Thursday, 03 May 2012


Increasingly, even the most modest among us are taking a bet on our place in the winners’ enclosure. Dominic Prince takes a look at the odds…

Written by Dominic Prince
This weekend brings forth the first classic race of the 2012 English flat-racing season. The 2,000 Guineas on Saturday 5 May and the 1,000 Guineas on Sunday are the precursors to the Epsom Derby meeting in June, a race meeting like no other that unites the nation. From the rich man owning a racing fancy to the fellow wagering his £1 on the outcome of the race, these two events will set the standard for the season that follows.

But what if, rather than just watching the racing, you decide to become a racehorse owner? It is often said that if you buy a racehorse, you can dream, but do not dream too much. For the best-laid equine racing plans often end in tatters. Still, the plotting and dreaming continue because the ones that create the magical, unforgettable aura of owning a winning racehorse cancel out the losses and the heartache.

The problem is that most of us are not rich enough. The expense of buying a horse and then having to cough up around £20,000 per year to have it trained is beyond most of us. A racehorse can cost anywhere between £500 and £15m. They eat their heads off, and the rigours of the training regime mean they are constantly being injured and in need of veterinary attention. One owner, Raymond Mould, likened the annual cost of training a horse to that of a boy attending Eton (around £31,000, with extras like entry fees, travel costs and shoeing).

But racehorse ownership need not be prohibitively expensive. One way that is becoming popular is shared ownership of a horse through a syndicate; another is where a syndicate leases a horse and pays for all its outgoings but the ownership of the animal remains with the breeder or owner. The latter is more affordable because, without the purchase price of the horse, all you pay for are the day-to-day running costs.

And it is not just oil-rich Arabs, industrialists and hedge-fund managers who achieve success at the highest level. The winner of the 2005 Epsom Derby, a horse called Motivator, was owned by a syndicate of over 200 members, all of whom did very nicely when their horse won the blue riband of British racing.

Personally, I prefer outright ownership, but, clearly, without the purchase price, you can become involved in the racing game at a fraction of the cost. If you go down the leasing route, it is worth getting an agreement in place that allows you to benefit from any upside, like breeding rights and the exact split on prize money. There are now several leasing syndication operations to choose from, including the Kennet Valley Thoroughbreds and the Hot To Trot Racing Club.

The horse-racing business is full of mystery and machinations, and if you are thinking about going into syndicate or joint ownership, you need to get someone who can stand between you and the trainer. 'Racehorse trainers are not the best communicators, and they should leave the talking to me,' says Nick Robinson, who runs the Kennet Valley Thoroughbreds.

Another important consideration is that the syndicate manager should be independent of the trainer – particularly when buying your potential champion. Some trainers may, as Robinson coyly puts it, 'have an interest in buying a particular horse because he or she has been offered a financial inducement to purchase it by the breeder'.

Quite apart from the money, there is the social side: the tickets, badges, lunches and trainers' open days are usually arranged by well-run syndicates.

Most trainers will welcome enquiries from individuals or groups of people who want to form syndicates, but do be careful: there have been some nasty fiscal accidents. A fraudster by the name of Ron Dawson managed to relieve thousands of people from their hardearned cash in the 1990s by way of a mass mailing. Dawson had limited experience and little track record. The bulk of the horses turned out to be hopeless, the syndicate members lost their money, and Dawson ended up in the clink following fraud charges.

However, for all the Dawsons of this world, there are plenty of straight runners of syndicates. Joint racehorse ownership can be a huge amount of fun and, if you are lucky, very profitable – just ask the owners of Motivator.

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