How to Buy a Racehorse
There’s not one single way to buy a racehorse, in fact there isn’t even one right way to buy a racehorse since it entirely depends on how your ambition and how your bank account stack up together.
Although some horses may prove to be that one in a million that ends up winning you a ton of money, in general it must remain a hobby, hence the term “if you want to make a small fortune from horse racing, start off with a large one”.
What you do need to be aware of is the cost and some of the limitations involved in buying a thoroughbred which we’ve touched on here, though despite the risks and the costs the rewards are potentially huge if you get lucky with an improving type of animal.
How Much Does a Racehorse Cost?
Well, there’s no set answer to this. Cheap yearlings (horses between one and two years of age) are available but truthfully will have very little in the way of potential. With horses, and some would cheekily say humans too, so much of their potential can be predicted at least a bit by their breeding and so those bred well will be very expensive indeed.
You may pick up a racehorse for as little as £500 or £1000, but you’ll probably be left waiting for a good opportunity to back the horse and trying to win some money as opportunities for prize money with such an animal will be very limited indeed.
It’s common for owners to pay £10,000, £20,000 and more for a thoroughbred in the UK and at that level, they may get lucky with an improving type who may go on to land some very good prize money. In other cases though, they end up showing very little in the way of ability or even get injured along the way.
At the top end of things though the thrill of buying the best bred racehorses tends to belong to a small club of very rich entities. In October 2017 the racing stable of Sheikh Mohammed and the Maktoum family, Godolphin, paid 4million guineas (£4.2million) for a filly at the Tattersalls sales at Newmarket which raised a few eyebrows even among the great and good of the sport.
Large fees of over £1million though are not uncommon during any racing year and the ability of some studs is so proven that the fees paid out for a horse at auction may be seen as simply a wise investment. Not only will the purchased horse almost certainly go on to win a good level of prize money, but they themselves will be very valuable at stud and that’s where the real money is made in this sport.
This is the real kicker for those looking to break into ownership as there is a lot more to owning a racehorse than purchasing one in the first place.
Costs include training fees, costs of maintaining gallops, transport, vets and farriers, jockeys, entry fees for races and a lot more besides. The average cost for flat horses tends to run to around £23,000 per year on average, though this can rise depending on which trainer you choose.
The average over the jumps is around £17,000 though of course the risk of injury and the lack of prize money would make even this a risk, despite the lower initial fees.
Just to put it into context; if the average flat jockey is earning around £20,000 and the average horse costs £23,000 to keep in training, you can see why the game is reliant on its owners to maintain their interest in the sport and keep their money coming in.
As you would imagine, there are fairly strict rules in the UK when it comes to naming your racehorse. The BHA website has a search facility allowing you to type in your desired name and check its availability, though you would be better off knowing some of the ins and outs first.
The main, unshakable rule set forth by the British Horseracing Authority when it comes to naming horses is the character limit. No name may have any more than 18 characters which makes some of the more creative naming ideas unusable. It’s also why you’ll see such turf stars as Shutthefrontdoor spelled the way they are, i.e. with no spaces to save on the total characters used.
All owners wishing to nominate names for their purchases need to submit them to the BHA for approval first, mostly to ensure there is not another thoroughbred in training with the same name. As well as this, legendary names of the game such as Shergar or Kauto Star will not be allowed again in order to maintain their legacy.
One tradition in racing, though not a very creative one, is to name horses at least partially after their sire or dam, in other words after their father or mother. Derby winner and champion sire Galileo has had some of his offspring named after him for instance, even such high class horses as Galileo Gold or Red Galileo (a grandson of the great horse) who have their own top class status now.
BHA administrators though have another key job; to make sure no offensive or crude names slip through the net. Not that it always works of course! Over the years, horses such as Two In The Pink and Wear The Fox Hat have been accepted, probably innocently and naively, though it’s easier when the language is different. Over in France, a horse named Big Tits ran six times under rules and the owners got away with it!
Given the expense attached to owning potentially decent race horses, one way many people choose to get involved is via shared ownership.
Syndicates, as they are commonly known, own an increasing number of race horses in Britain and give their owners the chance to take part on race day in just the same way as a Saudi prince or an Emirati Sheikh.
All part-owners of a horse will be given access to the course, the owners bar, the parade ring and other exclusive areas giving those involved the full racing experience as opposed to simply watching from the stands or having a bet in the ring.
Part-owners don’t have to set up purchases on their own either; rather they can buy into an existing syndicate for a small fee. Syndicates tend to have a limited number of shares, allowing budding racehorse owners the chance to experience all the thrills at a reasonably low cost without sharing their horse with too many people.
For a fixed cost, syndicates tend to dangle the carrot of racing ownership without any of the hassle of dealing with the BHA and the other relevant racing bodies. Some even offer shares in horses for as little as £25 per month.
How Horses Are Bought and Sold
For starters, your legal rights involving horses depend a lot on whether you are buying from a private seller or a trader. Essentially, you gain more legal protection when buying a horse via a trader or dealer than a private seller.
When buying into a syndicate of course, the administrators of the syndicate do all the donkey work for you and all you have to do is keep up with the monthly payments and turn up on race day, however at the higher end of the sport things are a little different.
The very biggest owners in the sport will usually hire full-time Racing Managers to handle their stables or stock, as they simply own too many horses to do this themselves.
Buying and Selling Privately
Like any other commodity, racing thoroughbreds can be bought and sold privately between individuals but, as mentioned above, potential new owners should make sure they are represented legally to ensure they are not being sold a dud without any form of last recourse.
That being said, even if you are not buying into a syndicate or wishing to start your very own large racing stable you can use a licensed trader to find you a racehorse within your budget, whatever that may be.
Traders these days have professional, simple to use websites which will list horses for sale by showing their price (with or without VAT) and a photo of the animal. Clicking into each lot for sale will reveal more information in much the same way a car seller’s website would.
Instead of tempting you in by lines such as “taxed and MOT’d until January” though, you may see “three-time winner with exciting future as a broodmare” for example.
The horses are categorised too in case you are looking for something in particular, namely Stallions, Broodmares, Yearlings, Foals, Unraced Horses, Jump, Flat, Syndicates and Shares Horses etc. You may also search by price to ensure you don’t get tempted in and get your eye on one you simply cannot afford!
Those who really know their stuff and can keep up with the hustle and bustle may wish to attend an auction in order to be able to see their potential purchases in the flesh before making a bid.
Major auctions in the UK are Goffs (Doncaster), Graham Budd (London) and Tattersalls at Newmarket for example and many millions of pounds worth of bloodstock is traded here.
These are only three examples however and in fact the list is endless. The trade paper, the Racing Post, lists all upcoming auctions by type and date and there are representatives of owners and trainers who make a very good living simply by trading horses on behalf of others.
There are all sorts of different types of auctions taking place and so one thing a buyer will need to know before reaching for the debit card is which type suits their needs best.
Yearling Sales Versus Breeze Ups
These are the two main options when thinking about buying a young horse with a flat racing season in mind, which could be very lucrative if finding the right horse.
The Yearling Sales take place in the autumn with the horses ‘unbroken’, i.e. they have not been in training with a trainer yet and so buyers are judging them just on appearance, breeding and sometimes even reputation.
Once bought, the yearling will be sent to a trainer at a monthly cost with the view to going racing from the following spring onwards when they are more than two years of age. Some however are not ready to race until into their three-year-old season, depending on how ‘forward’ they are and so patience is often required.
The Breeze Ups are different though, taking place in the spring when these same horses for sale will have turned two in this case they run, or “breeze up” for two furlongs in order for potential buyers to judge their movement and their action.
Many even use actual times to help influence their decisions, though these types of sales have their doubters as to their validity or even their morality.
Some may feel that, as very young horses, they are being pushed too hard, too fast in order to perform well enough to be sold for a good fee and so whatever they achieve at this age having been bought, they may not necessarily improve on as they get older which is bad for an owner.
One last way to get yourself a racing thoroughbred is to ‘claim’ one via some of the races put on especially for this purpose at just about every racecourse in the country.
A Claiming Race is one in which each horse’s racing weight is decided by the price placed on them by connections. In other words; the trainer may want to win the race and so would like his horse to carry less weight, however he will then have to place a low value on his horse making it easier for someone to ‘claim’ off him after the race and take out of his yard.
Horses can be claimed, i.e. bought, by other owners or trainers for the specified price immediately after the race is run, though the rules for a Claiming Race or slightly different from those in a Selling Race.
All of the runners in a Selling Race apart from the winner are entitled to be claimed for their set price, just like in a Claiming Race. In a Seller however, the winner only is then auctioned off in the ring after the race and so it is pot luck to an extent whether a potential new owner gets a real bargain, or sees the price of their potential new purchase rise too much.
Buying in this way is not a way to find yourself a future star, as the vast majority of horses running in claimers or sellers are considered among the lowest rated horses on the circuit, whether on the flat or over the jumps.