The Basics of Claiming

King's Swan claimer

Former claimer King’s Swan, copyright

By Art Parker, author of “Keeneland Winning Trainer Patterns”

The overwhelming majority of races in the United States are claiming races. The name fits the type of race well because the participants of a claiming race can be claimed, or purchased, by one with proper license in the state of the race, such a thoroughbred owner. The purchaser pays the claiming price as stated in the conditions of the race. For example, race conditions may say something like, “For 3 year olds, weight 126 pounds. Claiming $10,000.” The purchaser in this case pays $10,000 for the horse he or she “claims” before the race is run.

The procedure may vary slightly from state to state, but basically a horse gets claimed when the purchaser completes a claim slip, usually within a stated time frame (such as 15 minutes) prior to the running of the race. The purchaser must be properly licensed, have a horseman’s account at the track and have enough money in his/her account to pay the claiming price.

If the horse leaves the gate as an official starter then the horse will become the property of the new owner at the conclusion of the race. The new owner does not receive any purse money the horse may earn in the race. When the race is over the claimed horse is tagged by a racing official and led to its new barn.

Claiming races help to assure fairness at the entry box and as a result, reasonable competition. In other words, all owners/trainers want to have a race with lesser competition, but the claiming price will often serve as a deterrent to “bringing in the ringer” to beat up on a weak field.

Many years ago a trainer was discussing one of his horses with me. The horse had been running for a $25,000 claiming price and just missed victory in a couple of races. The trainer was trying to find a little softer spot. He told me he considered dropping his horse down to a $15,000 level, but said, “I will probably lose him at $15,000 because he is worth $25,000.” The key point to remember about a claiming race is that everyone that enters a horse in the race is putting their horse up for sale.

The purse money in claiming races increases with the claiming price. Simply put, a horse that runs for a $50,000 price tag will compete for more purse money than a horse that runs in a $10,000 claiming race. The owner/trainer of a horse must consider two financial sums when it comes to claiming races: (1) claiming price and (2) purse money.

Understanding the claiming game is essential when handicapping races. It is important that the handicapper view racing from the business angle and not just the gambling angle. A horse on paper that is dropping in class may look like a world beater on paper, but the question we must ask is: why is the owner and trainer ready to sell the horse for a smaller price? A drop in claiming price often means a drop in quality and that can correlate with a decline in the health of the horse.

To improve your handicapping take the time to study horses that have been claimed and what happened for 6-12 months after they were purchased at the claiming box. And, if you really want to cash some tickets, keep notes on trainers that claim horses. You will find that claiming is like any other business – there are some trainers that excel and some that fail, and it is good to know who is who.

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 19-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 of the NHC twice. A former executive with and a member of the NHC Players’ Committee, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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