How to invest in thoroughbred horses and other racehorses

From betting online to buying stock in horse racing track operator or buying your own horse, there are lots of ways to invest in thoroughbred horses.

Investing in racehorses requires a level of commitment that chases away most amateurs. But, no matter what your level of interest, there are ways to get involved in the Sport of Kings. Here are a handful:

1) Bet at the track or online. The simplest way is to head to the nearest racetrack, buy a race card and place your bets in person. Typically, you’ll be able to bet on live minor league races that take place at your local track, or you can bet on national races (which are shown on TVs at the track) via simulcast. It’s also legal to bet on horses online in more than a dozen states including California. Some of the leading online horse betting sites include TVG.com, Twin Spires and The Racing Channel.

2) Invest in horse racing-related stocks. There are lot of companies that promise exposure to horse racing – namely through the companies that operate horse racing tracks. One of my favorites is Churchill Downs, Inc. (NASDAQ:CHDN), which runs the Kentucky Derby and recently reported record revenue on the strength on surging growth in its online betting service (at TwinSpires.com). Other horse racing-related stocks include Penn National Gaming, Inc (NASDAQ:PENN) and MTR Gaming Group, Inc. (NASDAQ:MNTG).

3) Buy a horse. Thoroughbreds are bred to do one thing: race. To even buy one, you need to register and be approved as a thoroughbred owner in your state. Once you’re approved, you’ll need to pay annual dues to your state thoroughbred owners association. In exchange, you’ll get the opportunity to bid on thoroughbreds at auction. Once you have one, you can expect to pay about $1000 per month in food and maintenance. On top of that, training costs will start around $2,000 a month on the low end (per Stanley Barton at Seeking Alpha). Investing in quarterhorses is cheaper but the payout is smaller and so is the number of tracks that host quarterhorse racing.

4) “Claim” a horse. One of the ways horse tracks try to ensure that races are fair is by forcing owners to set a “claim” price for their horses. About half of all horse races have a “claim price” a horse owner must agree to before entering his or her horse in a race. If the claim price is, say, $20,000, that means the owner of that horse is legally obligated to sell the horse to any buyer for $20,000 before the start of the race.

“About half of all races at North American tracks are claiming races,” Barton writes. “The claiming price can range from as low as $2,000 to hundreds of thousands, although the majority are between $5,000 and $50,000.”

Interestingly, you must “claim” a horse before the race. If the horse wins, the proceeds go to the current owner, then you get to take the horse home for what you hope will be a bright future full of more racing.

5) Enter a thoroughbred partnerships. Horse ownership partnerships provide a unique way of distributing the high cost of owning and racing a horse. Team Valor is one company among many that offers investors an opportunity to buy an ownership stake in a horse. Team Valor also produced the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom. According to the site’s Q&As, the average cost to go in on a horse goes “from a low of $6,000, with a median of $12,500 and as high as $75,000 to $100,000.” Should the horse win a purse, you’ll split the winnings between the six and 12 other investors in the horse.

Horse racing is called the Sport of Kings because it’s anything but cheap. If you genuinely have a love for the sport, though, it’s rewarding even without the prospect of financial gain. Every dollar you earn after that is icing on the cake – and, if you find the right horse – it might make for a lot of icing.

One of the most famous racehorses of all time, Secretariat, brought in more than $145 million in winnings and stud fees starting in 1973. Seattle Slew is estimated to have made north of $200 million at stud after being sold at auction for a mere $17,500, according to Barton. That’s the stuff of legend, and it’s part of what makes investing in horses so tantalizing. Just remember that whether you wind up with a winner or loser, the costs to get your horse to the track are very real.

Horse photo by Danagouws.

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