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.

Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
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

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect