A Beginner's Guide to Racehorse Ownership, Part 2: Selecting a Horse and a Team

We got a lot of positive responses to the beginner’s guide to racehorse ownership that we published some months ago, so we figured we’d expand the subject.

Last time, we learned about why you should own a racehorse (besides the fact that it’s so much fun). We also talked about the different types of racehorse ownership. Good news: if you’re not ready for the commitment of owning a horse all by yourself (admittedly a huge expense and an even bigger responsibility), you have the options of ownership and syndication.

This time, we’re learning the basics of how to decide which racehorse to buy, and how to build a team around it.

How to Choose a Racehorse

There are three main factors to consider when selecting a racehorse: pedigree, conformation and age.

Pedigree is the horse’s lineage. The thinking here is that if a horse comes from a family of champions, then it must have inherited some of those winning qualities. Therefore, there is a reasonable expectation that they will also do well.

While pedigree has considerably lessened in importance when buying a racehorse (compared to before the 1990s), it’s still an important factor. Besides that, it’s a great conversation piece — a lot of the history and culture of horse racing is tied to horses’ pedigrees.

Conformation, on the other hand, is the horse’s physical condition. During inspection, a horse is judged for its athleticism, smoothness of stride, and balance. There are several boxes that, ideally, you’d want to tick, including:

Powerful shoulders that slope at a 45-degree angle.

A deep, rounded girth that allows plenty of room for the heart and lungs to work in.

Powerful, well-muscled forearms attached to an equally well-muscled chest.

Clean, flat knees set squarely in line with the shoulder, forearm and fetlocks.

Rounded, not puffy or enlarged fetlocks.

You can see more details in the illustration below:

A Beginner's Guide to Racehorse Ownership, Part 2- Selecting a Horse and a Team | Track Mode Horse Racing and Fashion | Yearling

What to look for in the perfect yearling. Image: Belmont Bloodstock

Age is how old the horse is, and also the type of training it has (or hasn’t) been through. For example:

A weanling is 6-12 months old, and recently separated (or weaned) from its mother.

A yearling is 12-24 months old, and has not been trained at all.

An untried 2-year-old is 24-36 months old, may have been trained, but has not raced.

A tried 2-year-old is 24-36 months old, and has raced.

A ready to run horse is a 2-year-old which has not raced but has been trained, and has been timed over 200 metres.

A 3-year-old is 3 years or older, most likely already trained, and may or may not have raced.

A broodmare and/or foal is a mare that is ready for breeding. This is something you’ll probably want to consider when you’ve been in the game long enough, and are thinking more long-term.

By far, yearlings are the most popular market. This is because they’re old enough and formed enough that buyers can judge by their conformation. The other reason is that, because a yearling is still untrained, it’s easier to train them according to the trainers’ or owners’ methods.

A Beginner's Guide to Racehorse Ownership, Part 2- Selecting a Horse and a Team - Track Mode Horse Racing and Fashion - Magic Millions Yearling

The last ever Encosta de Lago yearling sold for $175,000. Image: Magic Millions 2016 National Yearling Sale

 How to Choose a Team

Buying a specimen with great potential is half the battle of racehorse ownership. Now, you have to decide what to do to take full advantage of that potential.

Trainers are perhaps the people you’ll work with most closely during your racehorse ownership lifetime. They’ll be spending every single day with your horse and will get to know them intimately. Because of this, it’s important to have a good relationship with them.

A good trainer will also be able to guide you regarding which horse you should buy. Besides that, they’ll also be able to put you in touch with veterinarians and promoters.

A Beginner's Guide to Racehorse Ownership, Part 2- Selecting a Horse and a Team | Track Mode Horse Racing and Fashion | Danny O'Brien

Danny training horses at Barwon Heads

When choosing your trainer, you’ll want to ask these questions or something similar:

What is your training philosophy?

What types of horses have you had the most success with?

What types of expenses might I incur?

How often and how closely do you consult with your owners?

How often can I visit my horse?

Which jockeys do you often work with, and why?

You’ll also want to look at their track record (usually very easily accessible), and of course their rates. It’s also a good idea to get in touch with owners they’ve worked with.

Also, be clear with billing methods — you don’t want this to be the thing that derails your relationship.

Read Up

Remember that these are all just starting points for learning about racehorse ownership. There are many, many websites that will teach you more in-depth details about winning thoroughbreds, plus the culture of horse racing in general, and important people you need to get to know. Read up on opposing views so you can have informed opinions. And of course, feel free to ask me if you want more details — I’ll be happy to answer questions!

You may want to read up on the first part of our series on racehorse ownership — the benefits and types of ownerships just might convince you to plunge into the scene. You can also read all about some of the most important Australian women in horse racing and how they made history.

Track Mode is a horse racing and fashion site, founded and curated by Nina O’Brien. Besides the races themselves, we also like talking about what to race day dresses, millinery, and the thoroughbred lifestyle. Subscribe to our newsletter to get the most exclusive race day fashion edits and the latest, most relevant news in horse racing in Australia. You can also follow me on Bloglovin’.


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