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Dean Hoffman's Blog


Should trainers and drivers get the same cut of the purse?

Published: December 25, 2008 9:19 pm ET

Last Comment: June 17, 2009 6:13 am ET | 39 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

A driver takes the lines of a horse in the paddock before a race, parades it, scores it, and races it. The race lasts less than two minutes and the entire process from the time the driver takes the lines until he hands them back to the trainer or grooms maybe takes 10 minutes.

A trainer spends the entire week with the horse, training it, supervising its care, shoeing, nutrition, shipping, warming up, and cooling out.

Both trainer and driver get the same percentage of the purse money won by a horse. Is that fair?

The trainer certainly spends far, far more time with a horse than the driver. The trainer has to purchase equipment, employ people, pay the vet, shoer, feed man and the shipper. The driver has to buy a set of colors and a whip. Is that fair?

I think the five percent split to the trainer and five percent to the trainer is a carryover from the days when most horses were driven by their trainers. The trainer-driver got 10 percent of the purse, so when different people began to split the duties, it seemed natural to split the commission in half---five percent to the trainer, five percent to the driver. Is that fair?

I once asked that to a prominent trainer who regularly used a top driver and he quickly said, "He's made me a lot of money by his race driving. I'm happy that he gets five percent of the purse."

Instead of giving the trainer maybe seven percent and the driver three, maybe the driver should get the higher percent. After all, he is the one who is on the hot seat for snap decisions made during a race. Maybe the driver deserves his five or perhaps even six percent.

One way to give both the trainer snd driver more, of course, would be to increase the combined take to more than 10 percent, but that is taking money right out of the pocket of the owner and that's probably the last thing we should consider.

The top money-winning driver in the game this year, Tim Tetrick, took in more than $19.7 million in purses, almost 10 million more than the leading trainer. Tetrick's personal split is just under a million bucks while Mickey Burke's percentage yields his stable just under $500,000.

What are your thoughts on this? Is the current split fair? Should it be adjusted? Should the size of the purse affect the percentages to the driver and trainer? Should a driver who wins a $1 million race get $25,000 for his efforts while the trainer, who may have sweated bullets with the horse all-year-round, get the same?

Your thoughts please.

June 17, 2009 - 6:13 amYes I believe this is fair.

Yes I believe this is fair. If the trainer would want to make more money or work less, she should of made himself driver. without the other cannot be but I ask you...The people who watch the race think about the trainer even for a second? no...they just want to see the driver and they don`t care how did that horse become so good in competition. So the driver is winning a lot of money with his show..more than he is ever paid.

February 28, 2009 - 9:21 pmWOW this is just like our

WOW this is just like our industry, talking about what is important to everyone except the "Customer" As a customer who has their money on the line every night I want the best drvier who can find the hole I need to have a winning bet.

The trainers do their job for the owners it is the drivers who control what happens for the fans.

Our drivers are racing 8 to 10 times per night, they control everything that happens in the race, and they are true physical and mentally adept athletes. Race Car drivers who are the closest comparison just take the power of a car and need only the skill of getting around other cars.

A Harness Racing driver must be able to get the most out of a independent thinking animal, (who cannot tell them that they are not feeling like racing tonight) coax them to their best performance, weave them through tight openings, strategize in a split second what other drivers are going to do, (no time outs like football, basketball, hockey to figure out the strategy in the middle of the game) expose their bodies to unprotected danger (no roll cage and safety devices like cars have) and do all this while stressing that they are the 4 to 5 favourite and if they do not do all this right to win the race fans will be cursing them. I can’t think of another sport with so much pressure.

We must examine why the general public will flock to Maple Leaf games at the rate of 18,000 per night, Blue Jay games 25,000 per game etc. The Leafs haven’t made the playoffs for 3 years and the last Stanley Cup was 1967. The Blue Jays are technically playing exhibition games from around July 15 when they typically drop 10 games out of first place.

Maybe it is the spirit of cheering Toronto Teams or Players...wait a minute the Blue Jays do not have one player who was born in Ontario, the Maple Leafs only 6 players, the Raptors none...

Most if not all of the top drivers in our sport are from Ontario so we need to let fans know if they truly want to cheer on their local team they should come to Harness Racing.

One last thought... I think another appeal of those sports is the fact that athletes make millions of dollars and that creates intrigue. How many articles are written about the latest contract signed by our current superstar? Wouldn’t Harness Racing love to have the press the Leafs have received over the Matts Sundin retirement/non-retirement?

As humans we idolize people who rise to the top and make more money than we could ever imagine. Our top driver Jody Jamieson has made only $435,000 (5% of $$8,704,963 ) at WEG to date this year. Although this would seem like a lot of money to many of us it is nothing in the sports world for the top local athlete in our business. I know many owners and trainers are gasping right now but elevating the status of our drivers is the way to revitalize out sport.

I propose that the top 15 drivers only be employed by WEG and paid a salary with some bonuses built in for handle increases. Let’s say Jody would be signed to a one year contract for $2,000,000 per year. Other drivers would be paid according to their success just like all other sports. So let’s say that WEG would have a payroll of $15,000,000. I know that the history of paying drivers by 5% was to ensure they were always trying to win to earn a living and provide the fans the best integrity for their wagering dollar.

We know that this does not guarantee anything to the wagering public.

I would suggest that we have a General Manager for all the WEG drivers. The GM would be someone like Ron Waples or equivalent legend driver who really knows what is going on out on the r=track. The GM’s job would be to watch the races, council drivers and impose fines or penalties on drivers anytime he felt we were not giving honest and quality drives.

Anyone racing at WEG would have to use one of these 15 star drivers so all customers would be assured of getting a quality drive and we could build stardom amongst this driver group. The only exception would be stake races where outside drivers could drive for their normal trainer. If a driver wants to join the WEG group then they would have prove themselves at a B track and would require approval by the General Manager.

The GM would allow them to drive some races at WEG to see if they can fit in. If the GM feels the new driver could be a new star for WEG then he must cut a driver from WEG and back to B tracks. Sorry if this sounds tough but we must think of the fans and all sports teams cut players if they can no longer perform at the same level as the past. To get the 18 to 35 year old demographic we need stars and future stars through rookies on the main stage every night.

Let’s face it... what sport just allows anyone to come to there sports building or field and play with the superstars. Can you imagine how you would feel as a fan if the Blue Jays would just allow anyone whether they have the required skills or not to play with the Jays for a game? Well our fans feel the same way when they have to decide whether they should be some driver they have never heard of coming in from a B track for one race on the card. What upsets us more is when that driver/trainer teams right to the front and wins easy at 10 to 1. We want to know we have the best drivers sitting behind the horses every race when we are laying down our money.

If we are going to be in the big time we need to act like it.

WEG drivers would only be allowed to race away from WEG for stake races.

Drivers would also have to make themselves available for any media/advertising/marketing/charity activities requested by WEG.

They would visit schools for career day presentation to build our future fans; they would host school trips to the paddock on qualifying days at Mohawk.

The drivers would have to make a commitment of a minimum numbers of hours in the public eye.

They would actually look excited when they won a horse race and all drivers should develop a signature salute like Rick Zeron and always give away their whip to a young child at the races

They should be on TV and Radio constantly building star personality. I think Bob McCowan at Fan 590 would love to interview a driver every week. After all he did own a Harness Racehorse.

Etc. Etc. the mind runs wild with promotional ideas...

WEG would pay for the drivers salaries by taking in the 5% the drivers would normally get from driving. They would also make more than the drivers currently do because they restrict other drivers/trainers coming in and taking 5% of WEG purses back to another track.

They would increase revenue by the handle increases based on the new stardom we create with the drivers. WEG would also look to get many sponsors for the drivers and WEG would retain any sponsorship money. We have to think like car racing where there are sponsors logo’s all over their racing colours.

This new found stardom, along with success with new fans would allow drivers to renegotiate contracts annually and find themselves among the other sports stars in our city.

Obviously this is a simplistic view and many details have to be worked out but there is no denying that sports stars can sell a sport!

February 4, 2009 - 4:53 pmThe trainer get money from

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

The trainer get money from the owner to do his job not the driver. The 5% is just a little extra for a good performance so it's fair that trainer and driver get the same %

January 15, 2009 - 10:45 pmEver been to a sale and

libby (not verified) SAID...

Ever been to a sale and watched as a horse with a '51 record and a half million dollars goes to a killer? Maybe some of the money or at least a part of the registration fees should go to support the rescue operations that provide homes for some of our champions

January 14, 2009 - 10:36 pmGreat idea in theory, but

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

Great idea in theory, but there are too many owners that don't pay their bills on time, never mind paying percentage. There are places that don't automatically take the trainers percentage out of the purse and the trainer has to wait to be paid by the owner, and some don't pay. I whole heartedly agree with giving the breeders a percentage of earnings, seeing the results from the yearling sales this past fall, many breeders would hardly have made enough to cover the cost of stud fees never mind feeding a foal for the year leading up to the sale makes it tough for a breeder to be able to afford the better or "flavor of the month" sires.

January 1, 2009 - 9:04 amI agree, trainers and

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

I agree, trainers and grooms are the center of this business. The day to day training and caretaking are the secret to the drivers success!!!!!

December 30, 2008 - 10:00 pmWow, if you are a trainer

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

Wow, if you are a trainer and aren't making enough on your daily rate and everything else that you charge for shipping, vet bills and medication bought for the whole barn including horses you own that is billed to one owner then you are not a very good business man. What do you think keeps owners out of this business?? UNREASONABLE TRAINING BILLS... there is nothing wrong with charging a fair price for an honest days work but when there are guys out there that are doing nothing but gouge owners until they eventually get out of the business that is wrong.. there are few trainers that are getting rich on their 5%, so save the crying wolf on the daily rates, at $60 a day plus, plus, plus, plus you should be talking to your banker or bookkeeper because someone is not taking care of your money!!!!

December 30, 2008 - 3:45 pmHey... don't forget the

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

Hey... don't forget the Breeder.... Without him or her there is no driver or trainer!!

December 28, 2008 - 10:50 pmLets try an open market

Bernard (not verified) SAID...

Lets try an open market system. Owners and trainers can negotiate a percentage at the time of hiring. Likewise, the percentage would be negotiated with the driver at the time of hiring. I think it would be interesting to see the scramble before a big race to get the top drivers.

December 28, 2008 - 10:05 pmGreat question Dean. The

Robert Leatham (not verified) SAID...

Great question Dean.

The way I see it a driver should have his 5% cut to 2%. They are over rated and lets face it without a trainer providing them with a drive they wouldn't have any work would they.

I think they should take that 3% from the driver and give it to the breeder of the horse, for as long as the horse races regardless of ownership on the animal. As long as the breeder is still breeding horses he should receive a continual incentive to keep breeding horses.

Without the breeder this industry is doomed. They are the most important part of the racing equation and the least looked after financially.

The standardbred publication industry, as a whole seem to glorify the drivers and give the trainers second billing while a breeder well he's lucky to get a mention in a write up ever.

When you take a look at drivers racing on the B circuit here in Ontario, there are a lot of drivers making in excess of a 100,000 bucks in a season. The top three or four drivers at Flamboro, London, Georgian, Elora all making a more than decent living. Henry, Richardson, Forward, Mackenzie, Coulter, McClure Clements, Wall, Battin, heck even Doug McNair an 18 year old kid is going to clear over 50 grand his first year of driving. What's their over head? Colours and a whip? Vehicle to get to the track?

Take a look at how much the breeder spends. Stud fees, housing a mare and colt for 2 years plus, vet bills , mortgage, hydro, taxes, insurance, stake nomination fees, registration, the list just keeps growing but yet he gets zilch, not-ta, nothing but an average price for his colt.

My goodness the breeder deserves more than 3%. I take it back. Split 5% between the driver and the trainer and give the breeder 5% of the purse from every race the animal he bred races in for life. That makes more sense to me. Without the breeder there wouldn't be horse racing period. You tell me who deserves what?

December 28, 2008 - 1:47 pmTrainers should definitely

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

Trainers should definitely get more then the drivers. Especially when some of the drivers refuse to do their jobs. They get behind a horse and look at the tote board to see how they should drive....I mean come on!!! Sit behind any horse and regardless of the odds or the trainer, do your job for ever long the race is....Because unless all drivers are willing to do that, they deserve far less of the 10%.

December 28, 2008 - 8:54 amRegarding jockeys getting

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

Regarding jockeys getting 10% - from that they pay their agent a percentage and another percentage to their valets , so they end up with about 5%.

December 28, 2008 - 2:45 amI think a driver should be

norm (not verified) SAID...

I think a driver should be given a flat fee of say $25 per drive plus 3% of the purse..The trainer given 6% and the Groom be given 1%.

December 27, 2008 - 11:34 pmFairness in our sport is a

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

Fairness in our sport is a laughable reality.
Our own horsemens association doesn't represent its members equally,how can we expect it between drivers and trainers.
Everyone knows that a trainers earnings are contained in their 5%.The training fees strictly cover operating expenses ranging from staff to transportation.If a trainer has a horse on a deal in which he gets a larger purse share,he is making concessions elsewhere.That deal works for owners on cheaper horses but only works for trainers if the horse is racing for enough purse.
Drivers are to be respected for the job they do,but not at the expense of the trainers.The 5% split was brought in at a time when there was loyalty between drivers and trainers .
watching races nightly becomes more frustrating when you see these drivers giving each other holes so now your horse instead of sitting 3rd is 4th and either goes first up or is 9th turning for home and every trainer in the business has stood in the paddock knowing the owner was going to call saying,what the hell was that!!

December 27, 2008 - 10:29 pmTo all of you who have quite

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

To all of you who have quite a lot to say about "trainers bills" have obviously never been in the position. A trainer charges enough to cover a horse's basic needs, and you have NO clue what a bag of grain, bale of hay or the cost of bedding. Nevermind the cost of fuel to ship these animals from racetrack to racetrack. Or the stall rent, or the mortgages on farms, or the power bills to light up a whole barn, or the water bills, which keep rising, nevermind that most trainers are still charging the same as they were 10 years ago, just to keep owners in the barn. Nevermind paying help, who also have to live eat and breathe. So to sit there and chirp up and say that a trainer doesn't deserve 5% is unbelievable

December 27, 2008 - 9:24 pmI think 5 % for drivers is

Bernd Kretzschmar (not verified) SAID...

I think 5 % for drivers is fair but it could be on a graduated scale depending on the purse.
I.e. $6,000 purse drivers receive as an example $10 / drive plus 5% if they are in the money. While drivers that go for lets say $100,000 get 3% the remaining 2% being redistributed to the lower purse races to pay for the $10.
That would encourage new drivers to enter racing and support the drivers on smaller tracks.
This would still encourage good drivers while allowing drivers on small tracks to make a living.
If the trainer is also the driver this subsidy would be cancelled if the horse is in the money.

Just a thought.

Bernd Kretzschmar

December 27, 2008 - 3:37 pmI rather be a jockey for the

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

I rather be a jockey for the runnners they get 10% and go for more money.

December 27, 2008 - 2:21 pmYes, it's a team effort.

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

Yes, it's a team effort.

December 27, 2008 - 1:40 pmI find it almost amusing

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

I find it almost amusing that one can say that a trainer gets paid enough through their daily rates. People saying that have never tried to run a public stable over a long period of time and make it work financially. Others have talked about the risks the drivers take and accidents that could or unfortunately do happen. To those I would say they have never trained many horses because just as many (if not more) serious accidents happen while jogging or training on a daily basis and if you don't think so go to a training facility and watch for a week. Also, come around any trainer at yearling breaking time and tell me it isn't a risky business for the trainer. Yes, a good catch driver has great skill (just watch John Campbell) and deserve to be paid a fair wage. But I do not think they should be paid the same percentage as the trainer because in the training business you are often times only as good as your last good horse. A driver's next horse is only a race away while a trainer's next horse may be months if not longer away. Besides, go to Woodbine or Mohawk and walk past where the drivers park their cars. Doesn't look like they are hurting much to me.

December 27, 2008 - 10:54 amI think the split is about

trackman (not verified) SAID...

I think the split is about right. Driver's have a dangerous job and you have to be on your toes all the time. Trainers get a daily fee to look after your horse as it is. That is part of their income. My trainer is very fair so I can't complain, but also some of the fees the big time trainers charge are ridiculous!

December 27, 2008 - 9:08 amThe trainer should get no

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

The trainer should get no percentage of the purse money, only the driver. How is it fair that the trainer accumulates 5 percent of a owner's horse winnings when the horse is doing well, then the horse has a bad month and the trainer demand full payment. Ludicrous.

December 27, 2008 - 9:07 amWhen the drivers drive cheap

John (not verified) SAID...

When the drivers drive cheap horses (more dangerous) for lesser purses they should get more than 5% but when they drive for purses of $20,0000.00 or more (better horses) an argument could be made that 5% is a lot. As for the trainers the same argument could be made but replacing the danger element by difficulty. In any case the trainers have a choice and a bargaining power when they accept a horse in training.

December 27, 2008 - 8:22 amThe truth of the matter--if

Anne (not verified) SAID...

The truth of the matter--if we are going to be honest--is that most trainers use catch drivers because THEY CAN'T DRIVE! Driving is also much more dangerous. I don't remember the last time I heard of a life threatening injury incurred during a training mile. There have been grooms killed in the line of their everyday work, most recently a groom at The Meadows who was kicked in the chest. How many grooms STILL GET NO PERCENTAGE???? Beissnger never paid percentages to grooms---figured that was their job. I recall a nasty scene between Joe O'Brien and Lami just before Jodevin retired. Where's the justice????

December 27, 2008 - 8:20 amI WAS ONE OF THE DRIVERS TO

wmhamm (not verified) SAID...


December 27, 2008 - 6:34 amMaybe it's just because

Ed (not verified) SAID...

Maybe it's just because we're used to it, but as an owner I think it's about right the way it is, although I think there could be some adjustment to the trainer's share for stake payments paid by the owner.

December 27, 2008 - 6:17 amNow this is a ridiculous

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

Now this is a ridiculous comment, if you think a trainer makes enough off his daily rate I'd love to see those bills or operation

December 27, 2008 - 2:50 amAny trainer that I have had

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

Any trainer that I have had was also a driver and if he felt someone else could do a better job then that was fine with me . When it came down to stakes races and we had a hired pilot , I always made sure my main man was looked after . I always appreciated the job well done by driver but never lost sight of who did the work 24/7 .

December 26, 2008 - 11:40 pmwe all know that trainer

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

we all know that trainer does work all week on his horses to get them in the best of shape so that the driver has something to work with but think really quick there is one winner in each race so there is one driver making good money but every trainer gets paid every month. In thoroughbred racing, the jockeys get their flat rate. I used to own a couple of cheap runners and the jockeys where getting 65.00$ for every mount and the outriders were getting paid too. Think of all the risk a driver takes, who is going to pay the driver when he`s in the hospital or crippled - just use common sense.

There is 5 money earners but a lot of drivers get no money every night, who's going to drive the losers to make full fields for the fortunate driver that has enough luck to drive for a big stable.

PS: I just think you need winners and losers in every race - that's called racing no matter what sport or races !!!!!!!!!

December 26, 2008 - 11:15 pmEven a bad driver can drive

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

Even a bad driver can drive a good horse to a win, it's the trainer who conditions the horse, some of these horses I have seen go down during their training trips, to me this one is a no brainer.

December 26, 2008 - 10:16 pmIt's not hard to make a case

W.B. (not verified) SAID...

It's not hard to make a case for either; however, what has been mentioned--and often overlooked--is the names and faces not on the program. Those are the ones that will make or break the horse nine times out of ten. So, to the owners that don't understand how it "really" works behind the scenes the message is, don't forget about your horse's groom. He/she is the one that spends the time--or not if you're cheap--with your horse. Doesn't need to be anything special, just a little something to say that you care and appreciate their efforts. Hint, decent cup of coffee and doughnuts on a Saturday for the barn is much appreciated!

December 26, 2008 - 8:56 pmtrainers should get more

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

trainers should get more thats a no brainer .

December 26, 2008 - 8:37 pmThe trainer gets paid to do

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

The trainer gets paid to do his job through his daily rate. He should not get any percentage. The driver earnes his commission through his drive. Currently 5% seems to be about fair maybe a percent or two low.

December 26, 2008 - 8:11 pmThe trainer is the more

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

The trainer is the more important part of the formula by far. All the top drivers drive for the more successful trainers as a means to increase their earning potential. That being said, the forgotten argument here is that the trainer receives day money on top of the percentage of the horses earnings thereby swaying the earning potential in his/her favor. If a driver only drove exclusively for a single trainer, the money earnings per individual would greatly swing in the trainer's favor. The system is not flawed. Top catch drivers earn the money they do by competing in more races than an individual trainer so the earnings argument is invalid. Remember that what these guys do is highly specialized and far more dangerous, they deserve the 5% as much as the trainer does.

December 26, 2008 - 7:53 pmHow about the driver puts

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

How about the driver puts his life on the line each race... trainers also get paid for training it all week its not like they do it for free ... leave it the way it is!

December 26, 2008 - 6:27 pmIf 10% is the limit is to be

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

If 10% is the limit is to be the combined take out for the trainer and the driver, the driver, if he or she is a catch driver, should be paid a flat fee of $20 to $25 per drive and 2.5% to 3% of the purse earned. 7% to 7.5% of the purse earned should go to the trainer. If the trainer is fair minded, he or she should share at 1% of the purse earned with his assistant or the groom for the horse.

Some of the top trainers today invoice their owners for 7% or 8% of purses earned against which they credit any amounts paid directly from the race venues. Of that 7% or 8% half goes to their assistant trainers and the other half goes to the grooms of the horses that earn the purses. That is very fair.

As an owner, I believe a more fair formula would be based on the net earnings of the horse. I believe that the trainer should be paid a carried interest in the annual net profits (annual purses earned less expenses charged and paid by the owner less any commissions held out less staking and starting fees, etc.) of a horse equal to 20%. That is how it works in my business. It is a tested formula and it puts the incentive in the right place - ie. the profits of the horse. Owners should require trainers to return any commissions received if at the end of the year a horse is not profitable.

In our stable, we pay to the trainer the lower of a 10% commission on the sale of a horse or 10% of the cumulative net profits of the horse he or she trained so long as the horse was profitable on a cumulative basis while in that trainer's care.

December 26, 2008 - 4:55 pmAs an owner I hold my

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

As an owner I hold my trainer responsible for the horse. A bad trainer can harm the horse...a bad drive is forgotten the next start and the driver can be easily replaced. No question the trainer deserves a few more percentage points than the driver. A good driver can drive many good horses a year. Most trainers have just a few real money earners. Its all about accountability.

December 26, 2008 - 4:34 pmEven if we unamiously agree

howard pearce (not verified) SAID...

Even if we unamiously agree that trainers should get more,how would we convince drivers to take less? I think 6 % (trainers) and 4% (drivers) is the right answer.

December 26, 2008 - 3:35 pmThe trainer spends more time

Anonymous (not verified) SAID...

The trainer spends more time working with the horse, but is already compensated for that work/time through the daily training rates. The driver has responsibility for the horse during the race and is also accepting a certain degree of risk. I feel that the current splits are a fair arrangement. If an individual trainer or driver felt that their experience or talent was worth a larger percentage, then I think they are within their rights to charge an additional fee, it would be their responsibility to negotiate and collect such fees. Perhaps it would even make more sense than the current system?

December 26, 2008 - 3:31 pmThere is no question that

KenSt.John (not verified) SAID...

There is no question that each has a huge amount of responsibility, however it's also clear that the trainer has much more. The trainer has to deal with the horse the next day and the owner if it doesn't go so good. It's a job that takes a tole on each of us but an equal share is fair in my opinion as each has a skill and a job to do!

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