There are several different ways to buy a racehorse: you can buy a yearling or a 2-year old (sometimes even older) in a sale; claim one out of a race; or privately purchase a horse. We won’t be going to a sale so we will focus on the other two as both are a possibility.
About 80% of the races held in North America are claiming races or races in which the horses are up for sale. This process was instituted to keep each race as even as possible. You certainly weren’t going to risk your prize stallion if you knew he could be had for just a few thousand dollars! Claiming helps stratify racing and keeps a few good horses from beating up on those less talented.
Claiming levels vary greatly around the country. At some country fair and rural tracks the prices can be as low as $1000 while at the larger venues there can be $100,000 claiming races. The bottom line is the same: each horse is for sale for price laid out in the conditions of the race.
There is a very specific process you need to go through to claim a horse. It varies a bit from track to track but I’ll outline the generic process below.
First, you pick out the horse you want to buy. The trainers and I sort through Past Performances and check on possible targets. They also have been watching horses in training and on the track with an eye toward the time we’ll be ready to buy. We’ll most likely be looking to claim a horse around $10,000 maybe a bit lower with an eye toward where we can run this horse when he/she comes to Canterbury. The best horse in the race MAY NOT be the best horse to claim and run here.
We want a horse that can run over this race track, maybe can handle the turf. We want a horse who either has all his conditions (maybe only has won 1 race rather than three) or has cleared all his conditions and proven he can run “open” (don’t worry if you don’t understand these terms, another post later this week/weekend will clarify the levels of racing.
Second, you check the horse out in person. You can’t walk up to a barn and say, “Hey, I’m going to claim your horse tomorrow, can I have my vet check him out?” but you do want some degree of comfort because, in most jurisdictions, claiming is the epitome of “buyer beware” because once you own the horse, you inherit everything that may be wrong with him as we learned two year ago with Jerry’s Two Tickets who bowed a tendon in the race we claimed him from and needed to be immediately retired.
The trainers will take a close look at the horse as it walks over for it’s race and his behavior in the paddock. If they see signs of a physical ailment (sore, crooked leg, etc) that could be an indicator of future issues, we pass. If they like what they see, we move onto step 3.
Third, you fill out the claim slip EXACTLY and then drop it in the claim box in the racing office or the bookkeeper’s office depending on the racetrack. Any error and the claim is voided. For example, one claim slip was filled out at Keeneland Race Course but on the “track” line, the trainer wrote in “Keenland” rather than “Keeneland”. The missing “e” cost them the horse.
The claim box is locked and the claim slips time stamped. Various tracks have different deadlines to have the claim slip in: 5 minutes to post, post time, etc. When the gates open, the claim box is opened and, if you have the only claim in on a horse, it’s yours from that moment forward. Should the horse pick up a check in that race, it goes to the old owners, but should the horse suffer an injury – or worse – in the race, the horse belongs to the new owners. Minnesota, New York, California and Arkansas have rules to protect new owners against catastrophic injury, but very few other jurisdictions. When the horse comes back after the race, a track employee is there with a tag that is snapped onto the bridle and the horse heads off to the new barn.
Should there be more than one claim on a horse, a “shake” is instituted. In a case like this, each claim slip is given a number which corresponds to a number on a small pill/ball. The pills are placed in a bottle, shaken and tipped. The number of the claim slip that corresponds to the first pill out of the bottle wins the horse. A horse we were looking at for the Alumni group two years ago had 16 claim slips dropped on him, for example. Oaklawn, especially, is a real hotbed of claiming activity.
At a place like Oaklawn there are many large stables that will move on to championship meets at Churchill, Belmont, etc. They tend to have horses in their stables that aren’t talented enough to compete at the stakes or even allowance levels at this top tier track but may work very nicely for us here at Canterbury. Both trainers are already on the lookout for a horse that won’t make the cut with these stables but would be effective here.
The advantage with private purchases is you actually CAN walk into a barn and say “I want to buy some horses can I take a look at them?” You’re not dropping a claiming slip blindly and taking an educated bet on a horse and you can check them out more closely. As relationships are developed trainers know who they can trust to buy a solid horse from and who to avoid (the same can be said for claiming horses from people as well).
The downside is you may not be able to agree on a horse within your budget and the better horses that are relatively inexpensive tend to go very quickly.
However you look at it, the process has begun! Later this weekend we’ll share some of the qualities we look for when claiming horses.
If you have any questions, please fire away in the comments section. Remember, the Club is designed to be a learning experience and we presuppose no level of knowledge so there is no such thing as a bad or stupid question!