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Racehorses: How Much do They Cost? They’re Not Cheap!

Last updated: October 3, 2022

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

Who wouldn’t love to own a horse running in the Kentucky Derby? The history of the race, the prestige, and everything surrounding the competition is exciting. The first step in reaching this goal is to buy a horse. So, we need to find out how much racehorses costs.

The cost of racehorses varies greatly depending on their pedigree and conformation. The average sales price of a racehorse is $76,612. The average price for a two-year-old thoroughbred in training is $94,247, and the average cost for a yearling is $84,722.

Racehorse prices are relative to the overall economy; when times are good, horse prices rise. The money you spend to buy your horse is just the beginning, you have monthly training fees, vet bills, and transportation costs looming.

Picture of yearlings in a field. These are all from successful racehorse families.
Yearlings for sale

What was the most expensive horse ever sold?

When watching the Kentucky Derby, the announcer usually mentions a cinderella story in the field of horses running. But I would like to know what is the record sales price for a horse.

Fusaichi Pegasus is the most expensive horse ever sold; his price tag; is nearly seventy million dollars. He was initially purchased as a yearling for four million dollars and won six races, including the 2000 Kentucky Derby.

The same year he was sold, he started his new career as a stud. Fusaich Pegasus hasn’t performed up to expectations, and in 2020 his stud fee was reduced to $ 7,500. For comparison, American Pharoah’s stud fees start at $200,000, and Tapit demands $300,000.

Tapit offspring have proven themselves on the track and in the sales ring. At the recent Keenland yearling sale, a Tapit filly sold for 1.2 million, enough to make her the high seller.

Now that you have sticker shock, I’ll explain the different ways racehorses are purchased and give some tips on getting the best price in the rest of the article.

How to get the best price on a racehorse.

Owning a winning racehorse is a unique and thrilling experience. To feel this excitement, you first must acquire a horse. Racehorses can be purchased from a private owner, claimed, or at auction.

Picture of a herd of female racehorse prospects.
Thoroughbred yearlings

You may get the best price from a private owner.

Frequently you get the best deals from a private owner. Horses entered into an auction can be purchased from the owners anytime before the auction begins. A private sale removes the risk and commissions of an auction.

I often get asked to look at racing prospects. Sometimes owners think too much of their young horses, but often you can get a good prospect at a bargain price. I’m friends with one breeder that raises forty or more racing prospects each year.

He sells his yearlings out of the field. We ride around his pastures and point out the ones we are interested in, and he gives us their pedigree. If they have a strong family, we negotiate a price. Often his prices are well below market value.

Owners may be going through financial hardships or divorce and have to sell horses at a reduced price. There are numerous reasons an owner wants to sell his horses; some can work to your advantage.

A friend of ours bought a horse from an owner who owed an outstanding balance to the horse’s trainer. He paid less than $10,000 to the trainer, and the horse went on to have a very successful racing career.

On another occasion, an owner had an injured yearling that he wasn’t sure would recover and wanted to sell the colt for $1,500, the amount he spent on vet bills. The horse fully recovered and turned out to be a nice racehorse.

Let people know you’re in the market for a racehorse

To find the best deals, you need to know people in the horse industry. If you don’t already know some, then go to racetracks and training facilities and introduce yourself.

Let everyone you meet know you are interested in purchasing a racehorse. You will likely get inundated with prospects.

Be prudent when buying from a private seller, and do your due diligence on the horse and seller. There are some unscrupulous people in the horse racing industry.

If you are not confident in your ability to check a horse, then find someone to help you even if you have to pay. In the long run, it could save you a lot of money.

Always negotiate the price; sellers have room to move down. If you get to an agreed price, put the agreement in writing and include language that sale is contingent on the horse passing a vet check.

Picture of a sorrel yearling at an auction.
Picture of a sorrel yearling at auction.

The cost of buying a racehorse at auction.

Auctions are a great way to buy a horse. The sale provides a catalog with useful information about each horse, including details about its sire and dam.

You should spend time reviewing the catalog, marking horses you have an interest in, and scratching out horses you can eliminate. You may also want to write yourself a note on how much you think the animal should bring during the sale.

When the bidding starts, it’s easy for your emotions to get ahead of your brain. I fell in love with a yearling and got into a bidding war that went well above the price I intended.

Most auctions allow a few days to view the horses before the sale begins. Early viewing is an excellent opportunity to spend time seeing the horse up close. You can watch the horse walk, feel its knees, and get an idea of its temperament.

Picture of a two year old horse
Two-year-old Thoroughbred

At the two-year-old in training auctions, you can watch workouts.

The horses have workouts at the two-year-old in training auctions in the days leading up to the sale. The works allow prospective buyers to evaluate how horses move on the track before bidding on them.

The most prestigious thoroughbred auction in the world is Keeneland’s September Yearling Sale. The auction runs three days and, in 2019, sold 2,855 yearlings for $360,004,700 averaging $126,096 per horse.

Purchasers come from across the world for the chance to buy one of these well-bred yearlings. Representatives from 25 countries were at the sale, and the leading purchaser was Godolphin stables from Dubai; they purchased ten horses for $16,000,000. 

Keeneland had twenty-two yearlings sell for seven figures, including the sales topper, a filly sold for 8.2 million dollars. Horses purchased at The Keeneland auction sell for the highest prices but also produce the highest level of racehorses in the world.

Picture of a horse we recently bought as a three-year-old.
Picture of a three-year-old filly we bought at Louisiana Downs

The costs and risk of claiming a racehorse.

Claiming races provides an opportunity to purchase a horse already racing. All horses entered in a claiming race are for sale for a price designated by the track steward and published before the race.

Parties that want to purchase a horse in the race notify the racing secretary. If more than one person claims the same horse, the names are drawn to determine which person gets the horse.

You have to be careful when claiming a horse. Sometimes owners and trainers will drop a horse into a claiming race that is lame. Their hope is to unload the horse on an unsuspecting buyer.

If you have an interest in claiming a horse, do your homework, not only on the horse but also on the trainer and owner. Gather as much information as possible.

If you do your due diligence, claiming horses is a great way to get introduced to horse racing. You avoid the costs associated with training a yearling and dive right into racing.

Training and upkeep for a racehorse is expensive.

Now that you have bought your racehorse, you can expect to spend an additional $30,000 to $50,000 annually for training, vet bills, and other associated expenses.

The rates trainers charge vary greatly.

Most trainers charge a day rate to keep a horse in training; this is your most significant expense (unless your horse has serious medical problems). Day rates range from $60 a day at smaller tracks to $120 for large tracks and more prestigious trainers.

Day rates typically include housing, feed, general upkeep, and transportation. Be sure to clearly understand what is and is not included in a trainer’s day rate before agreeing to use him.

You don’t want to be surprised at the end of the month. Budget $2,500 a month for training fees.

One thing you can count on is veterinarian expenses

You can count on your horse needing some veterinarian care. In my experience, the more expensive the horse, the more likely it is to have some medical issues requiring a vet’s attention. A good veterinarian is essential to the well-being of a successful racehorse. Budget $500 a month for veterinarian care.

All racehorse wear horseshoes

Good feet on a horse is paramount to successful racing. You have to keep your horses’ feet trimmed and shoed properly. Good farriers are in demand and typically charge $120 to shoe a horse.

Most horses in training need their shoes changed twice a month, and some horses get reshod before each race. Budget $300 per month for farrier expenses.

Insurance premiums for a racehorse is typically five percent of its value

You have a lot of money invested in your horse, so you need an insurance policy in place to cover the horse for an injury or death. Insurance coverage usually is five percent of the value of the horse.

The five percent premium provides annual coverage. If your horse is valued at $30,000, your premium is $1,500 per year. Budget $125 per month for insurance.

Expect other expenses associated with owning a racehorse

In addition to the above costs, you may have to pay nomination, licensing, entry, and mount fees. These additional expenses can add up to a substantial amount. Budget $600 per month for other expenses.

What is the entry fee for Kentucky Derby?

Thousands of yearlings are purchased with dreams of winning the Kentucky Derby each year. But the first step is to become a competitor in the race.

The Kentucky Derby has an entry fee and a starting fee; they are $25,000 each per The Downey Profile. To be eligible for the Kentucky Derby, horses have to be nominated. Early nomination fees are $600, and late nomination fees are $6,000.

In 2013 a point system was established to determine the Kentucky Derby field. The top twenty point earners of eligible horses are awarded a spot at the starting gates. Eligible horses are those that have paid their nomination fee.


Is owning a racehorse profitable?

There are ways to be profitable in the horse racing industry, but there is a greater chance you’ll lose money. Many people invest in horse racing because they enjoy the sport, and they have a chance to hit it big with the next Kentucky Derby winner.
In this article, you can read about the different ways people make money owning racehorses: Can You Make Money Owning a Racehorse?

What is the cheapest horse?

It’s not uncommon to find horses offered to good homes for free. My son-in-law recently got a nice quarter horse mare given to him by an older gentleman who could no longer ride. Former racehorses, especially geldings, are often offered for sale cheap or given away. But realize even a free horse has costs associated with its upkeep.

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Miles Henry

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