There is nothing like it in the world. When you see your shining racing silks arrive in the paddock with your rider, it is like being the owner of a sports franchise. You select the look, design, and rider who will carry your flag on this day. You may or may not have had a voice in the horse being saddled, but for many it is their decision alone. When the patrol judge shouts out “riders up,” you feel like your runner is taking the oval to “My Old Kentucky Home.” Ownership is the best feeling a racing lover could ever have. The only time that you are not in love, is when that mortgage size monthly bill comes in the mail. But overall, there is still nothing like it.
Many owners of top-notch runners let the trainer make all the calls. Some get involved, and others take over the reins. But in the claiming game, everyone knows all of the answers, especially the folks who are paying the bills. When the rider came out, I always wanted to give the race instructions. I thought that since it was my money, I wanted it to happen my way. But sometimes this is not the case… I had a rider who was a friend, and the last words I spoke to him were, “don’t get him near the lead, and lay just off the pace.” When they broke from the gate, I watched with gaping mouth as he began whipping immediately from the gate as soon as they sprung the latch. I had a small time rider who was known to get every edge possible. He had been accused of stepping on other riders feet in the stirrups, flipping his goggles off wildly during a race, and carrying a “device” when he thought it would benefit his trip. Well, when they broke from the gate and he ran off to the lead with our little known rider, I guess it was apparent that he may have tried to gain a “shocking” edge that day. The only thought that comes to mind when giving riders instructions are as follows; “The good ones don’t need it, and the bad ones won’t heed it.”
I used to go to the barns every evening. I would feed my charge some carrots and peppermints and take friends over to look at my sports team. Having family and friends over to see your horse is a great joy. No bragging, as you want to share what makes you feel so good. There is a fine balance in the claiming game. No matter how good a horse can be, they only hold their form for so long. If this wasn’t true, they wouldn’t be in bottom claimers at ” No-Luck Downs.” So many times I would see him get fit and ready, and something would happen to set us back 60 days. He was hit in the eye by a groom, training accidents, filling in the ankle area – you name it, and sooner or later you’ll see it. I had some friends who wanted to claim a horse. There were four of them, and since I have owned and worked in racing, they sought my advice. “Ed, we are going to claim a runner. What do you think?” they asked. “Well, how much money do you have?” I replied. ” We have $5,000 and need to find a solid trainer.” “Guys, go back and come again when you have $10 or $20,000. The cheap horses eat as much as the better ones, and the good runners can drop in class where the others have nowhere to go.”They thought it over and decided it was more fun in the grandstand on Saturday afternoons. I couldn’t convey the pain of watching your horse bottom out in conditions and have nowhere to turn. But that is the advice they received. If you are going to play the claiming game, wait until you can afford a little better runner who is not at the end of the road. The bills are higher for taking care of that pretty pony you call a horse, and what once was a love turns into bad feelings.
The big outfits come to the paddock dressed to the nines and act as proud parents. They let the professionals do their job. I think the claiming game can take a few cues and follow suit. You pay a trainer to care and prepare your horse. Why not let the person who knows your animal best make the decisions? I am guilty as charged for wanting to have a say in the paddock. If you are right, it is like calling the winning play that takes your team to glory. But more times than not, it usually backfires with that small-time rider who doesn’t even know your name. Let the real horsemen do their job, and stand back and enjoy the journey. There is nothing better than being this close to the game you love. Who knows, if the chips fall into place it will be up to you to get those 500 friends into the winner’s circle picture.