Horse racing is a very lucrative sport. The winner of races can earn millions of dollars, which goes to the owner of the horse, the jockey, and the horse’s trainer. Trainers are the most critical aspect of the sport of horse racing. There is a select group of elite trainers and breeders from across the country who will pay top dollar to have the best trainers help their horse become a Triple Crown winner. If a horse has one of these elite trainers, their Kentucky Derby Odds in the horse racing betting sites instantly go up.
Let’s look at the top five horse racing trainers of all time in terms of earning. These figures are mind-boggling, but these five men are the best at what they do, and they have been paid for their success.
5. D. Wayne Lukas ($283,422,310)
Born in 1935 and raised on a small farm in Antigo, Wis., D. Wayne Lukas graduated with a master’s degree in education, taught high school, and was the head basketball coach. He began training quarter-mile horses in California in 1968. After ten successful years, where he trained 24 world champions, he moved into training thoroughbreds. Lukas became the first trainer to earn more than $100 million in purse money, and he has been the year’s top earner 14 times.
His big break came in 1980, where his horse Codex won the Preakness Stakes. His horses have won the Preakness Stakes six times, the Belmont Stakes four times, and the Kentucky Derby four times. He became the first trainer to win the Triple Crown with two different horses in 1995 with Thunder Gulch (Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes) and Timber Country (Preakness Stakes). In 2013, he surpassed Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons for the most Triple Crown race wins, with 14.
Lukas has won a record 20 Breeders’ Cup races, and he has 25 horses that have won various Eclipse Awards. In 1999, the same year his horse Charismatic came within two lengths of winning the Triple Crown, Lukas was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. He has received countless other awards for his ongoing career in horse racing.
4. William I. Mott ($299,033,709)
At the age of 15, William I. Mott began training thoroughbreds, and he won the South Dakota Futurity with his horse Kosmic Tour before he even graduated high school. He realized that he had a future in horse racing and devoted his life to it. He made his way up the ranks and was an assistant trainer for Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg. The two were highly successful, but Mott wanted to go out on his own, and he did that in 1978.
Mott is most famous for being the trainer for Cigar. Allen E. Paulson was the owner of Cigar, and the horse was struggling on both dirt and grass tracks. Cigar was sent to Mott for one last chance, and the famous trainer moved the horse back on to dirt tracks. Mott was able to turn the horse’s career around, and Cigar proved to be the trainer’s most successful horse in North America. Cigar won all ten major races with jockey Jerry Bailey, including the Pimlico Special, and winning the U.S. Breeders’ Cup Classic while setting a stakes record of 1:59.58. Later in the year, Cigar was named the 1995 Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year.
Mott has won over 5,000 races, and in 2010 he won his first Triple Crown race when Drosselmeyer won the Belmont Stakes. In 1998 at the age of 45, Mott was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. He became the youngest thoroughbred trainer ever to be inducted.
3. Bob Baffert ($321,939,531)
There have only been two horses to win the Triple Crown since 1978, and they were both trained by Bob Baffert. He has won the most Kentucky Derbys at seven, as well as seven Preakness Stakes, three Belmont Stakes, and three Kentucky Oaks. Baffert was born in 1953 and grew up in Nogales, Ari. and began working with horses at the age of ten, when his father purchased a few quarter horses. By age 20, Baffert had developed a reputation as an excellent trainer. His first winner was Flipper Star at Rillito Park in 1979, and in the ‘80s, he moved to California and worked at Los Alamitos Race Course. In 1991, he decided to train thoroughbreds full-time.
Baffert’s big break came in 1992 when he won his first Breeders’ Cup race with Thirty Slews. Baffert established a reputation of succeeding with less expensive horses by having an extraordinary eye for great horses. He trained American Pharoah, a 2014 champion two-year-old colt, and he went on to win the 2015 Triple Crown, the first horse to achieve that accomplishment since 1978. Baffert was able to repeat the performance three years later with Justify, the 2018 Triple Crown winner.
Baffert’s legacy has come into question recently, with 31 of his horses failing drug tests. The most notable were Justify, and the 2021 Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit. Baffert tried to explain the test results as Medina Spirit needing ointment for dermatitis. Shortly after the drug tests, Churchill Downs suspended Baffert through 2023. Unfortunately, the recent drug tests of Baffert’s horses tarnishes the legacy of the trainer’s career, he is still one of the highest-earning trainers of all time, but it might have come at a cost.
2. Steven Asmussen ($360,870,700)
The winningest trainer on this list at 9,435 wins, Steven Asmussen, is the gold standard for modern horse trainers. Asmussen was born into horse racing, his dad is a retired jockey, and his mother became the first woman trainer to win a major quarter horse race with Vespero in the 1978 Kansas Futurity. He was born in South Dakota, but his family moved to Texas when he was two, he currently runs a training center based in Laredo, Texas.
Asmussen won his race as a trainer in 1986 at Ruidoso Downs 1986, and in ‘87, he won his first stakes race with Scout Command in the Bessemer Stakes. Some of Asmussen’s best horses have come about as a result of his partnership with wine entrepreneur Jess Jackson. He has trained three horses who have won a Triple Crown race, beginning with Curlin, who won the 2007 Preakness, Rahel Alexandra won the 2009 Preakness, and Creator, who won the 2016 Belmont Stakes. Rachel Alexandra was an unbelievable win, as she was the first filly to win the Preakness in 85 years.
In 2008, Asmussen broke the record for wins with 622, then he broke his own record the following year with 650. He won back-to-back Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer in 2008 and 2009, he is a nine-time U.S. Champion Thoroughbred Trainer by wins, with the most recent coming in 2013. He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2016.
1. Todd Pletcher ($409,602,781)
The richest man in horse training is Todd Pletcher from Texas. He began a hot walker at the age of seven for his father, Jake. While attending the University of Arizona, Pletcher worked as a groom for D. Wayne Lukas in Arlington Park near Chicago and spent another summer with legendary trainer Charlie Whittingham. Following his graduation in 1989, he worked for Lukas and eventually became the assistant trainer. His first winner as a trainer came in 1996 as Majestic Number won at Gulfstream Park in Florida.
His big break came in 2004, three-year-old filly Ashado won the Kentucky Oaks and the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Ashado went on to win the Eclipse Awards for Outstanding Three-Year-Old of the year in 2004 and Best Older Female in 2005. Pletcher set the single-season earnings record in 2005, totaling $20,867,842, and he broke his own record the following year with $27,670,243.
The 2007 Belmont Stakes was Pletcher’s first Triple Crown race win, with Rags to Riches becoming the first filly to win the race since 1905. After 24-straight losses, Pletcher finally reached the winner’s circle at the Kentucky Derby in 2010 with Super Saver. His third and most recent Triple Crown race win came in 2013, and Palace Malice won the Belmont Stakes.
Pletcher has amassed numerous awards and accolades throughout his career, including winning the Eclipse Award as Top Trainer seven times. He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2021.
Having a great trainer in horse racing is essential, and these five men are the very best at it. This list shows just how lucrative horse racing is and why people get into it. Most of the best athletes in the world will never amass this type of wealth from their paying career as these five-horse trainers have.
Horse racing is an uber-competitive sport, with millions of dollars being spent to ensure that a horse is at peak competition levels and will perform on the track. The payout of these races is astounding, both on the track and those in the grandstands with their betting slip. If a horse has one of these men as its trainer, the horse racing odds of winning any race considerably increase. These five trainers are considered the best in the world as there are no other trainers who can beat their trophy cases or their total earnings.