The Sport of Kings has a place for the commoner. If you love thoroughbred racing, you can participate in it as an owner, whether you have megabucks or just earn a reasonable living. No matter whether you're rich or middle class, take note. Most racehorses never win enough to earn their keep. Racing is a passion, not necessarily a profitable venture.
Perhaps the most straightforward way of buying a thoroughbred racehorse is through a private sale. You are simply buying the animal for an agreed-upon price from the owner. If there's a horse you're interested in, contact the trainer or owner. You also may find horses advertised for sale in racing magazines and on websites.
The Auction Ring
The auction ring is not a place for newbies to tread alone. Even sophisticated investors need professional advice, especially when starting out. For best results, attend a few auctions as an onlooker, inspect the horses and learn the process before deciding to bid on a horse.
Horses currently racing are not found in thoroughbred auction sales. Instead, these sales focus on weanlings, yearlings and 2 year olds, as well as broodmares. Two year olds can race soon after purchasing, while with weanlings and yearlings you must pay expenses while the animals continue growing. However, with younger horses, your own trainer can provide training in the way she prefers.
Claiming a Horse
One of the most common ways to acquire a racing thoroughbred is via claiming. In a claiming race -- the overwhelming majority of thoroughbred races -- horses are running for a certain purse level. For example, you must pay $20,000 for a horse running in a claiming raise of that amount, or just $5,000 for a lower-end claimer. It doesn't matter whether the horse wins, loses or breaks a leg -- once the race is over, that horse is yours. The former owner, however, receives any purse money earned for that particular race.
Before you can claim a horse, you must obtain an owner's license and hire a trainer. You must open an account with the racetrack paymaster, and ensure you have sufficient funds within the account before making a particular claim. The trainer will advise you on prospective claims.
Rules for claiming races vary from state to state. Familiarize yourself with the regulations for the individual jurisdiction. You must submit a claim slip on race day, prior to the actual race, at the racing office. You can only claim one horse per race. All information on the form must be accurate. Misspell the horse's name, for example, and the claim is invalid.
For many people, the best way to buy a thoroughbred racehorse is through a partnership. You don't own the entire horse, but you also don't pay all the expenses. If you're a racing devotee, you'll remember that Funny Cide, winner of the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, was owned by Sackatoga Stable. They were a group of high school pals who each chipped in to purchase the gelding who came close to winning the Triple Crown -- he finished third in the Belmont Stakes.
Reputable racing partnerships, set up by established companies, pool partners' money to buy promising prospects. At West Point Thoroughbreds, for example, an initial $10,000 will buy you about 5 percent of a racehorse, along with quarterly bills of about $750 toward your horse's maintenance and training. If your horse wins regularly, some of that money goes to offset expenses, so the bills could be less. If he really wins a lot of money, you'll get a commensurate check. A winning stallion could go on to earn substantial stud fees, so there is always the possibility of earning some serious money. For the most part, though, partnerships are a way for folks who love racing but can't afford to support a horse of their own to go to the track and the backstretch and become a part of the racing game.