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Tom Bellhouse: There's No Shame in Running in Claiming Races

June 17, 2013 · By Thomas Bellhouse · Share

What's the toughest decision you may face as a Thoroughbred racehorse owner? I would argue it is whether or not to place your horse in a claiming race. Most owners, including myself, try to look at their horses with a "glass half full" approach, believing that their talent level and performance are always on the improve, even despite occasional or frequent failures (or in Bellhouse the horse's case- 20 maiden tries before he found the winner’s circle).

As a rule, we should trust our trainer -- the objective person we pay handsomely to condition and evaluate our horse. Although it is not an exact science, good trainers know when to take advantage of poor performances -- by finding softer competition next time out -- with less chance of claim. That being said, losing your horse to an unexpected claim can be devastating to even the most seasoned owner. I've been around a few times when the red tag got clipped to the bridle and the tears started flowing. Never a good feeling for anyone, although in some cases a true financial blessing.

One of my favorite quotes came from an extremely polite, soft spoken assistant trainer who said to me, as I fretted after my horse was claimed,"You should throw a parade that someone gave you $35k for this horse."

Horse entry/placement has really become one of the hot buttons of ownership.

It never ceases to amaze me that "we" (because although I know better- I still do it) owners think we know exactly what level and time frame our horses should run at, despite not being around the horse everyday, like our training staff. "How did he eat up?" has become a favorite question of mine to ask Partners when they say we should run in a certain race on a certain day.

Anytime you're dealing with a living, breathing animal conditions change.

Unfortunately, Thoroughbreds are not race cars who roll off a hauler in the same condition they went on the previous week.
While we all would like to own a Kentucky Derby contender, the reality is over 80% of the races run in the United States are claimers.

One of our favorite moments of the summer of 2010 was when Montana Knight won a restricted claiming race to the roar of all his Partners and friends. To those in attendance near the big screen, they may have been confused as to whether it was Rachel Alexandra, or a regally bred son of Seattle Fitz.

As someone who has run in his fair share of them, there’s no disgrace in running in a claiming race.

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My first horse owned with WPT was a claimer who went on to win over $800,000 in his lifetime. At one point, he won 10 races in a row...this horse is one reason I am still in the horse ownership business. When we watched him race, and he would be at the top of the stretch coming home, if he was close to the lead, it was almost a sure thing he would work hard for the victory. This horse had a HUGE heart. I will always love The GREY WIN MACHINE!!!!
Thank you for your note Scott. Arromanches sure was a gutsy guy! I love watching his son Caixa Electronica....he's made over $1.6 million. We're very pumped about Ring Weekend, he's getting close to shipping to Graham.
Thank you for this great article TB! So easy on this side of the partnership to say "They should". :)
Thank MM....See you at the races...TB
How about if Montana Knight was claimed. Would you invite the owners to come hand over the horse to the new owners and maybe never see the horse again? Doesn't sound that exciting to me, just my opinion.
Hi Joe, Thanks for visiting our site. Claiming can be very emotional, but it's an inevitable part of racing. We do everything we can to place our horses in races they can be competitive in. There's risk and reward -- risk of a claim, but often times reward because the horse can run at the right level. We do everything we can to find out runners good homes after their racing careers are over. We recently purchased Bellhouse from Charles Town after he was claimed from us last year.
Well said, Tommy! Terry and Erin have also made the point that only by running in certain claiming races can horses have the opportunity to run in starter allowance races. Thunder Quay, who just won his 4th straight race, has used this to his -- and his partners'--advantage. To analogize to another sport, starter level allowance races, restricted to horses that meet certain criteria such as prior entry in a claiming race, give horses the sort of protection from competition that may be too tough to handle, and opportunity to prove themselves and gain confidence, that seedings do for players in tennis tournaments. Some terrific horses -- not just Montana Knight and Thunder Quay! ;-) -- have run in claiming races. To cite just two examples, Lava Man first raced as a 2-yr. old in a $12.5K claiming race and Charismatic was in a claiming race for $62.5K only 3 months before he won the Derby and Preakness. Thanks again for your helpful and always enjoyable perspective! :-)
Hi Laura, thanks for reading and posting. You are absolutely right that starter allowances are "protection" for horses from tougher competition. Thunder Quay has won four races and is still eligible for an "a other than." Many horses win one race (maiden special weight) and have to jump right into that condition. We're constantly looking at numbers and data to help us put horses in the best possible spots. Like Tommy mentioned input from our trainers is extremely important as well.
Scott....What a horse Arromanches was....31 wins and 15 seconds in 78 career starts....Just unbelievable....and ironically he's the sire of another great war horse- Repole Stables' Caixa Electronica...TB
Flashy in Pink was claimed in its fourth start and although I disagreed, with the placement I understood the move. That is what a partnership is, placing trust that are closest to the horse. thanks to WestPoint for its continued hard work and care for all our horses and keeping the horse, partner, and all included best interests at heart. Daniel
Montana Knight is doing spectacularly! He is loving his new job as an eventer and excells in dressage......and he gets a lot of cookies too. I loved watching him race, visiting him in the barn and now riding him on the trails and in the show ring. He is a total sucess case in all aspects (racing, riding and friend).
Hi Tina, Thanks so much for the update on Montana Knight. We're thrilled to hear he's doing well in his new career. Would you mind sending us some photos of him to include in the retired horse section of our website? You can email to [email protected]. Thanks again Tina.
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