Home > Running Down a Dream > Chapter 8 – What is Staking

Running Down a Dream
Bob Carson takes new owners from sales ring to turnout
written by Bob Carson

Chapter 8 – What is Staking
'Money For Nothing'
By Dire Straits, 1985

Photo Source: Wikipedia

March 2, 2011


You may be getting a bit antsy. Why aren’t the horses racing now? When is the action? What is the overall game plan? As in a lot of things, it’s complicated.

Doug, a group member, likes basketball. This sentence does not tell us much. Does Doug like to play or gamble on basketball?  Is he a fan, or a team owner?  What level of basketball does he enjoy; playground, male, female, high school, small college, big college, intramural, professional, international?

Horse racing is similar. If you say you enjoy racing horses, it doesn’t tell much. In the horse racing world there are different breeds, different gaits, racing at local racetracks, stakes racing, claiming racing and amateur racing.

Jim and I choose to participate in what is referred to as stakes racing. It’s a little tricky to explain.

Stakes racing is for young horses. It is a high-risk, expensive segment of the racing spectrum.  In stakes racing we can only race our horses at ages 2 and 3. Yeah, this is sort of sad. You will grow attached to Fantail and Mariko, and then will have to watch them sold or retired.  At least we have control over where we sell them and most of our horses have been sold to become mothers.

In stakes racing, your horse only competes against horses that are the same sex, the same age and the same gait.  For example, Mariko Hanover is a 2-year-old, trotting filly (female).  This year, all of her races will be with “2YO trotting fillies”.    It’s like if you tried out for your high school girl’s freshmen volleyball team.  You would only compete with freshmen girls, you don’t need to worry about six-foot, eight-inch senior boys on the track team. The good news in stakes racing is that Mariko and Fantail only need to worry about classmates of their own sex. 

The bad news is we have to pay to play.  And we have to pay the money early, long before we know how good the fillies will be.  In stakes racing players buy a baby horse, put money into a pot, and then compete against each other to take some of that money home.

Here is an example.  When we bought Mariko Hanover, at the bottom of her pedigree page was a list of stakes engagements.
Delvin Miller Adios
Arden Downs
Bluegrass Series
Breeders Crown
Cane Pace
Cleveland Classic
Great Mid-West
Max Hempt Memorial
Historic Series
Hoosier Stake
Horseman No. 104
International Stallion
Little Brown Jug
Manitoba Great Western
Penna. Sires (Pari-Mutuel)
Penna. Sires (Fair)
Progress Pace
Reynolds Memorial
Art Rooney Pace
John Simpson
Tattersalls Pace

These are races that will be held later this summer and fall.   Mariko CAN enter any of them.  Some of these races are for hundreds of thousands of dollars.  However, when the races come around, Mariko can only race IF we have paid to make her eligible (and sometimes to keep her eligible in a second round of staking).

For example, one race we always choose is the Arden Downs.  Mariko’s race in the Arden Downs will take place many months from today, on July 25th at The Meadows Racetrack.  The purse will probably be $20,000 to $30,000 per division.  She will only race against her age, her sex and her gait (trotter).  Sounds easy?  It is neither easy nor cheap to get to race in this race.

To be eligible to race in the Arden Downs we must send in a check for $200 by March 15.  Within thirty days of the race we must prove Mariko can trot a mile in two-minutes and five seconds (no easy feat).  Finally, to enter the race we must pay a starting fee of $400.  Should we pay stakes eligibility money and Mariko does not make it (as often happens) the money will not be returned to us.

Each of these stakes engagements is like a poker game, a game where you must ante up well before your cards are dealt.  You must stay in the game all the way until the final card.

It would cost a ridiculous amount to enter them all.  Jim and I will choose about six or seven races and our costs to stake the horse for future races will be about $2,000 per horse. When we finalize the list of races we are going to make the fillies eligible for I will forward you a copy.

Another aspect to consider at the end of our little experiment will be if this type of racing is for you.  It may not be. You may not want to choose unproven, baby horses.  You may not want to wait the interminable months between the sale and the first race. You might not like the added expenses.  No problem.  Harness horse racing offers other categories (claiming races) where you can buy a racehorse one week and watch the horse race the following week.

Thinking about jumping into horse ownership?

E-mail owners@ustrotting.com and we will get you more information to get started in the racing game. Click here to share this story with a friend.

Editor's Note: The views contained in this column are that of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association.

Bob Carson
Hoof Beats Magazine About the Author
Bob Carson's award-winning freelance writing has appeared in more than two dozen national publications. He is a steady contributor to Trot Magazine, The United States Trotting Association and Timeline Magazine. After more than 200 magazine articles and stories, his first novel, The Voyage of Mess (humor) was released in 2009. In 2005 he produced the documentary film, Touching Home (Minor League Baseball). In 2006 he received the Hervey Award for Journalistic Excellence and Best of Ohio Fiction awards. He has published Minor Trips (Minor League Baseball) since 1991. Bob Carson has owned harness horses for more than a decade, including a stint as a weekend trainer. He lives in Strongsville, Ohio, with his wife, Sue, and daughter, Katie.
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