What Motivates Trainers to Run?

The ability to win or be placed in a race outranks prize-money on offer by around 70-30 as the main motivation for trainers in deciding where to run.

The RCA and NTF commissioned a survey to better understand trainers’ motivations to run

That is the key finding of a survey undertaken by the RCA among members of the National Trainers Federation in an initiative aimed at helping racecourses to improve the experience for trainers and horse owners.

Explaining the methodology behind the survey, RCA Racecourse Services Executive Matthew Taylor says: “We split the questionnaire into four categories – the factors in the decision to run, prize-money, track and going, and racecourse communication and facilities – and made the section on factors our starting point, because we were looking to determine what was more important, winning or being placed, or prize-money.

“70% of trainers stated the ability to win or gain a place in a race was their primary reason for running, whilst 30% stated it was the prize-money available.

“I was surprised that prize-money wasn’t more of a priority, but trainers are true competitors who want to win.

“That’s not to underestimate the significance of prize-money, but the figures suggest that trainers want to get a win, whether it’s for the owner, or for the staff or to improve their reputation and business.”

The opportunity for glory was deemed the most important factor in entering a race

The finding does not surprise Rupert Arnold, chief executive of the National Trainers Federation, who initiated the survey after a conversation with RCA chairman Maggie Carver.

Arnold says: “The main conclusion matches our own experience and what trainers tell us about race-planning issues.

“To give an example from the new novice system on the Flat for two- and three-year-olds, trainers will say they don’t want to take horses to the races who aren’t competitive. Owners might know that in the broad scheme of things, if they spend £30,000 on a yearling, they stand less chance of winning a maiden race than someone who’s spent £300,000, but while they’re having the runs required to qualify for a handicap, they like to feel they will go to the races with a chance of being competitive, so that they enjoy the experience.

“Trainers tell me that owners don’t like going to the races to be out of the back door, but want a sense of being able to see the horse being competitive and have a shout at some prize-money.

“There has been a change in attitude from trainers, which reflects their owners’ attitudes. The days when owners just accepted their fate, that their horses weren’t going to be competitive until they got into handicaps, are starting to get behind us. It’s so expensive to have a horse in training and to send them to the races that they don’t want to have no chance of finishing in the money until they can get into a handicap.

“It’s in this context that you hear why trainers choose certain races, and it’s why trainers will say the first thing they look for in deciding where to run is being competitive. Prize-money then becomes the second issue.”

Ultra competitive: Owners & Trainers (Photo courtesy of Ascot Racecourse/Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

Similar findings emerged when the questionnaire, which Matthew Taylor developed in conjunction with his NTF counterpart George Noad, was further broken down into a range of ten factors influencing the trainers’ decision on where to run.

Taylor explains: “Three key elements came to the fore – the going description and the ability to win or gain a place scored where ranked joint top, with the conditions of the race in third place, whereas prize-money on offer ranked fourth.

“From the racecourses’ point of view, this proves that they need to get their going descriptions right and they must pay attention to race conditions, because it’s not easy to place horses, especially for a smaller yard. The fixture list might be big but it’s still challenging for trainers to find a suitable opportunity to win or be placed.”

On the ranking of prize-money, Rupert Arnold adds: “Over the last year or so prize-money has significantly increased, and people feel that the overall increase, plus the fact that prize-money is paid for more places and there is now appearance money, means the overall emphasis on levels has been diluted a little, and the focus is now more on being able to be competitive.”

In the section where prize-money was treated separately, 69% of trainers said the number of paid places affected their targeting of races. Of these 65% believed a minimum of six places should be paid. Perhaps surprisingly, only eight percent of respondents thought prize-money should go to the winner only.

Turning to the ‘hot topics’ of track and going, Matthew Taylor says: “From the earlier results, we’d already established that the conditions of a race are important in the decision to run. Next we wanted to know about the features of a track and gauge opinions on the provision of advanced going.”

“Perhaps not surprisingly, the surface was the most important factor, to the extent that 95% of trainers put it top of the track features. They want safe ground that is accurately described.

A safe, sound surface will always be a priority for racecourses and horsemen

“On advanced going, we asked trainers to rank the importance of this information between one and five. Everyone made it three or above, and 80% said it was important or very important. This is a key finding for racecourses, because it emphasises the requirement for accurate advanced information and its effective communication.

“As an extension, it’s interesting that 96% of trainers use the Racing Administration site for going updates, which makes sense, because they or their secretaries have to be on the site anyway to do declarations, but 62% also speak to the Clerk of the Course or groundsman. Those figures make the communication of advanced going even more important, and it could be a quick win for racecourses to get this information out in timely and suitable fashion.

On the topic of facilities, Taylor explains: “We asked very general questions about what racecourses could do better, and the overwhelming response concerned the owners’ and trainers’ experience and the provision of amenities for owners and trainers.”

Rupert Arnold adds: “It’s not all about investing hard cash in facilities, it’s about the way in which racecourses communicate with owners and trainers and how they treat them at the track, including the welcome they get. It’s as much about relationship management as giving away free food.

“Owners want to feel that given the amount of money they’ve spent on the horse and its training, in other words their investment in racing, is recognised by the way they are treated at the racecourse.”