I’ve read recently, on two different threads, by two different people, posts in which they have claimed to have gone “shopping” on the backside of race tracks, as if the barns are open to the public for random people to show up and “shop” for horses. Looking at multiple horses at one time, “going through all the barns that had something to show” having trainers “beg” them to take their “three legged lame horses” etc…
I’ve always been under the impression that people cannot just wander around the backside of race tracks willy nilly and that appointments must be made to see horses, somewhat negating the idea that multiple trainers would coordinate to show their horses for one person’s convenience, even at “low end barns” barns where trainers were trying to “offload lame horses.”
I thought that people who don’t have a personal connection to a trainer have to make more formal arrangements to view horses that are being sold off the track, through Canter or similar organizations.
If you don’t have someone with a license to bring you in, sometimes you can go to security and they will make an announcement that there is a person here buying horses. Usually someone will come to the gate and get you.
This really only works at tracks where the horses have no more options to drop in class.
“Showing” a racehorse to a potential buyer like this is just someone pulling them out of the stall and maybe jogging them for you if you are really interested. It’s a quick process.
I would not recommend this method for the typical buyer who isn’t comfortable taking on a lot of risk in a horse. In that case you’re better going through an organization like Canter or a reseller who can spend more time and get you a bit more info.
There are very few tracks where you can wander onto the backside (Keeneland, surprisingly, is one). Most places you either need to show a racing license or be signed in by someone who knows you. We’ve been to plenty of backsides at multiple different tracks and the one thing they all have in common is that people there are busy.
It’s a little hard for me to understand how, during training hours, someone would simply pause to show a horse to a possible (off-track) buyer. I assume only the trainer would have the authority to do that (and he’d first need permission from the owner). It’s not like a hot walker is going to grab a horse and bring it out. Then after training hours, most backsiders are gone until later in the afternoon.
I should add that I haven’t raced at the lower-end tracks that seem to be referenced by these posts. Maybe things are different there?
No one is going to stop during peak training hours to sign someone in. Late morning/early afternoon on a dark day is when you may have success, when people are still around eating lunch or finishing up appointments, but things have quieted down.
The trainer or assistant is generally the one showing the horse, but it could be whoever is in the barn if the whole team knows the horse has to go NOW. Usually these are cheap claimers with nowhere else to go. They might be trainer-owned horses, which are pretty common at the level, or they might be for owners who are only interested in the “racing” part of ownership, so no one really cares.
We used to do this at Delaware Park quite a bit when I was a teenager, before I ever had a job in racing. Of course, that was many years ago, before “aftercare” was a word on peoples’ lips. But a lot of things on the backside never really change.
I imagine it’s track-specific and regional, and like you said tied to whether its a ‘low’ end track where the horses often have no other conditions or places to go. The bulk of my experience with the backside comes from a track that is now semi-defunct and no one’s interpretation of high-end (Suffolk Downs), but you always needed someone to sign you in.
Once you were in, you could wander around as you pleased. Most people were gone by the afternoon but if you came around 9-10 AM, you could see a ton of horses and trainers/grooms would stop you and ask you if you wanted to see XYZ horse in XYZ barn. Even track vets would hail down visitors and/or volunteers and say ‘you should check out horse XYZ in barn 10’. Many in those types of tracks are trainer-owned and/or horses looking to be sold ASAP, so if there were a gaggle of sport-horse buyers roaming the grounds you would see assistants and trainers hailing them down to come look at horses in their barn.
Suffolk used to host “Showcases” a few times a year where CANTER or other affiliations would orchestrate a ‘showcase’ of available horses that trainers/grooms/hot walkers would bring out. You were given a piece of paper for notes and a schedule that had the order of go, horse name, and trainer contact/info. This was how I got my first taste of the racing TB world, by going with my mother who volunteered with CANTER in the late 90s/early 00s. In my early 20s I moved to NY and started going to Finger Lakes; it was much the same in terms of sign-in and seeing available horses.
Most of it was word of mouth. We’d get tips from assistants or trainers about a horse in barn 7 not doing so well, or a vet would grab us and let us know they’d just left barn 4 where a horse in Trainer XYZ’s care was just diagnosed with a suspensory and needs rehab and retirement, etc, etc… The social network via WOM was very strong when I was out there with CANTER listing horses.
If people want an “in” to the backside, they really ought to volunteer with a listing agency. People remember faces and they remember volunteers. Often the volunteers that are regulars have a very good understanding of the pulse of the backside and know more than you would think about specific connections, their care, and horses they need to rehome and/or move on.
Was at a few midwest tracks in the past few years with an experienced acquaintance just as an extra set of eyes. Lets just say the “big horses” at those tracks were 5k claimers.
Getting in was not that difficult but getting anybody to get one out of the stall or who knew much information about them was. We went around 11am when morning workouts were done and well before the afternoon card got under way. Grooms and hot walkers were not authorized to remove horses from stalls and there is often a language barrier, trainers and assistant trainers can, maybe, give you 5 minutes.
Like any barn with sales horses, hired help ( including trainers) is not likely to share any negatives on horses their employers/ owners are trying to sell. No random hot waker, groom or exercise rider is going to share anything wrong with any of them.
One thing here….these people sharing being shown “3 legged lame horses by trainers desperate to unload them” on social media might find it a bit harder to get somebody to sign them in next time.
In 2018, I went up to Finger Lakes Racetrack. I connected with the track listing service before I planned my trip and had volunteers arrange that I could be escorted around the backside. We stopped at every barn and asked trainers what they had to show - I looked at 18 horses in one morning.
And yes, one barn in particular had a trainer begging the volunteers to take a very nice, young, 3 legged lame gelding that they had been trying to offload on the volunteers (or anyone else who would take him) for weeks. I felt extremely sorry for that horse. I don’t recall what the exact circumstances were, but I do remember it was his knee that was the issue and that there was no hope he would ever be sound on it.
I remember when we had a thoroughbred racetrack locally—low-level, which I knew wouldn’t/couldn’t succeed, but I digress. A volunteer from the newly-formed chapter of Canter was interviewed by a big newspaper where she stated that they “rescued” horses from the track.
The trainers immediately cut off access to the organization.
I would think getting a list of horses from Canter (or like) and setting up appointments in one day would be the best option. I also cannot see how anyone would pull horses out to show w/o prior arrangements, but I have never been to Fingers Lake etc…
I guess if folks are desparate to unload horses it would work (but would you want that one?), and I would think “claiming trainers” really dont want strangers in the shed row, or jogging horses in plan view of the trainer in the next barn. Last time I was at Penn National the trainer I visited had cameras in the shedrow and a dedicated laptop for the video. (I sure would not kick around there casually!)
I only bought directly off the backside before I had my own connections through my employers- at which point I was offered more horses for free than I could house in a lifetime.
But in general, buying a horse off the backside is nothing like going to look at a horse for sale at a farm. It usually goes down something like this:
After getting access to the barns, you walk past a shedrow and see someone who doesn’t look too busy.
Buyer: “Hi, I’m here buying thoroughbreds to show, are you selling anything?”
Trainer: “This one here needs a home.” Trainer proceeds to tell you a few sentences of bullocks, not necessarily for nefarious reasons. Overplaying positives, underplaying negatives, etc. You may as well just close your ears and ignore most of what is said, though, only listening for key phrases like “slab fracture.”
If you are interested, the trainer pulls the horse out for you. Let’s you look them over quickly. There’s a good chance the horse’s legs will be wrapped- tough cookies, do not ask them to be unwrapped unless you are buying the horse. The trainer may walk or jog the horse for you… once.
You might ask a couple quick and direct questions if you are really interested like, “how long have you had him?” Or “do you know how he got that scar?” But don’t expect to be there chit-chatting about the horse’s abilities and quirks.
Then you decide yes or no. Or if you are undecided, ask for a phone number and say you’ll call them back in the immediate future, but don’t expect them to hang on to the horse for you. Stall space can be precious.
You’re making a decision in like 5 minutes or less. Then you thank them profusely and are on your way.
It’s a gamble. Not a way to buy a horse if you are looking for something specific, but if you have the ability to deal with the unknown, you will never be without horses to buy.
I don’t know why someone wouldn’t want to jog a horse in front of their peers- it is literally done all the time. The backside is a very public place compared to most other disciplines. I don’t think there is any other equestrian discipline where you are housed full time with nearly all of your competition.
Video surveillance is pretty standard anymore for security reasons. But you shouldn’t be walking through people’s shedrows completely unattended, they are usually open enough you can see if anyone is around. You’re not at a used car lot!
You say you can’t see how anyone would pull horses out without prior arrangement, but there are people who have worked at the track who can affirm that people will pull out horses without prior arrangement. As far as jogging a horse in front of a rival trainer: the horses you are looking at are not in danger of being claimed. And those horses are not all 3 legged lame horses; some are just ready for their next career. Finally, you are not snooping around people’s barns when they aren’t there, so there is no reason to fear cameras.
Really, people’s imaginations make this sound like such a weird thing, but it’s really not a big deal.
It could definitely be the best option, especially if you[g] are not familiar with the backside or its connections, or you’re shopping with a trainer as a one-time thing. I would definitely advise against showing up unannounced; I think that’s very rude and inconsiderate of the time-crunch that all people at the backside face.
As far as whether you’d want the ones that trainers are desperately unloading… It really depends and it’s not always a red flag or because of horrible/shady reasons. It’s not always because the horse got a condylar fracture or irreversible suspensory damage. Sometimes its because the trainer/owner sees the writing on the wall; this horse may not have any future in racing. He may be close to aging out. He may no longer be competitive or running out of conditions. It may be close to the end of the meet, and the circuit is going down south ($$$) and the trainer doesn’t think the horse is competitive enough to earn his ride south. He may no longer be earning money and trainer has another horse at home that needs to get the stall. Sometimes the biggest motivator is the block of stalls and their commodity, not so much the horse’s inherent quality for sport.
I’ve gotten three very nice TBs that had trainers desperate to unload them. One had a DFFT injury with suspensory involvement that precluded any hope of returning to racing before he aged out (he was 7 at the time and it was at least a 2 yr rehab). He’s happily bopping around BN-N with his 70+ y/o leasee. One was young (3) and too slow for racing but was so irritable/grouchy in his stall that he scared off prospective buyers. His trainer at the time quite literally pulled me from from the barn where I was seeing another horse, stuffed me into the bed of his pick-up, and drove me to the end of the backstretch where the horse was stalled. He pulled this surly little bay from a corner stall whose ears were so badly pinned I at first didn’t think he had any. He begged me to take him home while the horse kept trying to bite his leg and hips. I was crazy, so I did. He is gone now, but was such a personable little horse and a great LL eventer.
It’s actually ironic – I’ve never come home with the exact horse I’ve set out that day to look at. I go to see the horse I originally was interested in, and for whatever reason I pass on them, but as I am leaving someone calls or grabs me and asks me to check out another horse. It even happened with my most recent TB; I really liked this bright bay FLF listed and went to see him, heard he failed a PPE with another buyer and decided to pass, and as I was about to chalk up my trip as a wash, got a call from a volunteer saying “Hey, I think you should check out this boy in barn 7…”
I have been on both ends of this as I have walked around the backside asking if anyone had a horse for sale and being asked. It’s obviously different for me since I am licensed but you can have the guard make an announcement at the gate that you are looking to buy and someone will likely come sign you in.
Since I’ve held a racing commission license since 1976, I, personally, have not had to ask someone to sign me in to look at horses for sale at a racetrack backstretch. But yes, it happens all the time at the tracks I’ve been at. This is exactly THE WAY all those OTTBs of yesteryear were purchased to start their illustrious show horse careers. Horse show shoppers who purchase regularly or annually get to KNOW the race trainers, form long term relationships with them, actually can become FRIENDS. Then, the show buyer has a “pipeline” for new competitive prospects, as they become available, and the race trainer knows he/she has an option for a horse who needs to end it’s racing career. The fact that this option has largely ended, and is not replaced by “rescues” and “rehoming” people or groups who often charge the race owner for this service while also charging the buyer for the horse has interrupted what actually WAS working OK for many people and horses. These days, in some parts of the country, a similar relationship of supplying retiring racehorses to a secondary career has developed with the chuckwagon racers. They want big, older geldings, who have a ton of speed, but may not be able to carry that speed as far as they once did. They DON;T want mares, or slow racehorses, or 2 or 3 year olds. Some chuckwagon racers will buy the horses they want through the claim box, and keep them in race training at the track with a race trainer until the end of the meet, hoping to win back some of the claiming price before taking the horse home as a chuckwagon prospect. So they are kinda shopping for a specific type of OTTB, perhaps different from the horse show or 3DE people. But because of them, buying a big, sound gelding has become more difficult these days… because they pay more than the show/event buyers do. Mares, smaller geldings without a great race career behind them, or young, slow horses are still available for cheap. Over the years, I’ve bought a few every now and again. Many have turned out to be successful show horses, for me and others. I’ve sold a few too, have never used a dealer/rescue service. Most of the ones I’ve bought, I watched for a long time, waiting for my chance to purchase… several I watched for a year before being able to purchase. Being on the track daily, watching horses move and train and race helps, and knowing the people who have control over the horse, their skill and knowledge and honesty. I didn’t get all the ones I wanted though LOL.
What goes cheap or for free are those that some people and “rescues” won’t take. Horses with an injury, and cribbers. Fresh bows are usually free, and always healed up just fine for me. I don’t mind cribbers- I would prefer if they weren’t, but if they are- well- I’m not perfect either. If I like the pedigree and an exercise rider recommends the horse, I’d accept such a horse.
I had a similar experience at Finger Lakes some years back. The volunteer group that helps them, Finger Lakes Finest, posted some pictures on their Facebook page of different horses that were available towards the end of their season, so I arranged to go up to see what was available.
I forget how many horses I saw that day, but quite a few. And I definitely had a couple of random people ask me if I was looking for a horse, because they had one for sale. Maybe I just had that look. Lol.
I’ve also stopped in there once or twice over the years to look at horses for friends. I think I arranged it through the volunteer group again, and they just left my name at the gate so I could get in.