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Why Some Racing Syndicates Don’t Offer Claiming Partnerships

January 12, 2012 · By Thomas Bellhouse · Share

Back in March of 2011, I wrote an article discussing why a horse would drop into the claiming ranks (and that there is no shame in running your horse in a claimer). With the recent rise in purses at New York tracks and the subsequent renewed interest in acquiring horses via the claim box (coupled with the claim of my beloved namesake “Bellhouse” as well as quite a few other West Point Thoroughbreds favorites over 2011), I thought it was the perfect time to expand upon our original discussion.

When discussing partnership opportunities with prospects and clients, I’m often asked why West Point Thoroughbreds is not more involved in acquiring horses via the claim box - and why we don’t offer claiming partnerships. After all, claiming events make up well over 70% of all races, claimers tend to run more frequently, and in most cases they cost a lot less than horses purchased at the sales. In addition, with the new purse structures at New York and Pennsylvania tracks, low-level claimers are running for purses that sometimes pay three times the claiming tag.

The easiest answer is that there is a big difference between competing in a claiming race and buying out of a claiming race. It takes a special type of person to delve into the “claiming game.” More specifically, you have to have the stomach for it.  Claiming a horse out of a race is one of the all time greatest examples of  “Caveat Emptor” or “Buyer Beware” in existence. You don’t get the opportunity to perform a comprehensive medical exam or “vet out” a potential claim before a race. The best you can do is a visual observation through the keen eye of a trainer or advisor from the paddock rail.  

When claiming a horse you have to be part riverboat gambler and part mind reader, figuring out why someone is dropping a horse in for the tag (do they want to lose the horse, or are they just trying to steal a purse?). A claiming owner has to be thick-skinned and willing to admit he will make the (hopefully only) occasional “bad claim.”

There certainly is more than meets the eye with respect to acquiring horses in the claiming ranks. I talked to an active claiming owner on the Mid-Atlantic circuit who shared the way he positions himself for the ultimate success - which, for him, is to win a race with the horse then have it get claimed.

- Look for horses with running styles that fit a particular track

- Watching races is paramount

- Analysis of PP’s is good, but visual evaluation of the athlete is best

- Re-claim angle: positive sign is when a trainer reclaims the same horse for a different owner

- Devise a plan for where you’re going next with the candidate before you claim it

- Last thing you want to do is run a horse where he can’t win (even more important in claimers)

- Ask “How quickly can we win a race with this horse?”

- Assume every horse you claim has issues

- Assume the horse has a “short shelf life” or limited campaign potential

- An idle claiming horse is not an optimal scenario.

- When a bad claim is made, meaning there is no opportunity to run the horse at a higher claiming level, you’ll eat the training cost for at least 30 days or more before the horse can run back at the same level or lower. For 30 days following a claim, you’re in “jail,” a term which means you’re required to run in a race with a claiming tag exceeding the previous claiming price by 25%, or in a non-claiming race (starter, allowance, or stakes)
- Need a contingency plan for retiring a horse who can no longer compete

If those considerations mentioned by an experienced claiming owner are not daunting enough, here’s another reason racing partnerships steer clear: sometimes you find out there’s something wrong and you have to retire the horse you’ve claimed right away. Very rarely can clients handle paying their money one day and 1-30 days later losing their entire investment. For every one or two claiming acquisition successes, you could have multiple bad experiences. The managers of a partnership know they’re likely to have more successes buying young horses before they begin racing or through private purchases after a horse demonstrates ability, because they can fully vet a horse.

Click here to take a look back at that piece from March of 2011, which explains in more detail why a horse might be running at the claiming level.

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