Dave Contarino on the Cost of Training a Horse for the Kentucky Derby

Thoroughbred horseAccording to Dave Contarino, the odds of owning a horse that participates in the Kentucky Derby are extremely slim. Dave Contarino has rooted for both leading contenders and long shots at Churchill Downs in his lifetime. Here, Dave Contarino provides insight into the enormous undertaking of training a horse for this prestigious event.

A Gathering of Experts: What’s the age of these horses?

Dave Contarino: All Derby horses are 3 years old, so a horse has one single chance in its lifetime to compete in the Kentucky Derby.

A Gathering of Experts: How many horses are born in the United States each year?

Dave Contarino: In 2010, nearly 26,000 thoroughbreds were foaled in the U.S.

A Gathering of Experts: Impressive.

Dave Contarino: Especially considering the fact that only 20 horses race each year in the Kentucky Derby.

A Gathering of Experts: What’s the first step in this process?

Dave Contarino: First, the horse must be purchased at an auction, where the buyer could spend anywhere in the range from low six figures to low seven figures.

A Gathering of Experts: Is breeding an option?

Dave Contarino: It is, but you must purchase a solid mare. The cost ranges from about $50,000 to $400,000 or even more.

A Gathering of Experts: What about a stud?

Dave Contarino: The owner must pay a stud fee, which can range from $10,000 to $150,000.

A Gathering of Experts: How is this price determined?

Dave Contarino: It’s largely dependent on the strength of a stallion’s bloodline and the accomplishments of his progeny.

A Gathering of Experts: What’s the average?

Dave Contarino: Once a horse is procured and weaned, it costs about $1,500 each month during development. However, that cost will increase slightly up to $2,500 to $3,000 per month as the horse continues to mature.

A Gathering of Experts: Well, that’s not such a large total.

Dave Contarino: There’s more. The cost of training, including entry fees, transportation and other costs is around $150,000 each month. Plus, there are administrative costs related to the horse’s preparation for the Derby.

A Gathering of Experts: Such as?

Dave Contarino: The nomination fee is $600 for each horse entered during the “early period,” which lasts until late January. Then, the fee soars to $6,000 through late March.

A Gathering of Experts: What’s the entry fee?

Dave Contarino: The entry fee is $25,000. Another $25,000 must be paid if the horse enters the starting gate.

A Gathering of Experts: That’s a significant chunk of change.

Dave Contarino: Not to mention the entry fees at races during the winter and spring prep races.

A Gathering of Experts: What’s the prize money for winning?

Dave Contarino: The purse is guaranteed at $2,000,000, and the winner earns at least $1,240,000.

A Gathering of Experts: It sounds like a profitable venture.

Dave Contarino: Sixty percent of the total purse is given to the horse’s owner, but the rest is allocated elsewhere.

A Gathering of Experts: Where does the rest of the purse go?

Dave Contarino: Ten percent more will go to the trainer, and 10 percent to the jockey. The remaining 20 percent pays for track expenses and bonuses for the grooms.

As the president of Contarino & Associates LLC, Dave Contarino advises numerous political campaigns, corporations and special projects.

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