I suppose at onetime or another all of us, carried away by the happy emotions of cashing awinning ticket or merely by watching a beautiful racer in action, have turnedto a friend and said, in effect, "Wouldn't it be wonderful to own a racehorse. I wonder how much it would cost."
Let's see justwhat the new owner of today is getting himself in for when, having decided toattend an important yearling sale, he also finally decides to join in thebidding. Our hypothetical case is that of a newcomer starting from scratch. Hisqualifications, as he shows up at the Saratoga sales pavilion, include a loveof the sport, an optimistic outlook and a healthy bank account.
Our owner windsup by bidding a colt in for the average price of $10,000, cash on the barrel.Even before he can find a trainer, Mr. Owner will be approached by arepresentative of an insurance concern, most probably Lloyds of London, whowill suggest the usual full mortality policy at 4½%. Before he signs it, andafter quickly figuring that it will cost him $450 a year to insure hisyearling, it will be explained to him that he will collect the full purchaseprice only if the horse dies from natural causes, is killed or has to bedestroyed. There is no payment whatsoever on a horse who just breaks down—or,worse yet, on one who simply doesn't win races.
Next comes thetrainer. Our man will go to a reputable trainer of a public stable, a man whomakes his living by training for more than one owner. For our purposes, let usassume that Mr. Owner is an Easterner who has selected a trainer who spends thewinters in Florida and the summers in New York. While explaining this to hisnew client, the trainer also fills him in on a few other items of expense. Hisfee, for instance, will be about $14 a day—365 days a year, for horse racingknows no such thing as the five-day week—which will total up to $5,110 a year.For this fee the trainer will have full charge of the race horse. He willsupply the horse's feed, all tack, including saddles, bridles and racingequipment with the exception of blinkers (at $9.50 a pair) and a light andheavy paddock piece (blankets), which, if they are initialed, will cost theowner $30 apiece. In addition to the trainer's basic $14 per diem rate, he willcharge his client an extra amount, usually averaging 50¢ a day per horse, ashis share of workman's compensation to give full protection to the trainer'sstable help—just a matter of $182 a year.
The next morningthe yearling must leave the Saratoga sales barns to begin his new life. Thetrainer directs the colt to an associate in Kentucky who will take the yearlingfrom mid-August until mid-November for the purpose of breaking him. The cost ofshipping the colt to Lexington from Saratoga runs to about $150, and, oncethere, the man who will break him charges $10 a day—or a basic fee of $900 forthree months. He will also charge $8 a month for a stall and about $10 a monthfor blacksmith fees. The owner's $14 a day due to his trainer won't start untilmid-November, when the trainer takes official possession of the colt at Hialeahafter a trip from Lexington by rail at an approximate cost of $150.
Now both ownerand trainer start thinking about their mutual responsibility in terms of afuture racer. The owner is advised to design a set of colored racing silks,which, after being submitted to The Jockey Club in New York, are usuallymodified so as not to conflict with the more than 1,500 sets of colors alreadyregistered. The cost: $25 for lifelong registration. Colors then must beregistered in each state in which you race—usual fee is $1—and an owner'slicense at about $10 must be taken out for each state. Two sets of silks willbe bought at a cost of $35 each.
It is too much toexpect any horse, no matter how glistening and healthy he may appear in thesales ring, to go very long without requiring the services of a veterinarian.In the course of a normal year an average vet's bill for a 2-year-old would bearound $325 and would include treatment for such standard, run-of-the-millailments as worms, coughs, and bucked shins—all in addition to periodic bloodtests and doses of tonic. There will also be a matter of blacksmith fees, whichwill be around $250 a year.
Mr. Owner's colt,now wintering at Hialeah although he may be far from ready to make his firststart, must be considered (for a price of $10,000) good enough, eventually, torun in, and even win, a stake. It will cost about $500 to nominate him for anumber of representative stakes in his first season of racing. You do this, ofcourse, knowing full well that he may never start in any of them.
During this firstyear, naturally, there will be other transportation costs: $150 to ship thehorse from Florida to Belmont Park and later on another $200 for the round tripfrom New York to Saratoga. Jockeys' insurance, required by law, can run to aminimum of about $120 a year. If your colt is lucky enough to start 10 timesduring that year the jockey fees will be $200—or $20 a ride.
The figuresquoted above may appear to be staggering. They are. The total for ourhypothetical case comes to $8,867. Remember, these are the average basicfigures for maintaining one horse through just his first racing year.
The owner'schances of getting a return on his investment are shockingly slight. To beginwith, it has been estimated that 15% of all yearlings sold at auction never getto the races at all. Of the remainder, just half will win one race, and 30%will win just two races. If you are fortunate enough to have a starter, thereis about one chance in 40 that he will win a stake and just about the samechance (1 in 40) that a $10,000 purchase will eventually win himself out. Atypical year for a 2-year-old who manages to get into 10 races would show thathe wins a maiden race, places twice and shows twice—for total earnings of$4,475. Now you subtract from this the trainer's 10% ($447.50), jockey's 10 %of the winning race ($177.50), and another $100 given as the owner's bonus forstable help. Thus, the owner's net income for the racing season is $3,750.
Most publictrainers figure that you have to win at least two $3,000 purses just to makeexpenses, and most of them also readily agree that you have a pretty slimchance of being able to do it. As for winning any appreciable amount of moneythe odds are still more heavily stacked against you. For example, of the 272yearlings sold at Saratoga in the 1954 sales only four managed to win more than$20,000 as 2-year-olds in 1955. Joe Estes, editor of the turf weekly, TheBloodhorse, estimates that not more than 10% of all sales yearlings are in theearning bracket of $5,000 to $20,000. Another 25% earn somewhere between $2,000and $5,000; 20% will win between $100 and $2,000, as 2-year-olds, and justabout 45% will win absolutely nothing Now, doesn't this seem to be a biggergamble than betting on the horses?
Yet hundreds ofnewcomers are getting into racing every year. Some, unwisely, go into ittotally unprepared. One lady at Saratoga last week bid in a colt for $4,200.When some of the problems of horse ownership were explained to her that eveningshe decided she'd had enough before she'd had any. So the colt went back forresale, and she picked up $4,000 for him—a negligible loss compared to the$8,000-plus expenses she would have been put to during the year ahead.
There is, ofcourse, for every optimistic newcomer in the game, the ever-present dream andhope that their new yearling will be the bargain of the year. They will remindthemselves perhaps of a colt of the 1954 Keeneland sales by the name of PrinceJohn. He cost the not unreasonable price of $14,300. In one afternoon in NewJersey last fall, Prince John picked up a winner's check for $157,918.50 atGarden State.