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.