After a year or so of agonizing over the ethics of race horse ownership, I've finally decided that the pros outweigh the cons, so this past weekend I took the plunge, opened an account, and applied for an owner's license in the state of California. This is something my partner has wanted to do for some time, but I've continually stalled, hemming, hawing, mainly saying, "How on earth do we justify that to your father?!" For, of course, anybody who knows horse racing understands that a racehorse is a colossally poor investment--you enter this business with the full expectation that you'll lose money, and that you're doing it more for the love of horses and for the love of the game. I'm figuring if we happen to break even, that'll be a blessing.
We are going in with two partners: our trainer, Steve Sherman, and his girlfriend, who has owned two race horses with some success. Steve's a solid trainer with an average 30% win percentage and his horses usually at least hit the board, so it's my hope the horse will, some of the time, be able to cover most of its own expenses ... which, for the uninitiated reading this, will probably be a minimum of $2,000 a month. We're starting off with the idea of letting Steve choose what he feels to be a decent $8,000 claimer, so when people ask us "Do you want a sprinter? A router? A filly? A colt? Dirt runner? Turfer?" it really doesn't matter to us. A horse is a horse, of course, of course. (OK, I'm kidding about that--each one is special in its own right; it's just that at present we know so little about choosing a good race horse that we're willing to defer to Steve's judgement.)
I feel happy and excited; at the same time, I admit I am fearful. It's a huge responsibility. After all, the horse could get injured and need a long layoff, and of course that's what we'd want to do--let him heal and not run him if he's even remotely questionable. This is a promise I made to myself to justify ownership in the first place: this business needs good owners, owners who care more about the horse than the money. (And most do: we usually hear only about the greedy ones.) And there's always the possibility of heartbreak. If we wind up with a winner, our horse could always get claimed right away from us, or, worse, he could break down and have to be euthanized. Several owners have told us of sobbing in the winner's circle because their horse had just been claimed, and just this past weekend, I watched sadly when one owner sprinted out to the backstretch after a race at Pleasanton because his horse went down. When the tarp goes up, shielding the crowd from view, you know exactly what's going on behind that curtain. Sure enough, he looked ashen upon his return to the paddock.
I know it's not all about mint juleps, big hats, and a blanket of red roses on Derby Day. Nonetheless, I can't wait 'til we get our horse, so we can go visit him on the backside and feed him carrots. Or feel the adrenaline as she breaks out of the gate on her first race day with us. I expect in the next year I'll learn a whole lot more about such things as pedigree and conformation. Here's to a good trip.