Horse Racing Ownership 101: Q&A

A Q&A to Help Take the Confusion Out of Ownership

Being a part of thoroughbred race ownership can be confusing, so Bona Venture Stables is launching an occasional Q&A to help you navigate through the sometimes byzantine process in the industry.

If you have a question or a topic for a future Q&A, please contact us and let us know.

 

Questions

2015, Issue 1
Questions owners ask regarding when and what type of race will our horse run.

  1. What does it mean when our horse is racing in a Maiden Special Weight race?

  2. But I don’t want my horse to racing in a maiden claiming race, why are we doing so?

  3. So, if my horse is in a claiming race, anyone can buy him/her from us? Why are the majority of races claiming races?

  4. Why don’t I know my horse is racing in advance? I can’t make plans to go see the horse run if I don’t know two or three weeks ahead that he/she will race?

  5. The condition book said the race was planned for Monday, but it isn’t listed? What happened?

  6. My horse was listed as entered in the race, but it says “also eligible.” What does this mean?


1. What does it mean when our horse is racing in a Maiden Special Weight race?

A maiden race is where it all begins for a horse. Simply put a maiden is a race restricted to horses that have not “broken their maiden” or won a race. Generally trainers want their horses to begin in a maiden special weight race running against other horses that have not yet won a race. Once the horse wins, it moves on to another level of racing and cannot compete at the maiden level again.

There are two types of maiden races; the top rung is called maiden special weight races. These are races set by the track racing secretary with conditions on them. For example, a race can be restricted by age, sex, surface, breeding and distance. The special weight means that all horses in the race have been assigned a special or standard weight to carry (the weight of the jockey, saddle, etc.) in that race. The second or lower level is the maiden claiming race.

Trainers are paid to win and it is their job to determine the ability level of a horse. For example, if a horse runs at the maiden special weight level and isn’t competitive, the trainer may suggest dropping down into a maiden claiming race to find easier company and pick up that maiden win. The claiming price is a sale price of sort. It means that another licensed owner or trainer can claim or buy that horse for the price noted in the race. The track’s racing secretary, based on the quality of that race meet, sets a bottom level for a maiden claiming race. On the NYRA tracks that is usually no lower than $12,500 and it will go up from here.

Back to Top ↑

 

2. But I don’t want my horse to racing in a maiden claiming race, why are we doing so?

There are usually two ways in which a decision is made to run at the claiming level. One, after many months of training, the trainer makes a recommendation based on the horse’s workouts and the level of competition also in training at that track. Second, after multiple races at the maiden special weight level and the horse fail to be competitive, the trainer may recommend dropping down to a claiming level to find easier competition. For many owners this can be very emotional as you become attached to the horse. But the trainer’s responsibility is to place horses where they have the best chance to win. After all, owners don’t get paid and trainers don’t make money if the horse doesn’t collect purse money by finishing in the top three in a race.

Back to Top ↑

 

3. So, if my horse is in a claiming race, anyone can buy him/her from us? Why are the majority of races claiming races?

Claiming races are considered the lifeblood of most race tracks. In simple terms claiming races are carded so that everyone has a chance to race their horse and the horse can be placed at an appropriate competitive level for the best chance to win. At the same time, it allows the small investor or owner an opportunity to be involved in the sport without spending millions of dollars.

About 60 % of all races are claiming races. They are set on a dollar amount and used to establish performance levels. Generally speaking, a horse racing at a $12,500 claiming level (the price that the owner is willing to sell the horse) at NYRA tracks is the lowest level. The amount increases from here all the way up to the $100,000 claiming level. At the lowest level it is common to see a horse that has been a poor performer, or who’s form is unpredictable, and most likely was an inexpensive purchase. At the highest level, you see horses that are regular winners and may have cost six figures or more at auction.
If you enter a horse into a claiming race, it is claimed and happens to win that race, you are paid the claiming price and the winner’s percentage of the race purse. But the new owner takes control of the horse in the winner’s circle, immediately after the ceremony. You have sold the horse.

Each racing jurisdiction has its own rules on claiming. An example is the following: at NYRA tracks only licensed owners or trainers who have run a horse at a NYRA track during that calendar year can claim. Also, they have to have the claim amount pre-deposited in their NYRA horsemen’s account at the track. And, they cannot enter the paddock or physically inspect the horse prior to the race. They have to complete a claim form or slip in the racing secretary’s office 16 minutes prior to post for the race they are claiming in, and the form must be time stamped and accepted within the time restriction. If the form is improperly completed, a claim can be voided. If more than one person submits a claim for the same horse, then the racing secretary conducts a drawing to determine the claim winner.

There also are restrictions on where and what the horse can do after a claim. Typically at NYRA tracks a horse is placed “in jail”. This means that the horse cannot be moved to another track for a period of time – usually 30-45 days and cannot race back at a lower claiming level the first time it races. This is done to prevent people from coming into NY tracks and claiming a horse that can be competitive at a higher level elsewhere, due to the other track’s lesser competition. This is why you often see an increase in claiming late in a race meet, when there isn’t enough time remaining for the horse to run back and the “jail” time restriction is removed.

Back to Top ↑

 

4. Why don’t I know my horse is racing in advance? I can’t make plans to go see the horse run if I don’t know two or three weeks ahead that he/she will race?

This is often the most frustrating part of owning a race horse, when will our horse race! Trainers rely on a track’s condition book to determine a race schedule. Condition books can be very unsatisfying and very complicated. The racing secretary is the ultimate decision maker when it comes to the condition book, which is the bible for the industry. Racing secretaries are continually talking with trainers to understand what horses are in training and what type of races trainers are looking for. Unfortunately, the book is often designed and tilted toward the larger scale trainers with scores of horses in training because they know they will help fill races.

Let me illustrate a typical condition book cycle. The Belmont Park spring/summer meet, which started April 29 and runs until July 19 offers 60 days of racing. The condition book usually covers three weeks or 14 actual days of racing. So, trainers can plan only 14 days in advance. The book is customarily published about 10 days before it goes into effect. Belmont Park’s first condition book was published in mid-April and covers the races from April 29-May 17. On May 10, Belmont published the second condition book for May 20- June 7.

Trainers meticulously read through each condition book and pencil in potential races for the horses they train. So, it is possible for the trainer to look out two, three weeks at a time and tell us there is a target race in mind. Many things can happen to change that final decision such as a minor injury to the horse, the horse isn’t training well and the trainer recommends against entering, or the trainer learns that the field is shaping up to be particularly difficult and decides to wait for another race. Even the weather forecast can play a role in the decision to enter or not process.

Official race entries are taken only until two or three days before the actual race and that alone doesn’t guarantee a horse will be racing. Racing secretaries will offer as many as 10, 11, 12 races for each race day but end up using only nine of these races. The first nine races in the condition book for that specific day are the preferred races and the remainder listed as substitutes. Why? The simplest reason is some races don’t draw enough entries to run and the racing secretary plans for such. In the instance that more than nine races draw a large number of entries the racing secretary will usually select the first nine or 10 races listed in the condition book and ignore the “substitute” or “extras” also listed.

So, until the actual race card is announced late on entry day, you don’t know that the horse will be running, which makes it very difficult for any advanced planning. It isn’t quite the same with a stakes race as nominations are taken weeks in advance, but official entries are only taken on the same schedule as all races for that day.

Back to Top ↑

 

5. The condition book said the race was planned for Monday, but it isn’t listed? What happened?

Another reason advance planning to attend your horse’s race is difficult is the race isn’t listed for the day noted in the condition book. Here is an actual situation that happened to Bona Venture Stables’ Court Dancer. In Belmont Park’s first condition book, there was an allowance race for 3 year-old and up fillies and mares at 6 furlongs on the turf, listed as a substitute race for Saturday, May 9. Entries were taken on Wednesday, May 6 but her race was not listed for Saturday. The race was carried over and listed as an ‘extra’ for Sunday, May 10. But it again wasn’t included in the Sunday race card and was listed as an ‘extra’ for Wednesday May 13. It again failed to be included in the day’s race calendar but was finally included in the day’s races for Friday, May 15, a full week after its original listing in the condition book.

We will never know exactly why it took a week for the race to be carded, perhaps it had only a few entries for May 9 and the racing secretary had full fields for the other races; or it didn’t draw enough entries until a week later.

Back to Top ↑

 

6. My horse was listed as entered in the race, but it says “also eligible.” What does this mean?

Ah, so entries are taken three days ahead of the actual race date, the race is included in the race card, but your horse is ‘also eligible.’ Ugh. Generally races are limited to 12 entries. If more than 12 horses are entered into a race, the racing secretary draws 12 random names from the entries and these are the official starters. Two, sometimes three added horse names are drawn and listed in the order drawn as an ‘also eligible.’ If there is a scratch, a horse dropping out of the race prior to 10 a.m. on race day then the first also eligible horse draws into the race, and so on. Also eligible entries are automatically scratched from the race at 10 a.m., so if there is a late scratch, no one can draw in.

The second ‘also eligible’ is a horse entered for a specific condition. For example, if the race is originally listed as a turf race and it is shifted to a dirt race as the ‘also eligible for dirt’ will then draw into the race otherwise they will not be allowed to run.

Back to Top ↑