It takes a special mentality to be a thoroughbred owner. You have to be able to accept bad news. You have to be able to handle losing streaks. You must be able to control the frustrations of races not filling, bad trips, and drawing bad posts.
Turning a profit is extremely difficult. It is not a game for men (or women) wearing short pants.
The coronavirus pandemic has shut down racing in all but a few locations. With the exception of Los Alamitos, California racing has come to a grinding halt.
What happens when Santa Anita and Golden Gate are allowed to resume, with or without fans in the stands? Will there be enough of a horse population to put on the show?
As an owner who has raced in California for over 30 years, this seems like a good time to explain how owners acquire horses, update inventory, and provide the athletes that compete.
Breeding, yearling auctions, and two-year-olds in training sales are the most popular ways to fill orders for young horses. The juvenile sales start in March.
So far this year, only one sale has been completed — the Ocala Breeders’ March Sale in Florida. Revenues were down 37 percent compared to 2019 and the buyback rate (horses that went through the sales ring but did not bring their reserve price) soared to 39.6 percent from 23.9 percent in 2019.
Why is this so important? Pin-hookers — investors who buy yearlings in the fall to resell as juveniles the next spring — need to divest their juvenile inventory so they have capital to reinvest in yearlings. In 2020, the following two-year-olds in training sales have been canceled or postponed: Gulfstream Park sale in March, Keeneland sale in April, Ocala Breeders’ Sale in April (moved to June 9-12), Maryland Midlantic sale in May (moved to June 29-30), Santa Anita sale in June, and Ocala Breeders’ June sale (moved to July 14-17).
The trickle down effects are an industry concern. If investors cannot liquidate their inventory, they cannot reinvest in yearlings. For those juveniles who do sell, later sale dates will cause a corresponding delay as to when those horses will be ready to race. The lower inventory of available runners hurts field sizes, make for a less attractive wagering product, and in turn hurts the handle that drives purses.
In addition to the young horses, the claiming game in California, which has been a quick way to acquire race-ready horses and keep owners and stables active, has been severely compromised. Prior to the current shut down, trainers who did not have horses running and owners were barred from going to the track. Not being able to closely examine potential purchases makes it tough to invest.
Mix in the increased protocols and veterinary requirements and it has never been tougher to claim horses.
The uncertainty on any restart date has led owners to send horses from the track to farms and layup facilities to try and reduce expenses. Horses will need time once they return to the track before they will be fit to race. Some mares have been sent to the breeding shed instead of racing another year due to the unclear schedule.
When California racing resumes, it will take time to rebuild what had already been a dangerously low race-ready horse population. Trying to keep owners from leaving the business while looking to find new investors to replace them will be easier said than done.
Lindo Report Play for Gaming Today: Oaklawn Thursday, Race 6 — Davidic Line (No. 1). Three-year-old from the Paul Holthus stable didn’t care for the wet track or tough company last time. He drops in for a claiming tag and finds a field with enough early pace to make his late run effective.