Prize money remains one of the most fascinating things about horse racing. Punters view a valuable race as more interesting, despite the fact we’re not the ones competing for it.
We take a walk through where the money comes from, how it’s divided up, why one race is more valuable than another and also concerns about prize money levels in Britain.
Where Prize Money Comes From
Trainers primarily make their money from training fees, while owners of race horses rely on prize money to make a return on their considerable investments.
They get that money from two major sources; stake money from the owners (entry fees) and money added to stakes by racecourses from other sources.
Money From Owners
Each owner entering horses to run is liable to contribute to the stake money pool. There is a separate pool for each race.
After each race is run the money in the pool is then divided and distributed. The distribution takes place in accordance of the rules of racing and we have more below on how it is handed out.
Money From Other Sources
It is usually up to individual racecourses to get funds together from a number of sources to boost purses. This is what is meant when you see “added to stakes” on a race card. The ‘stakes’ are the owner contributions and the money added is from elsewhere.
Racecourses still take around 50% of their revenue from paying customers coming in to watch racing, eat and drink. Sponsorship is another key factor in prize money while TV revenue can also ultimately contribute to prize money levels.
The levy fund, which takes contributions from bookmakers to help fund horse racing, is another provider and allows the sport to have minimum prize funds for each race type which we explain below.
Prize Fund Valuations
We all know that horse racing is split into different levels. It seems fair that better and faster horses run for more money and the slower, lower quality types run for less. But what makes one race a £1 million event and another a £5,000 affair?
First of all, there are minimum prize money levels in Britain which are set by the BHA – British Horseracing Authority. This maintains the integrity of certain races and also stops racecourses potentially earning revenue but not putting back into the sport.
As of early 2021, the minimum prize money levels were set thus:
|1 (Group/Grade 1)||£150,000||£200,000||£100,000||£75,000||£25,000||£45,000||£40,000|
|1 (Group/Grade 2)||£65,000||£90,000||£50,000||£40,000||£20,000||£32,000||£30,000|
|1 (Grade 3) Heritage||£100,000||£100,000||£100,000||£100,000|
|1 (Group/Grade 3||£40,000||£60,000||£40,000||£35,000||£35,000|
So, the most valuable races in Britain by type are Group 1 races on the Flat for those aged three and over.
Flat prize money is generally higher than over jumps. Flat horses are more valuable, especially given their stud values, while racecourse attendances and sponsorships also reach a peak in this sphere despite meetings over jumps including the Grand National meeting and the Cheltenham Festival.
Races become more valuable because of a number of factors, not least prestige and the income they generate for the industry as a whole.
For example, as a top Grade 3 handicap chase the Grand National needs to be worth a minimum of £100,000. But, owing to the interest in the race and the betting money it generates, it is actually valued at £1 million.
Another million-pound race is The Derby. Already in the top category as a Group 1 event for three-year-olds, The Derby is expensive to enter for owners, is watched by millions on TV around the world, generates huge betting revenue and is considered the Blue Riband event in British Flat racing.
The top stallions in the industry have won The Derby or sired winners of it and that is hugely important for the industry, hence the money involved.
How Prize Money is Shared Out
There is no hard and fast rule about how prize money is shared out, given that for some prestige races the money can go deeper into the field.
Generally speaking, for run of the mill races every day around the country the split is done like this:
- 1st place – 54%
- 2nd place – 25.3%
- 3rd place – 12.6%
- 4th place – 8.1%
Of this money, the majority goes to the owner and a percentage goes to the trainer and jockey. Winning is everything in racing, as it should be in sport, so percentages are heavily weighted towards winning trainers and jockeys as well as owners.
Typically, jockey and trainer prize money percentages look like this:
- Winning Flat jockey – 7% of prize money
- Placed Flat jockey – 3% of prize money
- Winning jump jockey – 9% of prize money
- Placed jump jockey – 4% of prize money
- Winning trainer – 10% of prize money
- Place trainer – 6% of prize money
These figures are approximate and are subject to change.
With all of the above taking into account, a £30,000 Class 2 race on the Flat may divide prize money like this:
- Winner – £16,200 (£1,134 to the jockey, £1,620 to the trainer, £13,446 to the owner).
- 2nd place – £7,590 (£228 to the jockey, £455 to the trainer, £6,907 to the owner).
- 3rd place – £3,780 (£113 to the jockey, £227 to the trainer, £3,440 to the owner).
- 4th place – £2,430 (£73 to the jockey, £146 to the trainer, £2,211 to the owner).
Both the percentages and the depth of the prize money can change when major sponsors and other outside forces add money to the stakes. For example, this is how the prize money was shared out in the 2021 Derby at Epsom:
Total prize fund: £1,106,662.50
- 1st – £637,987.50
- 2nd – £241,875
- 3rd – £121,050
- 4th – £60,300
- 5th – £30,262.50
- 6th – £15,187.50
Concerns About Prize Money
There are lots of concerns about prize money in British racing. Not every race is like The Derby after all.
During a typical year, owners may pay bills totalling more than £600 million while total prize money may only come to around £160 million. That’s a huge shortfall.
While owners can get lucky and land a big race that may pay the bills for a while, prize money alone can never cover the cost of owning racehorses.
Prize money levels in Britain have fallen short compared with France, Australia and the USA to name a few, as you can see in the graph above. One thing those territories have in common is pool betting.
In the States for example, all the money bet at the track is handled by the track owners. That means that after winners are paid out and running costs are taken care of, the rest of the money can go back into the sport and back into their racecourse – including into prize money.
On a British racecourse, bookmakers pay fees to rent a pitch. If they have a great day however, and many times they do, the profit they make goes home with them and doesn’t have to re-enter the sport ever again.
While sponsorship is big in Britain and that is not likely to change owing to the prestige of the races taking place, it cannot be relied upon.
Whether at the track or online, it would make far more sense for individual racecourse owners to handle bets and ensure profits are redistributed in the sport.
World’s Richest Horse Races
As of 2022, these are the richest horse races in the world:
- Saudi Cup, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – £14.7 million
- Dubai World Cup, Meydan, UAE – £8.8 million
- The Everest, Randwick, Australia – £8 million
- Breeders’ Cup Classic, Various Tracks, USA – £4.4 million
- Melbourne Cup, Flemington, Australia – £4.2 million
All of these races are Flat events of course, the top two being run on dirt. Europe’s most valuable race, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, comes in just below this list at £4.1 million while Britain doesn’t have an entry in the top ten.