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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Time to Acknowledge it's Time to Subsidize Horse Ownership

The Auckland Trotting Club has announced a new incentive plan to help promote harness racing starting with the 2016/17 season which begins August 1.  Under this plan, owners will receive a minimum $250 per starter while trainers will receive $150.

At first blush many would argue a plan like this would never work.  However, taking a step back, would something like this help attract and/or keep owners in the sport?

Now, let's state up front, not every purse account will be able to support combined payments of $400 for each starter.  However, what if the payment was $75 per owner and $50 per trainer at Scarborough Downs, leaving the full payment for major raceways.  Whatever can be directed to owners and trainers would help immensely in keeping them (in particular owners) in the sport as it would help them with the monthly bills.  Being trainers are hired by the owners, I would envision the $150 incentive being factored into the training bill.

Yes, there is the fear owners and trainers may race horses who should be staying in the stall in order to get their incentive, but this can be policed by stewards fining trainers for presenting horses unfit for racing as well as putting horses on the vet list when appropriate.  Imagine what these payments would mean to owners and trainers; the difference between showing a profit or loss which may determine whether or not they remain in the game; possibly a reduction in medication abuse because everyone knows they will be getting something at the end of the day.

The problem is it is time for racing to acknowledge the cost for horse ownership is moving beyond the means of the ordinary person which has been the backbone of the industry in the past.  For the industry to attract and retain new ownership, the truth is the sport is going to need to subsidize the cost of horse ownership.  Consider the $250 per starter fee an owner would get.  Assume a horse makes 32 starts; a subsidy of $8,000 a year is not going to make ownership profitable on its own, but it tilts the scale towards profitability yet leaves a large portion of horse ownership with the owner.

The way things are structured, these payments will need to come from purse accounts if only for the fact casino operators are not going to wish to increase their expenses.  Yes, purses would have to decrease to cover these costs which some may complain about but owners and trainers need to remember these payments will help when the inevitable dry patch hits; it benefits all.


Anonymous said...

You subsidy idea means taking money from one owner and transferring it to another owner. Sounds like something Bernie Sanders would come up with. The cold, hard fact is that we have 20,000 standardbred racehorses in the USA competing for net purses of about $360 million (and that includes stakes fees provided by the owners). Either we have too many horses; or not enough purse money!!

Pacingguy said...

Thanks for checking in. We certainly don't have enough horses; it can take hours to fill a card at some tracks after the box closes. I am sure owners have dry spots and eventually everyone would benefit from such an incentive system.

We don't have enough owners in the industry. The cost of owning a horse is out of the reach of many old owners. If we can knock some of the cost down, it will increase ownership. May I also say you would benefit as well as the incentives may be paid to all.

When you consider much of the money many are racing for is 'free money' (i.e., slot revenue), what would be the harm of cutting it a bit to make these payments? I dare suspect in the long run, most people would benefit.

Marv said...

A couple of notes. First, $400 NZD is about $275 USD. Second, I think the biggest problem with this proposal is the negative impact on bettors. Right now, to earn money you need to finish 1-5 in a race. The higher positions get more money. The incentive for driver, trainer, and owner is to finish as high as possible. If I have a horse with guaranteed earnings, I'm less likely to push that horse in a race and risk long term injury. It's the classic golden goose scenario (eat the goose or save it for the eggs?). We have enough integrity issues. This might create another. Perhaps a better way to manage this is to offer free shipping at tracks with no on-site training facilities (i.e. Meadowlands, Freehold, etc.). Such a scenario could also help with filling races.

JLB said...

To Marv,
Your idea of subsidized shipping is excellent. While my modest stable is currently ontrack, I have had years where transport costs were significant. In addition, the trend to close on-track facilities, such as the Meadowlands did, can only continue, which means a greater likelihood of large monthly boarding expenses at training centers, plus shipping. A trainer or shipper would merely have to present an invoice for reimbursement.

Marv said...


I was thinking more that the track would hire a vanning service to corral and return the horses to their stables. You would get an economy of scale that isn't possible with everyone shipping on their own. Plus subsidized costs tend to rise (see colleges). I know there are complications (like having to wait until the last race to return, etc.) but it would make more economic sense.