My Soapbox for Equestrian Writings

Big Brown’s Future is Set, but what about other Racehorses?

After a smoking win in the Preakness, Big Ben’s owners revealed that his retirement to stud is already set. According to an article in yesterday’s New York TImes:

The $50 Million Horse

It’s true Big Brown’s stallion rights were sold to Three Chimneys Farm for more than $50 million. Michael Iavarone, the president of International Equine Acquisitions Holdings and co-owner of Big Brown, confirmed he signed a deal after a week of negotiations en route to Pimlico today.

Three Chimneys already stands 2004’s almost-Triple-Crown-champion Smarty Jones, who commands $100,000 a mating and sees 110 mares a season. Iavarone says Big Brown will not run as a 4-year-old. If he wins the Belmont and becomes the first Triple Crown champion since Affirmed in 1978, he probably won’t run again.

The view of racing that the average person gets is influenced heavily by the phenomenal successes of horses like Big Brown and the tragedies of Eight Belles and Barbaro. The truth for most race horses is nothing like either of these extremes.

An article in the Thoroughbred Times examined the racing history of the crop of foals born in North America between 1990-99 using the Jockey Club database. The data provides an interesting picture of what is in store for the average racehorse.

  • Of the 360,741 named foals born during this period, 71% of them started somewhere in the world during their racing careers.
  • Only 48.1% of named foals won a race and only 36.9% won two races.
  • 13,208 horses, 3.7% of the total foals born (5.2% of all starters) were stakes winners.
  • Graded stakes winners was an even smaller number — 0.8% of foals born.
  • 34.7% of named foals started at the age of 2. Of those, 11.6% won a race.
  • More than 60% of named foals started at age 3.
  • The average foal races 15 times in his career; those sound enough to race started an average of career of 21 starts.
  • Average winning distance was 6.8 furlongs
  • Males had higher average earnings than females approximately $7,700 higher than the $41,475 while females earned about $8,000 lower than the mean.

While $40K in lifetime earnings seems like a lot, keeping a racehorse costs approximately $20K per year, so for many owners, they are lucky to break even!

And what happens to these horses? Unfortunately, with the costs of keeping a horse being high, and with the average thoroughbred running only 21 times, many of these horses have short racing careers and need to be re-homed.

For many of them, the future is not as bright as that to be enjoyed by Big Brown. Far too many end up at auctions where they are sold for slaughter. The lucky ones are retrained as riding horses — or, if unsound, find homes as companion horses.

There are some terrific organizations that work tirelessly (and without pay) to help these racehorses find new homes. All of them deserve your support both in celebration and in remembrance of these exquisite athletes. I, myself, have a retired racehorse that I adopted from CANTER New England and can recommend the organization and their expertise highly!

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