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The Pitfalls Of Selecting And Racing A Thoroughbred

Feb 29, 2008
Following on from my earlier article "Thoroughbred Yearling Sales and the Games, Scams and Half Truths that attend them" we are now going to be looking at some of the problems that can be encountered in buying tried stock and in selecting a trainer.

Presuming that you have read the earlier article you will by now be aware that I believe there is no greater sport than "The Sport of Kings" but also that racing a horse can be a very expensive and risky business fraught with frustrations which can often be avoided by a prospective owners just doing their homework.

We have already examined the problems of buying a yearling, now let's have a look at buying a tried horse.

1. Be very careful when a bloodstock agent comes to you with a story of a fantastic trial. Take a good look at the official time the horse ran in the trial, if there's no time published by the race club holding the trials, don't buy. It doesn't matter how great a distance the horse won by, trial results can be and are at times manipulated.

2. When you buy a horse to race in another area (such as buying a New Zealand or English horse to race in Hong Kong) take a good look at the differences between the two areas, look at the class of the horses the prospective purchase was racing against, look at the track conditions, did the horse race on soft tracks, did it race on dirt or sand tracks. Are the distances the horse showed it's best form on compatible with those in the new area.

3. Ask yourself why is this horse being sold if it's that good? There are certainly genuine sellers who make their living buying young horses, educating them and selling them on but they are usually young or very small operators with little cash. If the vendor is a well established trainer, even if the owner has run short of money, for a promising horse the trainer will have plenty of other willing buyers amongst his own clients.

4. Get an independent vets report with x-rays, an endoscope, an ultrasound and preferably a heart score to eliminate hidden problems.

5. Spend a little time talking to other trainers, jockeys etc. asking questions about what they have seen of the horse. What they tell you may not necessarily be right but if the horse is showing genuine promise you'll get an impression of enthusiasm which they won't be able to hide.


If you want to give your horse the best possible chance to shine, this may well be the most important decision you make. Do not make this choice lightly.

The first thing to think about is that many trainers have just drifted into training because they were jockeys, stable hands, etc. They may well have no other qualification for being a trainer.

If you are going to be a race horse owner presumably you have earned the money needed by hard work and careful planning, why would you get into racing without utilizing the same methods that made you successful in the first place.
Employ a knowledgeable trainer not necessarily a high profile one.

Yet many times I have seen very successful people new to racing hand over all their decisions on selecting, buying and training their horses to a trainer whom they would never employ in any of their other ventures.

Often these people have worked very hard and now determined to pour money into their newfound hobby, they spend large sums of money confident that they will do just as well as they did in business.

Invariably, unless they are extremely lucky these people will be taken advantage of and will eventually wake up and realize they have spent a fortune for very little result. They end up feeling used and disappointed and will exit the sport just as quickly as they came into it.

Find out who are the thinking trainers, spend some time at the tracks and at sales, talk to other owners, vets, strappers ( some of them are well educated and do the job for the love of it ), join the local thoroughbred breeders club, but whatever you do don't just give your precious purchase to a trainer just because they have a high profile.

Another thing to be very careful of is that there are quite a number of trainers who make an art form out of generating publicity, they are personable, exude confidence, make you feel like you're going to be their greatest friend and that they will treat your horse like the champion it's certainly going to be.

These trainers are always in the news, in fact if you look at the articles written by many of the racing journalists you'll think that there's just no other choice, your horse absolutely has to go to one of these people.

Well think again, if these trainers are so practiced at making their prospective clients feel good they are most certainly going to look after their free publicity generators at least as well and therefore a lot of what you read is just good PR.

Remember if trainers have 200 or more horses on their books (they will almost certainly not admit to more than around 100 but looking at their purchases over a year will give you a pretty good idea) then they should certainly get a fair share of good horses, particularly as these are the very trainers who can find the big spending owners.

However unless you are in racing just for the social standing, these are not the trainers I would recommend.

As mentioned previously, do some research and find out how many horses your prospective trainer has on his or her books and then compare that with the number of wins they achieve.

Some of the supposedly top trainers are at the top because they have large numbers of horses spelling, often to the detriment of the somewhat lesser lights in their stables. These average horses are treated like fillers who keep the fees coming in while all the attention is lavished on the big winners.

Take particular care to look at how many starts per campaign each horse in a trainer's establishment has before a spell.

There is no reason why a sound horse can't have 10 to 15 starts per campaign ( in Hong Kong they average 12 ) yet in Australia many horses only get 5 - 8 starts before they are put out for a spell, that could well be because the trainers has too many horses and has to rotate the lesser lights to keep the owners happy, in which case if your horse is not one of the stars you're not getting the most out of your investment.

Having said all that, having the ability to win big races is a necessary attribute for any trainer. Find out how many important races they have won, if the trainer you're looking at has been training for some time and has not had Group success with several horses, look elsewhere. The best trainers know how to get the most out of their horses.

Do not make the mistake that a number of very wealthy newcomers to racing have made and think that you automatically will be able to run things better yourself.

Such people usually start throwing money around for horses, studs, training establishments and nearly always employ a little known trainer to run things for them.

Almost without exception these ventures fail.

Unless you are willing to listen to good advice and to learn from it, thinking you can be successful in racing just because you have been successful in business is just as bad as employing the wrong trainer.

Another aspect to look at is the trainer's stable environment and his or her knowledge of modern feeding methods.

Have a good look around the stables they should be clean and tidy, gear should look in good condition and there should be no bad smell.

Today's high quality balanced horse feeds are infinitely better than the old self mixed feeds still used by some trainers, they are more expensive but you're going to be paying the same fees no matter what feed the trainer uses. Ask the question regarding their feeding methods, if they don't use a good feed and if they don't feed at least 3 - 4 times a day, move on no matter what the trainer's reputation.

Even some of the big trainers will insist their old feeding methods are better, they may have no reason other than they have always done it that way and as we have on occasion found, their stables may even reek of urea ( a sure sign of a poor feeding regime ) but there's no way they will acknowledge that they may be able to learn something new.

Finally make sure you manage your horse.

There are still many trainers who believe that the owner should just pay the bills and leave the trainer to make the decisions but that's just not good enough.

As an owner you will get much more enjoyment out of racing if you make yourself knowledgeable about feeding, injury prevention and the selecting of suitable races for your horse. If you are actively involved in planning the best racing program for your horse you will ensure that any possible clashes with other stable horses will not adversely affect your horse and if the trainer is any good he or she will welcome the chance to work with you to get the most out of your involvement.

To sum up, do your homework, select with your brain as well as your heart and you will be able to experience what to many people is one of the great joys of life, racing and winning in the most exciting sport imaginable.
About the Author
The author has been involved in breeding,racing and researching thoroughbreds for many years. His work on a software program for selecting thoroughbred yearlings has been published in Hong Kong's prestigious "Racing World" magazine. His company Consultlink allows clients to take the option of paying for the services provided from the winnings gained by the selected horses. So no win no fee. http://www.consultlink-thoroughbreds.com
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