Thursday, August 18, 2011

Allowance Optional Claiming races

A new owner might wonder why they would want to enter a horse for a claiming tag in an Allowance Optional Claiming race, and thus offer their horse for sale via claim. The conditions of such a race allows horses to enter an allowance race that they would not otherwise qualify for, therefore giving the horse a chance at the bigger allowance size purse. The catch is that if a horse doesn't meet the allowance conditions then that horse must run for the claiming price specified by the race conditions. Here's the conditions for a recent race at Arlington Park for example:
Conditions: 6F Dirt. FOR FILLIES AND MARES THREE YEARS OLD AND UPWARD WHICH HAVE NEVER WON $8,800 ONCE OTHER THAN MAIDEN, CLAIMING, STARTER, OR STATE BRED ALLOWANCE OR HAVE NEVER WON TWO RACES OR CLAIMING PRICE $18,000. Three Year Olds, 120 lbs.; Older, 124 lbs. Non-winners of a race since July 13 Allowed 3 lbs. Claiming Price $18,000 (Races where entered for $15,000 or less not considered). Purse: $35,075

Friday, August 05, 2011

more about training day rates and what this fee covers

We have talked a lot about the cost of training a thoroughbred at the race track and what expenses are covered by the "day rate" that owners pay to a trainer, per day, for each horse in training.

There seems to be two methods currently in use by trainers at major tracks in the US for billing owners. Most trainers charge a daily rate per horse that will cover expenses OTHER THAN veterinary, farrier, shipping, race day pony and hotwalker, specialized equipment (halter with nameplate, blinkers in owner's colors, etc.) and specialized therapies (massage, chiropractics, etc.)

There seems to be a growing trend with smaller trainers who charge a lower day rate but then itemize every other expense down to bandages, supplements, administrative fees (bookkeeping, accounting, other office expenses), workers compensation insurance, dorm room or tack room rental fees, stall rent when stabled at non-active tracks, etc.

If you're an owner, which deal would you rather have? One method lets owners know what to expect in their monthly invoice, but with the itemization method, not so much. A trainer who itemizes the owner's bill has to be diligent about informing an owner ahead of time about possible upcoming expenses such as stall rent (generally at least $10/day which really adds up.)

With either method of billing, trainers have to be diligent about asking owners in advance if they are willing to pay for specialized equipment, supplements or therapies, or risk being saddled with paying those expenses themselves. If you are an owner it is not advisable to sign any binding agreement with your trainer that requires you to pay all expenses related to your horse, no matter how exotic or ill advised. Any training agreement should require the trainer to inform the owner prior to unusual situations that may require unusual expense to the owner.

Owners need to consider ahead of time that their trainer may need to make a life or death decision about their horse that may lead to significant expense, such as in the case of serious injury or colic that requires surgery. Owners please discuss this possibility with your trainer so that everyone can react without delay in an emergency.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Do you know how to read a thoroughbred lip tattoo?

Click here for a chart that will help you determine a thoroughbred's age from his tattoo >>

Hopefully we can eventually switch over to microchips instead of tattoos for racing thoroughbreds in the United States.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011 updated

update 2011: has a lot of good general info for owners and has been updated in 2011, including the article with the expense breakdown for the day rate under "articles" at

Please check it out and add your listing - it's free!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Great article "How horseracing lives with the spectre of death" by Alastair Down on the Grand National web site

I love this article which followed up this year's Grand National steeplechase, Mr. Down understands the love of horse racing and says it like it is. Here's two excerpts:

"Everybody loathes the death of a horse. But fatalities are just a fraction of what jump racing is about and I would be honest enough to argue that, in an increasingly sanitised, risk-denuded society, the omnipresence of danger lies at the very kernel of its appeal."

"When they make their way to Cheltenham or to Aintree it is not without trepidation of what they may see. But, taken in the round, they find something about the sight, sound and spectacle of jump racing that is spiritually uplifting and nourishing to the soul in a way that no other sport comes close to providing."

Please read the rest of this article at

Friday, March 25, 2011

What's wrong with big U.S. horseracing revisited

Previously I had written a few things about why U.S. thoroughbred racing is struggling, from my own experience in the business. I also linked to an article that I thought summed up the financial side of the problem very well.

But recently another aspect of the problem that has nagged at me for years came to the forefront in my mind. The nagging part started with experiences at Churchill Downs and Gulfstream Park in the last couple years. Both places made me feel uncomfortable about just hanging out at the track for a relaxing day with friends who love horses. Reasons for being uncomfortable range from no place to sit or see horses up close, the same irritating music day after day playing too loud in the paddock, bad food, expensive drinks, I could probably think of some others.

From my point of view from the stable area, I noticed that the Derby Museum backside tour seemed to be very popular, but people are driven around in an enclosed van and not allowed to get too close to horses for liability reasons. People come to Kentucky to see the horses up close and it's a priceless public relations opportunity for the tracks. I feel like the tracks would prefer not to deal with the horses, their caretakers or even the people who come to Kentucky to see horses. This attitude will kill horseracing for good, it can not live by simulcast or casino gambling alone.

It amazes me how many people are there to adopt all the retired racehorses that we place through Second Stride ( - I maintain the web site). These are people who just love horses, not gambling. These are the people who can help racing thrive and yet it's a group who are ignored by the big racetracks. Perhaps the big tracks should watch closely the progress of Meydan in Dubai (home of the Dubai Racing Carnival and Dubai World Cup) and the next big horse city in the works, Tianjin Horse City, in China. Here is a quote from a Gulf News article about Tianjin Horse City - "the Chinese especially like the Meydan business model because (like Meydan) it does not involve betting on horses."

Handicapping is fun, but gambling is just one aspect of horseracing - the success of horseracing should not completely depend on gambling. I wish the big tracks would remember that part of their potential clientele just wants to be there to watch, learn more about horses, and get close to any horses, not just racing superstars.

I'd like to hear your feedback.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How to help Japan

We got a comment asking how to help Japan following the terrible earthquake and tsunami - everything you need to know is at - the comment went to spam automatically but still it's a good question.

The fabulous thoroughbred breeding farms of Japan were spared damage according to the racing publications. Most are inland, Hokkaido.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

owner interviews trainer

Actually this was a school project that my husband Jere helped with by answering the following questions, but would be great questions for an experienced owner to ask a trainer who they may be thinking of hiring:

Can you tell whether or not horses will be successful when they are foals?
You make assessments on size and comformation - to say how successful they are going to be you need the crystal ball everybody is looking for.

What type of  temperament do you prefer your horses to have?
The best is low key and not too aggressive toward people, but when the horse trains his aggressiveness comes out on the track - when training in company you want the horse to be competitive toward his opponent. Then after training he goes back to low key and not aggressive toward people - this can't be taught to the horse, it is the way he is born and is the type to look for when selecting a horse.

What running style do you find more favorable when choosing a horse to train? (front runner, stalker, late closer)
All running styles are acceptable if they win! Most people like the front runner because the horse wants to be in front from the beginning. But the stalker is probably the one I like most because they can lay 4th -5th and make the short move to win. The stone closer is the most difficult because he is usually last in the race most of the way. The jockey has to time a move perfectly and if there is traffic he gets in trouble, stops his momentum and his chances of winning are slim if that happens. I will admit that the closer is the most exciting to watch.

When do you begin training?
Usually November of the yearling year the horse is broke to ride on a farm or training center. He would come to the track in the spring of the following year.

Before you begin training a horse what do you look for?
Size and comformation - that is if the legs are correct, this helps them stay sound during training and racing. I also look at the head for an intelligent look in the eyes.

Is there anything special that you do while training your horses that sets them apart from the rest?
Nothing special the special horse sets himself from the others its my job to keep that special horse healthy and happy.

Do you train all of your horses the same?
I train them the same until I have to change due to injury or temperament. A trainer likes a straightforward horse with no quirks but those are rare. If I see that a horse may be getting a little sore I back off his training until he is better. With some I constantly walk a fine line between keeping them from getting sore and getting them fit enough to race. Also if a horse seems to be getting rattled because he is being asked to do more than he is comfortable with, then I take him a little slower.  Every horse is different - just as all people are different.

Do you train boys and girls differently?
Yes fillies don't take as much training and they often get sour faster with hard training. But some colts (boys) thrive on hard training.

Do you prefer working with boys or girls?
I like to have a mix of both.

How do you decide what races to run your horses?
All have a class they belong in and what often separates the good trainers from the bad is finding that class for each horse, you learn this about your horse in his morning work and refine it as he starts racing.  Of course it's best to place your horse correctly in appropriate races from the start, especially if there are economic considerations at stake.  For this reason it's best to have a very experienced and proven trainer.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

the action, the color, the fever, THE DERBY

I have a real treat today, the rough draft first chapter of my husband's new book (could it be that a short story is more likely?)  Your comments are welcome.

This story starts with two friends that live across from Churchill Downs. These friends would walk to the bus stop every morning and as they walked, Tom and Jere would watch the people working on the horses - wouldn't know much about what was going on but wanted to be a part. This went on til they were old enough to apply for a hot walking job, the first job most people get. The duty of a hot walker is to walk the horses after exercize, the race track lingo is coolinem out. So their 16th birthdays come, and along with the excitement of driving, they can get a license to work with the horses and learn about what they have been watching all of the year walking to school.

Tom asked Jere, how do you want to handle our first day?
Jere: I guess we do exactly like they always looked - busy.
Tom: OK. Jere asks, what time? Well we go to school about 7, that's the time. See you tomorrow.

Jere went home thinkin' this is summer vacation and I ain't gettin' up early. The boys went to bed with a lot of stored excitement. Going to the land of horse racing. They had watched it for years but didn't know what to expect. The clock went off like any other day for school.

Tom called Jere's house. Hello. Hi Mrs. Smith, is Jere up?
Mrs. Smith: Well Tom I don't know I'll go see for you. She goes to his room and finds he's still sleeping. Well Tom he's still sleeping.
Tom: Please Mrs Smith give him the phone for me.
Mrs. Smith: Ok Tom, he's not gonna like it. He likes his sleep.

Jere gets the phone from his mom and Tom exclaims, Jere, what the hell's wrong with you, we got to go to the track today!
Jere says in a sleepy voice, this is rhe first day of vacation you know, catchin' some winks.
Tom: Don't you want to learn about what goes on across the fence we walk by every day?
Jere: Yeah, I guess come on over and I'll get ready.

Tom runs out the house, down the block to get Jere's ass out the bed. All the thoughts going through his head on what to expect once they're on the inside of the fence. He knocks on the door.

Mrs. Smith comes to the door, Hey Tommy, how are you? She always called him Tommy since he was 4, the first time he had knocked.
Tom answered, yeah I'm fine. I was wondering if Jere was up yet.
Mrs. Smith: Well I haven't heard him moving in there but go and check.

Tom went back to Jere's room where Jere had hung pictures of horse racing and jockeys that were some of his favorites. Pat Day was at the top of the list and always in the top 10 in the nation in wins. Early Fires was there also - Jere liked him because he was a strong finisher, “stick jock” he would say. Tom's room was much the same, and these two would banter back and forth about horse racing for hours, boring their friends when they hung out.

Tom: Jere you not up yet? Come on man, get your ass out the bed! Don't you want to go in the gate?
Jere looks up from under his pillow that he was using to shade his eyes from the light. Well I guess I am now, Jere thought.
Tom: Well all right then, get your damn clothes on and let's go.

Its about 9 now and as they get out the door and look across the street, the two boys didn't see as much action as usual. They walked the short distance to the front gate, their hearts pounding in anticipation.

Tom says, Those guards look mean.
Jere: Yeah well let's just keep walkin' and see what happens.

Tom agrees and they proceed. There were four guards standing, talking, laughing and joking with each other.
Jere:  They're not gonna notice us at all. Just a little further and we're in.

Then the bomb. Hey boys! You have a license? Jere replies, No sir, this is our first day, we want to get a summer job with the horses.

Bob the guard: You got to get someone to give you a visitor pass.
Tom: But we don't know anybody.
Bob:  OK I will announce that you are here and looking for a job. Have a seat.

Jere and Tom looked at each other and thought all the years of waiting to get in the stable area, and here we sit like two vagrants caught trespassing.

Jere told Tom, You get me outta bed for this, man this is bullshit.
Tom replies, Shut up you're just lazy. We talked about this day for years and this little bump ain't gonna stop us.

By this time their voices were getting loud. Just driving in the gate was Shug McGaughey, very well known trainer, and the boys recognized him. Shug rolled down his window and asked the boys if they were looking for work. Tom was caught speechless and Jere spoke, Yes sir, our summer vacation starts today.
Shug replied, Well you guys didn't waste any time didya.

By this time Tom found his tongue and says, You are Shug McGaughey.
Shug: Well yes, how do you know me?
Tom: Me and Jere follow the races a lot and you win a lot of races.
Shug: Ohh I win my share.
Jere pipes up, We need a pass to get in, can you help us?
Shug: Yeah I'll get you in and do one better. I have room for one person. It's not easy work and the foreman don't cotton to slackers.
Tom pipes up, Well you'll want me then.
Jere gives a look at Tom, Shut up man.
Shug interrupts and says, Flip for it, and the loser doesn't have to worry. I know a guy that needs a man too. Shug sticks his head out he door and says, Hey Bob give these boys a pass. When you get your pass, go to barn 33, that's my barn, and Hank will tell you what time to be here.

Tom and Jere couldn't believe it. They were finally going inside the gate of Churchill Downs, the race track that held the most exciting two minutes in the WORLD. The guard handed them the passes and they started walking.

Jere says to Tom, Do you smell somethin?
Tom replies, Yeah, what is it?
Jere: It's horse shit man! We never smelled this from the outside. Hey Tom look, it's a goat. Wonder what they have a goat for?
Tom:  Mascot maybe.
Jere: What barn is it?
Tom:  Don't know, look for a number, there on the end . 5. Damn this place must be big.

They walked along not really noticing the numbers, but taking in all the new sights. Looking at the horses in their stalls.  Before they knew it barn 33. There was an elderly man sitting in a chair at the other end of the shedrow.

Jere walks up, Hi is hank around?
The old dude clears his throat, Yeeaa, he's over yar on the other side getting a horse ready for the first.
Tom: Wow let's go see.
Jere: Getting ready?
Tom replies, Guess they have some sort of ritual.
Jere laughs, Yeah they got a witch doctor runnin' around chantin' or somethin'.

They both laugh loudly and Hank standing in front of the stall whistling sez roughly, What the hell is this? Keep it quiet! Tryin' to get the horse to piss, he's been in ice two hours and y'all startled him. Now he might not pee and that could cost him the race! Who the hell are you two?

So the boys closed their mouths and watched. Hank started whistling again, and the horse, after sticking his head out to take a look around, went back in the stall, walked around in a couple circles, stretched out and peed. Tom and Jere watched, amazed at how long he peed. Hank, after the horse was done, wiped his brow in a joking way and said, Boy if he didn't pee he'd have to carry all that in his race, no way he wouldda had a shot in hell to win. Now who and what do y'all want?  Hank then looked over at the groom and said, Hang the bridle on him, two minutes til you go over. All right back to y'all.

Jere: Mr. McGaughey told us you have a spot for a worker.
Hank: That's right.
Tom: Well one of us is him.
Hank: You ever handle a horse?
Tom: No, never have - but I'm big and strong, and I think I can learn.

Tom and Jere were good size boys. Jere had brown hair, green eyes, about 200 lbs., and Tom was the same size with blue eyes and black hair. The girls liked both of them. Hank keeps going on, I can't have a green horn. I got to talk to the boss.

The group walks over to where the old dude was sittin'. Hank says, Duck, you seen the boss yet?
The old dude says, He just walked in the office.

Hank opens the door and said to Shug, Do I havta break in another greeny this year?
Shug: Yep, it will be good luck like last year. You said the same thang last year about the green help and I think its gonna keep you sharp.
Hank:  Ahh boss I'm sharp.
Shug:  I know Hank, but I want one of these young lads to work. You got a coin?
Hank replies, Yeeaa I got one. He reaches in his pocket, comes out with his lucky silver dollar. Alright who's gonna call it?
Tom: I'll call it.

Jere didn't mind, its a 50-50 shot, and Shug had said at the gate - whoever lost would have a job anyway.

Friday, January 14, 2011


No I'm not going to talk about illegal drug use in racehorses - "cheaters" are blinkers with very small or narrow cups (people unfamiliar with racing sometimes call blinkers a "hood" or "blinders"). Cheaters can be used on a horse that you want to try without blinkers without declaring "blinkers off" when entering a race.  This way the trainer can get some idea if the blinkers can come off for good, and if the experiment doesn't work can still go back to regular blinkers for the horse's next race.

Monday, January 10, 2011

picking a trainer in a the new racing world

I watched a special on CNBC yesterday about Ford and how the family leaders of the company have tended to get complacent about every 5 years and lose their competitive edge, thus the ups and downs that Ford has seen over the years.  Successful companies have to constantly fight to stay on top of changes in technology and remain competitive.   I see a lot of owners who treat their horses like a product manufactured by a corporation.  I see them move their horses from trainer to trainer with the idea that trainers get complacent over time.  Instead of blindly trainer-hopping, owners have to be more observant about what's going on with their horses in order to improve their stable's success. 

Owners, make sure your trainer is giving your horses high quality and balanced feed, individualized feed supplementation, housing them in a clean and low dust environment, and employing experienced professional staff.  After that your trainer should have eyes and hands on your horse daily or employ skilled assistants who do.

If your trainer is keeping close enough tabs on the stable's horses then high vet bills for injections, xrays, scans, etc. should be rare.  It's a big warning sign if the vet stops by the barn several times a week to check for or treat lamenesses, even in a very large stable.  It's also a warning sign if a trainer orders all manner of exotic treatments such as chiropractic, acupuncture, magnetic and infrared treatments, etc., especially without discussing it with the horse owner first. 

In my opinion it's also a big warning sign if your horse is reset by the farrier as a matter of course on a strict schedule and before every race.  Shoes and feet should be checked regularly by the trainer or qualified assistant and reset on an individualized schedule depending on condition of the feet and the horse's racing/work schedule.

Horses are not machines or products and no horse should be managed by a trainer who is unwilling or without enough experience to personally monitor each horse effectively for health, soundness and fitness.  A trainer who is also a "horse whisperer" (good at re-training horses with bad habits or fears that inhibit performance) is a bonus in the new racing world.