The mega stables
In an era of more trainers having a large number of horses in their stables, we take a look at how the training landscape has changed over recent history and which stables are the biggest.
In 2017/18, Darren Weir’s final full season before his much-publicised disqualification, he had an astonishing 3,177 starters, nearly 700 more in a season than any other trainer had achieved this century.
The Victorian horse trainer was well on his way to bettering that mark – he had 1,819 starters in the first six months of 2018/19 – before running afoul of Racing Victoria stewards in what was a very public downfall.
Last season, Chris Waller was Australia’s busiest trainer when it came to starters, with 2,316. It was the equal third highest total for a season by Waller, with his peak numbers coming in 2018-19, the season of Weir’s sudden exit, when he had 2,493 starters.
To give some historical context, only one other trainer this century has had more than 2,000 Australian starters in a season. That was John Hawkes back in the pomp of the Crown Lodge days when he exceeded that mark in three consecutive seasons, peaking at 2,226 in 2002-03.
However, a decade ago, the scale of the biggest stables in Australia was considerably smaller. When Peter Snowden, who effectively inherited Hawkes’ training business after its transfer to Darley, was Australia’s busiest trainer in 2010-11 and 2011-12, he had only 1,279 and 1,249 starters respectively.
Waller emerged the following season to claim that honour with 1,346 seasonal starters before being usurped by the Weir juggernaut in 2014-15.
Leading Australian trainer by starts in each season since 2000/01
|2022/23||Chris Waller||2,317||2010/11||Peter Snowden||1,272|
|2021/22||Chris Waller||2,316||2009/10||David Hayes||1,297|
|2020/21||Chris Waller||2,271||2008/09||David Hayes||1,793|
|2019/20||Chris Waller||2,297||2007/08||David Hayes||1,985|
|2018/19||Chris Waller||2,493||2006/07||David Hayes||1,879|
|2017/18||Darren Weir||3,177||2005/06||David Hayes||1,702|
|2016/17||Darren Weir||2,685||2004/05||John Hawkes||1,787|
|2015/16||Darren Weir||2,202||2003/04||John Hawkes||2,064|
|2014/15||Darren Weir||1,920||2002/03||John Hawkes||2,226|
|2013/14||Chris Waller||1,544||2001/02||John Hawkes||2,127|
|2012/13||Chris Waller||1,376||2000/01||John Hawkes||1,949|
While Waller has been Australia’s busiest trainer in terms of starters for the past five seasons, he is set to be overtaken by Ciaron Maher and David Eustace in the near future. As things stand, Waller has had more starters so far in 2023-24, 325 to 265, but Maher and Eustace have stable numbers on their side.
Searching for data on current stable sizes in Australia is far from a straight-forward task, but the Racing NSW site does list every named horse currently in each stable, allowing us to calculate that number.
On that list of named horses, Maher and Eustace have eclipsed Waller, with 543 horses compared to his 449. Third is Annabel Neasham, whose list features 371 named horses, a quite astonishing number for someone who only gained her training licence three years ago.
Then follows Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott with 309, Mick Price and Michael Kent Jnr with 292 and the Lindsay Park operation with the three Hayes brothers on 291.
The leading Queensland stable for size is Tony Gollan, with 276 named horses registered under his care, then follows James Cummings, with 254.
At eighth, Cummings is surprisingly low on that list, but the Godolphin head trainer has only been the 11th busiest trainer so far this season with 87 starters, less than a third of Waller’s total. It is consistent with the more measured approach from Cummings in recent seasons, having reduced his overall starters from a peak of 1,276 in 2018-19 to 961 last season.
Rounding out the Top Ten are newly formed training partnership Peter Moody and Katherine Coleman with 212 – how’s that boutique stable going Moods? – and Kris Lees on 207.
Current top Australian stables by named horses
|Ciaron Maher and David Eustace||543|
|Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott||309|
|Mick Price and Michael Kent Jr||292|
|Ben, Will and JD Hayes||291|
|Peter Moody and Katherine Coleman||212|
There are 17 stables who are in that sweet spot between 100 and 200 named horses on their books. They include Peter and Paul Snowden (181), Matthew Smith (164), Anthony and Sam Freedman (149) and Bjorn Baker (147).
It’s worth noting at this point that the number of named horses, especially at this time of year, is not an exact measure of stable size. There will be a host of unnamed two-year-olds in training, and it depends on the individual trainers and their ownership arrangements, on when they may be named.
What the above figures enable us to do is calculate, on a rough basis, the commercial scale of the training operations as businesses. Our research indicates that the annual cost for an owner of having a horse in a leading stable, taking in all expenses, is somewhere between $50,000 and $60,000 per year.
If we take the higher number, $60,000, and multiply it by the number of named horses, we get some idea of how big these businesses are.
In the case of Maher and Eustace, we can estimate that number at around $32.6 million. That would be the total of costs passed onto owners through fees etc over a 12-month period. There are a bunch of caveats to that, such as many horses being retained in some part by trainers, but it does allow a sense of what scale they are on.
It is also a useful comparison tool per stable when we compare it to prize-money. In the case of Maher and Eustace that $32.6 million in training costs compares quite closely to the $35.8 million their horses earned in prize-money in the last racing season.
In Waller’s case, with 449 horses, the overall training bills would be $26.9 million per year. His prize-money total earned last season was $44 million, indicating a significant positive return was netted for his owners.
If we run a similar calculation across the Top 20 stables on size [numbers of named horses], we see that only eight of them earned more in prize-money than they theoretically could have charged in training fees.
The most profitable in that regard, based on the current level of named horses, is someone who in practice doesn’t charge training fees, James Cummings at Godolphin. In a retail world, the training fee total for Cummings’ 254 named horses would be $15.2 million a year, while in 2022-23, his runners won $36.7 million.
The others in that Top 20 who would be a net positive on that measure are Peter and Paul Snowden, Moody, John O’Shea, Waterhouse/Bott and Neasham.
Extending that out, we can run a basic ‘dollar per named runner’ metric on prize-money in 2022-23, based on stable numbers as they currently stand.
Of the 50 leading trainers we looked at, the best performer in that regard was Joe Pride, who averaged $160,300 per named stable member on that calculation. It was a figure that owed substantial assistance to Pride’s two stable stars, Private Eye (Al Maher) and Think About It (So You Think), who between them, won over $7.1 million of Pride’s seasonal total of $14.4 million.
Cummings was second on the list on $144,673, while Waller was third on $97,887. Then followed Mike Moroney on $87,346 and the Snowdens on $83,812. Giga Kick’s (Scissor Kick) trainer Clayton Douglas wasn’t included in that Top 50 as his average per runner return of $204,844, was significantly distorted by his Everest (1200m) winning star, who claimed 93 per cent of his total prize-money last season.
Looking at those 50 trainers included, it is notable that just 15, or 30 per cent, had an average prize-money-return-per-named-runner above the $60,000 a year number which represents the rough annual cost of training a horse.
It demonstrates that despite record prize-money and all the rest, the margins for trainers, and in particular, owners are wafer thin.
Leading Australian trainers (among Iop 50) by prize-money per named horse
|Trainer||Named Horses||2022-23 prize-money per current named horse|
|Peter and Paul Snowden||181||$83,812|
|Peter Moody and Katherine Coleman||212||$70,296|
|Gerald Ryan and Sterling Alexiou||108||$67,315|
|Ciaron Maher and David Eustace||543||$66,019|