Ownership 101: Q&A

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.
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 sorts. 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 goes  up from here.

But I don’t want my horse to race in a maiden claiming race, why are we doing so?
There are usually two ways 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 fails 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.
So, if my horse is in a claiming race, can anyone 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 owners 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 winners percentage of the race purse. But the new owner takes control of the horse in the winners circle immediately after the ceremony. You have sold the horse.

Each racing jurisdiction has its own rules on claiming. For example, 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 to New York 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.

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

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.’  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 only’ it will then draw into the race otherwise they will not be allowed to run.

The condition book said the race was planned for Monday, but it isn’t listed? What happened?
Another reason why advance planning to attend your horse’s race is difficult if 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 a few years ago. In Belmont Park’s first condition book, there was an allowance race for 3YO and up fillies and mares at 6 furlongs on the turf, listed as a substitute race for May 9. Entries were taken on May 6 but her race was not listed for Saturday. The race was carried over and listed as an ‘extra’ for May 10. But again it wasn’t included in the Sunday race card and was listed as an ‘extra’ for May 13. It again failed to be included in the day’s race calendar but was finally included in the day’s races for 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.

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 racehorse, 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’s illustrate a typical condition book cycle. The Belmont Park spring/summer meet, which starts in late April or early May runs until mid-July. A condition book usually covers three weeks or 15 actual days of racing. Multiple books will be published through the meet period. So, trainers can plan only 15 days in advance. The book is customarily published about 10 days before it goes into effect.

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.

Official race entries are taken only 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 a horse will be running, which makes it difficult for advance 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.