12/09/2013 2:05PM

Harness drivers getting the shaft?


Imagine while you are hard at work you find out that there have been discussions about cutting your pay 40 percent! Well, an independent report on the recently concluded annual American Harness Racing Secretaries meeting in Florida revealed just that possibility for harness drivers.

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Here is the exact statement made by the reporter as it relates to the drivers:

“Discussions also took place about possible universal consideration of the mandatory driver and trainer fees paid from purses. That in the “old” days owners were paid the entire purse and then they worked their own deals with trainers and drivers. Now most every track deducts 5% of the owners purse to both the trainer and driver and that consideration should be given to changing that percentage to 7% for trainers and 3% for drivers. It was also noted that some tracks paid a stipend to every driver competing in a race, up to $25 if they fail to finish in the top five.”

Here is the complete release from the USTA website: http://xwebapp.ustrotting.com/absolutenm/templates/article.aspx?articleid=56983&zoneid=1

Apparently the major thought process behind the possible action is that trainers are with the horses seven days a week and put in more time with them.

Did I miss something? Don’t trainers charge between $30 and $100 per horse, per day as a training fee? Sure, some of that money goes to feed and expenses, but at least a part of it stays in the trainer’s pocket. In most states drivers simply get their 5%. Perhaps if a top driver like Yannick Gingras or Tim Tetrick got $75 or $100 for every horse they drove, reducing the rate would be more realistic.

While most trainer clearly work very hard and I’m not against them getting more money, their daily fee at least allows for that possibility. If you are a good trainer winning at a high rate, you can charge more. If a random trainer or owner lists Gingras on a horse, he doesn’t get to say, “I won’t drive unless you give me $XX”. He must drive if programmed. His only sure way to earn is through the 5%.

Decide for yourself if you think this is a fair comparison, but professional coaches and managers don’t make more than the players. Does Joe Girardi make more than Derek Jeter? I think not. Plus, like it or not, the drivers are the star of the show along with the horses. I can ask any 10 casual fans who trains Captaintreacherous and maybe a few will know. But all 10 will likely know that Tetrick drives him.

And what about the risks?

Drivers head on the track each day and risk their lives. Many of them are on the track two and three thousand times a year for pari-mutuel races. Off the top of my head, this year alone, Jeff Gregory, Cat Manzi, Jim Marohn, Mike Forte and I'm sure many others have missed at least some time due to injuries from on-track accidents. Anthony Coletta is still in a coma and fighting for his life after an unfortunate mishap at Harrah's Philadelphia on November 17. 

Driving a standardbred may not be as life-threatening as some other extreme sports, but there is an inherent danger involved when you sit in the sulky behind a thousand pound animal going 30-plus miles per hour. Trust me, I've done it before and after the recent incident with Coletta, my excitement to jump back into the bike has been tempered a bit. 

Like any fan, you can point to what the top drivers make and say it is excessive. Just like you can say the contract that Jacoby Ellsbury or Robinson Cano signed is extreme. But what about the guy racing at the tracks without VLT-subsidized purses? Ronnie Wrenn Jr leads the nation in wins with 654 in 2,909 starts and has earned $118,145.  Should he be forced to take a pay cut down to $70,887? That would be just $24 per start for the leading driver in the country!

How about the numerous guys who have earned in the $50,000 range this year? Should they have their checks cut to $30,000? Before taxes!

Thoroughbred jockeys and trainers get 10% of the winnings of their mounts. By that scale, drivers and trainers are both underpaid. That said, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard either group complain about the percentage they receive.

Almost everyone in all professions feel they deserve more money, but aren’t there more important issues in the sport that need to be addressed?

Perhaps Gingras said it best on Twitter, “Why fix what’s not broken?”


Jacka Diamond More than 1 year ago
I am directing this to NYS standard bred owners and trainers. You are no longer the only NIGHT game in town and yet you continue to operate as though you are. The internet and simulcasting has spawned a myriad of wagering opportunities allowing us to bet flat racing (less Larceny) at night. You have a product that (1) is not trusted (2) the post positions supersedes everything in a 4 turn mile and leaves room for larceny which has become more prevalent with declining handle. Here’s an idea. Get together with Belmont Park and run two 1-turn mile races at the end of their flat program form their mile & 1/8 chute (enough space for the starter’s car). Create a rolling Harness triple, a pick 4 with the last 2 flats @ Belmont going into the first 2 harness races @ Yonkers. Offer this at an enticing 15% take out on these exotic wagers. Even more interesting you could create a Trot Slam and a Pace Slam from Belmonts last 2 going into the first 2 races at Yonkers. A Slam is where your selections in the first 3 legs must either win/place or show to be alive for the last leg has to win.
William Hawk More than 1 year ago
Watch colonial downs dork!!!!!!!!
Joel Weiner More than 1 year ago
"Why fix what's not broken? Well is is broken. The perception of this "sport" is that most races are fixed and even if this is not true, it's the perception that becomes the reality. Personally I believe that most races are rigged. It's all very tricky and I don't want to write a dissertation. Sure, the races with the higher purses are okay, but the other crummy claimers and nw of $4,000 are for the birds. I think the better drivers for the most part go out and try and win but there are other drivers who compete for chump change and will do anything to make a buck .If the trainer says go, they go. If the trainer says give him a tour of the track, they do that. And there are other drivers who are soooo bad that they shouldn't be allowed on the track to begin with. They are dangerous. It's very difficult to feel sorry for these guys. For every Brian Sears, there is a Herve Filion. Even the good ones have cost me $$$ by pulling horses in the first heat of a big race trying to save their horses for the next heat costing me the back end of an exact or trifecta. Is that legit???
William Hawk More than 1 year ago
handicapping is more than the fastest horse. You don't know the final is worth more? Great part of the game!!!!!
John Stevelberg More than 1 year ago
Used to go to Northfield Park on the weekends with crowds in the 8-10000 range (in suburban southeast Cleveland) now you might see a few hundred folks wondering around. Maybe the writer should spend some time delving into the decline of the sport !
Harness Man More than 1 year ago
I think tracks with a slot infused purse structure should have the drivers fee reduced to 4% with the 1% going to fund more testing or investigational work into the sport....without integrity there is no more sport of harness racing.....it's a trainers game making stars out of drivers let alone lots of money that the average American worker or small business owner do not make......each year the USTA memberships and number of foals decreases so it's not a sport that is booming so cuts need to be made eventually, not so sure where maybe to the overnight purse accounts but if they did cut this drivers fee how much TOTAL money are we talking about? If this total amount was substantial enough to catch those trainers who are questionable and police this sport then I'd be for it..
Harness Man More than 1 year ago
Steve S More than 1 year ago
The whole sport is a crock. How many times do you see a 5-1 and a 5-1 pay $19 for the exacta. To be completely honest, anyone who wagers on this sport that isn't "in the drivers seat" is a moron. Can you spell Rigged?????
Jeff Mcintosh More than 1 year ago
ihad an exacta at woodbine 18-1 @7-1 it paid $125 they had a 20 minute tote delay it was as crooked as it could be,i have no sympathy for these guys.
Terry More than 1 year ago
The so called sport of harness racing is rigged so bad. How much more cash and life can they suck from the pitiful public and now slots?
Vince Lentini More than 1 year ago
1) The owners bet for them 2) Given the incredible history of race fixing in this sport , I would say the % is not where the money is made. 3)Northfield Park has purses of 1600 for some races. Do we really think the $40 to the winning driver and the $20 to the second place driver is how they pay their bills?
William Hawk More than 1 year ago
you cant add. pools big enough to cheat?
Vince Lentini More than 1 year ago
I can Bill....get a calculator
Bruce Epstein More than 1 year ago
Wow and I thought we had issues in throughbreads ? This is insane and will clearly lead to more cheating, just to put food on the table. Crazy
Michael Lawson More than 1 year ago
Leave well enough alone. If not require a zero % hold back from drivers and let them negotiate themselves. I would gladly give Tetrick 8% to acquire his service. He may end up in the end making far more then 5% because he is top notch. Gingras tweet I understand but he could command much higher then 5% because he is also top notch. The guys at the top could make a fortune. The guys at the bottom would starve.