8 April 2011

Cost Of Owning A Throroughbred Race Horse In Ontario

As handle continues to drop and as racing days are being reduced in many jurisdictions, the industry seems to be seeing less and less horse owners. It is becoming increasingly difficult to make money as an owner of a thoroughbred in North America.

Much of the difficulty stems from a reliance on drugs which causes vet bills to be on the high side. Hay, oats and water trainers have a hard time to compete with trainers who give the horse the full medicine cabinet treatment.

More owners, like Horseplayers, are leaving or cutting back, and very few new owners are starting up.

The answer isn't to raise takeout, as California has found out. In fact, the answer is to reduce takeout so that more Horseplayers will be created, and to limit the amount of drugs and treatments a horse can have to compete.

Back in the pre-Lasix days, some horses ran 30 times a year.

But getting the industry on the same page to do what is right is worse than herding cats. I'm not optimistic.

Anyway, here is my post from 2008 on the cost of owning a thoroughbred in Ontario (with a few tweaks):

Prices haven't changed much, though some new "training" techniques like hyperbaric oxygen therapy have pushed up prices on some owners. And again, those willing to pay the high prices are playing at a huge advantage, but the end result is that this is helping to kill the industry as well.


I'm going to make some assumptions here to give everyone an idea about costs: Your horse trains for 8 months in the year and races 12 times. For 4 months, your horse is resting at a farm. Also, your horse is Woodbine caliber and runs 11 times at Woodbine and once at Fort Erie.

Training a race horse at Fort Erie could be a lot cheaper for an owner than training the horse at Woodbine. I'm going to go through the pluses and minuses.

Cost of training:

At Woodbine, trainers charge between $70 - $110 per day. The majority of trainers charge $75-85 a day.

At Fort Erie, trainers charge between $40 - $60 per day. The majority of trainers charge $50 a day. At Fort Erie, some trainers will offer "the deal." The typical deal is where the owner buys the horse, and the trainer is responsible for all or most of the bills in return for half the purses, and half the equity in the horse once the owner gets his or her purchase price back. For a trainer, this deal is a killer for them unless the horse makes at least $30,000 for the year. Trainers who take deals on cheap horses are usually desperate, and you have to wonder about their foresight. The only way a deal makes sense for a trainer today is if the horse is competitive at a claiming price of $12,500 or greater.

The actual cost to a hands off trainer who does nothing in the way of grooming or walking a horse can be broken down like this:

Groom $23 Hot Walker $8 Food and Bedding $15 Exercise Boy (4-5 times a week@$15 per day) $10 Total Cost=$56 per day

For Erie
Groom $18 Hot Walker $5 Food and Bedding $14 Exercise Boy (4-5 times a week@$12 per day) $8 Total Cost=$45 per day

Remember, these are estimates. Trainers also bring capital investments to the table, some bring a lot more than others. That being said, they could save money by using a hot walker machine, for example, but it cost the trainer to buy the machine. Some have pulsating blankets too. The trainer can also save on feed by buying it off the track in bulk, but they could also add supplements, which may or may not appear on your bill as well as over the counter meds.

Trainers also incur Workers Comp charges.

I have always contended that the 10% is what the trainer is entitled to. If he or she wants to make money in the morning, then they should rub or walk a horse or two. Many trainers do not agree with me:)

Shoeing Charges
8 months of training and 12 races will mean about 8 pairs of shoes. At Fort Erie, the usual cost is $100-$125 a change. At Woodbine it is around $120-$150.

Shipping Charges
If stabled at Woodbine, shipping once to Fort Erie from Woodbine would cost $200 for the year.
If stabled at Fort Erie, shipping eleven times to Woodbine from Fort Erie would cost $2200 for the year.
Shipping to and from your layoff farm total around $200 a year no matter if you have a Woodbine or Fort Erie trainer.

Layoff Period
Most farms charge between $15-$30 per day. So lets say the typical owner pays around $600 X 4 months per year.

Stake Monies
Many trainers will charge an additional 1% for a wins (and sometimes places and shows) on a training bill so that at least the groom will get a stake. Sometimes, trainers pay $50-$150 for a second as well to the groom (the owner is usually charged). So a typical owner of a Woodbine horse with a 12 starts a year (lets say 2 wins and a second), will pay an additional $700 in stakes.
Stake money differs dramatically from barn to barn.

Vet Bills
Expect to pay around $200-$300 per start per horse on average regardless of the track.

Miscellaneous Bills
Some trainers will add on tack charges or over-the-counter meds onto your bill. Many don't charge for this.

Some trainers will say that Fort Erie is a much more calming track, especially for a high strung horse. Lots of grass to graze on, and no airplanes coming and going every 2 minutes. But if you are at Woodbine, you have the option to train on the Poly, sort of a home field advantage.

The other advantage to Fort Erie is that there is plenty of extra stall space. The management of Fort understands that in order for their training base to make a decent living, Woodbine horses are pretty much needed.

Lets add it all up:

Training (@$75 per day): $75 X 240 = $18000
Shoes : $150 X 8 = $ 1200
Layoff Charges : $20 X 125 = $ 2500
Shipping = $ 400
Stake Money = $ 700
Vet Bills = $ 3000

Total = $25800
This means your horse needs to make around $32,250 a year just to break even, because the trainer and jockey get close to 10% of total purses made.

Fort Erie:
Training (@50 per day): $50 X 240 = $12000
Shoes : $125 X 8 = $ 1000
Layoff Charges : $20 X 125 = $ 2500
Shipping = $ 2400
Stake Money = $ 700
Vet Bills = $ 3000

Total = $21600
This means your horse needs to make $27000 a year to break even.

If you own a horse that only runs at Fort Erie, the horse may have a few more layoff days because the season is a little shorter, and of course, less shipping charges, so the total that needs to be earned to break even may be $3,000-$4,000 lower than the amount of $26,700.

Many Fort Erie trainers are just as talented as Woodbine trainers, but they may just like the small track/small town feel. Either way, the owner needs to have a trainer they can trust, and one who doesn't intimidate them. If the owner wants to have a big say, they should have it. It is their horse, and they are the one who is most at risk.
Remember, if you are the owner, you are doing the trainer a favour by choosing to do business with him or her. Don't forget it.


Anonymous said...

a little off topic but i was reading around the woodbine site and read a note about us common pools and not getting us track betting minimums because of our low dollar as compared to the us...that has changed ...ur dollar is stronger...has this rule changed???

Cangamble said...

Nothing has changed, except they should change the wording.
It is on the Fort Erie site too still.
If you bet in the States, you can't make fractional wagers on Canadian tracks, and visa versa.

ManuelB said...

CG: Good post, as usual. I was wondering what would happen if the ORC mandated the elimination of drugs in horses running in Ontario. I know many trainers would have a fit, but could they do it? It would be interesting for the ORC to take an initiative on this matter. They've done on use of the whip.

Anonymous said...

CG, is it just me or is the WO fields so far very small, do you have any reasons why this could be so far?