I often hear that horse racing is unethical because it's all about money and making people rich, so I thought I'd do a fully transparent deep dive into the 2021 finances for Lady Dyanaformer to expose the real profits of horse racing.
For starters, it's important to point out that Dyana ran her first ever races in 2021, so it also was her first chance at making any money. There were obviously expenses in the years since she was born in 2018 that increased when she went into full-time training in June of 2020, but I'm only going to share the expenses from 2021 to show a full calendar year profit and loss.
Additionally, it's important to note that Dyana finished 2021 with a Starts Percentile Ranking (SPR) of 87. Dyana's SPR of 87 means her average earnings per start were greater than 87% of ALL 3-year-old Thoroughbred fillies in North America registered with The Jockey Club who raced in 2021. To calculate a horse's SPR, the horse's average earnings per start are compared to the average earnings per start of like horses (i.e. same sex, age and year(s) record). That means only 13% of 3-year-old female horses in North America earned more per race than Dyana in 2021 with the other 87% earning less per race.
Certainly we got very rich in 2021 having such a talented filly, so, here are the numbers....
Total 2021 Income = $21,568.46
Total 2021 LOSS = ($23,963.76)
Yes, you read that right. Even though Dyana was in the 87th percentile for earnings per race in 2021, we still lost almost $24,000 in 2021 campaigning her as a racehorse.
Before you start building a conspiracy theory about how those expenses must include some nefarious activity, let me break them down for you:
The Average Racehorse in North America
But Dyana only ran 2 races in 2021. All other racehorses run until their legs fall off so the owners can get rich. Wrong, but let's play with that theory a little using actual statistics from The Jockey Club Fact Book.
In 2021, the average number of races run by ALL horses in North America was 5.71, and Dyana averaged $10,620 per start. If Dyana had run the average number of races, she would have made $60,640.20 in 2021 instead of $21,240.00. With that additional income and the same $45,532.22 in expenses (although we would have actually had more expenses for jockey fees, entry fees, etc), Dyana would have profited $15,107.98 in 2021 - far from making us rich. And let's not forget that 87% of other horses like her actually averaged less per race, so most horses certainly made less money in 2021 than Dyana could have earned running 3.71 more races than she did.
Real Numbers Instead of Hypotheticals
It's certainly interesting using Dyana's hypothetical 2021 earning potential to try and guess what other horses might have earned racing in 2021, but we don't really have to because The Jockey Club generously publishes real data for us to review instead.
In 2021, the average money won per runner across ALL Thoroughbred racehorses in North America was $25,892. Horses born in New Jersey had the highest average winnings per horse in 2021 at $33,273, but even that high watermark number still does not exceed the $45,000 we spent in 2021 for Dyana. Also, those average earnings are BEFORE any fees are paid that directly relate to winning the money such as entry fees and jockey fees.
Even if I remove all categories not directly related to or required for racing (veterinary and wellness expenses, care, race photos, special feed & supplements, 5% purse share for her groom, and cost of goods for merchandise), Dyana's 2021 baseline expenses would be $28,963.76 - still more than the average earnings per runner in North America and leaving an annual profit of only $4,309.24 even for a New Jersey bred horse.
Changing the Narrative
As you can see, horseracing, like so many other equestrian sports, is not the get rich quick scheme people think (wish) it is. Is there a 1% in horse racing making significantly more than the average? Yes, you see them on Kentucky Derby Day and at the Breeder's Cup just like you hear about the wealth of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerburg. And when you hear about mega-rich businessmen, I'm confident you dismiss them as the exception instead of the rule, just as you should when you hear about the giant purses paid to the exceptional racehorses who are just that - the exception.
Come walk the backside of the track with me, and you'll see the hard-working everyday people who are the majority in horse racing. They truly CARE about their horses, and they're not in horse racing to get rich because they know all too well that horse racing is very unlikely to make them rich. Heck, I only have one racehorse, and I saw that reality very quickly.
In the United States money is considered a critical sign of success, so it's really hard to accept that someone might continue to do something without being motivated by money. It's hard to look at horse racing and think, "Wow, it must be awesome to do something that you love EVERY day of the year and to continue doing it knowing you will most likely live your entire life paycheck to paycheck," because in our culture it seems crazy for someone to not care about getting rich. Instead, the narrative the public has chosen to adopt is closer to, "The only way I would wake up every morning at 4am to work at least 10 hours a day 365 days per year would be to know I'm going to get rich, so clearly that's the only reason people get into horse racing."
For me, horse racing is a very expensive hobby, but let's be clear: calling it a hobby doesn't mean I care any less about my horses. I would, however, never jump into horse racing full-time because I like earning a salary and feeling financially stable. I need my salary to be able to afford to invest money into the people and racehorses I respect and love. I am okay knowing horse racing will not make me rich because I know I am investing in supporting hard-working people dedicated to the care and well-being of these amazing animals. The $45,532.22 we spent on Dyana in 2021 went straight to providing income to her trainer, her groom, exercise riders, veterinarians, massage therapist, drivers, and so many more people who support her.
Racing makes me happy, and that's all the return on my investment I need. I love to see the way Dyana pulls at the bit to run faster without any urging from her rider. I see how her groom, Alberto, talks softly to her as he skillfully wraps her legs, and I listen to her trainer, Brian, talk to the exercise riders about each individual horse to ensure every horse is healthy, happy, and not being overworked.
If I only cared about being rich, I would sell all my horses and certainly never return to horse racing, but I would rather continue to invest money every year to be part of a sport filled with people who love and care for Thoroughbreds just as much as me even if I'll never see a financial return on that investment. Every time I go to see Dyana and spend time with the people who care for her, I feel a sense of calm - that's what my investment in horse racing gives me, and I am forever grateful to be privileged enough to be able to be an investor in horse racing.
I urge you to look at racing through a different lens. If you want to get rich, make sure you avoid horse racing. But if you love horses more than money, please consider looking at horse racing as an insider with me.
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Kyle Rothfus (aka Kyle the OTTB Mare Guy)