Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Cost of Ownership in New York

My Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance colleague "CanGamble" recently posted his annual analysis of how much it costs to keep a horse in training in Ontario, and, therefore, how much the horse needs to earn in purse money for the owner to break even. According to that analysis, An owner who bases his or her horse at Woodbine can break even with just $26,750 in purses -- and that's in those cute little Canadian dollars. At today's exchange rate, that's barely $26,000 real (i.e., US) dollars.

Those of us who race in New York aren't so fortunate. I've gone over the last year's bills from our three trainers and myriad vets, and here's my analysis of what it costs to keep a horse in training at the NYRA tracks:

Let's assume that the horse is based at the race track for nine months a year, stays sound (increasingly unlikely), races 10 times, and gets a three-month vacation. Most owners and trainers probably can't afford to give the horse the time off, but that would represent good horsemanship, and it's an ideal to strive for.

Training Costs at NYRA tracks average about $90 a day. So, for nine months, that's $24,660. Down time on the farm is a lot less, but not cheap. Probably $40 a day on average, or another $3,640.

Most NYRA-based trainers now charge extra for tack, supplies and feed supplements. They simply can't break even themselves, even on the $90 day rate. Those bills have been on the order of $200 a month for our horses. So let's add another $1,800 to our total

Van costs are significant, even if your horse doesn't ship to non-NYRA tracks. Uo and back to Saratoga averages $800, and out and back to the farm, though it depends on the distance, is probably another $500. So, a total of $1,300 for vans.

Vet bills are highly erratic and unpredictable. Ours have ranged from $50 to $1,000 a month. A reasonable average is about $350 a month when the horse is at the race track, and perhaps $50 a month on the farm. That's a total of $3,300.

Farriers charge about $160 per shoeing. That's $1,600 for the year, once a month at the track plus one new set of shoes before the horse leaves the farm.

Raceday charges are a new item on most trainers' bills, thanks to the silly detention barn system in effect at NYRA tracks, which forces the trainer to pay a groom to hang out all day in the detention barn with the horse before the race. The trainers pass that cost on to the owner, currently at an average of about $110 a race. That's another $1,100.

So, before our horse earns a penny in purse money, our base cost for the year is $37,400. And if the horse does earn a few pennies, a pretty good proportion of those pennies disappear along the way before the owner can pull the balance from the horsemen's bookkeeper account. Here's how things work in New York.

The trainer typically gets 10% of all purse money, plus an extra 1-2% for the barn staff when the horse wins. Let's say 11% overall.

The jockey gets (approximately) 10% of a win purse, 5% for second and third, and $100 a ride for anything else. Because the win purse is so much (60%) of total purse money, and because the $100 a ride is a very big percentage of what the horse earns if it finishes 6th or worse, the jockeys' percentage overall is something like 18% of total purses.

Then there is an astonishing number of other deductions before the owner sees any cash. Here's what NYRA and/or the trainer deduct from the purse:

$12.50 for backstretch insurance;
$2.50 for the Jockey Club
1% of the purse for the backstretch pension fund;
2% of the purse for NYTHA, the horsemen's association (most of this goes to backstretch benevolence);
0.75% of the purse for the Jockey Injury Compensation Fund, which covers jockeys and exercise riders;
$20 for state-administered lasix;
$10 for the NY State Racing & Wagering Board
$23 for the pony to post
$5 to the Ferdinand Fund for thoroughbred retirement (this last is voluntary).

Adding it all up, that's on average another 5% off the gross purse. Taking into account the trainer's 11% and the jockey's 8%, that means a total of 24% of the purse goes somewhere other than to to horse's owner.

So, to earn the $37,400 that we said earlier our horse needs to stay in training in New York, even with a three-month vacation, that horse actually needs purse earnings of $49,210. What the hell, call it $50,000 even to cover the cost of a few win pictures ($25 each from the track photographer) and a few celebratory drinks.

To put it another way, that means an allowance horse or high level claimer racing on the NYRA circuit needs to win two races a year, and a lower level claiming horse probably needs to win three or four races, just to break even.

Tough game.

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