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OTTB shopping - high or low race mileage? And general track record questions

I’m starting to casually look for a new horse, mostly window shopping at this point. My budget is solidly 4 figures, because I just don’t want to spend more. I could, but I don’t want to. Since I’m wanting to do H/J and am tall (aka a chunky 16H is my MINIMUM), that puts me firmly in OTTB land. My current horse is one, and I’ve ridden plenty of them - we get along great and I love the work ethic.

I see lots of ads with “low starts” and “never raced (but trained)” as positives, but my thinking is the higher mileage ones have a proven durability that might translate to a low jumping career. Then again, that usually comes with soreness and joint changes, so maybe it’s an even trade?

I’d love to hear opinions and experiences of the low start horses vs higher mileage for a light 1.0ish and under career. Definitely not showing every month, mostly weekend outings and lessons.

I’d also be interested in learning to read between the lines of race charts - a DNF, 2 years off, and an owner change as a red flag, or just a sign of a horse really hating to run? Versus a horse hitting the low-middle of the pack almost every time for two straight years before retiring to a rehoming program? No horse is perfect, and I firmly believe in picking ones with issues you can deal with (vs ones you can’t). But understanding a chart when faced with a race-fit 3YO and a jog video might be mighty helpful.

I’ve had it both ways. In my experience, the unraced ones usually didn’t make it because of an injury of some sort, but that doesn’t mean that that injury will ever matter for a sport job. My soundest one actually had a slab fracture as a 2-year-old that was surgically repaired before his first start and went on to run on it 14 times with no issues. He had as close to a perfect vetting as possible a day after hunter pacing 10 miles with me on hard ground.

For me, the benefit from low starts or unraced comes more from attitude and ease of transitioning into a new career. I find the ones with higher race mileage take longer to “come down,” and while they are largely very safe and workmanlike, they are “hotter”—I’m transitioning most to hunter careers, so that matters to me.

Regarding reading a chart, want to share one for us to review? (You can redact the horse’s name.) There are just so many different things to note, and I imagine we all interpret things differently, so it would be a useful exercise. I don’t always sweat a DNF or an owner change, but I do investigate a long spell off quite thoroughly. I’d rather see one run consistently, even if they suck at it.


Okay! For example:

Horse 1

The DNF says “walked off”
Here’s its last race. Named in red

Horse 2

Here’s its last race (name in red)

So for horse 1, the DNF and subsequent off time implies an injury of some kind. That doesn’t mean it needs to be a dealbreaker for you, but it’s something worth investigating. Replays are available on almost all track’s websites.

Horse #2 has been a hard-knock runner for awhile and is the type of “mid-pack” horse I look to buy. It looks like he was given some winters off, which is nice to see, and whatever the 2020-2021 gap was wouldn’t bother me, since he clearly returned to race form.


Horse 1 has notes like the last race (“never a factor”, “dull effort”, “no contention”, etc) on every race. Dead last or second to last in every race. FWIW, this one is a freaky good mover, but still apparently a bit disinterested under saddle. He’s popped a few jumps and always lands in a heap and trotting. I am used to them having a bit more oomf to the jumping, even if it’s wiggly and a bit ugly.

Horse 2 has a cute jump, if mostly a body jump, though there seems to be some scope in there and the lack of effort is hopefully due to being unimpressed vs unathletic.

Both, allegedly, are sweethearts on the ground and average-ammy friendly in that regard.

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It really does go either direction.

I used to resell TBs years ago, before it got super trendy. Unraced, a few starts, tons of starts (even into the triple digits) - I’ve had them both totally sound and totally unsound.

I wouldn’t even say there’s a strong trend with the mental baggage a horse may or may not carry based on their number of starts. Some of my worst dispositioned TBs in terms of the typical habits associated with OTTBs were race trained but unraced. :woman_shrugging:

DNFs, long gaps, etc.- you can’t automatically assume anything. Sure, there’s a good chance there was an injury associated, but that injury may or may not be of any concern. If the horse came back to race successfully, I wouldn’t even worry about them.

My biggest red flags are the actual connections. A lifetime of being involved in racing, I know who runs their horses into the ground or turns them into neurotic messes and who gives them a good foundation. But that info can be hard to find if you don’t have connections to where the horse raced yourself.


This is great information. I know the answer is always “it depends”, but I certainly do not have the connections. I like to think I can pick a horse with a good brain (or at least a good eye), and I know basic conformation for what I want. I would like to be able to hedge my bets towards something more likely to work - I’ll vet, but I can’t burn all my savings vetting a million things. Google and equibase are free :laughing:

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Are both of these with a reseller? If so, assuming it’s a reputable one, I’d let them guide you toward which they think is a better fit for your needs and goals.

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No, just examples from my area. Both privately owned. I just happen to know their JC and used them as examples.

ETA: I’m not seriously considering these two horses listed above. But I am interested in experiences and opinions on mileage in general, and things to take note of when looking at a chart. Ultimately you have to look at the horse in front of you, but I would love to be able to take all available information into account.

I’ll probably see a huge, chromed out chestnut and buy it on impulse regardless :laughing:


There’s really nothing you can assume about future show ring potential/soundness based on the race records of horse 1 and horse 2. Except that horse 1 is really slow. :stuck_out_tongue:

Some things you might see on Equibase that merit a :thinking::

Auction results (if any)- mainly if you see an expensive horse ending up in very cheap conditions, especially without an obvious trail. There’s a story someone knows.

A BIG drop in class happening pretty quickly. Words like maiden, claiming, allowance, stakes are meaningless without knowing the purse- click on the chart. If a horse was running in $120k races then is suddenly running in $5k races, there’s a reason.

Along with a big drop in class, the same can be said for an abrupt change in performance: if a horse is consistently competitive, then is suddenly getting beaten badly and running significantly slower, it’s probably hurting somewhere.

Being claimed or changing connections A LOT- you will have to click on the charts to see this. Changing connections is pretty normal, but if it’s happening excessively, that always gives me pause. It also means there’s going to be a lot of backstory the seller won’t know.

One start, especially if the horse finishes competively: it costs tens of thousands of dollars to get a horse to the starting gate, so quitting after one start is often more than “too slow” or minor injury.

But again, stressing that these aren’t red flags to avoid. They are just things that deserve an eyebrow raise and questions to the seller. There are plenty of benign reasons for all of these things.


Of my five thoroughbreds, two raced. They were both low mileage; one raced three times, the other 17 times. Both had bone spurs in their hocks. The flexed clean and I didn’t x-ray. I was dumb. The pain manifested in occasional back soreness and bucking.

There are war-horses out there that are sound. If you can find one, you will be lucky.


I only have a sample size of 1 so far but mine raced twice with a winter off in between those starts. In his case it was obvious he was retired because he was totally hopeless as a racehorse (dead last both times, by a wide margin). I’m glad they spared him the extra wear-and-tear because even though I didn’t get him directly off the track his x-rays were still pristine when I bought him. He’s athletic and willing and will be a super fun eventer when I get him in shape, he’s just never going to be a speed demon which suits me just fine.

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There’s an OTTB at my place who had few races because she was always mid-pack. Apparently when run with one or two other horses, she could always keep up. But in a race scenario she was so herd bound that she would always stick in the middle. She is the most herd bound horse I have ever come across, and it makes her hard to manage on a farm with just a few horses. So I think sometimes poor race performance could be psychological (just to make this process a little harder :joy:).


My last OTTB, who I retired at age 23, raced 28 times and was reasonably competitive, winning $70K before being retired with a minor injury and fully rehabbed. He differed from others I have owned in that he had it firmly in his mind that he needed to be first. As I fox hunt, that was a perception that needed to be adjusted and it took time, patience and a couple of four hour hunts for him to figure out that winning wasn’t part of the new job. He was an anxious horse that took some time to settle into his new life, but was a superstar and very sound until he turned 19 ish. At that point he developed some SI problems that ultimately caused him to step down to a less demanding job.

My current OTTB, who I’ve had for 6 weeks, raced four times and finished last each time. His breeder retired him and kept him as a dressage horse. He does not have the same passion for speed, so although I’m only just restarting him (he had a year off due to his owner’s illness), I don’t anticipate the same issues.

For CANTER I restarted a horse that had more than 70 starts and he was remarkably sound of body, but had a few quirks in his attitude that had to be worked around. A friend of mine has another warhorse that won well over $100K on the track and is still going strong at 19.

I guess the answer is you need to look at the horse, look at his connections and try to get as much history as possible.


There’s another online publication that has a trainers blog on OTTBs, called TB Logic. No idea of her skills, but she just wrote on this topic…. Worth a read.


This is fantastic- and exactly what I was looking to learn.

For example, I know of a horse who had a single start. He’s very handsome, and athletically built. He was bought by an amateur and is described as “too much” - he certainly looks hot and a tad unpredictable. Now I have no clue as to the capability of the ammy or the turnout/routine situation at this place, but it’s no backyard program. If I were interested in him, I’d definitely ask some questions and want to see him go; it makes sense that a single race vs a handful would warrant investigation.

ETA looks like he raced once and got bumped during said race.

I’m learning so much about how to click around and get information on equibase. So this has been super educational - I looked up my current horse and am not shocked at all by his lackluster results :laughing:.

I will ditto everything Texarkana said, as usual.

I find a lot of [re]sellers frame an unraced TB as the deal of the century / clean slate. My caveat is to vet these horses carefully. Unless they never started race training and were never backed, they are not a clean slate. Do not assume that since they never had a race means they don’t have racing baggage -it’s such a peeve of mine to see that assumption when it is usually the opposite - to even get a horse through the start gate, they need racing mileage. It costs connections tens of thousands of dollars to even get them into a trainer’s shed-row. Connections are usually invested in seeing their money invested pay out and retiring an unstarted horse is not the most ideal avenue in terms of recouping money. Sometimes it can be a legitimate case of the slows and racing replays are amazing now for doing some Google-fu and seeing yes, that horse is legitimately slow and didn’t understand the assignment; but other times, they are unraced because of an injury that may or may not impact future sport careers. I always immediately suspect the SI in the young horses that flunked out of racing. If I am looking at an unraced horse, I want to see him canter. A lot. Sometimes they could have gone through an unfortunate growth spurt around the time they were starting to breeze, sometimes they are too big, sometimes they have no try, sometimes it’s something else. Not necessarily a red flag, but not a pass either.

I’ve had super sound horses with no starts and super sound horses close to 100 starts. Our soundest horse to date was a horse with 80 starts, two bowed tendons, and a suspensory. It really does depend on the individual horse and his connections. Good connections take good care of their horses, just like good show connections take care of their show horse. Race mileage is not always an indication of future limited performance, or even future performance success.

That being said, if I had to really define a preference, it’s for the horses that had 10-30 starts. I don’t mind unraveling some physiological baggage, and have a good set up for it (24/7 turnout, herd, hilly NE pasture, winters off). I like the horses that have a little more starts simply because I find them more worldly about commonplace things; as an older adult, I don’t have the pools of free time I used to teach Baby that tarps, golf carts, geese, and plastic bags are no big deal. I also like a horse that can commit to something - I’ve ridden a lot of quitters in my life and look for horses that have taken to a career and at least tried.


Great info in this thread! I will say that my toughest restart was a horse with a lot of starts and some decent finishes who wasn’t cut until he came off the track at 5.

His race horse tendencies to lean on the bridle and invert were very, very firmly entrenched and he was a tough nut to restart. He also stayed a little studdy for a looooooong time.

That said, I’ve known horses with similar histories who immediately adapted to their new careers.

My best advice is to make connections with trainers and breeders in your area. The really nice prospects move by word of mouth, and never end up at CANTER/similar places and aren’t advertised. If there’s a track near you, go, and tell trainers what you’re looking for. Same for breeders. Pay attention at the end of a race meeting; that’s when the decision to retire a horse is often made. Be prepared to move quickly. If a trainer calls you and tells you he has a horse to retire, he wants it out of his shedrow yesterday, and the owner wants the training board bill to stop the day before yesterday.


Bumping in races is normal. Horses are used to racing in close company. That’s how they train. That wouldn’t be career-ending. On any given day, you are going to see comments that there was bumping coming out of the gate or down the stretch in dozens of different races.

Now, what would be career-ending is a horse who is so sensitive that he mentally can’t handle the game. Some horses become so stressed out all the time that they can’t train or race. There’s a strong possibility a temperament like that will carry over into a second career.

But that’s just one example why a horse might retire after one start. There are plenty of non-concerning reasons, too.

I literally cannot think of a single thing you might see on a chart or race record that would be an automatic deal breaker, apart from maybe a catastrophic accident, like bolting through the rail, flipping over, a massive pile up— things that would indicate potentially long lasting physical and/or mental trauma.


In my experience, I am more interested in their breeding, then race record secondarily. 3 out of 3 of my most recent TBs 100% matched expectations based on breeding alone. 4, 17 and 33 starts: 33 was easiest, and 4 hardest :upside_down_face: So if I were shopping, I would look for the the breeding I like, then look to the race record for more information, or anything suspicious/does not align with what you have been told. I would rather buy a horse with breeding I like regardless of # of starts than a horse with breeding I don’t know much about who has a very clean record.