Your Seven Steps to Successful Racehorse Ownership
The thrill as your horse passes the post in front is a feeling of sheer joy and celebration—but getting to this point can take time, planning, money and a whole lot of patience.
This guide to racehorse ownership breaks down the process into easy-to-follow steps. It is packed with detail, and we do hope you find it useful. If you have questions about ownership of any of the horses we manage here at Heart of the South then please do contact us. And we’re off!
- The Different Types of Racehorse Ownership
- Selecting a Trainer
- Registration and Finances
- Purchasing your Athlete
- Now you’re an Owner
- The Raceday Ownership Experience
- Life After Racing
1. The Different Types of Racehorse Ownership
Possibly where the historic term “Sport of Kings” comes from—as the phrase suggests, this option is mainly suited to royalty, millionaires, footballers!
As sole owner of the horse, you are responsible for all outgoings (at least £16,000 to £24,000 per annum) but also receive all of the owners’ proportion of prize money— great news if you win the Derby, a race at Royal Ascot, the Tattersalls Million series etc. If you don’t win any of the high profile races, most sole owners would be lucky to make a serious profit from ownership.
Hassle-free and often a social way to share the fun and costs of racehorse ownership, either within a Racing Club or Racing Syndicate.
Anything from 20 to 10,000 members. Racing Clubs can look very cost-effective on paper (some offer a fixed fee of just £180 per year) but while members get to enjoy some of the benefits of racehorse ownership, they essentially do not own the horse. The most well known Racing Club is Elite Racing who have over 10,000 members.
Newsletters are used to update members on the horses progress and access to the gallops and parade ring can be limited. However it provides a great opportunity to “dip your toe into the water” in many cases and expand your passion for racing.
A Racing Syndicate or Partnership consists of between two to twenty owners, all sharing the legal ownership and the highs and lows of racehorse ownership together.
This can either be a group of friends or a company managed syndicate (where you can make friends!) Company-run racing syndicates are extremely popular nowadays and can be a fun, interactive way to experience the thrills of ownership.
It is worth researching your syndicates thoroughly. Whilst the principles are often the same, the terms and benefits can vary – we explain the common variations between syndicates and what questions to ask.
For extra confidence, many are now members of the RSACA (Racing Syndicates and Clubs Association) and adhere to certain rules and regulations.
When a company uses ownership as a promotional tool for the business—brand awareness, team-building or client hospitality – it’s essentially a great way to promote your brand or company and enjoy a day at the races at the same time.
With this option you are leasing the fun of ownership—a good option if you are new to racehorse ownership as there is rarely any upfront purchase costs to pay.
Although you never actually own the horse, for a set period of time (agreed by the lessor and lessee) you pay all the expenses and outgoings but in return get to enjoy all the benefits (including prize money, owners badges etc) for a set period in the horse’s racing career.
Once this period is over the horse is returned to the owner, leaving you free to move onto your next horse (which can be a good thing, unless you prefer a long term ownership experience where you can build a bond with your horse.)
Leasing is often popular amongst breeders who wish to “lease out” their filly for racing, but ultimately keep her for breeding when she retires.
2. Selecting a Trainer
Once you’ve decided the most suitable ownership type for you and your budget, the next step is picking a trainer.
There are hundreds of trainers all over the UK. The ideal is a trainer with proven ability but who also meets your expectations.
Questions to ask yourself
- Do you need to book time off work to see you horse run? If so, a trainer who plans ahead (with all his horses regardless of grade) is essential—as is communication.
- Although you love going racing, is it just as important to see your horse on the gallops? If so then ensure you are allowed to visit the stables whenever you wish.
- As an owner do you want to be entertained when at the stables and races? If yes then look for a character or a trainer renowned for his people skills. You will have fun whatever the result!
- Are you a “horsey” person who appreciates a trainer knowing his horses inside out, down to every last whisker? If yes, look for a more traditional ex-jockey type of trainer.
- Do you like to ask questions and receive feedback from your trainer post-race? If the answer is yes, then make sure your trainer regularly attends the meetings. Some are so “hands on” with their animals that driving miles for one runner may not be a priority.
Of course as an owner, you are perfectly entitled to wish for all of the above!
There are such trainers out there willing to bend over backwards for horses and owners, but they do tend to be the smaller trainers just starting out in their training careers.
Once a trainer becomes more popular and his/her string of horses increases, it proves very hard to tick all the boxes for all the different types of owners. But do your research—they can be found!
3. Registrations and Finances
Registering as an Owner
Part of the ownership process involves registering as an owner with Weatherbys, unless you are joining a large existing syndicate or club.
You will also need to register your colours and the naming of your horse which are two great privileges of ownership! Please note that both of these registrations come with some restrictions—colours can only be selected from 18 different colours, whilst names cannot be more than 18 characters long and cannot be reused for 20 years after a horse’s retirement (or never in the case of stallions.) Other rules also apply.
Registrations can be completed via Weatherbys website or via calling Weatherbys direct (although it is worth seeking help if you are new to the process as they can be fiddly).
All registrations involve an administration cost and this revenue goes to the BHA (British Horseracing Authority) to fund the racing industry. New owners will also need to open a Weatherbys Bank account to automatically pay for entries and jockey fees, and also receive any prize money won!
Claiming for VAT
With any form of racehorse ownership, it is important to secure a sponsorship contract as this enables owners to register and claim VAT on racing costs.
A bulk of the racing costs will occur an element of VAT and utilising this service is very important. Please see Weatherbys VAT Services for further information.
If you are a syndicate owner, this registration should be covered automatically and the savings either incorporated into the advertised purchase price/monthly training fees or reimbursed to you every quarter. Either way, this scheme is essential for the continuing success of the British racing industry.
Costs of Racehorse Ownership
After the initial capital required to purchase your horse and the costs relating to registrations, the main costs associated with racehorse ownership relate to the daily training and upkeep of your horse.
Fees can vary hugely from trainer to trainer, from £35 to £80 per day— the more facilities and technology used in their training methods the more you will pay. When it comes to getting to the racecourse there will also be entries, transport, stable lads expenses, jockey fees to be paid and at some point vets bills (most of which should be routine such as vaccinations, dentistry or supplements).
If your highly-tuned athlete is unfortunately injured, ongoing veterinary costs are likely to enable them to get back to full health. On average racehorses cost between £16,000 to £24,000 a year to keep, so please think about this before taking the plunge!
If you are joining a syndicate or racing club, the additional costs per month/annum mentioned above should not apply as they would be covered by the syndicate company and incorporated into your monthly/annual training fees.
There should be no hidden extras or sudden vet bills to pay if your horse is injured, or requires an operation (although please always check your terms as some organisations do differ to keep their costs competitive.)
Although the prize money (or lack of) awarded in the UK is a hot topic of debate, it all helps towards the running costs and feels fabulous to receive!
However, the current statistic stands at an average of a 0.26p return for every £1 spent so don’t expect to get rich overnight. Please note, the total prize money displayed in the racing press does differ from the actual amount credited into your racing bank.
In line with the rules of racing, the breakdown is as follows:
- Flat owners receive 80% of the prize money (trainers 7.85%, jockeys 5.77% and stable staff 4.75%)
- Jump owners receive 78.25% of the prize money (trainers 7.85%, jockeys 7.5% and stable staff 4.75%)
- The remainder is split amongst the industry employers – valets etc.
- Prize money should be credited to your bank within 15 days (or via cheque shortly after if a syndicate owner).
There are also a number of “Bonus scheme” races throughout the season which enable you to win extra prize money. All require an entry fee, but can certainly add to the celebrations if you own a winner. Plus 10, Tattersalls Millions Series and Book 1 Bonus are a few examples.
4. Purchasing your Athlete!
So you have decided which ownership option suits you, selected a trainer you’d like to work with, registered as an owner with Weatherbys and have all the necessary funds in place. Now comes the really exciting part – buying your horse! A purchase can be made either at the sales, or directly from your trainers yard. If you are buying a share of a horse, it will most likely have already been purchased via the means below.
Whilst enjoyable, buying a horse at the sales can be less than straightforward.
Sales catalogues can often have more than 1,000 lots detailed so knowledge in bloodlines, pedigrees and “bloodstock fashion” is essential, as well as having your ear to the ground when it comes to a horse’s background and past. The latter is especially true if you are buying from a Horses In Training Sale as most horses are sold for a reason.
Using a bloodstock agent is strongly advised. They would have scoured the catalogues, and the often-vast sales grounds, identifying the nicest horses for your budget whilst meeting your racing requirements (for example do before more precocious sorts over scope or vice versa.)
Types of sales
When buying flat horses, the key auctions for yearlings (one-year-olds) run from August to late October in France, America, Ireland and Britain.
Europe’s major yearling sale takes place each October at Tattersalls, Newmarket. Any racing enthusiast can visit these sales as a spectator and if you haven’t already done so, we would strongly advise a trip to the Tattersalls Millions Sale. It is a day out like no other and the atmosphere when the next potential superstar goes through the ring is electric!
Another interesting sale to consider is the Breeze Ups which are auctions each spring for two-year-olds who are in training. You can watch these horses “breeze” over 3 furlongs prior to the auction which allows you to look closely at their movement, listen to their wind and record their time (which is very important if you are buying a sprinter.)
If you are looking for an older horse, then there are Horses In Training Sales which take place throughout the year, mainly at Newmarket (Tattersalls) Doncaster (DBS) or Ascot (Tattersalls Ireland.) There are also some specific National Hunt sales for young horses bred for jumping.
Whether buying at the sales or purchasing a share (if buying shares through a syndicate company), there are a number of essential points to look for. Some of these should be considered when betting on horses too.
The more horses you look at over the years, whether at the stables or races, the more you will learn so it’s worth training your eye (plus it’s quite good fun comparing notes with fellow racing fans!) We have published an article on What to Look For in a Racehorse which we hope you find useful. There will soon be a video to accompany this too.
5. Now you’re a Racehorse Owner
So you are finally a racehorse owner, congratulations!
Typically, after a week or so of settling in, your horse will commence their training on the gallops (or pre-training if they are a yearling or National Hunt youngster.) For many owners seeing their horse come up the gallops, chatting with the lad/lass who looks after them and discussing plans with the trainer is a key (and not to mention fun) element of racehorse ownership.
Even popping to the yard just once a month, the transformation of your horse as it goes from steady work to swinging canters to fast work upsides will be noticeable. This applies to the untrained eye—although you will soon learn what to look for.
Most trainers nowadays have an open access policy to owners visiting their horses, although it is always polite to call 48 hours beforehand and check what time your horse is going out on the gallops. Coffee and refreshments usually await which is appreciated, especially with the common early starts!
When it comes to training decisions and race planning, this should ultimately be left to the expert and the person you are paying to look after your horse – the trainer.
That said, it doesn’t hurt to discuss any races you would like considered in the season (relative to your horse’s ability.) For example you may want a “win at all costs” approach where some travel expenses may be required. You might prefer to run more locally to maximise your chances of attending the races, or even target the occasional top-class meeting simply for a fun day out.
Before discussing the plans with your trainer, it is worth understanding the different types of races. Weatherbys also produce a racing calendar every quarter, at £184 per year, which lists all available races. Many owners, both sole and syndicate, find this a useful bit of bedtime reading.
Entries & Declarations
Once a plan has been made and a target race identified, your trainer will make the race entry six days prior to the race, before the deadline of 12 noon.
Most races will have entry fees and this cost will come directly out of an owners Weatherbys bank account. Details of the other horses entered will be available to view from around 2pm that day via the Racing Post.
After assessment of the competition if you trainer is still happy to run, declarations take place 48 hours beforehand for the flat or 24 hours beforehand for jumps (unless the meeting is on a Sunday or a Grade 1 contest then it’s 48 hours.)
The deadline for declarations is 10am with confirmation of runners, weights and draw available from around 11am again via the Racing Post website. A jockey must be booked by 1pm that day but the best riders will get booked early so remember to discuss ahead with your trainer if you have a strong preference.
Please note after declaring, you are confirmed to run and can only withdraw from a race due to your horse becoming injured or sick, or if the ground significantly changes. The Racecourse Association (RCA) provides going updates at 7am for all fixtures that day via Twitter which is very useful to follow if your horse needs certain conditions.
So you can plan work/travel/childcare arrangements, your trainer (if a sole owner) or syndicate manager should inform you straight away when your horse is entered, declared or made a non-runner. If communication is not their strong point, Weatherbys do offer a chargeable text and email service for such updates with 50 messages costing £20.
6. The Raceday Ownership Experience
Nothing beats the thrill of attending the races as an owner and for many it’s the main attraction for getting involved in racehorse ownership.
Of course, if your horse wins you are perfectly entitled to scream as loud as possible as it crosses the line in front and celebrate in style! However there is plenty of fun to be had before the big race too. There are 58 racecourses in the UK and each one offers special facilities for Owners – some better than others.
Owner Benefits at the Racecourse
- Designated parking
- Complimentary Owners & Trainers badges collected from a private entrance
- The Owners and Trainers Bar, often serving a selection of complimentary refreshments
- Complimentary lunch places (mainly offered at the big meetings only)
- Entrance to the Pre-Parade Ring and Parade Ring
- Private Owners & Trainers viewing area
- Hospitality area for winning connections, to re-watch the race and to toast the victory with champagne
- A winning memento or complimentary photograph for each winner. Additional winning photos can be purchased, normally via the official raceday photographer
Owners & Trainers Badges
It is always worth planning ahead to maximise your enjoyment at the races, and this is especially true when it comes to the dress code (which some courses do still enforce quite strictly) and Owners & Trainers badges.
Many courses offer 6 complimentary badges for sole owners (using the Weatherbys PASS card system) and up to 8 or 10 complimentary badges for syndicates (with the option to purchase more at discounted rates) if booked in advance. It is always worth making arrangements prior to arrival although syndicate managers should organise this on your behalf.
Nearing Starters’ Orders
For us, the anticipation and excitement of having a runner starts as early as seeing your horse’s name in the paper or racecard. On arrival at the track, we like to visit the Owners bar to catch up and discuss our chances with fellow owners, before watching the horses get saddled up in the Pre-Parade Ring around 25 minutes before the race.
We then head to the main Parade Ring to admire the horses close up and talk tactics with the trainer and jockey. Once the bell sounds and the jockeys mount, we quickly head to the Owners Viewing Area to watch the horses canter to post. These are all elements only racehorse owners can enjoy and nothing beats it! If you’re really lucky, a spot in the Winners Enclosure awaits and we guarantee a big smile is unavoidable!
Win, lose or draw, don’t forget to hear the jockey and trainer post race feedback in the Winners Enclosure or, if your horse doesn’t finish in the first four, the unsaddling enclosure. The following day, it is also good practice to speak with your trainer or syndicate manager to make sure your horse is sound and healthy post race. It often provides a good opportunity to tentatively discuss the next plan.
7. Life After Racing
Whether a horse fails to beat one home or wins 20 races over a number of years, there will come a point when it’s time to move on.
As a sole owner this would be your own decision. As a syndicate owner this would normally occur at the end of a partnership agreement or after discussion with your fellow owners and syndicate manager.
When it is decided a horse’s racing days are over, the very top horses will have a place at stud or be sold to those wishing to breed from them. Likewise, highly rated flat horses or those with scope will often be sort after by National Hunt trainers to go jumping. However horses whose form is questionable or fillies without breeding pedigrees, need to be given the opportunity to enjoy life in a new sphere. It is the owners’ responsibility to find such a home.
Many thoroughbreds have the potential and willingness to learn new disciplines, and do very well in them. Showjumping, dressage, eventing, polo – or even the now extremely popular ROR (Retraining of Racehorses) showing classes – are all events racehorses can flourish in. Some may even just be content as happy hacks within a loving home or as a field companion.
However, decent homes with experienced horsey people can be hard to come by. Your horse’s temperament and any past injuries will also need to be considered and discussed when rehoming. Your trainer or syndicate manager will be able to advise the best new life for your horse and may have contacts of people interested in retraining racehorses.
As with the start of your ownership adventure, research and planning is advised when your time as a owner crosses the finishing line. Your horse has been a loyal servant to you, now it’s time to say thank you.
Thank you for reading our Guide to Racehorse Ownership. We do hope you found it informative. To learn more about racehorse ownership why not visit the gallops one morning to really get your pulse racing!