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Ownership responsibilities in Racing

Don’t know how else to title this discussion topic. In other disciplines, we stress it is the owners decision and its their horse. No idea how this relationship works at the racetrack. Any thoughts? Does owner pressure for results encourage starting the overmatched or questionably sound? Can a trainer feel comfortable saying NO and not fear clients going to somebody else who will say yes? Do we jump to blame trainers for owner decisions?

Honestly don’t know. Noticed an increase in track vets scratching horses this weekend after incidents in the paddock and on the way out to the gate based on vet observation. Is there a need to make this more common to back up trainers, especially in undercard or weekday races? Is a trainer not afraid to say “No” doomed to be a niche trainer with a small barn?

Any thoughts? No litter boxes or tin foil hats, please.


I liken a trainer to the conductor of an orchestra. There are many expert, trained people playing in the orchestra who must work together to interpret the music and perform to the best of their ability under the guidance of the conductor. Then there are multitudes of people in the audience who believe that the conductor has some special magic, some unique understanding that leads to superior musical performances and they pay to listen, subscribe to the orchestra. Any good trainer is managing the hopes and expectations of their owners as much as directing the training of the horses. It is a precarious profession.

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When my husband’s family owned race horses, it was a strictly, “Let’s go sit in the owners’ box and watch our horse run.” The trainer sent a monthly accounting of costs and races and money won --family paid the bills and that was that. Any selling, entering, decisions etc. were the trainer’s. Sigh. When I met my husband and he said he owned a horse (he had one race horse himself) I thought hem meant he “owned” a horse like I did --kept in the backyard and went riding now and then. Nope. However, DH can do amazing things with horses on the ground --he was always the go-to-guy for holding a frisky 3-Day horse --they immediately became quiet for him --and for making them pee! We were often selected for pee test and DH could make them pee by whistling --said he learned it from hot walking for the trainer when he was a teenager --quite handy when a rider must wait for the horse to pee before continuing!


Asking about the responsibilities of an owner and the owner/trainer relationship is one of those topics where you will get a thousand different answers.

On one end of the spectrum, there are some owners who are completely hands off. Their sole role is check-writer.

On the other end, there are other owners who drive the entire operation, and the trainer is just the conditioner who executes the owner’s wishes and demands.

I would say most owners fall somewhere in between, but tend to default to the trainer more than the other way around. If a trainer says, “the horse isn’t ready,” most owners respect that. That’s why you are paying the trainer.

But it all just depends. Also, owners have different goals. A small number of extraordinarily wealthy owners prioritize being a part of all the “big dances”- the Triple Crown, the Breeders Cup, Saratoga, Del Mar… so for those few owners, they might put more pressure on their trainer to make sure they get them there. However, that is such a small percentage of horse racing on the whole, so it’s definitely not the norm. It’s just what is often visible to fans because those are the races that get press coverage.

I think I just muddied the waters with all that word diarrhea. Hopefully someone gets my drift.


I agree with you that there is a spectrum and most owners are somewhere in the middle. The worst part about training horses is definitely the owners but it is also the best part so there is no escaping them. I did have some owners who thought they could do a better job than me but they had to work their day job so instead just micromanaged me to death. They didn’t last very long. I had some owners that wouldn’t have known what end to feed.

I never once ran a sore horse, I don’t care who it belonged to. I just wasn’t going to do it but that wasn’t really an issue. I did have some owners who wanted to run the horse way over their head because they were barn blind which I would agree to do if I was unable to convince them otherwise but I always explained that they could not complain when the horse finished up the track.

Generally speaking the trainers most likely to give in to pressure from owners to do anything they don’t think is right are the trainers with small stables who have no money. Even a small stable with a decent success rate is less likely to say no rather than be pressured into doing what they don’t think is in the best interest of the horse because they don’t have to literally worry where their next meal is coming from.

Big stables like Pletcher, Baffert etc will zero percent cave to pressure


If the OP was wondering if owners are the problem when it comes to breakdowns and injuries… no, not generally speaking. Sure there are asshat owners who do wrong by their horses, but that is not the norm.

I have said this a thousand times but the cause of breakdowns is d) all of the above. There are dozens upon dozens of contributing factors. Everyone wants to point to one or two problems, alledging fixing that specific problem or two will fix all. But that’s just not so.

If you want to change one thing to save racehorses, give the sport infinite money. Horses will still get hurt because… horses. But with infinite money no one has to base decisions on the cost ever.


What do you mean by infinite money? Tracks dumping obscene amounts of money into purses is widely thought to be one of the reasons why there were so many breakdowns at Churchill. That, and the excitement (for owners, mostly) of running a horse during Derby week. The same thing happened with purses a number of years ago at Aqueduct—there were just insanely high purses for NY breds, people were bringing horses out of retirement to race, and a lot of horses were breaking down. Also, purse payouts should be structured so that people aren’t making money running last. So more money isn’t going to save anything, you’ll just have more people that more desperate to chase after it.

Ego + greed = broken horses. Lots of both in human nature, and people in racing are no exception.

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Infinite money is not purses. Purses are limited to those who win them.

Infinite money means no one having to watch bottom line.

You may think it’s all ego and greed, but the reality is racing is expensive. People have to make smart financial decisions, but sometimes that means you can’t do what is ideal for the horse because you can’t afford it.

Examples: almost no one would choose to stable on the backside if they could afford to ship in from a posh training center . People would love to give the horses vacations when the weather is inhospitable, but people need to pay their bills. The most state of the art diagnostics could be used if cost were not an issue. No one would ever need to worry about trying to recoup astronomical expenses on a horse. Maintenance would never be deferred on infrastructure. No one would blink at the cost of track improvements. (Obviously this is not reality)


Is that why the Kentucky Derby is so over-crowded? All of the owners who ‘just have to be there’, with or without a legitimate contender? Maybe some trainers as well?


Eh, sort of not really.

It’s the Kentucky Derby. Yes, some people just “have to be there” and buy their way in almost every year by buying a piece of top 2-3 yos for exorbitant prices.

But it’s the absolute pinnacle of American racing in the eyes of the world. It’s not easy to be one of 20 who earn their spot in the starting gate. So for many people, if you have a shot, you may as well take it.


I have limited experience as a co-owner of two runners, and as a former exercise rider (home trainer) for a client horse who was later sent to a Known trainer at the track. All 3 instances ended poorly. We tried to be polite, obedient owners who sat back, stayed out of the way, let trainer make the decisions, and we just paid our bills on time. Trainers “took us for a ride” and the horses suffered.

I have experience galloping racehorses but definitely do not pretend to have enough knowledge to pick races…but I know enough to recognize “this doesn’t make sense.” Like when the mare is worked 3f for weeks, then twice 4f, once 5f, and then entered to run a mile on turf; and then subsequently fades after 5f. Or when a fit filly should be ready to run in 6-8 weeks…but is not entered to run for 6 months; is entered in MCL despite EXPLICIT instructions to run in MSW only (or, please send her home to retire as an UNRACED broodmare). We’ve been told big promises about How Fast! and How Impressive! the filly is, when her works seem very average on paper and she finishes up the track in two starts, looking unrideable or uninterested. We “trusted” two different trainers, as they were names that casual racing fans would recognize and respect due to their success. Horses came back home looking awful; thin, undermuscled, underrun feet, dull attitude, skin disease, two with chipped knees. One came back in good shape, but was quite unpleasant to ride and galloped awful (but was sound! with recent xrays).

I now have a 2yo colt that we scratched from the sales, and will be attempting to run him ourselves in partnership. Searching for a trainer for him is making me sick. I think we have found someone I trust (and can afford…another story!), but I am admittedly gunshy and a bit protective of my homebred that I’ve broke and started myself, and I want him back in excellent shape as a sport horse if he can’t run.


Did you get your filly back, or was she claimed?

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She wasn’t claimed, and had a colt by St Patrick’s Day this year. I wasn’t just upset about the risk of losing her, but rather the entry into a low class race… Finishing 6th in a tough maiden special is more respectable than finishing 6th in a MCL16000, when it comes to developing a broodmare page. We bought her as a broodmare prospect; if the trainer didn’t feel she could be competitive at MSW I would rather he sent her home unraced.


I think some trainers have a huge disconnect with breeding. If they aren’t actively breeding or buying young stock, a lot of them are clueless.

I guess you can say that for nearly all horse sports.

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Very true! Consider how often we are told to “ride the horse not the papers” even as the papers are lost and names changed. However, I do think TB trainers are perhaps more interested in breeding than many as they look for the “best” two year olds in the sales. Breeze-ups are a bit different.

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