Anticipation, fascination, exhilaration, jubilation.
Owning a racehorse can be the thrill of a lifetime … an unforgettable, fulfilling experience like no other.
The racing game offers high risk, high emotion and high excitement. It is highly speculative: money is won and lost, but an amazing time can be had in the process.
And the great thing is that almost anyone can enjoy it with research showing that 1 in every 244 Australians owns a share in a racehorse – a far greater participation rate than any other country in the world. Owning a horse is no longer the preserve of the elite.
And getting involved, for a lot or a little, has never been easier – and never more rewarding.
For the price of the average household appliance you can become the part-owner of a horse.
Types of Ownership
Owning a horse outright means you get to make all the decisions yourself, though unless you are an expert on racing and breeding you would be well advised to consult with a trainer or bloodstock agent.
As a sole owner you will collect all the prizemoney your horse wins and enjoy any upside in residual value if the horse becomes a champion. Conversely, you will also be liable for all the costs.
Given the costs involved, this is the riskiest type of ownership. However, there are many people who choose to only own racehorses by themselves. For them, the ability to make all decisions about a horse’s career: from who will train the horse, through to having a say in which races it will run in to the choice of jockey.
This allows you to enjoy all the excitement of sole ownership while also sharing the bills. Partnerships are the most common types of ownership in Australia and are a great way to get involved with a group of like minded friends.
Members of a partnership of up to 20 get to see their names in the racebook, entry to the members’ area at the track and, depending on individual race clubs, access to the mounting yard so you can be there when your jockey gets mounted before the race.
Many first time owners decide to get involved through partnerships, encouraged by the proportionally lower level of capital expenditure to buy a share and the reduced ongoing expenses compared to sole ownership.
If you can’t organise enough friends who share your dream of racehorse ownership, many trainers will organise partnerships to own horses.
However, if you do decide to form a partnership with people you know, you will have to decide on a managing part-owner who will handle communications with your trainer and other ‘housekeeping’ issues. It’s possible for individual invoices to be sent to each partner by the trainer, transport companies, vets and other suppliers.
A large number of successful owners choose to take shares in many horses rather than race one or two horses outright. Owning 10 per cent in 10 horses obviously provides greater scope for finding a very good horse than racing one horse and paying all its costs.
Another benefit is sharing the anticipation and excitement of ownership – having friends to share a champagne with when your horse triumphs.
Syndication is now the most popular way for new entrants to participate in ownership.
A licensed syndicator will sell shares in horses they own, with people buying different percentages of that horse (5 or 10 per cent shares are most common).
These syndicators are running a business. They will purchase horses, typically at yearling sales, and will usually generate income from some or all of the following: charging management or administration fees, taking a percentage of prizemoney winnings, and retaining a share of the horse when it is sold.
Syndicators need to have an Australian Financial Services License themselves or be an ‘approved promoter’, which means they use somebody else’s licence. Both syndicators and approved promoters need to adhere to rules put in place by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission. One of the most important of these rules is the requirement to provide a product disclosure statement which will include details of the horse, where it was bought and for how much, an outline of fees, information on how decisions regarding the horse will be made and details of what your ongoing costs will be. Before investing in a syndicate it is prudent to ask for and read the product disclosure statement.
In the meritocratic world of racing, the success of these syndicators depends both on the performance of their horses on the track and their ability to service their clients (owners), with an enjoyable ownership experience. Many people keep returning to syndication as a form of ownership as it is relatively stress free (the syndicator will take care of all administration issues) and relatively inexpensive, though it is worth noting that as part of a large group, your voice might not always carry the day when it comes to decision making.
Syndicators have been incredibly successful in recent years, with horses owned this way winning the biggest races in Australia: from the $3.5 million Golden Slipper to the $15 million The Everest.
While this isn’t as common as other types of ownership, leasing a horse has several advantages, the most notable (typically) being no up-front outlay.
Most leases are made available by breeders who wish to keep a horse to breed from at a later date and are happy for others to enjoy the benefits of ownership while meeting the training fees and other day-to-day fees. While there is often no initial fee to lease a horse, it is common for a percentage (often 20 per cent) of any prizemoney to be paid to the owner.
How much does it cost to buy a racehorse? The only possible answer is ‘almost anything’.
Most horses get sold as yearlings – between 18 and 22 months - where the cost of purchase can range from a few thousand dollars to well over $1 million (the most expensive yearling sold in 2020 was $1.9 million).
Given breeding and racing are big industries, with huge amounts of money involved, it’s no surprise that horses can cost so much. For example, the top male racehorses are often bought by breeders for millions of dollars so they can become stallions when they retire.
That said, purchasing an elite colt at the Australian yearling sales is more affordable than other parts of the world. Multiple Group 1 winner, Russian Revolution, for instance, was sold for just $320,000 as a yearling, won $1.4 million on the track and covered 226 mares – at a fee of $55,000 – in his first season at stud.
However, a big purchase price is no guarantee of ability. Horse racing history is made up of bargain buys that have gone on to become champions and expensive horses that have failed on the track. The world’s most expensive yearling, called Snaafi Dancer, was sold in 1982 for US$10.2 million. Unfortunately he was too slow to even make it to the racecourse and, when his owners tried to breed from him, it turned out he was infertile too.
In Australia there are countless examples of inexpensive horses enjoying great success. Takeover Target was bought for just $1,250 before going on a winning spree which saw him triumph at Royal Ascot and earn over $6 million in prizemoney. Champion sprinter Buffering cost just $22,000 as a yearling and has earned his connections $7.3 million, while Polanski was sold for $4,000 and won in excess of $1 million. Group 1 winning juvenile and star 3YO, Rothfire, was purchased for just $10,000.
But a horse doesn’t have to become a superstar to repay their purchase price. With prizemoney levels in Australia having increased by 84% in the last decade – the highest rate of progress internationally – a horse can recoup its owners’ outlay if it remains fit and healthy.
It is also possible to buy a racehorse which has already run, either privately or at a ‘tried horses’ sale’. While this allows buyers to assess the form of the horse involved, your chances of finding a horse that can win regularly at metropolitan level (ie. at major racecourses like Flemington, Randwick, Doomben) are limited as the previous owners and trainers have usually assessed these animals ability before sending them to the sale.
How much will it cost to keep a horse in training? The simple answer is … ‘it depends’. Who trains your horse, how successful they are, where they are located and whether or not your horse gets injured will all play a significant part.
However, if you decide to become an owner, one of the few certainties is that you will soon be paying the upkeep for your horse (unless you pay an up-front amount which includes expenses).
Should you buy into a young horse this is likely to start even before it enters the stable of its trainer. Young horses need to be ‘broken in’, where they get used to being ridden, and do their basic fitness work away from the hustle and bustle of a racecourse, before being sent to their trainer.
As mentioned, what a trainer charges in fees will depend on the variety of factors. A useful general rule is that the more successful a trainer, the more they will charge.
Similarly, trainers who are based in capital cities on courses like Flemington, Caulfield, Randwick and Rosehill will be more expensive than those who train in the country.
But this doesn’t mean the more expensive trainers (or even the more successful) are running a big profit from these fees.
While the upkeep of a racehorse can seem expensive, most trainers are barely meeting the costs for the services they provide. Looking after a racehorses is a hugely labour intensive activity: for example, a horse may have different people to groom it and tend to its needs, another to ride it and yet another person who cleans up its stable. Then a trainer is likely to have office staff to help with their admin and communications. Imagine the task of organising the transport logistics for 200 horses constantly being taken to and from the races and then in and out of pre-training and spelling.
There are a number of larger trainers in Australia who have more than 100 members of staff on the payroll at any time.
As you’d expect, the costs involved (wages, housing) in running a stable in Sydney or Melbourne are considerably greater than those in other places.
It is well worth checking with a trainer what costs are included in their daily fees (some trainers may charge more for your horse to have a new blanket and its own tack) and what their typical costs are for a year before choosing which trainer to look after your horse.
Where do you begin, what do you do next, how do you select a trainer, and where do you find the horse – do you purchase it at a yearling sale or through a registered syndication company or trainer?
Aushorse can assist you with impartial advice in these initial stages, then once you have decided on a trainer, licenced syndicator or bloodstock agent, they will assist you on buying or taking a share in a horse.
Choosing a trainer is almost as important as choosing the horse, a bit like selecting a school for your child.
A number of practical aspects must be considered. Firstly, your trainer should be someone with whom you can communicate and have a rapport.
One thing an owner needs to do, whoever trains their horse, is discuss some ground rules as early as possible. The training fee, and what it includes, should be clearly understood and will relate to whether your horse is trained in the city or regionally.
In Melbourne or Sydney it will cost between $65,000 and $55,000 a year to race a horse, along with other expenses such as transport, spelling, veterinary and farrier.
Costs of training are cheaper in Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, while trainers will charge in the vicinity of $30,000 to $40,000 outside of the metropolitan area.
The basic rule of thumb is that a horse will cover its annual costs by winning one Saturday city race a year.
Another thing to be clear on from the start is the trainer's commission on the horse's winnings. Usually it is 10% which is subtracted by race clubs from the prizemoney and paid directly to the trainer.
It is important to establish costings with your trainer from the outset.
For further information on Australian trainers, you can visit the Australian Trainers’ Association: http://www.austrainers.com.au
Owning a horse purchased through a licensed Syndicator means you will own a share in the horse with a group of people and enjoy the thrill of ownership for a percentage of the cost.
Given the close regulation of syndications, there is the added benefit of legal documents – Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) – which include publicly disclosed details such as all costs and vet checks, and a signed partnership agreement outlining the procedures for managing the horse, such as how to vote on the horse name, how to distribute trophies and how to manage disputes.
A registered Syndicator must hold a license with the Australian Securities Investment Commission (ASIC) and is licensed to publicly sell shares in a racehorse.
A list of registered syndicators in each state are provided through the following organisations:
If you’re buying a horse for the first time, you really need an adviser and bloodstock agents are equipped to assist with all matters relating to the purchase of the racehorse through to the managing of your racing and/or breeding interests.
The Federation of Bloodstock Agents Australia (FBAA) currently has 28 accredited members that include the major sale companies as well as individual agents.
Members of the FBAA are required to operate with the utmost integrity and professionalism and are bound by the strict FBAA Code of Ethics. For further information visit: http://www.bloodstockagents.com.au
The ultimate fairy tale in modern Australian racing involves the world champion sprinter Takeover Target.
Queanbeyan taxi driver, Joe Janiak, saw something he liked, paid $1250 for him at an Inglis auction in Sydney and then trained Takeover Target to win more than $6 million in prizemoney, racing to victory in four different countries.
Takeover Target, of course, is the exception. The average price for a yearling sold at auction in 2020 was $106,383 with the highest price $1.9 million.
With the second largest thoroughbred horse population in the world, it’s easy to find a horse for sale in Australia. Most are sold through yearling sales which offer some 7000 yearlings (horses aged between 14 and 22 months), each year.
There is no price range for good horses, no specific rules to follow. However, physical traits and pedigrees can dictate the price you pay, yet won’t determine how fast the horse will eventually run.
There are many theories on buying yearlings, and even companies that apply such scientific techniques as taking biomechanical measurements and assessing cardiovascular function.
But it is still mostly intuition, and some have more of it than others.
The two biggest yearling sales in Australia are the Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale in January and the William Inglis Sydney Easter Sale.
It is in the interests of these companies to sell horses that are likely to perform, so their experts go out to the studs and inspect them months before the sales are held, rejecting some and accepting others.
If you decide you have a good enough handle on things to bid for a horse yourself there are a number of things you need to be aware of. The first is to set yourself a budget, the second is stick to it and the third is make sure you have a home for the horse you’ve just bought.
Another thing to keep in mind is that among the biggest buyers at yearling sales are trainers who will then seek out owners for their purchases. It is perfectly acceptable to approach a trainer and offer to take a share.
You’ve taken the plunge and bought the horse, now for the fun part – choosing a name. You will want a name that befits a champion, one that will be memorable, strong, maybe even clever or catchy. But there are rules.
Vulgar or obscene names, no matter how well-disguised, are banned, as are brand and company names, along with names that might vilify.
The names of past champions are mostly prohibited, while any name used in Australia in the previous 17 years will be rejected as will all the winners of 11 specified races around the world, including the Melbourne Cup and Cox Plate.
Names are also restricted to 18 characters long.
While most names tend to be inspired by a horse’s breeding, you can usually do better than adding ‘Miss’ or a ‘Lad’ to the name of a sire or dam.
Better to take it a bit further, like Octagonal, who is out of Eight Carat, or the Melbourne Cup winner Brew whose mother was the champion mare Horlicks who in turn was out of Malt. Or Earthquake who is out of the mare Cataclysm and stakes winner Foreteller, out of Prophecy.
A lot of thought went into the naming of Caulfield Cup winner Elvstroem who is by Danehill out of Circles Of Gold who was out of Olympic Aim. Owner Frank Tagg wanted something to reflect both sire and dam so he asked the Danish ambassador who was his country’s most famous Olympian. He was told it was sailor Paul Elvstrom, a four-time gold medallist.
Group 1 winning sprinter, Gytrash – sold as a yearling for $40,000 and winner of over $1.3 million - is named after the legendary spirit of English folklore who is said to take the form of a horse, mule or dog. A very fast horse.
There is also a popular theory that champions have seven-letter names: Carbine, Phar Lap, Tulloch, Galilee, Gunsynd, Century, Hyperno, Dulcify, Saintly, Sunline and Marscay are just some that reached the very pinnacle of racing.
A reminder though, if you have purchased a share in a syndicated horse, the other owners will be involved in the naming process. Trainers and syndicators will usually ask all shareholders to submit a potential name and you may be asked to vote on your favourite, or it may be drawn out of a hat.
To find out whether your preferred racehorse name is available, visit Racing Australia.
Once you have decided on a name, it is time to officially register your horse with the Registrar of Racehorses. Until this process is complete, your horse cannot race.
To register your horse, you will require the Foal Identification Card which is essentially the equivalent to a human passport. All thoroughbred foals registered with the Australian Stud Book are issued with an ID card at the time they are branded and micro-chipped.
If you have purchased your horse from a sale, the sales company will be able to provide you with the card. If you have purchased your horse privately, you will need to speak to the breeder or the previous owner.
Once you have the card, you will be required to complete a Registration Form and lodge your application with the Registrar of Racehorses, a division of Racing Australia. The Registration Form requires information regarding the horse’s breeding, age and the details of all beneficial owners in the horse.
The ownership information provided at this stage is what is reproduced in the racebook. Each horse can have up to 50 individual registered owners.
If you have purchased a share in a syndicated horse, the registration process is usually taken care of by the syndicator or trainer.
In the case that you buy a horse that is already named and registered, you will have to complete a Transfer Of Ownership form, rather than a Registration form.
Once you have decided on a name, it is time to officially register your horse with the Registrar of Racehorses. Until this process is complete, your horse cannot race.
You have the horse, it has been named and registered – you are now only one step away from being ready to race.
Racing colours, commonly known as silks, are worn by the jockey during barrier trials and on race day to help identify your horse from those it is running against.
They consist of a jacket and a cap. The designing of a set of colours involves three distinct sections – the body of the jacket, the sleeves and the cap. Different colours and markings can be used for each of these sections.
Depending on your preference, you can design and register a set of your own colours or you can opt to race using your trainer’s colours. Syndicators often have their own set of silks which their horses race in – this is the fairest option when multiple owners are involved.
If designing your own, you must submit it to the relevant PRA for approval. Bear in mind that there are some restrictions. Block colours are rarely available and no two sets of registered silks are the same. For more information click here.
Racing colours can become iconic symbols in their own right. Think back to champions like Lonhro and Octagonal who raced in the Ingham family’s famous cerise silks or the bright blue with the white ‘M’ carried by all-conquering mare, Winx.
Combined with some racetrack success, a well-designed set of colours has the ability to become part of Australia’s racing history, so get creative and have a little fun.
A unique combination of factors makes Australia unique among the world’s major racing nations.
And the major beneficiary is the racehorse owner.
In the 2018-19 racing season the total return to racehorse owners from prizemoney, bonus schemes and other sources in Australia was in excess of $800 million, which equates to an average of about $42,000 for every race throughout the country.
Notably, prizemoney in Australia has increased by a massive 84% over the past decade, compared to the United States which has actually dropped by 4%.
What’s more, in Australia there is no barrier to racehorse ownership, a situation that doesn’t exist in Japan and Hong Kong.
Underpinning Australian prizemoney levels is the willingness of the population to have a bet – we average $862 per capita – along with sponsorship and lucrative bonus schemes funded by breeders.
Part of every dollar bet on racing was returned to the industry.
From the $15 million offered in The Everest to the most modest bush race, reward in Australia is more closely matched to risk than almost anywhere.
A Saturday race in Sydney is $125,000, in Melbourne $135,000 and Brisbane $75,000. One Saturday, city win will usually cover an owner’s annual training expenses.
To get a picture of what an owner is getting into, the 376 Australian race clubs staged 19,369 races in 2018/19. They were contested by 35,196 horses who collectively started 181,981 times.
The new owners of the 3,942 yearlings sold in Australia in 2020 paid $419 million for them. The total paid for all horses sold at public auction, including broodmares, was $518 million.
Prizemoney isn't the only source of rewards for owners. Australia has a booming stallion market, while the purchase price of the top 50 colts is much cheaper than Europe or the United States. Conversely, the average price of a service fee for the top 10 first season sires is greater than that of the United States or the United Kingdom.
Female horses can also have tremendous residual value. At the 2020 Magic Millions National Broodmare Sale, four race mares were sold for $2 million or greater, including $4.2 million for the Champion Sunlight (originally sold as a yearling for $300,000 and winner of over $6.5 million on the racetrack). At the 2020 Inglis Chairman’s Sale, In Her Time – passed in as a yearling for $38,000 – won $3.8 million in stakes – and was sold for $2 million.
And there is also a lucrative export market for even the moderately-performed galloper with 1,298 horses being shipped in 2019, most of them to New Zealand, Singapore and Hong Kong.
|Current Race Name||Dist M.||Prize$$||Age||Cond|
|MELBOURNE CUP, Gr1||3200||7,775,000||O||Hcp|
|QUEEN ELIZABETH STAKES, Gr1||2000||4,000,000||3YO&Up||WFA|
|GOLDEN SLIPPER STAKES, Gr1||1200||3,500,000||2-Y-O||SW|
|CAULFIELD CUP, Gr1||2400||5,000,000||O||Hcp|
|COX PLATE, Gr1||2040||5,000,000||3YO&Up||WFA|
|ALL STAR MILE||1600||5,000,000||O||WFA|
|DONCASTER HANDICAP, Gr1||1600||3,000,000||3YO&Up||Hcp|
|T J SMITH STAKES, Gr1||1200||2,500,000||O||WFA|
|MAGIC MILLIONS 2YO CLASSIC, RL||1200||2,000,000||2-Y-O||SW|
|MAGIC MILLIONS 3YO GUINEAS, RL||1400||2,000,000||3-Y-O||SWP|
|ATC AUSTRALIAN DERBY, Gr1||2400||2,000,000||3-Y-O||SW|
|SYDNEY CUP, Gr1||3200||2,000,000||O||Hcp|
|CAULFIELD GUINEAS, Gr1||1600||2,000,000||3-Y-O||SW|
|VICTORIA DERBY, Gr1||2500||2,000,000||3-Y-O||SW|
|MACKINNON STAKES, Gr1||2000||2,000,000||O||WFA|
|INGLIS MILLENNIUM, RL||1200||2,000,000||2-Y-O||SW|