CALLING ALL NEW OWNERS
BY DAN MASON, HRRN
From time to time, I’m asked how do you get into the horse business? I too asked that question many years ago. This is the first of a five part series that might help some HRRN fans who were contemplating jumping into the business. In this series, I will cover 15 guidelines that have shaped my experiences over three decades.
GUIDELINE 1: NEVER SPEND MORE THAN YOU CAN AFFORD TO LOSE. That is the first rule of the road. You have to go into it as a sportsman and not with stars in your eyes. The big success stories are few. Over the years, I’ve owned at least 50 horses. I can remember maybe 5 that have a special place in my heart. I’ve never been fortunate enough to make it to the Kentucky Derby or any race of that stature but I still dream about it and can honestly say that over all these years, I’m still having a lot of fun! And I know I’ve lost A LOT more than I’ve won like most of my fellow horse owners. But I don’t regret it because I’VE NEVER SPENT MORE THAN I COULD AFFORD TO LOSE.
GUIDELINE 2: CHOOSE A TRAINER WISELY. Choosing a trainer to work with is the most important decision you will make and maybe the only decision you will have total control of. It is so important that you have a good working relationship with that individual. You will have to trust that person’s judgement on all horse matters. So how do you choose a trainer? Over all the years, I had 4 trainers. I’ve been with the 4th for over 25 years. I found the fourth by walking into the racing secretary’s office at Laurel Race Course and asking for a few recommendations. My trainer and I have had so many horses I couldn’t count them all. We’ve been through many peaks and valleys. We’ve had a few big highs but like most, a lot of lows. However, in the horse business, you live for the highs and you keep downplaying the lows. That’s what sportsmen do. It is critical you have a trainer that you have a good chemistry with. When those lows do come, avoid finger pointing. There’s nothing worse than finger pointing to poison on owner-trainer relationship. Your relationship has to be built on trust. Take your time on this decision. It is the most import hire you will make.
GUIDELINE 3: DO I BUY YEARLING OR CLAIM A HORSE? How exciting is it to go to the yearling sale to bid on your first horse? I remember those days. My heart was pounding as my trainer was doing the bidding with MY MONEY. Do I fold or keep going? And then there were all the barn visits to check on confirmation. Admittedly, when I first got started, I had no idea of what I was looking for. However, I’m glad I went through the process and asked a lot of question because I learned along the way. So after 30 years, you pick up a lot of information. I did buy my first yearling that day for $15,000. The next day he was shipped off to a farm in the area. A short time later would come the schooling of breaking and light training. On January 1st of every year, all the yearlings turn 2 years old. Now my yearling is a two year old. Usually by April and May you will see races written for two year olds and if your horse is lucky enough to go through all the training successfully the fun begins. Claiming on the other hand, puts a new owner in the game right away. After you get your racing license, your trainer may make suggestions on what horse he/she may have an eye on and you put a claim in BEFORE the race at whatever claiming price the race may be. If yours is the only claim, next time the horse runs in your name. I have had just as much fun here as well. The best horse I ever owned was a horse named Count On Lou. He ended his career as a 5000 claimer. I loved this for his “honesty”. Honesty in the horse business means that your horse gives his best effort every time out. Does that mean Count On Lou wins every time out? Absolutely not. Sometimes he finished last. If he ran a bad race though, it wasn’t his fault…it was ours. It would be something we did wrong like running him over his head or the wrong distance or not enough rest.
In PART 2 we will look at these guidelines:
GUIDELINE 4: HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
GUIDELINE 5: PARTNERS OR GO IT ALONE?
GUIDELINE 6: WHAT ABOUT THE IRS?