This is the first of four articles on how to develop an edge in the world of racehorse syndication. The three future articles cover Finding a System to Beat the Market, 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.
That the primary purpose of a racehorse syndicate is to share the costs of the purchase and training goes almost without saying. With an annual training bill of at least £25,000 and an initial outlay of anywhere north of £20,000 depending on the depth of your pocket, spreading the financial load through syndication is one of most popular ways of enabling wide-spread ownership. But it has considerable other attractions. While controlling the purchase of your horse, planning its campaign, drowning your sorrows or celebrating its success on your own is no doubt satisfying, how much more so if it can be the subject of debate and shared experience. This article looks at a couple of highlights (and some of the low lights) of three decades of managing racehorse syndicates.
The Regent Hotel in Royal Leamington Spa was the unlikely place where my experiences of syndication originated. Opened in 1819 with over 100 rooms the Regent had long been a centre of south Warwickshire for grand gatherings of locals. In the 1980s it was the venue each year for the Leamington Real Tennis Club’s Grand National Dinner, a major fund-raising event featuring a raffle and a subsequent auction of the next day’s runners. Over the years our table enjoyed considerable success in purchasing auctioned runners – locally trained Spartan Missile 2nd in 1981, Grittar winning in 1982, Corbiere in 1983 with the added bonus of Hallo Dandy in 4that 60/1, Hallo Dandy himself in 1984 through to West Tip in 1986. These successes prompted Rob Baines, a friend and host of the table, to ask me to purchase a racehorse which might one day compete in a future Grand National. His £6,000 bought 50% of Docklands Express!
Docklands Express has the claim to fame of being the only racehorse in history to win or place in the five great annual steeplechases during a twelve month period – promoted 1stin the 1991 Whitbread, 3rdin the following year’s Hennessey, 2ndin Kempton’s King George, 3rdin the Cheltenham Gold Cup and indeed 4thin the 1992 Grand National behind Party Politics. Rob Baines had struck gold at his first time of asking!
Possibly the most contentious of these races was the Whitbread in which Docklands was beaten ¾ length by the Irish trained Cahervillahow. At a subsequent Stewards Enquiry he was found to have accidently interfered with Docklands resulting in the placings being reversed. The build up to the race, the incredible excitement as the race unfolded and then the unbearable wait in the unsaddling enclosure not to mention the further enquiry at Jockey Club HQ in Portman Square was as tense and exciting an experience that racing can offer. Our previously unexposed trump card at the JC Enquiry was video evidence that Docklands had been unintentionally kicked by his rival on the eleventh stride after the last fence. Was the result fair? Well that would depend in whose camp you are. Timeform in its Racehorses of 1990/91 certainly believes so and the subsequent 1993 Whitbread result in which Cahervillahow defeated his, by then 11 year old, rival by 2 lengths but on 31lbs more favourable terms suggests they are correct. Docklands went on to win or place in 4 Kempton Racing Post Chases and win 2 Melling Bowls at Aintree.
During Docklands’ career his syndicate of 6 had the most enormous fun in plotting his campaign, travelling the length and breadth of Britain to see him compete (not to mention visiting Italy over a weekend where he finished 4thin the Gran Prix de Merano), and in celebrating his successes. The greatest beneficiary of the roughly £350,000 he won during his career was the Savoy Grill where we tended to gather to toast victory. But this was not down to an EDGE! With the exception of having chosen Kim Bailey, his highly personable and capable trainer, this was down to LUCK – pure luck as the horse Kim had originally purchased for the syndicate was subsequently spun by the vet with the only replacement on offer being the diminutive Docklands Express!
Buoyed by that success the Top Brass syndicate was formed and named after the next horse we purchased from Kim. If Docklands had been lucky Top Brass was definitely not as he suffered a tendon suspensory injury just 50 yards before he won a novice chase at Cheltenham. He was never the same horse again. We put this down to bad luck and made further purchases from Kim of Dukes Meadow and subsequently the inelegantly named Hoh Tel. They were both worse than useless so in 2003 we retired to lick our wounds, the glamour days of Docklands a distant memory.
When the Top Brass syndicate returned to action in 2006 it was with a determination to do things slightly differently. Kim was suffering from an ongoing series of training misfortunes so we spent some time selecting a replacement trainer. In choosing Alan King we were cognisant of his recent successes at the Cheltenham Festival, his renowned Scottish hospitality and his ability to source chasers from the newly revered training grounds of France. What’s more we gave him a specific brief to buy a suitably priced chaser in the making who had already proved his capability for winning. This brief was passed on to David Minton, the ‘grand seigneur’ of bloodstock agents, who two months later suggested we consider a recent Dieppe chase winner named Nenuphar Collonges.