Answer Man

Claiming races good way to buy horses

Winning Cause with, Julien Leparoux up, second from right, wins the Coolmore Lexington Stakes on Saturday, April 20, 2013, at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky.
Winning Cause with, Julien Leparoux up, second from right, wins the Coolmore Lexington Stakes on Saturday, April 20, 2013, at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky. MCT

Q. A friend of mine, who is full of hot air most of the time, tells me that racetracks like Fairmount Park in Collinsville have races called “claiming races.” He says at the end of the race you can buy the winning horse for whatever the purse was on that particular race. Is he full of stuff or am I?

— H.B., of O’Fallon

A. Apparently you both need a little more horse sense so you can feel your oats if you ever discuss the subject again.

It sounds as though you’re a casual fan who may watch a Triple Crown race if you’re not doing anything else. So, like me, you figure all races are pretty much the same: An owner enters a horse, it runs and winning gamblers collect their loot while losers drown their sorrow in a bucket of suds.

Turns out it’s not nearly that simple.

Just as not all races are on a par with the Kentucky Derby, few racehorses are on the level of a Seabiscuit or Secretariat. So to even the field a little, races and horses are divided into several types.

According to Horseracing for Dummies, you might think of it like an Egyptian pyramid. Down at the broad base are what are known as “maiden races” — races for horses that have never won in their lives. Each year sees the birth of an estimated 35,000 thoroughbreds that will achieve varying amounts of success depending on their pedigree and training.

But until they claim their first victory, they’ll be stuck in this lowest tier of competition.

Meanwhile, at the very top are your stakes races, which draw the very best horses running for the fattest purses. These come in a half-dozen varieties topped by the Grade 1 stakes, which include your Triple Crown races and the horses that eventually will be put out to stud for hundreds of thousands of dollars per “servicing.”

But just above the maiden races are what many call the meat and potatoes of horse racing — the so-called “claiming races.” These reportedly make up the bulk of all races run at U.S. tracks.

During recent racing seasons in Kentucky, for example, 54 percent of all races were claiming races — although, because of the lower-tier horses involved, they ran for only 20 percent of the value of all purses combined.

Here’s how they work — and it’s a little different from how your friend explained it, so listen up:

In the simplest terms, a claiming race is a race in which all horses entered can be purchased (i.e., “claimed”) out of the race.

But a buyer must offer to purchase a horse before the race starts, not after it might enter the winner’s circle.

Under Part 510 of the Illinois Racing Board rules, for example, an offer must be made at least 10 minutes before a thoroughbred race post time and 30 minutes before a standardbred post time. And you can’t submit a claim just because you suddenly have an itch to own a racehorse. In Illinois, you have to be a licensed owner, a licensed racing interest or a license applicant who has permission to claim.

Claiming prices basically depend on the quality of the horses involved in each race. They can run from as little as $1,000 to $100,000 or more, and they are not the same as the purse. On, for example, a list of claiming races for Tuesday shows a range of $1,000 for any of the four horses in Race 12 in Mexico City ($4,913 purse) to $66,000 for the four in Race 2 at Sunland Park, N.M. ($5,930 purse).

Once the bell sounds and the starting gate opens, the person who claims a horse is the new owner, although if the horse wins, the purse still goes to the previous owner. If more than one person makes a claim for the same horse, the new owner usually is determined by lot. If either party reneges, he could lose his license.

Claiming races allow licensed owners to buy horses that are more affordable than those that could qualify for stakes racing or allowance races, which is a step below stakes. Sure, you will always run the risk of losing the horse yourself if you, in turn, enter it in claiming races, but it allows you to enter horses at a level in which they have the best chance of winning.

Under certain conditions, you also can enter them in certain classes of non-claimable allowance races.

As a claimant, you also run the risk of the horse breaking a leg even before you can take it home to its new barn. But if you think you have an extraordinary knowledge of the racing world, you always hope that you can become the next Tom McCarthy. On May 30, 2008, McCarthy, a 75-year-old retired school principal of Louisville, Ky., claimed General Quarters for $20,000 before the horse won its maiden race at Churchill Downs. A year later, McCarthy’s horse won the prestigious Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes before finishing 10th of 19 in the Kentucky Derby and 9th of 13 at the Preakness.

Today’s trivia

When was the last presidential convention that required more than one ballot to pick its nominee?

Answer to Sunday’s trivia: Searching for a suitable estate befitting the king of rock ’n’ roll, Vernon and Gladys Presley finally spotted just the right castle for their son: Graceland in Memphis, Tenn.

Built in 1939 by Dr. and Mrs. Thomas Moore, it was a 10,266-square-foot mansion on 13.8 acres of land. It was named after Mrs. Moore’s Aunt Grace Toof, who had inherited the Hereford cattle farm from her parents in 1894. According to Graceland records, Presley’s parents plunked down $1,000 in earnest money on March 16, 1957, after negotiating a final price of $102,500. While Elvis continued to film “Jailhouse Rock,” his parents and grandmother moved in on May 16 before their son joined them on June 26.

By then, both the estate’s famous music gates and a kidney-shaped swimming pool already had been installed. Presley would go on to expand the mansion by 7,500 square feet until he was found dead in one of his bathrooms on Aug. 16, 1977. Now more than 600,000 people each year make a pilgrimage to Graceland, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or call 618-239-2465.