Owning a racehorse can be one of the most exhilarating experiences of your life. While it is certainly possible to make a profit, the adrenaline rush and camaraderie of the sport make ownership especially fulfilling. From watching your runner compete to interacting with your horse in the barn, there are countless benefits – and thrills – that come with owning a racing thoroughbred.
With numerous ways to participate as an owner, it is important to consider the extent of your involvement and educate yourself before making any investments. Following are the answers to three of the most common questions asked about racehorse ownership.
What Type of Ownership Options are Available?
There are a variety of ways to own a racehorse; each option offers its own benefits and risks.
As the name indicates, in this scenario you would be the sole owner of the horse. The horse would either run in your name or in the name of a company that you set up for your racing endeavours. This option allows you to reap all the rewards from winnings while also being responsible for all the expenses.
Co-owning and partnerships on a horse(s) with friends, family or colleagues allows you to share the thrill and expenses, with two or more registered owners to run in their own names or a partnership name. The co-owners or partnership will need to determine the share percentage for each of the horse(s) and each will be responsible for that same percentage of costs as well as purse money and bonus distribution.
Any person who has a stake of 5% or more in a racehorse is also required to register annually as an owner with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario; the yearly cost of a license is $100.
While syndicates function much like partnerships, you participate by purchasing a share in the syndicate horse (or horses) and subsequently become a co-owner.
“With a syndicate you pay a set cost for the share which is designed to cover all expenses for a set duration, usually one year,” says Stacie Roberts, the Ownership Specialist for The Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective of Ontario.
The percentage of purse winnings you receive is also dictated by the syndicate contract. In short, participating in a syndicate gives you many of the same benefits as co-ownership at a lower risk.
An enthusiast can also get their start by leasing a racehorse from an owner. Again, much of the cost, and purse distribution, depends on the terms that you agree upon, as does the duration of your lease. Once the term has concluded, ownership and its responsibilities revert back to the original person.
How to Buy a Horse
There are several ways to purchase a race horse, depending on where your interests lie.
Horses that are bred for sale can be found for purchase at a Yearling Sale. Catalogues with horses that will be available for purchase are available about a month before the sale and detail each horse’s pedigree including the racing and breeding success of ancestors and siblings. You can inspect these horses in advance of the sale and have your vet do an inspection and review any x-rays or medical files that have been provided at the sales office.
Yearlings, as the name implies, are one-year-olds and won’t be ready to race until at least the following year or later.
These sales are for two-year-old horses that have been in training and are ready, or close to being ready, to race. More time and money has been put into these horses, so they typically cost more than yearlings.
As with yearlings, you can inspect these horses in advance of the sale and have your vet do an inspection and review any x-rays or medical files that have been provided at the sales office.
You can purchase a horse that is already racing through claiming races. There are various levels of claiming races depending on the value of the horse. Typically ranging from $5,000 up to $75,000, these horses can be purchased by putting a ticket in the claiming box on the day of the race. If your claim is successful, you own the horse after the race.
Checking the horse’s medical history is not an option with these purchases.
Though less common, you can approach another trainer or owner directly to make an offer to purchase a horse.
Who Cares for the Horse?
Horses are managed by a trainer who is responsible for the day-to-day care, training, and race schedule. When you’re getting started as an owner, the most important person to talk to is a trainer. While the main job of a trainer is to prepare your horses for the races, he or she can also help you to navigate the journey of ownership, including selecting the right horse to purchase.
How Do I Pick a Trainer?
There are several steps that you should take in order to be successful. First, learn as much as possible about owning a racehorse.
Some questions you might want to ask include:
- How long has the trainer been a full-time trainer?
- Which trainers has the trainer worked with in the past?
- What success has the trainer had?
- How many horses does the trainer currently train (how big is the stable)?
- How many staff members does the trainer employ?
- How much time do you expect a trainer to spend with you?
- How often do you expect a trainer to communicate with you?
- How often and under what conditions do you wish to be consulted?
- Would you like your trainer to attend sales and assist in making horse purchase(s)?
To feel secure in your racing pursuits, it is vital to cultivate a trusting relationship with your trainer. “You want to make sure that you’re working with somebody that you’re comfortable with,” says Roberts. “You want to make sure that you’re on the same page with that trainer…[and] that you have the same principles in mind.”
“Interview the same as you would if you are trying to find somebody to help you with investments. You are looking for somebody who is giving you the best ROI and somebody that you respect and get along with,” added Elissa Blowe, an industry expert who conducts ownership seminars for Ontario Racing. “Take a look at statistics. How many horses do they run? Do they take good care of their horses? Do you like the staff? How much do they charge? Usually, trainers get 10 per cent of the any winnings from first through third, but some trainers offer 50/50 options and share the costs in exchange for a greater share of the earnings.”
Bloodstock agents are another type of industry expert that can be helpful, especially if you want to buy a horse at auction or determine which stallion to breed your mare to. Bloodstock agents are experts in pedigrees and know which horses match best with other, which pairings have produced successful horses, and which have not. These agents will look at a horse’s genetics and conformation to determine whether or not they would be a good purchase. As an industry expert, a bloodstock agent can offer you much-needed advice, teach you about ownership, and recommend particular horses to you.
What Much Will it Cost?
The cost of owning a racehorse varies greatly depending upon the ownership option you choose and the extent of your involvement.
If you are interested in sole ownership, it can cost well upwards of $100,000 to buy a horse and keep them in training for the duration of their career. This figure includes training fees (which can cost $35,000– $40,000 a year) and the expense of purchasing a horse (a horse’s price is usually dependent on their conformation, genetics, or ability). For example, while feed, exercise services, and some supplements are included in your training fee, you need to pay for a farrier ($150-$200 a month) and for veterinary services ($400-$600 a month for a healthy horse).
Owning your own racehorse is a thrill that few other activities can surpass. “The average person can’t go out and buy themselves an NFL or an MLB team,” said Blowe. “But you can create your own team of racehorses.”
As a racehorse owner, you essentially have the chance to own and manage a professional sports team. The most important part of ownership, however, is the joy that you can derive from racing. The excitement of watching your thoroughbred hurtle down the homestretch and the joy that comes when your racehorse wins is – as many owners can testify – indescribable.”
Whether buying a racehorse yourself or owning a percentage with a group, there are ownership options for just about everyone. For current opportunities contact HBPA of Ontario, Ownership Specialist, Stacie Roberts by phone 416-230-5190 or email at [email protected].
To help educate those interested in the sport, Ontario Racing is currently holding a series of free, virtual seminars (Thoroughbred Horse Racing Ownership 101) that discuss the basics of horse ownership.
“They are completely designed for brand-new owners or people who are interested in horse racing,” explained Blowe of the seminars she hosts. “The idea behind it is to try to make the process a little easier for new people to try to get involved in horse racing.”
Beyond educating potential owners, the series also provides “a point of contact” for people who are more serious about entering the sport. If you are specifically interested in thoroughbred racing after attending the sessions, you will be forwarded to the HBPA’s Own a Thoroughbred program.
You can learn more about horse ownership and Ontario Racing’s seminars here.