Bargains Open Sport to Potential Owners

(By Avalyn Hunter)

In the wake of recent events, it seems as if horse racing is missing a major marketing opportunity. Take Ive Struck a Nerve. While he is off the trail to the spring classics, the former $1,700 weanling is now a grade II winner with more than $300,000 in the bank. And while the price Paul Braverman paid for an interest in the horse following the colt's upset of the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) hasn't been disclosed, it seems safe to say that it's more than the $82,000 that Matt Bryan shelled out for Ive Struck a Nerve as a 2-year-old in training.

Or take Rose to Gold. A $1,400 yearling, the daughter of Friends Lake is now a multiple grade III winner who has earned $477,889. Another bargain-basement filly, Don't Tell Sophia, has won two listed stakes this spring and earned nearly a quarter-million dollars--a nice return on her original yearling price tag of $1,000. Not to mention that both fillies have now appreciated in value as broodmare prospects.

Not every inexpensive youngster is going to turn out this well, of course. But that isn't the point. The selling point is that Thoroughbred racing is a sport in which people with relatively modest bankrolls can enjoy the fun of having their own sports franchise with at least some chance of recouping part or all of their investment. Want a minor league baseball or hockey team? That'll set you back at least $250,000 for the franchise fee alone, not to mention ongoing expenses like player salaries, stadium rentals, and so forth. Want a race car? Depending on the level at which you want to race, you can get involved for as little as a few thousand, but if you want to play with the big boys, count on dropping a million or more on your racing team and equipment. Compare this to Thoroughbred racing, where about $25,000 can keep a horse in training for a year, and it's easy enough to see that you don't have to be a millionaire to be part of the "Sport of Kings."

Of course, more than marketing is needed to draw new owners into the sport. Even the least business-minded owner wants to have fun in return for the money--and that means having a pleasant experience while watching his or her horse race. Owners who are treated as necessary evils by tracks and trainers aren't likely to stick around long; neither are those whose horses aren't kept sound enough to race with reasonable frequency. But if racing wants to keep bringing in new blood at all levels of the game, touting the fact that there are bargains to be had for the clever and the lucky isn't a bad way to go.

14 Comments

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sceptre

The economics of breeding to race, or buying a weanling, yearling, or 2 yr. old to race is among the most fiscally daunting imaginable. To characterize it otherwise is either naive, or deliberately deceptive. The very rare "lottery-type" winner horse is just that--very rare, and you know what's now often said--Horse Racing can make Millionaires.....out of Billionaires.

12 Mar 2013 6:24 PM
SophieK

I agree Avalyn. I love to cheer on horses like Rosé to Gold, been a fan from the get go and have used her sale price in many conversations. These stories don't always happen but when they do we should celebrate them more.

I was lucky enough to have one of these cheap yearling purchases make money and have a little time in the papers. People in the US love an underdog by nature! It's not about the money made or lost. It's about beating the odds!

13 Mar 2013 8:01 AM
fb0252

Good to see such a post finally appear in the Blood Horse. Horse racing missing major marketing opportunities--one day our sports journalists will pick up on this story.

Good also of Ms. Hunter to note necessity of owner and horse treatment and preservation.  Owner friendly--assign stalls to owners instead of trainers.  Would change the sport for the better.

13 Mar 2013 9:16 AM
Mark Antonini

This industry does a good job of promoting its "rags to riches" stories.  Sceptre hit the nail on the head.  Even if I only paid $1,000 for a yearling, it will cost me about $60,000 to race it through it's 3yr-old season. It will have to earn $75,000 for me to break even, after paying the trainer and jockey.  Figuring you get 1.25 years of running (assuming just 3 months to race when it's 2), then that is an average of $60,000 per year.  What percent of horses last year earned $60,000?  6.3% according to figures from Equibase.  Or, almost 94% won't break even.  In my opinion, this is truly the most perplexing problem the industry faces.  Unless, it is truly the "sport of kings", and normal economic constraints vanish at the stall door.

13 Mar 2013 11:40 AM
Tory Chapman

I agree Mark. That's why they say it's not a game for boys in short pants.

13 Mar 2013 11:56 AM
woodsracing

It is true that to look at complete figures would scare away many new potential owners. However, promoting the sport should be about emphasizing the ability for anyone to join in and have fun while possibly expecting a profit. To many "new owners" of racehorses, it is not about the bottom line, it is about enjoying the experience and the beauty of the actual competitor. Of course, most people know the reality that investing in an animal has its downsides and the majority of the time it will not turn into the fairy tale that you were dreaming about. Does that mean we should give up the dream? Does that mean that we should focus on all of the potential downsides, and call articles like this one naive or deceptive? NO. If we want this industry to keep growing and attracting newcomers, anything that keeps the DREAM alive is conducive to bringing in new ownership. Not everyone is going to be at, or ever make, the pinnacle of the sport, but look at the thousands of claiming races written everyday around the country. Is it not exciting to see your horse cross the finish line in one of those too? Anything that still creates and instills the Dream of that one lucky break should be celebrated and focused on. As with ANY investment there is no guarantee of any return, just the guarantee of spending money. We are just lucky that ours is so much fun when we are spending it.

14 Mar 2013 12:43 PM
sceptre

woodsracing:

When you say "complete figures" what is really meant is COMPLETE TRUTH. It is deceptive, and potentially harmful to others to report only on the positive aspects of the sport.

15 Mar 2013 12:42 PM
woodsracing

I see your view, however, only a complete idiot would look at an investment into an animal, of any sort, as a sure thing. Someone who truly knows NOTHING about the sport would most likely get advice from someone who knows at least a little bit. Why not showcase the positives of the sport without internal participants downgrading it? I am saying that we should cater our advertising to newcomers with positive stories like this one. You can go plenty of other places to hear the negative, we don't need it from a publication that is at the forefront of the racing industry.

15 Mar 2013 5:07 PM
sceptre

I don't want to beat this to death, but your comments and Ms. Hunter's beg to be refuted. Many that enter the sport know well more than nothing about it, yet if they remain long enough nearly all would say that they were unprepared/unaware of the extent of financial loss. Also, all of them should, but only some will come to realize the moral dilemmas associated with the racing of horses. Those who introduce newcomers to the sport usualy have a vested interest in attracting them-perhaps a Ms. Hunter, or yourself- so it's unlikely that a true picture will be painted; for that matter, some of these "painters" lack a true perspective. For example, one wonders how many racehorses Ms. Hunter has, herself, bred and raced, or owned and raced, and footed the bills? This is a very HARD business, and I'd venture to guess that the vast majority of long duration owners (other than the very well healed) would say in retrospect they would have been better off (not only financially better off) without it. This is essentially a game for the very rich, the service providers (included in this group are the scribes), the hanger-oners, racing syndicate managers and the like, and fans. The vast majority of owners and HORSES would be better without it...If this is indeed the reality, should one remain silent, or express it?    

15 Mar 2013 9:11 PM
mzebriski

This is the most ridiculous article ever submitted to the Bloodhorse!  So I'm a modest pocketbook guy who goes to Keeneland and purchases a $1,700 weanling, in the hopes of winning the Risen Star.  It costs me $40 a day for 6 months, followed by $1,200 to ship him to Florida, and then an additional $70 a day for another 6 months just to prepare him to race as a 2yo (which may be a less than 75% chance assuming he's precocious and has no injuries).  Add vet, blacksmith, etc. and the "modest" $1,700 purchase actually costs me about $30-40K to get to the races and then each day he doesn't start or win another $85-105/day if I'm at a major venue like NY, KY, etc.

The entire game is out of whack and people who continue to suggest that "normal" people can play in it with any chance are promoting false advertising for breeders and pinhookers...these are the same people who would have you believe a "dollar and a dream."  When the dollars run out, what do you do with the horse, send it to slaughter?

16 Mar 2013 12:42 AM
woodsracing

I am not disagreeing that there are those who mislead intentionally or that there are severe downsides to investing in the business a lot of the time. All I am saying is that putting articles out there that focus on the positives some people have experienced are nice for the business. There is not a 100% failure rate in the sport and to many its not about MONEY, its about the horse itself. I have two broodmares and I don't look to those to produce me millions of dollars. If I can break even I feel lucky in that. But, I would rather "waste" my money and energy into this sport and enjoy myself doing it than never try because all I hear are the negatives. It was a nice article about some who got lucky. I don't think the intention was to persuade people to join the business because you are guaranteed to hit gold with a cheap purchase. Of course, it is a gamble, but isn't that the enticing aspect? If I never hit gold in this business, I will still see the enjoyment it brought me in the hits and misses.

16 Mar 2013 2:06 PM
woodsracing

As for the "moral dilemmas" of racing horses. There are too many dishonest trainers/owners, etc. to count but there are also those who believe in what is best for the horse. As with any sport, there are cheaters and liars, but Thoroughbreds have been bred for centuries to run. It is like saying that there is a moral dilemma in training German Shepherds to track or protect. This is their nature and as long as the best interests of the individual horse are respected there is nothing immoral about that. For those who mistreat, abuse, push, breakdown or slaughter a horse that is their own moral inconsistencies, not that of the sport of racing as it was intentionally meant. Those individuals should be the ones that are held responsible for what they have done, not the entire sport of racing. There are many honest individuals who would go without themselves and if you are a new owner looking to join the sport you should look for those qualities before investing, they are out there.

16 Mar 2013 2:15 PM
Brown brother

Some very thoughtful, good posts here.  As an owner who has lost hundreds of thousands I can say from experience that i still enjoyed and continue to enjoy owning it takes all kinds i guess. I have to agree that respect for the animals and a solid post-racing career plan for them is essential and cannot be overemphasized.

16 Mar 2013 5:35 PM
Old Old Cat

First let me thank you for your wonderful book on Northern Dancer.  Reading that has greatly influenced my decisions in getting my Storm Cat great grandaughter to the races.  She is a two year old, not yet in racetrack training.  I have spent about $80,000 since I was told that her stakes winning mother was available to a person who would take care of her,(ME).  I expect to spend $30K to $40k a year at the racetrack.  So far I have put up all the money, but now I have a partnership to spread the costs around.  Without my partnership, I would totally run out of money by next May.  Putting all my time, money, and effort into this baby has been one of the most reqarding episodes in my life.  The journey, the excitement for what possibly lies ahead has been exhillerating.  If I die tomorrow I die a happy man.  I thank God for everything that has happened.  Some of my friends have invested their retirements in more certainties, (like Bernie) and seen fortunes (millions) disappear.  My meager retirement has disappeared, but I have something to show for it; a horse, a horse that may some day win big races, a horse that some day may become great.  That DREAM is worth more that the millions, before taxes, that others hope to leave to their unappreciative heirs.  Yes, it makes no financial sense, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat, even my last heartbeat.

18 Mar 2013 1:43 PM

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