How Much Does A Trainer Really Earn?

How Much Does A Trainer Really Earn?

It's not really a common topic of conversation, asking someone how much they earn..

In many careers, there will be a fixed salary in place and or paid in wages for shift work or hour commitments.

Even in many sporting avenues, similarities can be drawn up with managers and staff of clubs and teams, paid through a contract with certain key performance indicators to meet, and do reasonably well in life.

In horse racing, it is different - drastically different.

The top yards and trainers, with many horses that compete in Grade One/ Group One level, do take home plenty of prize money over the course of the season, but does that shadow the bigger picture?

The recent retirements of Charlie Swan, Colm Murphy, Sandra Hughes and Brendan Powell, as well as John Oxx and Patrick Prendergast merging together and Oliver Sherwood selling off his yard to only rent it back, all highlight there is a bigger everlasting problem.

There are multiple differences in Britain between trainers and how they gain their worth.

Every yard is setup differently with unique training structures or models, and each base has a different number of horses with contrasting levels of success.

Some trainers are fortunate enough to inherit their facilities, others pay rent or mortgage their site, whilst some base themselves in major training sites such as Newmarket to save transportation costs as they are shared, leaving others based out in the sticks to use their own horse boxes for their own fees.

Certain individuals even use the sport to buy horses for a cheap fee to then sell them on for a larger figure, once they have won a couple of races. With so many costs and differences in strategy to digest - let's break it down simpler.

What do trainers have to pay for?

  • Staff - 40% of trainers outflow go on staff that run the yard, look after and groom the horses, accompanying them on their racecourse ventures, with other individuals remaining at home to plan season targets and admin etc
  • Fixed overheads - Standard bills, rent, mortgage and repayment, just like any property
  • Other - Feed, hay, bedding, medication.
  • Incidentals - Maintenance around the yard should things go wrong, i.e. tractor breakdown etc.

Prize money is well known to be the primary source of income for trainers and owners worldwide, so how is that seen on the monthly or annual cash flow?

What about prize money?

Trainers do get their fair share of prize-money, approximately ten-percent of owners earnings when winning a race, and less than six-percent of placed prize-money.

Champion Flat trainer John Gosden saddled horses to amass £8,516,014 in prize-money last year, meaning his cut would be roughly £750,000.

That is a very decent figure to take home, but given he had over 200 individual runners last term, that is probably going to cover little more than three or four months of outgoing costs.

Meanwhile in the National Hunt division, take Jonjo O’Neill for example, who finished 20th in the Jumps trainers' title race last season, and his share of the £639,240 his runners amassed would have been around £50,000.

For a yard that sent out 125 individual runners last year, that wouldn’t even cover one month of outgoings.

Profit or not?

It varies.

Every yard has four main sources of income: a share of prize-money as already mentioned, training fees, profit from buying and selling horses, and transportation.

Most trainers 'claim' to at best break even out of buying and selling horses, although the opportunity to make money is greater on the Flat.

Trainers who do their own transportation also have another potential income stream. Mark Johnston advertises on his website a cost of £1 per horse per mile, while Tim Vaughan's rate is 75p.

It all comes down to a trainer’s fees, which can range from £30 a day per horse up to £90, but the vast majority do not advertise what they charge.

For example, a yard with thirty horses would mean the trainer would make a loss if charging £30 a day per horse, and would have to charge £38.36 per day to break even – and that is if all 30 horses remained in training all year round, which is highly unrealistic.

A trainer charging £40 a day would cover their monthly costs and make a profit of almost £8,000 in a month – but that does not take into account incidentals.

To build up a buffer to cover the few months off a horse will have, a daily rate closer to £45 would be necessary for a yard of such size, but most trainers have a considerable amount of horses and would need to raise their fees in total to bring enough in.

There are some trainers doing very well, but for the majority of people making a living in the sport, it comes down to the bill being charged and making sure things such as every horse box available is full to maximise opportunities for income and saving total expenditure.

As mentioned, some trainers only have a few horses in their yard, and when the number of horses drops, it becomes very difficult to break even.

Finally, owners such as Rich Ricci, who has had many stars across the National Hunt frame over the last few years such as Douvan, Faugheen and Annie Power, is merely involved in racing due to love of the sport, and would be one of a select few who actually make something out of it - if he does.

Most people unsurprisingly keep everything confidential.