The Claiming Game

Now that the Club is finalized (171 members, $42,750) it is time to go shopping. The way we’ll do that is through the claiming process.

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. Clay and I sort through Past Performances and check on possible targets. We’ll be looking for a pair of horses about $10,000 or less for the Club given our budget. Our criteria will be horse that has shown some consistency over a moderate (20 or so) number of starts and one that is perhaps coming from a barn that may not be as accomplished as Clay’s. In other words, something that Clay can improve upon with his training regimen.

For example, one year we claimed a horse who came from a barn where he had lost weight and didn’t receive property nutrition. Clay went ahead and laid him off for a few weeks, changed his feed, de-wormed him and then got him ready to race. He won the first time for us and then won twice more. We’d like something solid that can run every 3 or 4 weeks for us. He may not shoot up the class ladder but would be good for teaching us a bit about racing. With a solid pair we can get as many starts in as possible over the course of the season.

Second, you check the horse out in person. You can’t really 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.

So Clay takes a close look at the horse as it walks over for it’s race and his behavior in the paddock. If he sees signs of a physical ailment (sore, crooked leg, etc) that could be an indicator of future issues, we pass. If he likes what he sees, 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. 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 had 16 claim slips dropped on him, for example. Oaklawn, especially, is a real hotbed of claiming activity.

Over the next few weeks, this is the process we will follow to try and get at least one – and hopefully two – horses for the Club. We may be successful, we may not and half to claim here at Canterbury when the meet starts, but either way the process has begun!

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!

If At First…

As you know, we’ve started shopping for horses. The reality is that there are two ways we can obtain our horses: private purchase or through a claim. We’ve talked about claiming so I’ll touch on private purchase for a moment.

A private purchase is exactly that – someone is selling a horse privately and not through a claiming race. You tend to see this happen as meets wind down and stables are trying to pare their numbers before heading to the next locale. Many top stables will shed nice horses that don’t fit into their New York or California allowance plans but will work out very nicely at mid-level tracks like Canterbury.

This week we had both options open to us. Jeff was offered a private purchase on a maiden out of Oaklawn and Clay and I were looking at a mid-level claimer at Hawthorne. I’m not going to mention their names because we may still be interested and I don’t want to tip our hand at all. The maiden looked to be a good price based upon his record and could probably work through his conditions around $7500 here. The claimer, if healthy, looked like he could compete in the $16,000 to perhaps even $20,000 range – AND we would have gotten him for less, which I love.

In the span of about 12 hours, the Oaklawn horse was sold before we could take a look and our claiming target was scratched. I went from thinking that by the end of the day yesterday we would be all set to start our season to going back to the drawing board!

In this game there is always another race and with the weekend is coming up, we’ll just try, try again.