Just about everyone in the harness industry has an acquaintance or two or three who owns Thoroughbreds. Do the game a favor: Pick up the phone, call your friends and tell them they are in the wrong business. The Thoroughbred sport may be more popular and have a lot more deep-pocketed owners (oh, to have Sheikh Mohammed showing up at Harrisburg), but it's a sucker's game, at least when compared to harness racing.
Any way you want to look at it or measure it, owning a Standardbred makes a lot more economic sense than owning a Thoroughbred. Sure, every once in a while someone buys a Seattle Slew, turning a few thousand dollars into hundreds of millions, but, by and large, the average Thoroughbred owner is getting creamed. I know it's not exactly easy to make money owning harness horses, but it's doable. Like them or loathe them, the slot machines at places like Yonkers, Dover, Woodbine, Mohawk, the Meadows and Pocono have pumped a ton of money into purses.
A few numbers to consider:
The 24 most expensive standardbred yearlings sold at US auctions in 2008 cost a combined $5,617,000. Thus far, they have returned $4,034,493 on the track, or a .718 return on investment. Considering that Muscle Massive, who tops the list, is now a stallion standing at a fee of $10,000 and that Poof She's Gone has become a very valuable broodmare, it's not hard to conclude that the top sellers of 2008, as a group, came out ahead for their owners
Though the numbers could be better, look at what happened to the priciest Thoroughbred yearlings sold in 2008. The top 24 Thoroughbreds cost a combined $31.2 million and have thus far returned $579,621. That a meager .019 return on investment.
All things being equal, the typical Standardbred is almost guaranteed of making more money racing than the typical Thoroughbred.
There were 12,200 Standardbreds born in North America in 2007. In 2010, the combined purses in the U.S. and Canada were $613,470,900. That's a ratio of $50,284 per horse for the 2007 foal crop for Standardbreds that were born in North America.
Thoroughbreds raced for a lot more money, but there are a lot more Thoroughbreds. Thoroughbred purses in North America were roughly $1.2 billion in 2010. In 2007, 36,1000 Thoroughbreds were born in North America. That's a ratio of just $33,333 per foal.
It's easy to see why the economics are so much better in harness racing. It's not just the purse levels but the durability of the horses. Standardbreds average 17 starts per year per horse and even modestly talented horses can pile up a lot of earnings. Thoroughbreds average six starts per year. When you don't run, you're not making money.
So convert a Thoroughbred guy. Sign Sheikh Mohammed and John Magnier up for Hoof Beats. Start a marketing campaign: "Standardbreds, More Bang For the Buck" or "Stop the Insanity, Buy a Trotter."
At the very least, when times are tough or your $200,000 yearling can't break 2:05, don't lose this thought, "It could be worse. I could own Thoroughbreds."