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Own a Racehorse

Warren Kalbacker
From the Print Edition:
Kurt Russell, May/June 2006

Racehorse ownership may conjure an image of stallions cantering over acres of bluegrass to the delight of bluebloods,but Kentucky real estate holdings or high bids at the Keeneland Association auctions are not necessary for entrée. Set your expectations lower than the Triple Crown and consider purchase options like partnerships and you too could own a horse.

Gary Stevens, a National Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame jockey and NBC analyst, who now manages horses, says that they can be acquired in claiming races (in which entrants are for sale) at prestigious venues such as Belmont Park for $10,000 and for as little as $2,500 at minor tracks. Private purchases, auctions and brokers (called bloodstock agents) are also routes to ownership.

"I try to make sure owners have a good time, but racing needs to be managed as a business," says Stevens. While partnerships can make ownership affordable, horses must win purses to cover substantial expenses (training, boarding, veterinary care, etc.). Stevens stresses, "Horses need to compete at the correct level. I make owners aware of their horse's class and manage their expectations."

The Columbus, Ohio-based United States Trotting Association offers Harness Racing 101 (really!) at various locations. It links prospective owners with trainers, drivers and current owners and examines the rewards, as well as the pitfalls, of ownership. Attendees go into the barn to meet the "athletes." Selecting a trainer is a major issue as each specializes in types and ages of horses. Some may also be more receptive to having an owner help care for the horse.

A dedicated trainer is the key to winning, says Westchester County, New York, businessman John Kay, who has owned trotters in partnership and alone. He admires their eagerness to be in the barn at dawn and still trackside late in the evening. He emphasizes that a passion for horses must be financed exclusively with discretionary dollars and that partnerships cushion the sport's volatility. Like all top athletes, racehorses risk career-ending injury.

Racing statistics are certainly a guide to prospective owners. But there's an allure to the purchase of a yearling, an untrained, unraced horse, with the goal of meeting the steed in the winner's circle a year or two in the future. The United States Trotting Association offers helpful information on pedigree and conformation (muscle and bone structure), but cautions that equine selection skills can take years to develop.

Stevens has his own criteria: "You can tell more about a horse from its walk into the paddock than its gallop. I want a horse that looks like a queen and walks like a hooker."

Visit www.ustrotting.com and www.thegreatestgame.com.

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