One might think that horse ownership is just for the rich, or that you need to be an industry insider to be certain that you are getting good advice as to what horses to buy and which trainers to use. Yeah, horse ownership is just too tough for regular folks.
Forget that. It’s simply not so.
The excitement that goes with being a horse owner could be just one owner’s seminar away, and many who have taken the plunge have done so after attending these events.
Want to know how a seminar can get you into the harness racing business? Just ask Rick Hare.
Hare is a recently retired 59-year-old, who, along with his nephew Dan, make up the partnership Finish Line Investors. They are not big players on the harness racing scene, but they are playing and having the time of their lives.
Rick and Dan went to an owner’s seminar, sponsored by the Harness Horse Breeders of New York State, in September of 2012. Rick was always interested in the harness game, having gone to the races at Buffalo Raceway and Batavia Downs his entire life. His dad and uncle had a few horses when Rick was young, but by the time he was 17, they were out of the game.
After Rick’s owner’s seminar experience five years ago, he got into the game.
“The new owner’s seminar is really good,” said Hare. “It gives a high-level overview of things you need to know. It takes a look at what some of the costs are in broad brush strokes. The trainer fees, the veterinarian fees. They give you a really good look at things, like a good introductory course in college. There’s a lot of good information to take in.”
It wasn’t even a certainty that Hare was going to the seminar in the first place. “Some of our friends were going and they were bugging me to go. The seminar I went to at Batavia, it was a real good deal. It’s pretty inexpensive to go. You get a buffet dinner and a program. You talk to the race secretary and the judges and go to the paddock. It’s a pretty reasonable deal they offer up.”
Hare did not recommend that one go straight out of a seminar and become an owner. With a pursuit such as this, one must do their due diligence.
“You need to look for a trainer,” said Hare. “See what they want as compared to what you want. But the basic information is there. This needs a significant investment of time and money, so you want to make sure you know what you are getting into.”
After attending his seminar, Hare started following some horses and talking to trainers. Hare’s preference is owning ‘overnight’ stock to ‘stakes’ stock. An overnight horse is one who races week in, week out at the track in claiming or condition races. Stakes horses race for higher purses, but the risk factors are higher because you are buying young horses who are as of yet unproven.
Five months after his seminar, Hare jumped in the pool. Things did not go swimmingly.
“The first horse we got was a $12,500 claimer,” said Hare. “We never got him to do anything, so our trainer recommended we sell him back to his previous owners. They bought him back and did well. It was disappointing but it’s part of the game. Some horses you are going to lose money on.”
Determined to stay with it, Hare bought Hour Lavec for $20,000. The horse had been racing in Ontario at Mohawk Racetrack.
“We brought him down and raced him in the Open Trot,” said Hare, speaking of his horse as a proud dad might brag about his son. “He was third in his first start and then first two or three times in a row. He was good at both Buffalo and Batavia during 2013 and 2014. He then had some problems, so we retired him. In fact, I still own him. My wife fell in love with him. He’s now my wife’s riding horse.”
Hare, who currently has three horses, has owned about a dozen since getting into the game. He says the overall experience has been good but that there are “ups and downs.” Sometimes, however, it’s not merely good. It's fabulous!
“In 2016, we claimed one for $6,600 and in five months she made over $40,000 for us,” said Hare. “Then somebody claimed her from us for $15,000.”
The math is simple. Hare claimed the horse for $6,600, the horse made $40,000 and then got claimed for $15,000. That’s close to $50,000 gross on one horse. Pretty good stuff.
But to be fair, it’s not always peaches and cream.
“Last fall, we bought a horse at auction,” said Hare. “We brought him home, but he had trouble at Batavia. My trainer took him down to Florida and one morning, he goes to see the horse and he had a broken tibia. We had to put him down.”
Sad stuff, to be sure, but part of the game.
One of the things that Hare, who was a quality compliance engineer for Johnson & Johnson, loves about ownership is how close he can get to his horses.
“I’m a very hands-on kind of guy,” said Hare. “I want to be able to go see my horses, so it’s very important to pick the right trainer. I want a guy I can talk to and some trainers don’t do that. That’s not a guy I’d like to be with. John Mungillo is my trainer and I’m very happy with John. I go see my horses three or four times a week at Batavia. I help groom. I brush them. I clean them up. That’s one of the beauties of harness racing as compared to Thoroughbred racing. It is so much easier and more accepted to have an owner involved.”
Hare’s been an owner for five years now and he stills gets fired up talking about his horses.
“Last year we have a good one in our barn,” said Hare. “Striker Ace was his name, and he won the open trot at Buffalo two weeks in a row.”
Hare wants to share the good vibe, and extended an invitation to yours truly. “If you ever see a horse with the ownership Finish Line Investors, if we win, come on and jump in to the winner’s circle photo. We love to have people join us.”
Sure, horse ownership is a roller coaster ride, but for Rick Harp, it’s seat belts on and let it go full speed.
“I am living the dream,” said Hare.
Who knows? Maybe you will, too. And it might take just one owner’s seminar to get you on your way.
The Harness Horse Breeders of NYS will host the next new owner seminar at Tioga Downs on June 24. To register, please call 518-785-5858 or email [email protected].
(Harness Horse Breeders of New York State)