How to Research an Off-the-Track Thoroughbred's Pedigree

Horse Racing in Hong Kong - Sha Tin Racecourse
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The life of a former racehorse has been glamorized in books and movies. In reality, life for an off-the-track thoroughbred, or OTTB, can lead to a humble retirement as a horse for recreational riding. Or the horse might go on to something more elaborate, such as competing in polo, dressage, jumping, and more. Many of these horses will be relatively young, but you still might have to do some digging to find their pedigree.

A Former Racehorse as a First Horse

If this is your first horse, a former racehorse might not be the best choice. Many have soundness issues that can take months to sort out. Plus, some racehorses are known for having bad temperaments and being difficult to handle. Since birth, a racehorse's behavioral training is very basic because it's been geared toward one factor: winning races. In addition, loud noises can easily spook many former racehorses because the horses have been trained to jump at the sound of a starter pistol for racing.

Furthermore, having famous or pedigreed ancestors doesn’t necessarily make for a good horse. Both nature and nurture influence a horse's athleticism and temperament. In fact, a horse with no known pedigree might become the best riding or competition horse you've ever had.

How to Research a Thoroughbred Pedigree

People often purchase horses that do not come with their registration papers. But it's still possible to research the pedigree of an off-the-track thoroughbred. Thoroughbreds that are truly purebreds should have a well-documented lineage.

When you search for your thoroughbred's pedigree without any registration papers, three key pieces of information can help. You will need the horse's lip tattoo number, its registered name, and its date of birth (including the year). If your horse hasn't been tattooed, you'll need to be sure of the name and its spelling.

Online Horse Databases

There are a few online horse databases you can use to help you with your research.

Pedigree Query

Pedigree Query is an extensive database to which users contribute the information. You simply enter your horse's name, and if the horse is listed in the database you will receive a five-generation pedigree. There are paid subscriptions to this site, but you will probably only need that kind of detailed information if you are buying a horse for racing or breeding.

The Jockey Club

If your horse has a lip tattoo number, the Jockey Club free search might provide you with the pedigree you're looking for. Lip tattoos can be hard to read, as they tend to fade as the horse ages. You can try to digitally enhance a photograph of the tattoo to make it clearer. The Jockey Club lists all thoroughbreds that have ever raced. So if you have a former racehorse, odds are you'll find some information on it there.


Brisnet is primarily used by bettors who are researching handicaps on racehorses. Also, breeders use this resource to look into bloodlines. Most owners don’t really need race records, though it can be interesting to see where your horse raced and how it performed. The legacy site allows you to do pedigree searches. You can purchase a pedigree with a race record for a small fee.

Breeders Associations

If you don't find your horse's pedigree online, it is possible to contact the breeders associations. In the United States, you can contact the Jockey Club. In Canada, the Canadian Thoroughbred Society might be able to help you out. Some groups might charge a small fee for looking up information.