Owners are the lifeblood of the sport of horse racing. Whether thoroughbred or standardbred, racing goes as owners go. The trainers and drivers seem to get the credit and the glory, at least in the eyes of the betting public and fans of racing but it is the owners who are behind the scenes providing the revenue and really making everything possible. Owning racehorses comes with its share of pros and certainly cons and those who take part in it have a variety of reasons for doing so.
For many people who own horses, racing is a business. It is an opportunity to invest not only in a horse but also in the people who get that horse ready to race on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Owners acquire horses generally in four different ways. They either breed them themselves, buy them at a sale, acquire them via private purchase or claim them. The first of these methods is the one which likely produces the biggest risk but the biggest reward. To breed a horse simply isn’t cheap. You need to fund not only the breeding of the new youngster but the training and upkeep of said horse for anywhere from two to three years, most commonly, before they ever compete and have a chance to give a return on investment. The average horse owner may enjoy the financial opportunity to take this path maybe just once or twice, if ever. Others use this method as their primary way of coming up with the members to comprise their stable. Breeding is certainly risky because quite frankly you just never know if a horse will ever even make it to the races let alone be of a high enough quality to justify your investment of the previous few years. The upside though is tremendous. If your new baby does make it to the races and enjoys any level of success, it is no doubt very rewarding to know he was yours from the start. Also, this is the way you could “hit it big.” While owning claimers or condition horses can certainly be profitable, the top percentage of major profit horses would be the ones who made it through the ranks of the New York Sire Stakes and thrived.
One person that breeds a ton of his horses is longtime owner Mike Polansky of Loudonville, NY. While Polansky won the most recent installment of the local Open Trot with twelve year old Waiting On A Woman who he purchased several years ago, the veteran owner often breeds his retired racehorses and comes up with a whole new crop. He had the Saratoga 2006 Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year Chapeau and enjoyed success with her for years. Upon retirement, Polansky bred Chapeau who now serves as the dam for several horses, all of whom are named after different types of hats, just like Chapeau. Another local star who was bred by a former Saratoga champion mare is Spreester. Bred locally by Kim Zabielski, Spreester is the daughter of former Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year Rodeo Spree. Though she has switched connections on a couple of occasions, Spreester is almost 200 career starts deep and has compiled earnings of close to $860,000 while almost exclusively competing at the Spa. Rising through the ranks from NY Sire Stakes competition and into the Fillies and Mares Open, Spreester is a major success story when it comes to breeding as a method of producing a member of your stable. The classy distaffer drew the rail for a race this Tuesday afternoon and will be the heavy favorite as she looks to record her incredible 55th lifetime victory.
While breeding certainly can produce a star, another longtime local standout has shown the path from sale purchase to millionaire. Cash Me Out, the track’s defending Horse of the Year, has earned over $1.15 million and really has similar stats to the aforementioned Spreester. Cash Me Out, who won last week at Yonkers, has 53 career victories and 58 second-place finishes in just over 200 lifetime starts. Winning out of a few different stables over the course of his illustrious career, Cash Me Out has been a cash cow for owner Mike Traylor of Ballston Spa, NY. The star trotter still has it at the age of nine and is evidence of how buying a horse as a youngster at a sale can wind up being an extremely lucrative proposition.
Though the Spreesters and Cash Me Outs are certainly more of the rarity than the norm, breeding or buying young horses give owners a chance at the “big one.” And though many will strike out several teams, it only takes one of those stars in a lifetime to balance out the rest. For most owners, buying horses privately, whether via word of mouth or online sale, is commonplace and claiming horses out of races is still a popular way to acquire new horses for their stable. These days, owning horses is simply not an easy thing. The owners not only have incurred the normal expenses that they do with any horse but now in these trying times have had to sit and wait out this lengthy and frustrating quarantine period. The timing couldn’t have been worse for owners really as we were fresh off the normal two-month winter layoff so the horses who had returned from the winter rest probably only had about a month worth of races before the forced shutdown. For others, they had horses who hadn’t returned from the break before the next one set in. In these cases, horses went more than six months without having a chance to earn anything back towards what their owners had to incur expense wise. Upon returning from the quarantine, purses have had to be decreased since no money is coming in from the still shutdown casino. The purse decrease will help the longevity of racing by stretching the funding out over a longer period of time.
Horse owners, not unlike innumerate business owners in the country, have really felt the effects of this pandemic and many have likely been reliant on a combination of perseverance, donators and trainer rate reduction to get through these trying times financially. Saratoga Harness Horseperson’s Association and Chatham Agway (owned by longtime horse owners Paul and Patricia O’Neil) have been instrumental in assisting the horsemen and women by helping to provide feed for the horses. More than ever, owners have needed to rely on one thing for their stick-to-itiveness throughout this ordeal and that is their passion for the sport. Though horse owning can certainly be a method of revenue and income for them, many if not most owners will tell you they own horses for the love of the game. They simply love horses and horse racing. Many are root from behind-the-scenes types while others are more present. Some owners enjoy coming to the barn to see their horses and maybe to even jog them on occasion. Even more enjoy coming to the races, perhaps bringing along some friends and family in hopes of getting their winner’s circle picture taken at the end of their race. Throughout this nightmarish time, owners have not been able to either visit the barn area or come to the races to watch their horses. Thankfully, that is about to change. Though still no fans or wagering are allowed at NY tracks, we have received approval for owners to visit the barn are and to come to the races, albeit with several guidelines and protocols, to watch their horses on race day and hopefully to have their pictures taken in victory lane. A glimmer of hope and positivity for horse owners who have survived through what will hopefully be the worst months of their owning careers with eyes now on improvement and a swing in the right direction. No, unfortunately being able to go see your horse in the barn area and to come watch him race will not increase purses or even your likelihood for earning a share of said purses but it will no doubt serve as an encouraging forward step of progress for so many owners who have horses for one primary reason…..the love of the game!
Live racing moves to its summer schedule this week with matinees on Monday and Tuesday afternoons beginning at 12 Noon and with Wednesday evening racing starting at 7:15pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!