I wasn’t at the races when I fell in love with horse racing. It was a pre-dawn workout for the horses at the iconic Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky., when I got my first taste of the sport.
The thundering hooves, the loud breathing of the working Thoroughbreds, the conversations between trainers and riders — it was all new and fascinating.
That was more than a half-century ago when Dad and I stood next to the track while the rest of our vacationing family slept at the motel. Since then, I’ve visited most of the great tracks and some of the not-so-great. I’ve watched horses run from the rail at Gulfstream Park, a luxury suite at Churchill Downs and the picnic tables at Saratoga.
One place at the track I’ve never been, though, is the winner’s circle. You know, where the smiling owners pose next to the winning horse and its trainer and groom.
Of course, I had never owned a racehorse until Can’t Hush This came along last year. He’s now a three-year-old Thoroughbred who was recently favored to break his maiden — horse racing parlance for winning for the first time — at Horseshoe Indianapolis, a track that’s actually in Shelbyville.
To call myself an owner is a slight overstatement. My ownership stake in a $295,200 offering amounts to one of 1,800 shares, costing $164. But, hey, when Can’t Hush This passes the finish pole first, I could wind up in the winner’s circle next to someone who owns 100 shares and no one would know the difference, or care.
More on this co-ownership business later, but when Can’t Hush This came to my home state for the first time, I was there with family and, yes, thinking about that picture afterward. Maybe I’d hang it next to the one of my wife Sherry posing with the great Secretariat in 1973.
Can’t Hush This will never be confused with Secretariat, but he is the son of a promising sire in Not This Time and the mare Awe Hush. Prior to Indy, he had raced three times, with his best result a fourth-place finish at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans in his racing debut back in February.
Since then, running against other maidens at the Fair Grounds and Churchill Downs in Louisville, he finished eighth twice. But his chances of winning increased with the race at Indy, which was a drop in class, kind of like a Major League Baseball player dropping down to Triple-A.
While being led to the paddock to be saddled, Can’t Hush This was a bit fractious, which fits his reputation. He was so unruly that following his second race his trainer, the highly successful Tom Amoss, without conferring with me, had him gelded, or castrated — the ultimate “equipment change” for a racehorse.
At the time, Amoss told owners that the horse was falling into bad habits, including being increasingly “loud in the barn and hollering at the fillies.” Guess he’s appropriately named.
Anyway, that procedure should make him more attentive and improve his prospects on the track, but it rules out future stud fee revenue. I’m thinking like an owner here.
But on this day in Indy, CHT eventually settled down as jockey Edgar Morales guided him onto the track for his race of 1 1/16 miles against other maidens. He broke well from the starting gate and even led briefly heading into the homestretch before being passed by another three-year-old gelding, Barbarian. There was no winner’s circle photo for CHT as he finished second, two lengths ahead of the third-place finisher but six lengths behind the winner.
And while there is no shame in losing to a horse trained by Steve Asmussen, North America’s all-time winningest trainer, it was clear that CHT might need even more class relief.
Sure enough, about three weeks later Amoss entered him in another maiden race, but this one was a claiming race at Ellis Park near Evansville. In a claiming race, any horse in the race can be purchased immediately afterward, in this case for $30,000.
So while your horse might have a better chance of winning in a claiming race, there also is possibility of losing the horse to a new owner. If CHT’s last race was similar to a drop to Triple-A, this one was like a drop to Double-A.
I couldn’t attend the Ellis Park race but streamed it on my laptop. A 5-2 favorite, CHT took the lead over nine other horses midway through the mile-long race. A mild whoopee rang out through our kitchen as he held off a late-closing horse to win by three-quarters of a length. With his short odds, my $2 win-place-show bet paid just $14.26.
In breaking his maiden, though, CHT won $12,600 (compared with $20,400 he would have earned by winning a month earlier at Indy). He also got a new home. He and one other entrant in the race were claimed so as soon as the winner’s circle photo was taken, CHT was led off the track to a new stable.
No goodbyes or final hugs.
As for all his former owners at Myracehorse.com, we will get a few bucks for the win and sale, the amount depending, of course, on how many shares you own. It will fall short of my $164 investment, but so what.
Making a profit was never my intent when I bought a tiny piece of a two-year-old colt. The fun was having a little stake in the game. You follow the progress of a young horse, watching videos of the various stages of training and updates from the trainer, leading to timed workouts and then the races themselves.
With the emergence of fractional ownership, as it is called, groups such as Myracehorse.com purchase horses — often young, unraced ones — and then offer shares to investors. The offerings are regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission. At this point, shares cannot be resold, but that could change.
So racehorse ownership no longer belongs solely to the wealthy. For less than $100 a share in some cases, one can own a fraction of race winnings, stud fees and other revenue. But don’t count on making money.
As for Can’t Hush This, will he spend his career in claiming races, moving from one barn to another, or rise about that and stick with one owner/trainer? I’ll watch with interest, but in the meantime I’m scouting for another potential ticket to the winner’s circle.