Follow the Money

At the Del Mar Racetrack in 2016, there was a total handle of $542,633,781 yet there is no real effort made to care for the horses from which racing profits and there appears to be no concerted national effort to address the problems plaguing the industry.

Given that horses can live to be 25-30 years old and cost thousands of dollars per year to keep, the $25 fee collected when a thoroughbred is officially registered for their future retirement is clearly a token gesture. The charitable donations made by tracks to benefit horse rescues is utterly insufficient.  

Does the race-going public have a stomach for this reality? Can racing be reformed or must it be brought to an end? As long as there is so much money to be made in breeding and racing then slaughtering horses for meat, the breeding and brutally will continue. 


It's hard to watch these poor animals running for their lives for people who could really care less if they live."


~ Dr. Margaret Ohlinger, track vet, Finger Lakes (New York Times, 4/30/12)

winners and losers

Horse racing in America uses the pari-mutuel system of wagering, in which bettors place a wager against one another instead of against the house. The money bet on a race is pooled and the odds constantly change up until the last minute. Approximately 80% of the handle is returned to the winning bettors, with 20% paid out to the racetrack, jockeys, horse owners, state and local governments, and also to various gaming organizations when bets are placed through their apps or kiosks. Due to off-track and interstate betting, the amounts paid to the track itself has declined significantly since 2001.


Those who gamble on races are a slightly different breed than those who play cards or slots. “Studies find that adults who bet on horse racing (both on and off-track) have the highest incidence of problem and pathological gambling of any gambling patrons. Fourteen percent of pari-mutuel bettors are estimated to be problem gamblers and 25 percent are pathological gamblers.”


TVG is a name that can be seen all around the Del Mar Racetrack on banners and kiosks. They are an international betting and gaming operator for online wagering (just one of many), and they also operate a horse racing broadcast television channel. When bets are placed through their app or kiosk, on or off the track, they receive a cut. TVG was purchased by a British company called Betfair, in 2009. In 2016, Betfair merged with Paddy Power to form Paddy Power Betfair, a huge international gambling conglomerate which has a growing stake in the U.S. gambling market. To follow the money, one place to start would be Paddy Power Betfair.


(1) California Research Bureau, “Gambling in the Golden State, 1998 Forward” by Charlene Wear Simmons, Ph. D pg. 105 (May 2006) CRB 06-004 




The majority of jockeys who risk their lives riding at speeds of up to 35-40 MPH barely make enough to get by. Unless they finish in the top 3 spots, or are in the most prestigious races in the country, they will receive only about $40-$120 per race. Jockeys are independent contractors with agents who take about 20-25% of their earnings per race; with an additional 5% going to their valet. While the top jockeys may fare very well financially, the national average is only about $38,000 per year. 

If a jockey rides a lot, as would be necessary to make a living, it is extremely likely they will be injured at some point in their career. Most jockeys, except for the big names, live paycheck to paycheck and cannot afford their own disability insurance policy. The most common injuries include shoulder, collar bones, back, neck, as well as concussions. Though this is an extremely dangerous profession, only 4 states have Workers Compensation (NY, NJ, MD, CA). 

If a jockey is permanently disabled riding in a morning workout sessions or during a race, the track insurance is generally $500,000 to I million dollars. Lifetime care will far exceed this amount. Stablehands, those who care for and know the horses best, fare even worse financially and often cannot afford even a basic hotel room, especially in expensive cities like Del Mar.