Curious Louisville

When you watch the Kentucky Oaks Friday evening, look for a solid brown filly whose jockey is in orange and brown checkered silks. Her name is Chocolate Martini, and trainer Tom Amoss bought her at a claiming race. That got listener Elizabeth Jesse thinking.

So my best friend, her name is Hayley Amoss, and her dad is a trainer, Tom Amoss,” Elizabeth said. “And he claimed a horse that’s actually running in the Oaks. Her name is Chocolate Martini and they only paid $25,000 for her. So that kind of sparked my curiosity about if there’d ever been a claimer in the Derby.”

Elizabeth asked Curious Louisville whether any claimed horses had run in the Derby, and what’s the least expensive horse that has run.

Elizabeth’s mom used to work with horses, and she grew up around horses and racing. But those of us who didn’t might be wondering: what the heck is a claimed horse?

Not to hit you with circular logic, but a claimed horse is a horse that’s run in a claiming race. And what’s a claiming race?

Chris Goodlett with the Kentucky Derby Museum says, “Claiming races are usually seen as the lower tier, bottom tier of racing.” (A “for dummies” guide to horses races described them as “meat and potatoes races.”)

They are races at which all the horses are for sale. If an owner wants to get rid of a horse, they can run the horse in a claiming race, and buyers have the chance to put a claim on that horse (which is the fancy horse racing way to say buy it).

“They have to make that claim before the race is run,” Chris said. And if the horse wins, according to Kentucky law, the original owner gets the purse. So for the buyer, the purchase is more of an investment in possible future wins.

Chris said no claimed horse has ever won the Kentucky Derby. But there have been Derby winners who had previously run in claiming races.

“We know that Charismatic, the ’99 Derby winner ran in a claiming race,” Chris said. “We know that Mine That Bird, the 2009 Derby winner ran in a claiming race. Neither was claimed, so they stayed with their same ownership.”

We can only imagine how relieved those owners were later, that their horses didn’t sell!

As for the second part of Elizabeth’s question, Chris said there have been some relatively cheap horses who won the garland of roses.

Have you heard the name Seattle Slew? He won the Derby in 1977?

“He sold at auction for $17,500,” Chris said. “Went on to win the Triple Crown, and also had a successful breeding career.”

But he wasn’t the cheapest. That would be $1,200 for Canonero II, who won the Derby in 1971.

Elizabeth will be rooting for Chocolate Martini Friday night. She said she knows horse ownership is out of reach for most people, but she likes the idea that there are horses who don’t cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but are still great: “To me, Chocolate Martini is like the people’s horse.”

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Laura produces Recut, Curious Louisville, Strange Fruit, and other audio news stories for WFPL.