Getting In The Game: New Owner Seminars make racehorse ownership a reality

by Tim Bojarski

Many current Standardbred owners got their start by attending the races as fans before realizing they wanted to get involved as owners. And that progression remains the same today as people become consumed with the sport the more they see it.

At every racetrack, there are a percentage of fans who want to buy a horse, but have no idea of how to go about doing it. And without a connection in the game to help them take the next step, many never get involved.

In an effort to bridge the gap and embrace that group of potential buyers, the USTA has created the framework to present new owner seminars and provide full support to those running them. These can be held at any track by management or any horsemen’s group that is willing to open the door of Standardbred ownership to the general public.

USTA publications provided include “How to Conduct a Seminar,” which is a guideline that suggests the order of topics to be discussed. It also outlines people you should include on your panel like trainers, drivers and other current owners. Another is “A Winning Combination” which is the guidebook to be used during the seminar. This discusses every aspect of horse ownership from choosing a trainer to type of horse to monthly bills and expected results.

Then, the USTA creates event-specific ads for your group to use to promote the event. Whether it’s for the program, a website or Facebook page, they will tailor it to fit your needs and include all pertinent information.

A landing page will also be created where people who want to register may do so and the entire event is promoted by the USTA on their website, Facebook page and all other social media outlets, including the Harness Racing FanZone.

A successful new owner seminar was held at Batavia Downs this past October in conjunction with the Harness Horse Breeders of New York State (HHBNYS). This organization is one of the most proactive in the sport and has an extensive new owner program of their own. Batavia Downs is relentless in promoting the sport in western New York and hosts dozens of events each year to bring fans to the track to watch live racing.

The synergy between the USTA, HHBNYS and Batavia Downs produced an effective program. Through their combined advertising and use of social media, 23 people signed up and attended. This was one of the highest numbers of people to ever sit in on a presentation of this type.

A two-hour classroom session provided a plethora of information on the topic, including many books and pamphlets provided by the HHBNYS to each attendee about ownership, breeding and staking, as well as state specific materials like licensing forms and tax information.

Several popular local trainers and drivers were included in the conversation and questions from the crowd came faster than they could be answered.

The group was then taken on a paddock and barn tour and watched close-up as the horses were readied for the night’s action. There was a lot of spontaneous interaction with local horsemen during that time that everyone appreciated.

All were then taken to the clubhouse for dinner and later visited the winner’s circle to have their picture taken with the winning horse.

The entire experience was created to show what it feels like to be an actual owner. The feedback from the fans was exceptional. Of the 23 people attending (this included five couples with significant others), three became immediate players. One has already gotten his owner’s license and has purchased a horse. Two others are currently in talks with trainers about how they can get involved. Inquiries after the fact from yet another two have now been received.

The main principals of this event were equally enthused about the program’s results.

“I thoroughly enjoy doing new owner seminars and sharing the information is very rewarding to me,” said Betty Holt, executive director of the HHBNYS. “Planting the seeds and watching them grow helps those who want to get into the sport, as well as the sport itself.”

“Based on how well the seminar was received, it would be something we would look to do again next year,” said Todd Haight, general manager of live racing at Batavia Downs. “We were very happy to partner with the USTA and the HHBNYS on this and it produced real results. So in the end, everyone will benefit.”

This one event reflects a 5 percent–and possible 15 percent–rate of new owner participation based on the number of participants in the seminar. Imagine what could be generated if more tracks and organizations took the time and initiative to hold this type of seminar.

For more information on how you can conduct a seminar at your track or farm, please contact the USTA Owner Concierge Team at

This article first appeared in the December 2016 issue of Hoof Beats magazine.

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