Racing: Trainers in trouble: Wolves gather at the stable door

Balancing the books is now a greater problem than getting the horses fit and winning races; Difficult times for Britain's trainers could see their ranks dramatically reduced.

AT THE last count, there were approximately 520 professional racehorse trainers in Britain. If John Gosden, one of their number, is correct, then you would be a fool to lend money to about 410 of them. "What you have to face," Gosden says, "is that, conservatively, 80 per cent of trainers in this country are insolvent. If you cashed them tomorrow at the bank you would be in a considerably negative situation."

It might sound an exaggerated claim, until you consider some of the familiar names which will be missing from racecards this year. Bob Champion, Graham Thorner, Julie Cecil and Lord Huntingdon - the Queen's trainer, no less - are among those who have not renewed their licences for 1999. Cash-flow problems, to a greater or lesser degree, were a factor for all four. Lord Huntingdon, who had almost 70 horses in his yard, was estimated to be losing pounds 40,000 a year, despite charging his owners about pounds 150 per horse, per week for his services. When the chill wind of financial reality finally blew him away, few of Britain's trainers did not shiver in sympathy.

A trainer has three principal sources of income: training fees, their cut of any prize-money won by their horses, and, if they are lucky, commercial sponsorship of their stable. They may also try to turn a profit from buying and selling horses, or betting on them.

The list of potential outgoings, by contrast, runs into dozens. Staff wages, transport costs, feed bills, mortgage or rent repayments, vets and blacksmiths' bills are the most obvious, but everything down to the paint on the stable doors needs to be billed and paid for.

One trainer who takes the accounts book as seriously as the form book is Simon Dow. The son of a bank manager, he was taught from a young age that "to be in business, you've got to stay in business". His charges at present are pounds 25 per day per horse for single owners, and pounds 26 per day for those owned in partnership, which reflects the extra work involved in keeping multiple owners up to date.

Significantly, though, he offers a discount of pounds 1 per day for any owner who pays a bill within 21 days of its arrival. About 80 per cent of his owners take advantage, and while bad payers are as much of a problem in racing as they are in any other industry, Dow's income streams are less likely to dry up than most.

"The most important thing is cost recovery," Dow says. "Every single pound that's spent on the horses, we are as certain as we possibly can be that it gets invoiced out. It's easy to lose a pound here and there, but if I lost pounds 2 on every horse every month, I'd be out of business by the end of the year. That's the sort of margin that I'm working on, a thousand pounds either way can make all the difference."

Dow employs a member of staff specifically to look after the accounts. "I regard that as being as important a job as there is in the stables," he says. "Obviously it's important to make sure that the horses are in good health, but it's no good if you're not going to be able to buy the food or pay the staff."

The pennies are looked after to the last detail. "I work on the basis of one lad looking after three horses, so a third of his wages come from that fee. The horse will eat about pounds 40-worth of feed each week, including hay - it depends on the individual animal. There's the shavings for bedding, the rent and rates, all the individual items of expenditure which we itemise such as telephones, electricity, water rates, all the way down the line. Once the balance goes the wrong way, you've got a hell of a lot of time to get through until it tips back your way."

Even at the pinnacle of the profession, training can be an uncertain business. "It's not a great way to make money, or to make your family secure," Gosden says. "I do it because I have a passion for working with horses, which can be remarkably fulfilling and incredibly frustrating. You wouldn't logically tell anyone to go into it."

But people still do, either for the love of the game, or because they are qualified for little else. And for many, the first cash-flow problems will emerge within a matter of days, because while staff must be paid from the moment the stable doors open, the owners may prefer a more flexible arrangement.

After a while, the prospect of a "knocking" owner is met with as much resignation as anger. "All you say every year when you're a trainer is, well, we're into a new year now, so who's going to knock me this year?" Rod Simpson, in his 25th season with a licence, says.

"They know that you can't just let the horse starve to death, if you've an animal in your care you have to take care of it. Instead they tell me I'll get a cheque next week, or that they'll see me at the races and give me some cash, as if they're doing me a big favour."

Simpson believes that the problem runs from top to bottom. "Those that have an Arab influence, well lucky them," he says. "They've had a right nice few years. But the day it stops, they won't be around for two minutes, because their overheads will kill them. I wish Sheikh Mohammed had pulled the plug a couple of years ago because I wanted to see them all cringe and whine."

An obvious solution to the problem would be for Weatherbys, racing's "civil service", to deduct training costs centrally, just as they do for jockeys' fees. Yet while the mechanism for this already exists, many trainers continue to work without any formal contract at all.

"They find it embarrassing," Grant Harris, of the National Trainers' Federation, says. "You're trying to persuade someone to part with pounds 20,000 and then another pounds 15,000 a year, and you say, `would you mind signing this so if you don't pay I can take you to court'. These people might be friends."

When money is tight, the thick rolls of cash inside the bookmakers' satchels can be an irresistible temptation. For many trainers, a successful punt once or twice a season makes all the difference. But as Simon Dow says, "you're on very thin ice and you're not really running a business if you have to generate money from something like gambling in order to stay solvent."

It may be that the message is starting to filter through to bright-eyed young horsemen and women with an eye on the winners' enclosure. Since last November, all would-be trainers have been required to attend a three- week course in stable and business management before the Jockey Club will issue their licence. The next course, with space for 10 people, is due to start in March. As yet, not a single application has been received.

News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower