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What Is a Claiming Race? The Rules and Its Definition.

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When we invited some friends to watch our racehorse run in a claiming race, they asked, “what is a claiming race”? As I explained this, I wondered how many other people might not understand claiming races, so I decided to write an article to describe this unique horseracing event.

A claiming race is a horse race in which the horses running are all for sale. The purpose is to make races more competitive by matching horses of equal value. Claiming races are the most common horse races at most horse racing tracks.

Claiming a horse is not difficult; however, you need to know a lot before jumping into the horse-claiming business. Let’s get started with some of the basics.

claiming race, horse racing,
Picture of our quarterhorse mare after she won a claiming race.

What is a claiming race?

If you’re new to horse racing, claiming races can be a little confusing. This section explains everything you need to know about claiming races. I’ll cover what they are, how they work, and the benefits and risks of participating in them.

By the end of this post, you’ll clearly understand how claiming races work and whether or not they are right for you and your horse.

In general, a claiming race allows people to buy a racehorse running in a race. It’s a unique opportunity not available in any other sport. But there are many rules you must follow and things you need to know before you claim a horse.

How do claiming races work?

In horse racing, a claiming race is a particular type in which the horses are for sale at a set price. If a person submits a valid claim, they own the horse after the competition. If more than one person puts in a claim, the horse goes to the winner of a shake. Here’s how it all works:

Most tracks follow standard claiming rules.

First, we will examine some general rules for claiming a horse. These rules may vary slightly at different tracks, but basically, these rules are constant.

To claim a horse, you must be a licensed racehorse owner or an agent registered at the track and have a horse or horses running at the track the horse is being claimed. There are also provisions to allow horse owners recorded at other tracks to make a unique application to claim a horse.

There is usually a minimum amount set for the claiming price. Typically, the claiming price will not be less than half the purse awarded for the race.

There are restrictions put on claimed horses.

After a horse is claimed, restrictions are put on the claimed horse. If a horse is claimed, it may not be allowed to start in another claiming race or sold for 30 days from the claim’s date.

Certain exceptions are made depending on the track rules. Keeping a horse from starting a race for 30 days after being claimed is referred to as being in jail.

Claims must be in writing.

Claims must be in writing, sealed in an envelope, and deposited in a locked box provided by the racing secretary, at least 10 minutes before post time. Each person desiring to make a claim must deposit the entire amount of the application with the racing secretary. Once a claim is submitted, it is irrevocable.

At most tracks, the claiming box is kept on a desk inside the horse racing office. The person who has adequately submitted his claim will become the owner of the horse when the race starts; however, you may void the claim for a cause in certain instances:
(1) the claim is voidable if the age or sex of the claimed horse has been misrepresented, or
(2) the claimed horse dies during a race or is euthanized on the track following a race; and
(3) a claim is voidable by the new owner for one hour after the race is made official for any horse vanned off the track after a race.

A “shake” determines who gets the horse.

If more than one person submits a claim on a horse, the successful claimant is determined by lot. The process of determining the winner of the claim is called a “shake.” Each claimant will be assigned a number, and the winner will be chosen randomly.

Each horse claimed in a race must take a blood and urine test. The new owner can void the claim if the horse tests positive for a banned drug. The horse will be returned to the original owner if the claim is negated.

The horse’s owner, at the start of the race, is paid the winnings, if any.

The purse goes to the named owner of the horse when the race starts. No horse shall be delivered to the owner except by a written order from the racing secretary or the racing secretary’s designee.

NOTE: If you intend to claim a horse, contact the racetrack and carefully read their regulations regarding the claims process.

Below is a YouTube video that explains claiming races.

What You Need to Know Before You Claim a Horse.

The first thing you will need to do is read the regulations which govern the claiming process for the track you intend to claim a horse.

Next, you should enlist the help of a local trainer. You will need to do your homework to choose the best candidate. Check the racing forms and talk to other owners and workers in the industry to get the most information possible to select the best person. Picking the right trainer is critical.

Gather as much information as possible about the horse.

A good trainer will give you valuable insight. He should know the history of the horses running in the race, know the other trainers/owners’ tendencies, and be able to recognize possible physical problems with the horse.

Start doing as much research as possible on the horses you are interested in claiming. Check their workouts, prior race records, and all other information you can gain about the horse. Talk to people who may be familiar with the horse. Try to find out if they have any history of lameness.

I recently had a friend put an exceptional horse in a 10,000-dollar claiming race because he needed money. The horse wasn’t fit and hadn’t been trained well. I recognized this as a bargain; the horse has the potential to earn a lot of money if it is taken care of fit.

I knew he liked the horse and didn’t want it claimed; however, word got out about it, and ten people made claims. The person that got his horse was another person we knew well. These two are no longer talking.

Background work can save you money. If the horse checks out and you are ready, you will next need to register with the racing commission, then take one final look at the horse in the paddock to make sure he is still sound. If everything checks out, fill out your claim ticket and drop it in the box. You may be the new owner of a racehorse.

Thousands of horses are claimed each year.

This chart provides a glimpse of the number of horses claimed and the horses’ corresponding costs at different tracks. As you can see, claiming horses is a vibrant enterprise.

TrackTotal ClaimsTotal AmountDate

Churchhill Downs
Santa Anita28$719.0004/12/19-5/5/19

Fairgrounds Race Track
Oaklawn Race Track560$9,114,750.001/2019-5/2019
Picture of a race horse with rear leg wraps.

Why put a horse in a claiming race?

When I explained how the claiming process worked, the first question my friends asked was, why would you risk your horse in a claiming race? This is a good question, and there is a logical explanation.

Claiming races are a type of handicapping for horse racing. It is a system that allows horses valued at similar amounts to race against each other. Horses are evaluated based on the amount of money they have the potential to win (how fast they are).

If you believe you have a horse that can win $100,000.00, you won’t run this horse in a race in which he could be purchased for $15,000.00.

Horses enter, claiming races close to their actual value.

An owner wants to put his horse in a race he has the highest potential to win without the risk of losing his horse. If a horse is worth $25,000.00, an owner may run his horse in a $20,000.00 claiming race with a purse of $25,000.00.

In this situation, the owner receives $35,000.00 if his horse wins the race and is claimed—60% of the purse plus the claiming price. See the following article on how the winnings are divided.

Some owners overvalue their horses.

Sometimes owners have an unrealistic valuation of their horse. In the same scenario, the owner values his horse at $100,000.00, but its real value is $25,000.00. He elects to run the horse in claiming races not less than $75,000.00.

Two things happen, no one claims the horse, and the horse gets badly beaten by other horses that outclass him. In the long run, this could damage the horse’s confidence and reduce its value to less than the $25,000.00 it is currently worth.

Some owners and trainers try to steal a purse.

Sometimes, owners drop a horse into a claiming race to steal a purse. If an owner or trainer finds a claiming race with ideal conditions and a substantial purse, they may take a risk and enter their horse even though the claiming price is less than their horse’s value. A horse dropped into a race is the one you want to find.

Owners will try to unload a horse with problems in a claiming race.

On the other end of the spectrum, you will see a horse running in a claiming race in which he is undervalued. The reason may be the horse suffered an injury in training or is becoming lame.

Sometimes, trainers stick an injured horse into a claiming race to hurry up and unload the horse. This is why background information is critical. Don’t buy this horse.

Picture of racehorses.

The prices of claiming races vary greatly.

Claiming amounts vary by track; however, at the lower end, you will see claiming races as low as $1,000.00, and typically the high end can reach as much as $100,000.00.

Types of claiming races

Maiden Claiming Races

Maiden Claiming Races are for horses that are still maidens and are dropped in class to give them a chance to win a race. Racehorses are called maidens until they win their first race or “break their maiden.” This is the lowest horse racing class and typically accounts for about 15% of all horse races.

Optional Claiming Races allow the owner to run his horse in a claiming race and opt out of the process. Special rules exist for opt-outs; opted-out horses usually race with more weight. Optional Claiming Races are the highest class of claiming races, the usual claiming price is &75,000.00 and up.

There are famous horses that ran in claiming races.

Seabiscuit– Ran in three claiming races for as low as $2,500.00. No one thought enough of him to put in a claim. I wrote an article about Seabiscuit you may find interesting. You can check it out here: Seabiscuit: 10 Facts About An Unlikely Champion Racehorse.

Stymie– Two of his first three starts were claiming races. He was eventually claimed for $1,500.00. He is considered one of the top 100 racehorses of all time.

John Henry– started his career running mid-level claiming races. He went on to become the first racehorse to surpass $4 million. When he retired from racing, he had career earnings of $6,591,860.00.

Claiming horses can be fun and profitable; take your time, learn the rules, and avoid any horses that look too good to be true.


Why are there claiming races?

The primary reason for claiming races is to even the playing field and create fair competition. The horses are valued equally, so the outcome is less predictable, and the races are attractive to owners and gamblers.

What does G3 mean in horse racing?

G3 denotes the horse race is a grade 3 stakes race. Many G3 races are open to horses that have not won a graded stakes race before, making them an important stepping stone for many young thoroughbreds.

Additional information