There are schools where riders can learn to become jockeys. There are continuing education programs for trainers. But where does one learn about being a racehorse owner?
Minnesota's Canterbury Park has an unique answer to that question.
The Canterbury Racing Club is a not-for-profit partnership that gives casual racegoers a taste of ownership while educating them about racetrack life. All for $250 a year.
“We're trying to demystify the whole process for the fans and just give them a glimpse,” said Ted Grevelis, who will operate the racing club this year. “How do you prepare a racehorse? What are the costs involved?”
The club was started in 2009 by Jeff Maday, Canterbury's media relations manager. Maday said he was trying to come up with a way to introduce people to ownership without major expense or risk.
“It's hard to promote ownership as a racetrack,” Maday said. “The track really isn't in a position to suggest who a person uses as a trainer, and there really is no easy mechanism. If they go to the racing commission, all you get is forms and paperwork and you gotta do this, and you gotta do this. So this is a way to ease people in.”
The club collects from each member the $250 fee at the beginning of the season. That covers all horse purchases and expenses for the year. There's no chance of making a profit, but there's also no chance of losing more money, as can be the case when the bills mount for other owners.
The club has one licensed owner, and other members fall under partnership rules. The track, owned by a publicly-traded company, made the club a not-for-profit to avoid any potential issues with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Maday said some people have been put off by the lack of profit opportunity, but the club's membership has more than tripled since it began – from 40 members to around 160.
“Really, it's set up being an educational experience,” said Maday. “It's almost like paying tuition, essentially. We're teaching people about ownership.”
Grevelis said the club and its trainer, Clay Brinson, look for runners that aren't on the bottom level but aren't going to cost more than about $10,000 in a claiming race. With 160 members at $250 a piece, the club would have $40,000 to spend for the year, including the costs of caring for the stable.
“We look for a consistent sort, something that's going to run a few times over the summer, nice and sound, that maybe could give us a few trips to the winner's circle and give the people some excitement,” said Grevelis.
Last year, the club bought three horses in claiming races at Canterbury and another one at Hawthorne. The stable of four made a total of 11 starts, collecting four wins, two seconds and three thirds.
“We've been able to win at least one race every summer,” Grevelis said. “It's great when the club horse wins because so many fans come out, the winner's circle is flooded, and everybody's going crazy. It's just a very exciting experience for all these people. It really brings a lot of electricity to the racetrack.”
High Spirit wins for the Canterbury Racing Club, 8/30/2012
Of course, not everyone can pile into the winner's circle at once. The club divides members into groups for the paddock and racing experiences, as well as backside tours throughout the year. The $250 fee includes free admission to the track throughout the season.
But the primary way members stay connected is through the club's blog, which provides updates on the stable, workout videos, and informational posts about all aspects of racing and ownership. What happens when more than one owner puts in a claim? Why is floating a horse's teeth necessary? What is nicking?
At the end of each month, the blog includes a summary of all winnings and expenses, from jockey and trainer fees to vitamins and supplements.
“We're trying to be as open as we possibly can with everybody,” said Grevelis. “I've gotten a lot of emails from people saying, 'I really want to know what this is all about. I may want to do this on my own, and this is going to be a great first step.'”
Several members have gone on to form their own partnerships, which Maday said is the ultimate goal of the racing club. The club has never had a surplus at the end of the year, but it also hasn't run out of money. In fact, last year, the club returned $160 to each member, making their total investment for the year just $90.
“It's an inexpensive way to get involved to find out what goes on, the ups and the downs – and we've had plenty of both with our horses – and not get stung in the process,” Maday said.
At the end of each year, the club refreshes its barn, selling any horses that it still owns. In 2012, two of its runners were claimed (Downerbythemeadow and High Spirit), another (Great Bam) went to an ownership group that includes a former club member and the fourth, Lovely Tak, went to a current club member who is a local breeder.
“We want to sell them to people who are going to take care of them and race them,” Grevelis said. “And if their time has come to be retired, we'll take care of them through the Minnesota Retired Racehorse Project or if they're in Illinois, through one of the groups there to find good homes for them.”
Responsible horse ownership is one of the lessons Maday hopes people will learn through the racing club.
“Whenever someone asks me about ownership, one of the first questions I ask is, 'what are you going to do with the horse when its career is done?' That kind of makes people step back and think about it because I think it's the owner's responsibility to have a long-range plan for your horse.”
While the Canterbury Racing Club has never turned a “profit”, its prospects are much better this year. The racetrack's purses will nearly double, thanks to an agreement with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community that operates the nearby Mystic Lake Casino Hotel. If the year ends with a surplus, Grevelis said it would likely go to the Minnesota Retired Racehorse Project.
But the club's priorities are education and having fun. Members can say they own a racehorse and bring their friends to the track to see “their horse” run. It's a bonus if they get some of their money back.
As just about every Thoroughbred owner would attest, that should be lesson number one.
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