Choosing Your Team – Thoroughbred Owner Academy



When it comes to choosing a horse, every new owner is tempted to build their own stable. The breeding and racing of Thoroughbreds, on the other hand, is a team sport. For athletes to do well in the game, they need more than just natural talent. A good team needs great athletes, a good coach, smart scouts, a good doctor, enough support staff, and an owner who knows what he or she is doing.

Realize early on that the people on your team will have a big impact on how well your racing or breeding business does. Choose a team of consultants with as much care as you would your first horse, if not more.

You should think about which consultants to hire based on how much you are willing to invest and what your business plan’s overall goals are. Your team of consultants could be as small as one person or a mix of the following: A bloodstock agent, a pedigree advisor, a trainer, a veterinarian, and/or a mentor, such as a farm manager or a more experienced owner, who has worked in the industry before.

Think about what this group can do for you. Will they just help you choose and evaluate possible purchases, or will they also help you improve your business plan? When making this choice, remember to use good business sense.

When putting together your team of professional consultants, keep the following in mind:

  • Racehorses and their breeding are businesses, so treat them as such.
  • Don’t let your feelings get in the way. Keep an open mind during the first step of the selection process.
  • Make sure you know what you want from the start. Check to see if your goals are in line with the consultants’ areas of expertise.
  • Stick to the budget you made. Realistically think about whether or not you can invest at the level you’ve chosen. If you’re not sure, cut back on how much you take part. Remember that it’s just as fun to own a piece of a horse as it is to own the whole animal.
  • Once you’ve chosen your consultants, let them do their jobs. Stay involved, but give the professionals the power to do what they were hired to do, which is to give expert advice in areas where you don’t know enough or don’t have enough knowledge.


Choosing Bloodstock Agents

Bloodstock agents are people who buy and sell horses for a commission. A bloodstock agent helps owners decide which horses to buy or sell at public auctions or private sales based on the horses’ pedigree and how they look. In general, they can help with the buying process. For example, they can help you set up credit with the seller, find a good horse vet, and choose a good place to board your horse.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that it’s not always as easy as it seems to find the best bloodstock agent. But, as with any big business decision, you should use good judgment and logic, and most of all, trust your gut.

Every owner should think about the following things when choosing a bloodstock agent:

  • Consult references that are known in the profession.
    • The Blood-Horse, Inc.’s TOBA Membership Directory and The Source for International Racing and Breeding have the names and addresses of many bloodstock agents.
  • Ask people who are well-known in the industry for their advice.
    • Ask other people in the industry, such as sales company executives, owners, trainers, racing officials, or investigators, for recommendations and endorsements.
  • Local horsemen’s groups can give you a list of reputable bloodstock agents.
    • Ask people who work in the industry about the candidates’ reputations and personalities. Remember that most people won’t say bad things about other people because they don’t want to hurt their feelings. Instead, they may tell you to talk to someone else or give you a vague answer.
  • Interview potential bloodstock agents in great detail.
    • Think about the candidates like you would about any other financial advisor.
  • Talking about pay is important.
    • Agents usually charge a small fee (like 5%) when you buy or sell a horse. Get a promise that your agent will tell you about all transaction fees. Check to see if the agent buys a lot of horses from the same consignor. This could be a sign of a good working relationship, and you should talk to your agent about it in an open and honest way.
  • Ask for a list of references.
    • Use the references to look at what they’ve bought in the past. Is it really true that the horses have done well? Does this agent know how to buy houses in your price range?
  • Set up rules for how to handle any possible disagreements.
    • Remember, above all, that this is your money and, in the end, your horse. Stay in charge of the final choice.

bloodstock agent

Choosing a Trainer

If you want to put money into horse racing, choosing a trainer will probably be the most important choice you make.

The owner and the trainer have a relationship that is like a marriage. It’s important to be open and honest with each other. Take your time to find someone who fits your needs and your personality the best. During your interview with the trainer, you should be aware that he or she may be judging you as an owner/client, especially how willing and able you are to take advice.

Most racetracks have a stable list that has the names, barns, and phone numbers of the trainers. You could use this information to find a trainer for your stable.

In short, many of the tips for choosing a bloodstock agent, such as where to look for recommendations, also apply to the process of choosing a trainer. In addition to the above questions and things to think about, here are a few more:

  • On which tracks do the trainer’s horses stay?
  • Are you looking for a trainer who specializes in allowance, claiming, or stakes horses, fillies/mares or colts, young racehorses, turf, or dirt?
  • Do you think your trainer will spend a lot of time with you?
    • In the past, many owners were passive and didn’t talk much with their trainers. As owners have become more involved, they have asked for more ways to talk to them. Even though some trainers don’t like this, most have no problem with the owners wanting to keep a closer eye on their investment.
  • How much time does the trainer have to show you more about horses and show you how to train them?
  • How often should you expect to hear from your trainer?
    • Your communication expectations must be reasonable, given the size of your investment and the trainer’s track record. Obviously, this is an important topic that the owner and trainer should talk about and understand from the beginning.
  • How often and in what ways would you like to be asked your opinion?
  • Do you want the trainer to tell you automatically if the horse is going to work, if it is sick, or if there is a change in its physical condition or training program?
  • Do you want the trainer to talk to you or include you in choosing which races your horse will run in?
  • Do you want a trainer with a lot of experience or someone new?
  • Do you want your trainer to come to sales with you and make purchases for you?
  • Does this trainer live up to what he says he can do?
    • Check statistics from Bloodstock Research, the Daily Racing Form, and The Jockey Club Information Systems to see if something sounds fishy. Consider the size of the stable and the trainer’s experience when judging this information.
    • Go to the paddock and watch how the trainers work. How do the horses, stable helpers, and other people involved in the operation look? Is there any way for the trainer to talk to the owner or jockey? Those details should give you an idea of how the trainer works and what kind of person he or she is. Go to the stable area of the racetracks you want to race at. Find out how clean it is and how friendly the staff is.
  • How much does the trainer charge per day? Is it different for each track?
    • Is the rate different if the horse is on sabbatical or sick for a month or more but still under the trainer’s care? Does the day rate include feed, bedding, wages for stable workers, stall rent, exercise riders, workout ponies, paddock and gate schooling, vitamins, bandages, and other similar “supplies”? Fees for the farrier, the vet, and transportation are all examples of costs that are not covered by the day rate.
  • Workers’ compensation is something you should look into. Who is at fault and who should pay?
  • Does a jockey need insurance, and if so, who pays for it?
  • How much of a commission does the trainer get for wins and other places?
  • Is there a policy for long-term employees to get a bonus?
  • How long should a horse be given to show what it can do?
  • What does the trainer think about giving medications?
  • What is the average vet bill per horse per month for the trainer?
    • Examine their policy regarding the horse’s medical treatment. Does the trainer ask the owners for permission to pay for veterinary care? Who keeps track of the horse’s medical records? Do they take any medications on a regular basis? Some trainers use vets almost religiously and achieve excellent results, while others use them sparingly and achieve similar results. It is contingent on the trainer and, to some extent, the quality of the horses with which he is tasked.

These questions should help you figure out what the candidates are like as people, what skills they have, and what they believe in. If what you’ve learned so far isn’t enough, talk to more trainers until you find the right one.

Once you’ve decided, make sure you and your trainer both know what to expect from each other and what to do. Don’t be afraid to give them what they need to do their job. Keep a good attitude and enjoy the experience.

Last, think about whether or not you need a written contract. Keep in mind that written contracts aren’t common on the racetrack, and just the idea of one could get you in trouble. Find a trainer who is willing to sign a contract with you if you really want one.


Choose Between Farms or Boarding Facilities

If you want to start investing in the breeding side of the industry by buying broodmares or younger horses, one of the first decisions you’ll have to make is which farm or boarding facility to use. When choosing other advisors, you should use the same good business practices and ask the same kinds of questions. Even though the situations are different, the problems are still the same.

Even though they have some similarities, there are some important differences. Think about these ideas and questions:

  • How much will it cost, and what will it pay for?
  • What kinds of services does the farm provide?
  • Is there a veterinarian on site?
  • What kinds of facilities, like barns, sheds, and a training track, does the farm have?
  • How many horses are there for every employee?

Check your concerns, goals, and objectives to make sure they all fit together.


Whether you are new to the game, experiencing more losses than wins or just looking for a new approach, I am confident that I can help you breed or buy a better racehorse. To find out more about OPTIMAL Matings and how they can help your program, please subscribe to my Blog/News page HERE to receive future information on complimentary mating recommendations, sales short lists, stakes winner pedigree analysis, news on personal client success and any other random thoughts or ideas that I may have. Also, receive a complimentary copy of my report “Blind Luck or Designed Luck? – How A Kentucky Derby Winner Was Bred” sent directly to your inbox.

For inquiries or more information about Shepherd Equine Advisers, please contact Clark Shepherd at 859-321-6618, or by email at

I would love to hear any comments or questions that you may have. Please submit them below. Maybe we can address them in a future post!

I offer my expertise as a bloodstock agent, sales consultant, and pedigree analyst to assist in breeding or purchasing superior thoroughbred racehorses through sound pedigree principles, horsemanship, and consistent implementation of well-designed plans. To find out more about how my services can help your program, please contact me at 859-321-6618, or by email at

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