by Dean A. Hoffman
It’s a darn good thing that horses don’t know what they cost.
Otherwise He’s Watching might have had an inferiority complex before Saturday’s night $776,000 Meadowlands Pace. He was facing nine well-bred rivals, some of whom had sold far, far higher prices as yearlings.
And He’s Watching? He was overlooked and largely unwanted when he was a yearling, selling for only $3,000.
But it was the overlooked, underpriced He’s Watching that stood in the winner’s circle after the Meadowlands Pace. His winning share of the purse in that one race was $388,000 or almost 400 times what he cost his owners.
Many new people are enjoying harness horse ownership today as purses at harness tracks in the United States increased from $406 million in 2012 to $422 million last year. That compares with purses of just $354 million in 2006.
Yonkers Raceway in New York, not far from the Meadowlands, paid owners in excess of $63 million in purse money last year.
Purses are up significantly at many tracks across the United States and that has proven to be irresistible for many prospective owners. Some are embarking on ownership by participating in a partnership, a popular way to get started as an owner.
He’s Watching himself is owned in partnership by trainer Dave Menary, Brad Gray, Michael Guerriero, and the Muscara Racing Trust. The Meadowlands Pace champion is another star in a long line of horses that demonstrate you don’t need to be a money-bloated billionaire to find success as a harness racing owner. Sure, it helps to have some luck, but the price of admission to Standardbred ownership is within the reach of many butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. That’s because horses don’t know what they cost.
No one ever told He’s Watching, for example, that he wasn’t supposed to be a champion. He didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to beat the kids from the rich side of the tracks.
As a 2-year-old last year, however, He’s Watching beat high-priced horses, low-prices horses, and, in fact, every horse he faced. In eight starts, he made eight trips to the winner’s circle and was named champion of the year.
He’s Watching is hardly the only bargain- basement yearling to strike it rich in harness racing. A few years ago Mr Muscleman was one of the top trotters in North America for several seasons and traveled overseas to compete successfully against the best in Europe. A $2,000 yearling purchase, Mr Muscleman retired with earnings of more than $3.4 million.
That’s what most people call a profitable investment. And that’s just referring to the monetary return. There is no way to put a dollar value on the pride and joy the owners of Mr Muscleman took in watching him race.
Or what about the pacing mare Southwind Tempo? She sold at auction for only $3,500 and went on to earn right at $2.4 million in her distinguished career.
Another shining example of the value to be found in harness racing is Eagle All, an eight-year-old racing currently at Yonkers Raceway. He was a mere $700 investment as a yearling and has a career bankroll of $605,019.
Harness racing history is replete with similar stories. Exactly a half-century ago, Nova Scotia owner Duncan MacDonald bought an overlooked yearling filly for $900 at the same Harrisburg sale where He’s Watching was sold. MacDonald planned to ship her to his home track in Nova Scotia, but he discovered that the shipping costs would be more than he paid for the filly. Instead he shipped her to trainer Sanders Russell in Alabama.
Starting in 1965 and continuing through 1972, this $900 filly named Fresh Yankee competed with class and consistency over many years and many tracks (in the US, Canada, and Europe). She ended her career with earnings of $1,294,252 which is equal to almost $7.4 million in today’s dollars.
Throughout many decades, Standardbreds have been the “Everyman’s Horse,” the race horse that the average person could afford to buy. Most Standardbreds race on a weekly basis while many Thoroughbreds race perhaps once a month. Since the real joy of horse ownership is the thrill of seeing your horse compete, the Standardbred offers far great value to owners than a Thoroughbred.
The United State Trotting Association offers ample information to prospective harness horse owners. As with any investment, it is not something you should do on a whim. A wanna-be owner should get as much information as possible before writing that first check. Research the all costs of ownership. Talk to other owners. Speak with trainers. Consider a partnership.
There are no guarantees in horse ownership, just as there are no guarantees if you bet on a horse. But if you think the thrill is great when you cash a winning bet, you’ll find that the greatest thrill in racing is standing next to your horse in the winner’s circle.