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Tom Bellhouse: There’s No Shame in Running in Claiming Races / Monday, June 17, 2013

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 one summer a few years back 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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