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Benefits of ownership
Wednesday, April 16, 2014 - by Ivan Axelrod

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In my last column I touched a little on my early introduction to horse racing and why I ultimately gravitated to harness racing. Each year I take a little time to think about all the reasons why I am so in love with harness racing and why I continue with this passion. 

For most of us, we have found a special connection with horses; something that draws us to them and provides a satisfaction we do not find anywhere else. My early years were primarily with Thoroughbreds and I always heard it called “The Sport of Kings.”  It seemed so cool to be doing anything that captured these words. 

But I also learned many years ago that while the Thoroughbred horse industry prides itself on this description, they left out the word “Rich.” Their industry is truly one for the rich and this limits their ability to broaden their ownership base and drive their future growth. 

I see what we have and I want to share this with everyone and let them know just how much fun, excitement and special times they can have if they just put their toe into harness racing and experience what we have to offer.  So we do not forget how special it is to be an owner of Standardbred racehorses, let me just do a little analysis of some of the key differences between harness racing and Thoroughbred racing.

How often do our horses race? 

USTA President Phil Langley, in an earlier Hoof Beats column, made a fascinating point.  The Thoroughbred industry breeds about four times the number of horses we breed each year, yet Standardbreds in total race more times each year than Thoroughbreds. 

How is this possible? 

Simply put, our horses race about 30 races per year and Thoroughbreds race maybe seven times.  How much fun can you have if your horse only races seven times?  I am sure when they call their trainer each week to get an update, it is a very short conversation.  I speak with my trainer at least once a week and since the beginning of January my three horses have started a total of 19 times and we are only in March.  Had they been Thoroughbreds they probably would not have more than this amount for the entire year. We are exciting and fast-paced, and for people today that want instant satisfaction, there is no comparison.

How sturdy are the horses? 

Catastrophic injuries to Standardbreds are rare.  Catastrophic injuries happen to Thoroughbreds too often. 

What are the costs associated with training? 

We incur training bills, veterinary expenses and other costs associated with training a racehorse.  The Thoroughbred training costs are substantially higher than those incurred in harness racing.  I hope my trainer does not read this and expect to increase my training bills.

Can you make a profit?   

The explosion of additional revenues from various areas of gambling have increased our purse pools substantially and racing jurisdictions with these added funds make it very possible to generate profits.  Shocking as it may sound, this is happening more and more. 

While these same benefits are available to the Thoroughbred industry, racing just seven times a year makes it more of a crapshoot if you will be able to earn enough since your training expenses continue during the entire time your horse is not racing.

How much of a profit?

This issue of Hoof Beats is focusing on our 3 year olds of 2014.  I picked a few of the featured stars in this issue and have listed their 2-year-old earnings and yearling sales prices.

Horse Name- Yearling Price- 2-Year-Old Earnings:

He’s Watching- $3,000- $291,722

Luck Be Withyou- $77,00- $359,417

Precocious Beauty- Homebred- $446,692


This is pretty impressive and while these are highlights, you can find many of our horses that have provided great rewards and satisfaction to their owners.  Do not think that you have to swing for the fences by purchasing an expensive yearling to be profitable.  I raced a $12,000-$15,000 claimer in Indiana last year and he earned $22,000 in 11 starts during the summer before being sold.  As an industry we have much to offer.


 How close can you get to a Standardbred? 


How many owners of Thoroughbreds have had a chance to ride them?  You probably have a smile on your face reading this one.  We all know that if you want to learn to drive a Standardbred you can do it.  In fact, our industry supports a significant amateur driving program allowing anyone the opportunity to compete in special races throughout the year. 

We are a sport that provides many great benefits to its owners.  You just need to say, “I want to do it.” Many years ago, I spent time learning how to take care of my horses and learned to jog them.  I would go out on the track for some training and the trainers would yell, “Watch out, here comes Axelrod.”  Could this happen with a Thoroughbred?

 Harness racing is a very special sport.  We have an industry to be proud of and many opportunities for owners that you cannot find in the Thoroughbred industry.    


I wish everyone a great summer of racing.

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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.