Why Is This So Hard?

A couple of questions keep popping up so it’s time for a more in depth explanation of how things are going and why some things seem so difficult; the questions are, generally: where is our next horse and when will Maryjean run again?

I’ll take them in order.


Clay and I have been trying very hard to find another runner to pick up for the Club. Many of the races being run at Canterbury are for conditioned claimers. After a horse breaks its maiden (wins for the first time) it will, if good enough, move into an allowance race or into the claiming ranks. Both are stratified into non-winners of 1, 2, 3 and sometimes 4 races other than a maiden win (for allowance races this is extended to include wins in claiming races as well). The problem with claiming a horse that only has a single condition left (usually the non-winners of 3) is that after that condition is met the horse needs to run against “open” claimers. These horses may have won a dozen times and. For the most part, once a horse moves through their conditions, they need to move down in class to compete because the competition gets more difficult.

An example:

We claim Club’s Dream out of a $10,000 claiming non-winners of 3 races lifetime. And the Dream wins. We get her back to the barn, she checks out okay but since the non-winners of 4 is a rare condition we have to run open. We run against other $10,000 open horses and finish 7th so we now need to run at $7500 or even $5000 to be competitive. We’ve just totally overpaid for a horse that is now worth much less than what we paid for her. It’s not a situation we want to be in. We have been looking for a horse that may have recently broken its maiden so WE can run through the conditions with her, but we have not found one to claim that Clay has liked.
We have also started looking at privately purchasing a horse and bringing it in from somewhere else to run for us. At this point I just want us to have another runner – one that we can’t get hurt too badly on if she doesn’t pan out. We can certainly learn from that as well.


We all know that MJ came back just fine and has been training well. Clay feels like she runs best on 3 weeks rest which would have been last weekend. Of course there wasn’t a race that fit her last weekend so we waited until the new condition book came out in the hopes that we would see another $10,000CL or $16,000CL race in the book. There was a $10,000, but not until July 6 and the only $16,000 was a conditioned claimer. We’re hopeful that the racing secretary will write a $10,000 or $16,000 before then so we can go. She needs a sprint and we’d prefer dirt. While we think she can handle turf, most of the turf contests are 7 ½ furlongs and up which is a bit beyond her range.

Another option is an allowance race. She’s eligible for an allowance non-winners of one lifetime other than maiden, claiming or starter. We have concerns about that, however, since, quite frankly, we don’t think she can win at that level and, if we run, and a race that we would have wanted fills a week later – then we wasted a race and we have to wait another 3 weeks or so for that race to come back so it becomes a bit of a dance to try and marry a race where we think she has a chance to win with the races available and being filled.

As a point of reference, I have two horses of my own that have yet to make a single start this season for various reasons – some listed here, some not , but they are ready to go and we’re restless as well.


I understand that there is a bill waiting for me when I get to the track tomorrow (Friday) evening. I will have those numbers added to the spreadsheet and post that so you can get a feel for the costs involved thusfar.
Jeff and I will be discussing possible dates for the backside tours so we should have those out this weekend as well. The signup will be similar to last year where we will ask you to send me an email with the date and number of folks that you will have and when the tour max is reached (50 people) we will close it off. Last year neither tour maxed out.

I would like to ask you all again to please read each other’s questions and the answers in the comments section of the each blog post. I don’t mind answering, of course, but there ends up being so much information in the comments section that you miss and, quite frankly, I don’t answer the same question the third time with as much depth as the first!

Remember that the aim of the Club is to be an educational experience and to give you a small taste of what it is like to be a racehorse owner. There is a lot of great stuff in this game but there is also a lot of difficult stuff that we have to navigate as well. Right now I know we’re not running as much as we’d like or have as many horses as we want to have. I hope the above gives you some insight into the processes and challenges involved – things don’t always go right, but we try and work with what we are dealt and make the best of it.


16 thoughts on “Why Is This So Hard?

  1. Ted, speaking for myself, I appreciate Your and Clay’s conservative approach. It would be very easy to make rash and imprudent decisions with monies that are supposedly non-pecuniary in nature.

  2. Great job discussing and describing both subjects. You and Clay both do a fantastic job with this club. I appreciate all of the insight. It’s always better safe than sorry. Waiting for the right situation to arise is the way to go.

  3. I always thought I kinda knew how the race conditions worked… More of a head scratcher then I realized. But with your help in explaining how it works I’m begining to understand better. Thanks Ted.

  4. OK, so here’s a “stupid” question…maybe Derby AJ and Ted can both give their individual insights….so what makes a “Derby” (Graded Stakes) horse? Do Derby horses ever start out in the claiming ranks at “little” race tracks like Canterbury? Is it pedigree and money that makes the great horses great or just plain luck? Funny Cide and California Chrome made some small town guys rich and Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew was bought for $17,500. Is that part of what makes this sport so intoxicating? Also, for Ted, will Canterbury ever have another Claiming Crown Championship contest like they had a few years ago? Thanks for your explanation on how the conditioned races work and why it’s so tricky finding the right place for your horse. It is finally starting to make some sense to me after all these years!! Kathy

    • First off, no question is a stupid one – except the ones not asked…

      I hate to be trite with an answer to what makes a graded stakes caliber horse, but it’s talent. As we have seen, big winners can come from anywhere but whether or not they can make the step from small town hero to big fish/big pond is an entirely different deal. We’ve seen Minnesota breds that have dominated at home have difficulty elsewhere. There are exceptions, of course. Most notably in our area: Wally’s Choice winning the then Grade 3 Oklahoma Derby in 2004. It takes an amazing combination of talent, soundness, risk taking on the part of the trainer and owner (if you don’t try, you’ll never know) and a considerable amount of luck. Pedigree matters to a degree but there are ALWAYS anomalies on both sides of the equation. There are past performances littered with blue blood $300,000 yearling purchases running in $12,500 claiming races.

      As far as the Claiming Crown goes, I’m not sure if we’ll see it here again. Canterbury did a great job being the virtual home of this even for many years. It has since moved on to Fairgrounds and Gulfstream and has become more of a year end claiming championship. The purse money comes from the home track and the event is very expensive to put on. I don’t know for sure but I imagine that it’s very difficult to make a profit on that day at a small track like Canterbury. My guess is that we won’t see it back here, but never say never – it sure is a fun event.

  5. Since you’re so good at answering questions (seriously – you are!) here’s another: Is it hard to keep a horse ready to race for a long time? For example, if Maryjean was ready last week (no race for her) and also this week (no race for her) will she stay sharp? I’m assuming the trainer is on top of this and conditions the horse depending on what happens. But, after a while I can imagine the horse might lose an edge? Or?

    • It is relatively difficult to keep a horse at peak condition over an extended period of time. Like a human athlete, you only have so much peak performance in you. That is one of the reasons it’s so remarkable when a horse can reel off four or five wins in a row over a couple/three months. The trainer tries to account for peaks and valleys in the form cycle and make sure that she’s peaking when a race arrives and valleys in between but that is difficult to do. That’s why we want a race and we want one sooner rather than later!

  6. Question about class of horses. Since I have been in the club we have only had horses that ran in claiming races. What class of horse would we have to have not to run in a claiming race, what are those races called? Would it be easier to find races, is it too big of an expense? I don’t understand much of this and am trying to learn.

    • Here is a brief rundown of the class levels from bottom to top, keeping in mind a couple of things: 1) generally the higher the claiming price the higher the class and 2) races that are restricted to statebred horses are below their open counterparts by nature of their restriction.

      Maiden Claiming
      Maiden Special Weight
      Claiming non-winners of 1 race other than maiden (NW1)
      Claiming (NW2)
      Claiming (NW3)
      Claiming (NW4)
      Allowance non winners of a race other than maiden, claiming or starter (NW1X)
      Allowance (NW2X)
      Allowance (NW3X)
      Allowance (NW4X)
      Open Allowance (no conditions)
      Overnight stake (at Canterbury these carry a purse of about $40,000)
      Stakes (varies from track to track. Here they can go from $60,000 to $250,000)
      Grade 3 stake
      Grade 2 Stake
      Grade 1 Stake

      Now, just to confuse things up a bit, there are also combined claiming/allowance races called Optional Claiming races and their condition can read something like: “$25,000 claiming OR Non-Winners of 2 races lifetime excluding maiden, claiming or starter.” They can be ranked according to the same scale as their “straight up” counterparts – the higher the claiming price or NW number, the higher the class. They also tend to be tougher than straight claiming races at that level but not as tough as straight allowance races, it depends upon the draw.

      And because this isn’t clear enough, we can throw in a condition of race known as a “starter allowance”. These are races that are only eligble to horses that have started for a certain claiming price or below over a period of time. For example: “$5000 Starter Allowance – for horses that have started for a claiming price of $5,000 or less in 2013 – 14.”

      There are also other ways to stratify races: an allowance for non winners of X amount of money in two starts or a claiming race that if for horses that haven’t won in a year. Writing – and sometimes navigating! – a condition book is as much art as it is science!

      • Oh my gosh. Okay, I think I get it, but.. A maiden is for horses that have never won a race, a claiming race is where any of the horses can be bought (correct?), but can you define a bit more what an allowance race and a stakes race really means? Thanks!

      • Allowance races are non-claiming races that are written with any number of conditions, most frequently non-winners of 1, 2, 3, etc. non-claiming or maiden races or earning X amount of money in a race. Typically these purses at Canterbury are in the mid $30,000 range.

        Stakes races are for the very best horses on the grounds (or in the region/country) and carry the highest purses. They are exclusive and at Canterbury they carry purses between $60,000 – $250,000. Breeders’ Cup, the Classics and some others can carry purses in the millions.

  7. So if we ran a horse in a straight allowance race, there is no claiming.
    Have we ever had a horse good enough to run in a race?

    • Correct and no, we haven’t, though there is no claiming in starter allowances and we ran ASK EDDY in a couple of those, I believe.

    • I assume you meant for a claim this past weekend, Curt? He sure did well winning, but in the process lost all his conditions and now must face multiple winners. This does several things that we’ve touched upon: makes the current level potentially much harder than it’s been and actually finding non-conditioned races that will go – though the boys seem to have a less difficult time of that the girls have.

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