Should Horse Racing Be a Sport of Only Kings?

October 3, 2022

Op./Ed. By Dawn LeFevre

Recently there have been heated discussions on social media that horse racing would be better off left in the hands of just the super trainers, top riders, stakes horses, and wealthy owners. Who needs the small timers clogging up the racing card with their claimers? If a blue collar worker wants to participate in the sport then he/she can simply buy a microshare in a partnership such as MyRacehorse. Then in their next breath, these small timer critics complain about betting five horse fields where three of the competitors are owned or trained by the same person.

Can’t have it both ways.

In a sport that’s desperately trying to attract new fans, should we really be discouraging those who aren’t royalty, CEO’s, or sheiks from owning racehorses? Racehorse partnerships are a great way to introduce newbies to the sport but not everyone is happy playing silent partner. Some owners like to be involved in management decisions such as choosing which horse to claim or buy and don’t want to have to draw lots for a spot in the win photo. Sure the Average Joes might have limited funds but that doesn’t decrease their enjoyment of the sport. If anything, I’ve found that owners with only one or two horses were MORE likely to visit the stable, watch the morning workouts and attend their horses’ races. And when they come to watch their horse’s race, they not only bring their family but also their friends and co-workers too. Their children often catch the horse racing bug too and grow up to own horses themselves. Ditto for Average Joe’s friends and co-workers – they see his horse win and they want to experience that glow of victory for themselves. So what if they can’t afford to fork out $1.5 million for a Gun Runner yearling, they still get a rush watching their nickel claimer come home five in front.

You can’t put a price tag on that.

No one looks at a newborn foal and says, “Gee, I hope he wins the $6000 maiden claiming someday.” But just like every human runner can’t compete in the Olympic Games, not every racehorse is stakes caliber. There are more “normal” horses out there than stakes horses, which is exactly what makes the latter so special. And yes, most Average Joe owners can only afford these “normal” horses – the claimers and allowance runners. And whom do they usually employ to train them? New or small trainers. And who usually rides these horses? Small time or apprentice jockeys. No top trainer or jockey starts his/her career in stakes races; they all had to prove themselves in claiming races first. Owners of the big horses want the best trainers and the top jockeys and who can blame them? They have a lot riding on their four-legged investments. Average Joe owners who can’t afford to hire the Todd Pletchers or Chad Browns are more willing to give a newbie trainer a chance. And hey, if that trainer starts cranking out winners, the bigger stables might just take notice. 

Or we can simply close the doors forever to these small timers. Horse racing will evolve into an elite, weekend-only sport conducted at four or five tracks with $100 admission and a $100 minimum bet. Racing programs will be comprised of five stakes races with six horse fields where four of the competitors share the same trainer. It will no longer be a sport where all it took to turn someone’s day around was a winning $2 ticket. Or a sport for those who simply wish to admire the beauty and speed of the Thoroughbred racehorse. If the average person is denied the dream of one day owning a Stymie or John Henry, then horse racing will have lost the one thing that’s so treasured in Thoroughbreds – its heart. 

Photo: Families enjoy a day on the apron at Saratoga. (NYRA/Coglianese)

“For a unique and real perspective on horse racing, I read Jonathan Stettin’s column Past the Wire.” Bob Baffert, Multiple Triple Crown winner, Eclipse Award winner, Hall of Fame Champion Trainer

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