Many people think the first thing they need to do is pick their trainer. If you are buying a young horse, that may not be necessarily so. Not all trainers have the time to go to sales and pick out young horses and even those that do often team up with a bloodstock agent because their time is limited. You may acquire your horse through the services of an advisor/bloodstock agent or sometimes even the farm manager where you plan to board your horse. Your young horse first must be broken at a farm or training center, learn the basics, and put on some fitness prior to actually being sent to its trainer at a racetrack for the first time. Agents tend to work with multiple farms and trainers and can give recommendations of both to get you started.
On the other hand if you are going into the claiming game, the very first thing you need to do is line up your trainer.
Selecting a trainer is one of the most important decisions that a Thoroughbred owner has to make. In fact, your level of enjoyment of the sport and the success that you experience are very often dependent on a strong owner/trainer relationship. Good chemistry between owner and trainer is vital, as is good communication, honesty and integrity and a set of guidelines that all parties understand and adhere to.
In selecting a trainer there are three basic factors you will need to weigh:
- How much will your budget allow (a trainer’s success rate raises or lowers his “day rate” or price). On the top circuits such as Southern California and New York, day rates run $90 per day and up. Day rates vary by region and can be drastically affected by local workers compensation laws, costs of feed/labor etc. Day rates at training centers and farms tend to be considerably less than at a racetrack.
- How much hands-on participation you want and expect?
- Picking the trainer that best suits your own taste and philosophy (especially on medication issues).
An additional consideration is that there are trainers with definite specialties: training young or difficult horses; bringing horses back from injury; developing 2-yr-olds, fillies vs. colts; turf horses or sprinters; or claiming horses. Size of their barn can also be a consideration. If you are a one-horse owner new to the business, stick with a smaller barn. The leading trainers may have a 60-horse stable. Your best horse may be something that is going to run for claiming $50,000. In a large barn filled with quality stakes winners and allowance horses, your horse is just another horse. However in the barn of a perhaps up-and-coming young trainer with 15-20 horses, your horse may be in the top 5 and get more attention.
You should go out to the racetrack and interview prospective trainers. When setting up an appointment with a trainer, the optimum time and location is at mid-morning at his or her barn. This way you can see the staff in action and with the horses, check that the barn is orderly, tidy and that the trainer and his/her assistant know every horse by sight and seem knowledgeable about the individuals (ask questions about the individual horses). Additionally, see if the horses appear happy (do they pin their ears as you walk by the stalls, sulk in the back of the stalls, or are they up at the front of the stalls eating or investigating you?). Are they in good weight with healthy shiny dappled coats?
- What is your philosophy of training? (listen well)>/li>
- How much contact do you think is appropriate between an owner and trainer?
- How shall we communicate and in what situations given the age of smart phones?
- Who should call/text/email whom and at what times of day and how many days per week?
- Will you automatically contact me via phone, text or email the day before if the horse is going to work?
- How and when will you contact me if the horse or is sick, or if something is developing with its physical condition or training program that may change plans previously discussed?
- Are you likely to include me, or consult with me on the selection of races for my horse?
- What is your “day rate” per horse? (The day rate is a necessity as each horse requires hours of attention daily from a variety of staff members. Please remember that it costs as much, if not more to condition and train a “cheap” horse as an expensive one.)
- What does your day rate include? (Items usually covered are feed; grooming; exercise riders; ponies for workout, paddock and gate schooling; hotwalking; vitamins; bandaging and similar “supplies”; the assistant trainer’s fee and your share of Worker’s Compensation Insurance for every employee in the barn. The day rate DOES NOT include: farrier (shoeing) expenses, veterinarian costs and transport.
- What is your average vet bill per horse per month? Will you call/warn/consult with me on major veterinarian expenses?
- What is your background; how much hands on experience have you had and who “taught” you?
- Trainers normally receive 10% of the earnings of your horse no matter where it places. When a horse wins the change is normally higher so that the barn staff can also has an incentive to get horses into the winner’s circle. Make sure to ask what percentage is that is charged on winning horses. (The usual charge is 10% share for the trainer plus 1-3% for the barn help, or a flat percentage of 12-13% which includes everyone.)
- Am I invited to visit the barn and see my horse at will or am I restricted?
A few simple “wisdoms” which will help you with your all-important relationship with your trainer are:
- Be honest to the point of bluntness.
- Remember “luck” and avoid the temptation to blame.
- When in doubt, don’t suspect….ask.
- When you ask, listen.
- Be open about your intentions; i.e., if you plan to enlist other trainers for your horses, SAY SO.
- If at any point you find you don’t trust your trainer, you should, both for the trainer’s sake and yours, GET ANOTHER.
For another listing of suggested questions to ask a trainer, check out TOBA’s OwnerView comprehensive web site, in particular the section on selecting agents, trainers and other professionals which includes valuable information about how to buy your first racehorse, ownership seminars and answers to questions about ownership.