How to Claim a Race Horse

jockeys riding horses at a track

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Most horses racing in the US run in claiming races. This means they are for sale each time they run for a specified price. The higher the price, the better the quality of the horses, although you can sometimes find a good horse running at a lower level than he or she should be due to being undervalued by the current owner.

There are several notable instances of a horse being claimed who turned out to be a stakes winner, such as the great gelding John Henry, although they are the exception and not the rule. Claiming a horse can be a bit of a crap shoot, but it is an easy way to get started owning horses. 

How to Claim a Horse

  1. Familiarize yourself with the rules of racing in your state. These differ widely from state to state, so research should always be your first task.
  2. Select a trainer. This sounds easy but that is deceptive. Check out the ones with the best win records at your local track and those should be a good place to start. Asking existing owners who they would recommend is also a good idea.
  3. Select a horse to claim. You can check their past performances in the racing form and make suggestions, but take guidance from your trainer here, he is the expert and you are paying for his experience, so use it!
  4. Have your trainer discreetly gather backside gossip about the condition of the horse to make sure he is sound. Often a horse will be run at a lower claiming price to get rid of a horse with problems.
  5. Get an owner's license. If this is your first horse, you will probably have to get a special claiming license. Refer to the rules you learned in step 1.
  6. Deposit sufficient funds to cover the claim with the horsemen's bookkeeper at the track where you will place the claim.
  7. On race day, have your trainer discreetly scope out the horse's condition when he comes to the paddock for the race.
  8. If the horse passes the physical inspection, have your trainer drop the claim slip. Refer to the rules from step 1 for the proper procedure to follow here.
  9. Watch the race and hope the horse finishes sound and runs well but doesn't win. It is to your advantage for his next race if he doesn't win.
  10. If more than one person dropped a claim, attend the shake to see if you win and get the horse. Usually, this will be a random draw performed in the horsemen's office after the race.
  11. Have your trainer halter your new horse and take him or her back to the barn. Hopefully, you have made a good purchase and your trainer can bring the horse back as a winner next out.

Additional Tips

  1. In many states, you will have to run back at a higher claiming price if your horse wins the race you claim him from. This is known as being in jail.
  2. Beware horses making a sudden large drop in class. This usually indicates a 'fire sale' of a horse with a problem.
  3. Don't talk about the claim beforehand except in private with your trainer or partners. Gossip runs rampant on the backside and rumors of a claim can get your choice scratched.