Owning a Racehorse
Owning a Standardbred Race Horse
They call Thoroughbreds the “Sport of Kings”. You might need a king’s ransom to own a thoroughbred. Harness racing would be considered the sport of the everyday man because the costs are usually substantially less. Many more people can afford to take part in harness racing.
There are many factors to consider when you have made the decision to become an owner of a Standardbred Racehorse. What horse do you buy, how do you buy a horse, who will train it, how much does it cost, what type do you buy (trotter or pacer), who will drive the horse, how much can I make?
These are all very important questions. Your answers to these questions will give you a better idea if you want to become involved. Harness racing is a very exciting and thrilling sport. The animals are truly athletes. Unlike their thoroughbred counterparts which may race 10 or 12 times a year, Standardbreds are bred to race 30 to 40 times a year or more. They are built different from a thoroughbred. Standardbreds are smaller and are much more durable and have greater stamina.
In order to race a horse, you must be a member of the United States Trotting Association. That is the organization that governs racing and tracks ownership and keeps records of all horses. Each state also has a Racing commission. To become a member of the United State Trotting Association, you must complete an application and pay a fee, which is $90 for a year. In NY state you must also obtain a license (this cannot be done until you actually own a horse). That cost is also $90 for a year.
How do I get a horse?
There are many avenues to get into being a horse owner. You can breed a horse, go to an auction, buy a horse from an online auction, claim a horse from a race or buy one privately.
Breed a horse and raise the foal. This is a very rewarding way to enter, but it will take from the beginning of the breeding process at least 4 years until that foal will be eligible to race. And only if the horse is good enough. Not all foals make it to the races.
Auctions. There are numerous auctions that take place throughout the year in Ohio, NY, NJ, PA etc. Just like any other auction of any type, this is where you can bid on horses. If you are fortunate enough to end up being the highest bidder, you can leave the auction with a horse. Prices at these auctions vary greatly depending on the horse. It is possible to buy something for $4000 on up. Auctions have had horses sell for over $1,000,000
Online auctions. Within the past 5 years or so, online auction sites were developed. This is where anyone looking to sell a horse, can list the horse on the site and give a time frame as to when bidding can start and when it ends. High bidder gets the horse. Like live auctions, prices will vary greatly depending on the horse.
Claiming race. Each race track has claiming races. This is a race where horses are entered into the race with a price tag. Anyone can buy that horse for the price listed. For example, there are $12500 claiming races at Saratoga. That means if you want to buy that horse, you will need to fill out some paperwork before the race starts and pay the $12500 to the track, and the track in turn will pay the prior owner. If you are the only person interested in buying that horse, then you will be the owner after the race concludes. If there are multiple people looking to buy that horse, then those people’s names will be entered into a drawing and the winner will get the horse, the others will get their money back.
Private Sale. Many times, people sell horses without the use of any type of auction or claiming race. Usually, you would need to know someone who has horses, and they might know of people around the track that are looking to sell a horse.
Who will train the horse.
This is a good question. Before buying a horse, you should find a trainer. Trainers are licensed by both the USTA and the State Gaming Commission. Some trainers only train their own horses, while others train for many different people. If you know someone who has a horse already, that person has a trainer, and you can ask them who they use. If you do not know anyone that owns a horse or know any trainers, you need to do some research. The Saratoga Harness Horsepersons Association can help you. Anyone on our board can be contacted and we would be glad to give you some names of trainers that train and race horses at Saratoga and other tracks around the northeast. Like everything in life, there are many different trainers with different styles and maybe different specialties (like trotters or pacers).
What does gait mean and which should I buy
The gait of the horse refers to trotting and pacing. Pacers are usually easier to train and they go faster than trotters. Trotters can be more difficult to train than pacers. At most tracks, Pacers outnumber trotters by 2 or 3 times. At Saratoga, there is usually one race card of trotters with 10-13 races. There are 2 to 3 race cards with pacers. Although there are fewer trotters, some trainers have a reputation for working well with horses racing under that gait.
How much does it cost once I buy a horse.
Horse costs vary depending on the trainer. But typically, rates run $40 to $50 per day. This includes feeding the horse, cleaning the stall, grooming the horse and training the horse. Unlike Thoroughbreds that might work out once a week or every two weeks, Standardbreds typically workout (jog or train) 4 miles a day on days they are not racing. In addition to the daily rate, an owner can expect to pay for all vet work, all shoeing costs (typically once a month the horses get new shoes), and a race day paddock (this is the person that helps prep the horse on race day) Race Day paddocks are usually $75 to $100. So, all in all, if your horse does not need much vet work, you can expect to pay around $2000 a month during the racing season. For periods of time away from the track, turn out rates will vary by farm but generally run about $20 a day.
Types of Ownership
There are many different ways you can be an owner. Many people will buy a horse themselves and pay all the associated costs, but also take all the winnings of the horse. Some people will join with friends or family members to buy a horse. This is a very popular method. If you have 3 or 4 friends or family members that want to chip in and buy a horse, you can share all the costs, and the earnings, and still have 100% of the excitement when your horse comes charging down the stretch. There are also ownership groups, where you can buy a fractional share of a horse. One such group is the VIP Internet Stable. They buy the horses, and you can buy a fractional share of a horse through them. You will have fractional expenses and fractional earnings. And some trainers locally will partner with you and buy a horse with you. Again, you will have partial costs and partial earnings. But this is still a fun way to get involved.
Races, Drivers etc.
Once you have a horse and a trainer it is time to race. Races have purses attached. That is the amount the race is worth. Races have different purses based on the quality of the horses. The best horses race for more money than the other horses. As for who will drive your horse, that will be a decision between you and your trainer. Some trainers drive their own horses. Some trainers do not drive and will get a “catch” driver. This is a driver who just drives horses for anyone and everyone. Drivers are paid by the track 5% of the purse money won (which comes right out of your purse check before it is sent to you). If you do not earn any money, then the driver will still get paid a stipend by the track. When you race, you are charged an entry fee of $30.90. Trainers also get 5% of the purse as well. That is also subtracted from the purse check.
How much do I get if I win a race?
In harness racing the first 5 places earn money. It is broken down as follows.
4th 8 %
So if a race has a $10000 purse the winner gets $5000 (50%) second gets $2500 (25%), 3rd gets $1200 (12%), fourth gets $800 (8%) and fifth gets $500 (5%). Winning a race during a month will pay the bills for the month. Even getting a few 3rds or fourths can be profitable. Out of these amounts, the track will automatically deduct the 5% driver fee, the 5% trainer fee and the the NYS starting fee, and the owner will receive a check for the net balance.
What if my horse is not good enough or can no longer race?
Not all horses are competitive, or sometimes become uncompetitive as they get older. When you purchase a horse you obviously want to purchase one that is competitive. But sometimes they are competitive at other places and possibly not here at Saratoga. When someone gets a horse that is not competitive, typically they will sell the horse. Horses that are not competitive here at Saratoga, might be competitive at other tracks. Saratoga is a very competitive track. There are other racing circuits around the country and in Canada that are less competitive than Saratoga where a horse might be competitive. If a horse gets injured and can no longer race, or if the horse is just not able to race anymore, which unfortunately does happen sometimes, there are many organizations around the northeast that will take in Standardbreds so they can live out productive healthy lives after racing. Purple Haze Stables is one such organization. These retired racehorses are taken care of and retrained for other "duties", such as saddle riding, therapy duties and just as pets for people. The SHHA can help put you in touch with any of these non-profit organizations if needed.
These are just some of the basics of owning a horse. Any member of the SHHA would be glad to answer questions you may have and put you in touch with trainers who can further assist you in getting into the racing game. You can email us at SHHA61205@AOL.com. As mentioned, it is an exciting and thrilling game to be a part of. It is a great thrill seeing your horse come charging through the stretch in front and going to get you picture taken in the winner’s circle with your horse after winning!!! We hope to see you at the track!