CALLING ALL NEW OWNERS
BY DAN MASON, HRRN
From time to time, I’m asked how do you get into the horse business? I too asked that question many years ago. This is the fifth of a five-part series that might help some in the HRRN Nation who are contemplating jumping into the business. In this series, I will cover the final three guidelines that have shaped my experiences over three decades.
GUIDELINE 13: THE PEAKS: There have been peaks and valleys along the way. It’s exciting to describe the euphoria of the peaks of the of the business that make me stay in the game. It’s because of horses like Count on Lou, the gutsy gelding I described in Part One of this series. He was one of a kind. Not because he was a big money earner. It was because he was an “honest” horse with a huge heart and the will to win. He would never give up or “spit the bit”. If Lou ran a bad race, there was a legitimate reason for it. And there was Changingoftheguard, a tough hard-knocking mare inevitably claimed from me by her breeder in what was to be her last race at Charlestown. She won that race. Like Count on Lou, Changingoftheguard won around $250,000 in lifetime earnings as a claimer. She was a nice horse around the barn but had bad manners in the paddock and often had to be saddled outside the ring. That was good for me because she had a reputation of being too hard to handle which scared off a lot of trainers who might target her as a claim. I loved her consistency on the racetrack and one thing for sure. When she ran at her level, she was a rocket out of the gate. Circa 1997, I claimed a mare from Graham Motion named Eastern Connection for $8,500. She went on to win two allowance races for us and that following January we sold he for a whopping $76,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Broodmare sale. The lucky streak continued into 1998 when another one of our $8,500 claims, Holdontothemoment, won one of the races on the card at The Maryland Million. That may have been the pinnacle of all of my years in racing. It was a cloudy and misty day at Laurel that day but there was plenty of sunshine for me! I guess it is fair to say the peaks also include the wonderful people I’ve met along the way in this journey…the trainers, jockeys, partners, owners and fellow broadcasters.
GUIDELINE 14: THE VALLEYS: There was never “peace” for me in the valley and there will be none for you. At best, just remind yourself the sun always comes up tomorrow. You will learn the live with the racing gods and those cards they throw at you like injuries, beaten by a nose, race taken of turf, bad trip, horse getting claimed, broke in the air, clipped heels, threw rider, bolted, ran greenly, rank, faltered…the list goes on and on. The sum of it all is the money is going out the door and none is coming in the door. I’ve seen the roadmap. The only good news is that the only roadway to the peak is through the valley.
GUIDELINE 15: REFLECTIONS: Looking back at 30 years in the horse business, I’ve had a lot more downs than ups. However, when those ups come along, damn they are fun. I’ve never regretted a day in the business. I’ve never regretted a day on the sidelines. My family has been hanging around race tracks for several generations. I guess I’m carrying on the tradition. Hopefully, you will benefit from what I’ve been able to share in all of the previous guidelines. I’m always happy to answer any question you may have along the way. Email me anytime at email@example.com. In the famous words of the great Harvey Pack, MAY THE HORSE BE WITH YOU!
GUIDELINE 8: DEALING WITH INJURIES. DON’T SHOOT THE MESSINGER! You just bought your yearling, spent another year breaking and training, another 3 months at the track getting schooled in the gate making final preparations for that first race and you get that dreadful call from your trainer with the news that your horse sustained an injury that will take 6 months to heal. His two-year-old season is wiped out missing the fall turf races which is why your bought him to begin with, because of his turf breeding. Wow! You just hit your first racing valley and you haven’t run your first race and boy are you mad, disappointed, upset, kick the cat, never do this again, why me, it must be the trainer---NO-STOP! Dealing with injuries is part of the game. Get used to it. An interesting observation that I’ve noticed about horses. If we catch a cold we take a few antibiotics and keep on going. If a horse gets a bad cold, things don’t go that well for him. It takes a while to recover. His immune system seems to be more sensitive to a virus. It takes more time. The bottom line is with all injuries you have to be patient on the recovery time. You can’t hurry a horse back into training. Give your horse the best care possible. Sometimes though the best medicine is rest and your patience.
GUIDELINE 9: MY HORSE JUST GOT CLAIMED! Claiming races are the backbone of American thoroughbred racing. We dream of standing in the winner’s circle at the Kentucky Derby but the reality is the sport is driven by the 10,000 claiming race at Churchill Downs. With so many horses competing for purse money at several different levels, the racing secretary is scheduling races to accommodate as many horses as possible to make it attractive to bettors. Your trainer is entering your horse into a race that he believes he can win and yes there is always a chance your horse can be claimed by another owner. I’ve had many horses claimed from me over the years. I’ve only lost one that I regretted and that was Count On Lou that I talked about in Part One. The last I heard, Count On Lou retired on his breeder’s farm. What a happy ending! My trainer and I were never bitter or angry when a horse was claimed from us. How could we be? We were doing the same thing. Trainers understand the claiming game. My trainer has schooled me well on that over the years and yours will too.
In PART 4 we will look at these guidelines:
GUIDELINE 10: HAVE A STRATEGY
GUIDELINE 11: IT DOESN’T HURT TO TAKE A BREAK
GUIDELINE 12: HOW DO I HANDLE IT IF I HAVE TO CHANGE TRAINERS