If you elect to make your investment in racing, selection of a trainer is quite possibly the most important decision you will make.
The owner/trainer relationship is analogous to a marriage. An honest relationship is essential. Take your time and select the individual that fits your needs and personality. Be aware that as you interview the trainer, they may also be evaluating you as an owner/client, particularly your willingness and ability to accept advice.
The racing office at most racetracks can provide a stable list, including trainers' names, barns and phone numbers. This information may assist in locating a trainer for your stable.
In short, many of the recommendations made with regard to choosing a bloodstock agent, including the sources from whom to seek recommendations, apply equally to the trainer selection process. In addition to those cited above, here are a few additional thoughts to consider and questions to ask:
At what tracks are the trainer's horses stabled?
Do you want a trainer who excels with allowance, claiming or stakes horses, fillies/mares or colts, young racing stock, turf or dirt horses?
How much time do you expect your trainer to spend with you?
In the past, many owners were passive and interaction with their trainers was minimal. As owners have become more active, they have demanded greater communication. Some trainers resent these demands, but most have readily accepted owners' desires to more closely monitor their investment.
How much time can the trainer devote to teaching you more about horses and training procedures?
How often should you reasonably expect to communicate with the trainer?
Considering the size of your investment and the size of the trainer's stable, your expectation regarding communication must be realistic. Obviously, this is an important subject that should be discussed and understood by both parties from the outset of the owner/trainer relationship.
How often and under what conditions do you want to be consulted?
Do you want the trainer to automatically call you if the horse is going to work, or if it is sick, or if something is developing with its physical condition or training program? Do you want the trainer to include you, or consult with you, on the selection of races for your horse?
Do you want a more seasoned trainer or an up-and-coming new trainer?
Would you like your trainer to attend sales and assist in or make purchases on your behalf?
Is this trainer really as good as he says he is?
Consult statistics from Bloodstock Research, the Daily Racing Form and The Jockey Club Information Systems to verify suspicious representations. Keep in mind the size of the stable and the trainer's experience when evaluating this data.
Go to the paddock and observe trainers in action. How do the horses, the stable assistants and those associated with the operation appear? Does the trainer speak with the owner or the jockey? Those observations should provide an indication of the trainer's practices and character. Visit the stable area of tracks where you would like to race. Get the feel for the tidiness and staff.
What is the trainer's day rate? Does it vary from track to track?
Does the rate change if the horse is taking a break or is laid up for a month or so, yet still under the trainer's care? Are the feed, bedding, stable employees' wages, stall rent, exercise riders, ponies for workout, paddock and gate schooling, vitamins, bandaging and similar "supplies" all included in the day rate? Some commonly non-covered expenses in the day rate are, though not limited to: farrier expenses, veterinary costs and transport costs.
Review workers' compensation issues. Who is responsible and who pays?
Jockey's insurance; is it applicable and who pays?
What percent commission does the trainer charge for wins and other placings? Is there a bonus policy for the stable employees?
How long do they recommend giving a horse a chance to demonstrate its ability?
What are the trainer's views on medication? What is the trainer's average vet bill per horse per month?
Review their policy regarding the medical care given to the horse. Does the trainer ask owners to authorize veterinary care expenses? Who maintains the horse's health records? Do they use certain medications regularly? Some trainers use vets almost compulsively, and with good results, while others use them sparingly and with equally good results. It depends on the trainer and, to some extent, the quality of horses he has to work with.
Asking these questions should give you a feel for the character, skills and beliefs of the candidates. If you are not comfortable with what you have learned, interview additional trainers until you have found the right one.
Once you have made a selection, be certain that the two of you have a clear understanding of each other's expectations and responsibilities. Don't begrudgingly turn over the responsibility to them to do their job. Be positive and enjoy the experience.
Finally, consider whether a written contract would be appropriate. Note: Written contracts are not common practice on the racetrack, and the mere proposition of one may evoke a less than positive response. Nonetheless, if you feel you must have one, find a trainer who is willing to enter into a contract.