There are four easy steps to becoming a racehorse owner. First of all, consider what kind of owner you want to be - do you want to own the horse outright or jointly? You can join a partnership or a syndicate with some friends, or even become a member of a club and get a taste of what being an owner is all about.
Then you'll need to think about the horse you're buying, where to find help and what to look out for when you choose. Then you'll need to pick the right trainer for you and your horse - and weigh up some of the costs involved. Then have some fun choosing a name and selecting the colours that everyone will see on the racecourse. Now you're all set for the ride of a lifetime as part of a special body of people for whom racing is more than just a day at the races.
Choosing your horse is where the real fun starts. What makes a good racehorse, how much will it cost - and where do you go to get one? A day at the Sales can be your first exhilarating introduction to racehorse ownership.
If there was a definitive winning formula for the perfect racehorse, it would have been nailed by now – and the joy of buying and nurturing a potential winner would have disappeared.
But there are key pointers to spotting future star:
The first place to look. A sire that’s produced lots of winners is obviously a good sign. Look at the dam’s previous foals, including those sold overseas, and how they have performed. If she’s already produced winners then that’s a big plus...
A good racehorse should look like an athlete. They should also have presence and an air of confidence that catches the eye. Such a horse is less likely to be fazed by the pre-race excitement. How does it walk? Watch for a long, smooth stride; any imperfections in a horse’s walk are likely to be exaggerated in the gallop. If the head bobs unusually, it may be a sign it’s lame or sore.
Are the neck, back and hip of equal length and does the horse look well proportioned? A long back can affect balance. Does the horse’s frame carry its muscle mass well? Too much muscle on a little frame or too little on a big one can cause problems.
You can tell a lot about a horse from its eyes. They should be big, bright and alert, with not too much white. Their ears, too, should be big, forward-facing and moving in all directions to show they’re clued-in. The nostrils should be big and the head broad to allow them to take in all that extra air during a race.
Does the horse look physically fit? Much of its power comes from its hips and buttocks, which should show definition. The chest should look broad and powerful. Look at the hooves: they have to withstand a lot of pressure and should look healthy, a good shape and in proportion. From the front and back, the horse’s legs should appear straight.
Breeding racehorses is not something you do to make profit. It's like something for amusement and excitement. It's an expensive thing to do, but you never know, one of these days maybe the horse comes up that pays for the rest of them.
You can pick up a racehorse for a few hundred pounds – or several million – but the average price is now around £20,000. One of the beauties of racehorse ownership is that cost is no guarantee of success: you can never be absolutely sure until they have run.
Every year there are stories of “bargain buys” sweeping aside the more expensive competition to bring in the prize money. The 2012 Irish 1,000 Guineas winner, Samitar, was bought for £41,000 – and as a Classic race winner is now worth an estimated £1.5m.
Overdose, the so-called Budapest Bullet, was bought for £2,100 as a yearling at Tattersalls before sweeping the board in top races all over Europe. The owner, Zoltan Mikoczy bought him only by chance. He said: "I just put my hand up for fun, I like the excitement of the horse auctions. I thought no horse can go this cheap and surely somebody else would bid. He's short and I'd say kind of ugly, so of course nobody wanted him."
Most people buy racehorses at auction. You have the widest selection and are considered to get a fair market value. Britain has three internationally-renowned thoroughbred sales companies: Tattersalls; Doncaster Bloodstock Sales; and Brightwells Cheltenham, the National Hunt specialists.
So, you’ve decided to buy – what now? You’d be well-advised to enlist the help of a trainer or bloodstock agent to help with your choice. We look at the pros and cons of some of the options available:
If you buy a horse from an individual, it’s important to be sure what you’re taking on. Have the horse checked over by a vet and determine whether you have any comeback or cover in the agreement with the vendor.
Claiming and Selling Races
These are races in which all the runners are potentially for sale. In a Claimer, each horse’s price is advertised in the racecard. In a Seller, the winner is offered for public auction immediately after the race. You could get a bargain but you’re taking a risk: in both cases, the horse is sold as seen.
Most people buy racehorses at sale house auctions. You have the widest selection and are considered to get a fair market value. Don’t forget to ask about commission fees – including those of any agent acting on your behalf. For the different auction houses and average sale prices, see above.
The most popular option, Yearling Sales are held in Britain between late August and October. The horses are un-raced, so this is the chance to spot future winners and help develop their potential. You also have the widest selection of horses to choose from.
Two year-old racehorses-in-training are galloped for purchasers to view before the Breeze-Up sales, usually held in the spring in Britain. The advantage is that they’re more developed and ready to race, so it’s easier to assess their ability. You’ve also already saved in training fees. But there’s usually less choice at this stage. It’s harder to get a bargain as their form is beginning to show.
National Hunt Breeze-up Sales
Similar to Breeze-Up Sales, but for horses specifically bred to jump.
Sales of horses who were bred to jump but, as a rule, have yet to race.
Horses in Training Sales
These sales of proven racehorses, frequently jumpers, are held throughout the year. The advantage is you have more of an idea of what you’re buying.
The excitement of a racehorse sales day is difficult to beat. You may have checked out the horse thoroughly in the catalogue, but the tingle of anticipation as you go to meet it is like going on a first date.
Take along a chaperone in the form of a trainer or bloodstock agent, with the expertise and knowledge to keep your feet on the ground. Try and have more than one horse in your sights to avoid disappointment.
Give yourself plenty of time before the auction to inspect the horse/s thoroughly. Make notes on the catalogue against each one to avoid confusion. Don’t worry about going back for a second or third look either - this purchase could well change your life, so it’s worth getting right.
Try and slip out to see the horse immediately before it’s brought into the auction ring. Its reaction to the noise, tension and drama of auction day will be a good indication of how it copes with the pre-race hubbub.
Watch an in-depth guide to buying a horse at the sales below.
If you’re successful, savour the thrill for a moment. But remember both the title and risk pass with the fall of the hammer and you could be held liable if the horse causes an injury to a third party or damages their property. The ROA’s Third Party Liability Insurance provides automatic cover for all members from the ‘fall of hammer’ (terms and conditions apply). To find out more about the ROA’s insurance cover please click here. To arrange alternative cover please call Lycetts on 01638 676700.
You’ll have already arranged transport, stabling and insurance - now you’ll have to pay up and get the necessary paperwork from the sales company.
Then begins an exhilarating rollercoaster ride like no other: the adrenaline-fuelled, privileged life of a racehorse owner!