to take care of a horse once it is injured. I am so thankful that others have stepped up so none of us have to worry about what do to with an injured or retired horse.

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