Getting an Edge – Finding a System to Beat the Market – The Property Chronicle
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Getting an Edge – Finding a System to Beat the Market

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This is the second of four articles on how to develop an edge in the world of racehorse syndication. The first article reviewed The Trials, Triumphs & Tribulations of Racehorse Syndicates. Future articles cover Choosing Your Trainer & Bloodstock Agent, and Structuring & Managing a Syndicate.

David Hill is the ex-Chairman of Warwick Racecourse, and has been the founder and manager of a number of racing syndicates – both successful and unsuccessful – over the last three decades. His previous articles for the Property Chronicle covered the historical financing of British Racecourses. In these troubled times he harks back to syndicate experiences in better days and how potentially to seek a competitive advantage.

The first article in this series focused on the slight edge that the Top Brass Racing Syndicate had created in providing a specific purchasing brief to a trainer and bloodstock agent. This profile was for a horse who had previously shown an aptitude for winning and who had the scope to make a chaser. Nenuphar Collonges was followed bySalmanazar, subsequently by Nebuchadnezzar and recently Methusalar– all purchased following the same principles. The names may offer a clue to the Syndicate’s other interests!

While this edge was acquired from applying just a modicum of common sense, other major National Hunt owners have created their own significant competitive advantage by astute means:

JP McManus is the doyen of National Hunt owners. In 2017/18 he had 379 different runners on the Flat and over Jumps in Ireland. Working to a rule of thumb that one in three horses tend to be out of action at any one time suggests he owned at least 500 horses. With training fees averaging £25,000 per year that is an annual investment of some £12.5 million in training costs alone. So, an EDGE might be considered valuable – even essential! I used to think it was solely down to a shotgun purchasing approach at the top end of the market. But you don’t win the Champion Hurdle 9 times in 23 years by just taking aim with a blunderbuss. Istabraq in 1998, 1999 and 2000; Binocular in 2010, Jezki in 2014, Buveur D’Air in 2017 and 2018, Espoir D’Allen in 2019 and just recently Epatante suggest a more targeted approach. 

How is it achieved? Nowadays if you are a trainer it is a badge of honour to train a horse for JP, so trainers with a good horse potentially for sale tend to alert him. Wittingly or unwittingly – and somehow you feel ‘unwitting’ is not a word often associated with JP – he has developed a most powerful and widespread array of talent scouts. His EDGE – aside from his purchasing power – is his network of bird-dogs.

Another top owner of Irish NH horses is Rich Ricci, a colourful American banker, whose list of horses reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of the National Hunt sport: Douvain, Vautour, Annie Power, Champagne Fever, Faugheen, Djakadam, Min, Sharjah, Benie Des Dieux to name but a few. His buys 2 and 3 mile hurdlers and 2 mile and long distance chasers – so it is not a matter of specialisation. The horses do have one thing in common however – they have all won Grade 1 races, the pinnacle achievement in the sport.

How does Ricci do it? What is his edge? Well apart from hiring the not inconsiderable talents of Willie Mullins, thirteen times Champion Trainer in Ireland, and spending top dollar, he is remarkably successful. Part of this is down to the bloodstock purchasing expertise of Willie Mullins’ two main agents – Harold Kirk and Pierre Boulard – who stream a constant flow of bigtime winners into the Closutton yard. Somehow a number of the really good ones land up with Mr Ricci – and I reckon it’s down to an EDGE not a fluke. The story, which may well be apocryphal and I have no means of checking, is that all the major stable purchases are first offered to Mr Ricci but if he doesn’t want the horse it is then offered to other owners. If no-one takes up the offer then Mr Ricci guarantees the purchase. If so, Rich Ricci has a very simple EDGE – it’s called ‘first pickings’!

Gigginstown House Stud is owned by Michael O’Leary of Ryanair fame. Founded in 2000 it is run by Michael’s brother Eddie along the lines of an ultra-efficient, medium size corporate concern. By 2019 they had more than 250 horses in training – the vast majority being long distance chasers or young chasers in the making. They operate by a strict segmentation of the market, and via their professional approach they have come close to dominating major long distance chases with 29 winners to date at the Cheltenham Festival, 2 of which were in the Gold Cup, and with 3 wins in the Grand National via Rule the World in 2016 and Tiger Roll in 2018 and 2019.

Alternative assets

About David Hill

David Hill

David Hill is the ex-Chairman of Warwick, a Jockey Club racecourse, and is the founder and administrator of a series of successful syndicates run on behalf of the trainer Alan King which race under the name of the Barbury Lions.

Articles by David Hill

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