In my regular articles, I have been taking a look at racehorse ownership to try to provide a peak behind the scenes at what goes into getting the horses that we watch and bet on, ready to take the chance on the racecourse.
In earlier articles, I have looked at purchasing horses, the owner’s day at the races, what different types of ownership are available and who they may appeal to, and how an owner works with the trainer and can visit their horse “at home” to see the training process.
This week, I wanted to focus on what goes into race planning and ensuring that horses are provided with the best chance of winning. It might seem easy, but I know from experience that a lot of time can be spent identifying the right race or sequence of races for a specific horse and I thought it might be interesting to go through the process.
The first thing to say however, is that you can leave the whole process to the trainer! Most owners appoint their trainer as an agent which means that the trainer can make race entries for their horses, declare them to run and can book jockeys to ride and the trainer can also be asked to decide what race to run in. Watching the racing on TV, you would be forgiven for thinking that this is the only way. We always hear things like “Willie Mullins is deciding what race to him in at Cheltenham” or “Nicky Henderson is aiming him at….”, but the reality is that the owner is paying the entry fees and whilst they may be happy for the trainer to take these decisions, they have a right to get involved.
Most owners own fewer horses than our trainers have in their yards, so the owner will probably be able to spend more time working through options a picking the one that suits them and the horse best, than the trainer would be able to. In my experience the trainer will appreciate the input, although the process should be collaborative rather than dictatorial on the part of the owner or your trainer might tell you to find someone else to train the horse!
So how does the process work? You will probably be aware that except for certain major “early closing” races, most races allow entries to be made up to noon, five days before the date of the race. Entries can be made some days in advance of that, but the entries are fixed at the time of closing and at this point the owner of any “entered” horse is charged the entry fee (which varies depending upon the course and the class of the race being entered).
Only entered horses may run in the race, but a definite intention to run is not made until “declarations” close which happens at 10am two days before the race (all flat races and some major jumps races) or at 10am the day before the race (most jumps races). Once a horse is declared to run, they must race unless injury or illness prevents them from doing so, or unless the ground changes significantly in the interim.
The big decision therefore surrounds what race or races to enter your horse in, as it may be necessary to make multiple entries if the horse prefers a certain type of ground and the weather is looking changeable.
The three main factors however to consider are when the race is, what distance it takes place at and what type of race it is. Most horses have a distance preference and you will probably be familiar with the fact that there are level weights races and handicaps. Both may be restricted based on the age and/or sex of the horse and level weights races may be restricted to horses that are classed as “novices” (usually in their first year in this type of race) or “maidens” (horses that have not previously won). Once a horse has run several times, it will be allocated a handicap mark and each handicap race has upper and lower handicap qualification limits for runners.
With 20 or more races taking place almost every day, finding the right option for a specific horse used to be a case of wading through a large volume called the “Race Programme Book” to find races that had qualification conditions that suited the horse, but thankfully nowadays, to make this job a little easier there are online tools available to owners and trainers that allow the input of filters to display only races that have the required qualification conditions. These allow input of date ranges, race class, prize money, race distances, age of runners, sex of runners, handicap ranges and other criteria to ensure that a sensible list of races is produced.
Armed with this shortlist, all that is left is to check that the horse will be ready to run on the date of the race, check that you can be there if you want to attend, check that the ground conditions are likely to be suitable and then decide whether to make an entry. Even then however the work is not done!
Once entries are published, there are “number of runners” limits to consider, as it is possible that the horse will not be able to run if the race is oversubscribed. The ground needs to be monitored to check that it remains suitable and then a decision needs to be made regarding whether to declare to run, but if all still looks good and the declaration is confirmed, then your horse is going racing!
That was a bit of a quick tour through what I find is a really interesting element of ownership. If you would like to find out more, then head over to my website www.bgracingsyndicates.co.uk and click the homepage link to download my free racehorse ownership guide, as this goes into much more detail.
Next time, I will look at the value of inside information derived from ownership and whether it is all that you think it might be. Until then…