Friday 14 December 2012

Magnificent Munnings, Scintillating Sandown, Hateful Hereford, Lots of Links

A real racing round-up in this review. An amazing array of alliterations. Must stop this, it’s infectious and irritating.

In London last week for back-to-back meetings, but was able to escape and visit the superb, free exhibition of some paintings by Sir Alfred Munnings at Richard Green’s art gallery, 147 New Bond Street ( - well worth seeing, particularly the paintings of horses at the start at Newmarket. Definitely one of the most gifted artists of modern times. Next time I’m in East Anglia, I’ll make a point of taking a detour to the museum at Dedham (

The Tingle Creek this year was particularly tingling – Sprinter Sacre surging past Sanctuaire. Can’t wait for the Champion Chase.

More seriously, there was quite a controversy at Hereford recently when Oliver Sherwood was fined £3,000 and Leighton Aspell suspended for 14 days after their horse, Furrows, was very tenderly ridden in a 2m Novices Chase. It is the first time that Sherwood has been punished in this way for a non-trier, and not surprisingly, he was furious. It is probably only Furrows who was happy with the outcome: he is enjoying an enforced 40-day holiday from racing.

The race was won by Vulcanite, a 145-rated hurdler, from Salden Licht, who is 155. The 7-y-o Furrows has only won once in three years of training, amassing a total purse of £3,590 and an OR of 107. Back on 31st August, in the blog, “Novices (at the BHA)”, I forecast that the new Novice Chase rules were bound to lead to this type of occurrence, and “there must be a real risk .... that two sets of horses will be competing in the same race – a few top class, but the majority out of their depth”. That was definitely the case at Hereford. There is no way that connections of Furrows would have wanted to pitch him against horses 3st better than him, but the new regulations force trainers to do this. Our Owners for Owners trainer, Charlie Longsdon, responsible for Vulcanite, also feels that the new rules are inappropriate and that “having to run in one novice chase before handicapping are going to bring about more of these cases”. The rules definitely need to be changed. Over to the BHA on this one. Ironically, connections of Furrows are related to the former BHA CEO, Nick Coward.

Finally, you may have missed the best riding performances of the week. Another Owners for Owners trainer, Jamie Snowden, came back out of retirement, donned his riding boots and took part in the charity trainers’ race at Wincanton on Jamesson. A stylish ride, as ever, with the horse staying on late. Definitely a tryer. All the money raised is going to Racing Welfare and donations can be made on Well done to everyone who took part.

Saturday 1 December 2012

Cheltenham: Milking the Members

Really enjoyed the three-day Open meeting, watching Al Ferof win the Mackeson and the notably game performance of Captain Conan. Grands Crus’ defeat (subsequently ascribed to a wind problem) cost me dear, though. Such is racing.

But if I were looking at Cheltenham through the prism of customer service, there are two other memories. Firstly, there’s nothing better than driving to Cheltenham with the anticipation of a fabulous meeting; parking the car, walking into gloriously familiar surroundings; going into a bar full of racegoers avidly discussing the respective merits of their favourite horses; ordering a really flavoursome, imaginative and reasonably-priced lunch (for those who like the detail: smoked applewood cheese ciabatta and leek and mushroom tart), together with a well-kept pint of real Tetley’s ale, served with friendly graciousness; before settling down by a log fire in a cosy corner to contemplate the day ahead. But of course this is not the racecourse, but the Royal Oak in Prestbury, near where Fred Archer was born and once owned by the English batting legend, Tom Graveney. Maybe it was the log fire that gave it away.

Or, much more likely, the contrast with the dismal customer experience that is now Cheltenham Racecourse. Best jumps racing in the world, but a case study in everything that is dire, from a service perspective. Imagine that I had a video camera when I left the Royal Oak. Drive up the Winchcombe road and turn left through the housing estate into the back entrance to the course. No policemen at all or evidence of a traffic management system, so a shambles. Go down the narrow lane into the course, dodging wayward pedestrians and touts. More pointless traffic jams because the racecourse can’t be bothered to widen the road and rebuild a couple of bridges. Despite paying for a Members’ car park badge, find you are routed to a field of mud. Stagger across to the entrance gates. First impression, as always, is of temporary villages, tatty marquees and queues for the loos, which are dirty. Climb the rickety steps to the temporary Members’ stand. Fabulous view of the final fence for those who are athletic enough to get to the top level. Repair to the tented bar with several thousand members, only to find you have to queue so long that you miss the next race by the time you’ve finished your drink. If this tent had been put up for a wedding reception, it would doubtless trigger divorce en masse. Decide to meet friends in the Arkle Bar instead. Bad decision. Abandon refreshments during racing, and reconvene in the Mandarin Bar after the last for a reviving cup of tea (exciting life I lead). I’ve been in more attractive care homes. Despite being packed with customers, staff were trying to close it almost as soon as we sat down. But at least it gave me a good excuse to go back to the Royal Oak, or it would have done, if there hadn’t been a long queue to get off the racecourse back along the same narrow racecourse lane.

During the day, I spotted the new MD, Ian Renton. I really hope that, as well as tightly managing the massive construction project to rebuild the racecourse, he scrutinises everything from the perspective of transforming the customer experience. Coincidentally, my 2013 Grand National badges arrived that same weekend – reserved Members’ car parking and seats high in the Earl of Sefton stand, three days of fabulous racing, with a customer service level that puts Cheltenham to shame.

Where is The Curmudgeon when we need him?

Thursday 15 November 2012

Make Mine a Mackeson

I’m writing this on the eve of the three-day Open meeting at Cheltenham. This has always seemed to me to be the real start of the jumps season, even though I always call the 2m 4f feature chase “the Mackeson” and never “The Paddy Power”. Fortunately many of my racing friends are equally stuck in the past. It brings back happy memories of illicit gambling at school, and trying to convince landlords to serve me beer, even though I barely reached to the top of the bar counter. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking of many of the top races by their former names – of which the Schweppes and the Whitbread immediately come to mind.

Anyway, enough of that. The other great thing about this year’s National Hunt season moving up a gear is that we at Owners for Owners are really pleased by prospective owners’ reactions to what we’re trying to do. We already have three excellent NH trainers in Messrs. Hobbs, Longsdon and Snowden and there is a fourth waiting in the wings as well. Will keep everyone posted via the web site.

In terms of the horses, our immaculately bred, three-year-old Presenting filly with Philip Hobbs is now fully subscribed. We have another potential horse with Philip in Quick Decisson with shares still available for those who would like to be involved in this top yard. The two younger trainers – who I definitely see as “Future Champions” – have been actively involved in sourcing young chasing types as well. A five-year-old gelding, Houndscourt, arrived last weekend at Jamie Snowden’s, having won a point-to-point in great style for Philip Fenton in Ireland; there are six shares available in him. He is by the increasingly important NH sire, Court Cave, who has already done well in passing on characteristics of his sire, Sadler’s Wells. Finally, Charlie Longsdon and the Highflyer team are all in attendance at the Brightwells sale tomorrow night and we’re hoping to secure a horse either there or, more likely, through the point-to-point network in the not too distant future. There are already several partners committed to being involved when we find the right horse at the right price.

Just to remind everyone that I’m not running Owners for Owners to make any profit on running the partnerships – the goal is to find experienced owners who want to “join forces to buy better horses”, so if we take the example of Houndscourt, the purchase price was £30,000 so a sixth share is £5,000 + the ongoing training fees and expenses. If you fancy getting involved with Jamie in this horse in Lambourn, please phone me as soon as possible on 07958 763159, or drop me an email on

So, as Ena Sharples and her cronies in the Rover’s Return always used to say, “Make mine a Mackie” (or at least something pretty similar – if my rapidly fading memory recalls correctly). I suspect I’ll be having something considerably stronger if my long-range antepost selection of Grands Crus hacks up in the Mackeson on Saturday. Cheers!!

Thursday 1 November 2012

Farewell Frankel – the Best Ever?

No sitting on the fence from Timeform. Prior to the Qipco Champion Stakes they gave Frankel their highest-ever rating of 147 vs. Sea Bird 145, Brigadier Gerard 144, Mill Reef 141, and the dead-heating trio of Dancing Brave, Sea The Stars and Shergar on 140. “A truly exceptional racehorse. A phenomenon of the sport.” Phil Smith, the BHA Handicapper, after the Queen Anne and Juddmonte International rated him top of the World Thoroughbred Rankings. And similarly, Racing Post Ratings came in at Frankel 142, Dubai Millennium 139 and both Daylami and Sea The Stars on 138.

Surely the best-ever racehorse debate, though, is pretty pointless stuff, although highly absorbing. Can you truly compare horses across different eras, different countries and under different race conditions? Was Frankel really better than the likes of Seabiscuit, Ribot, Sea Bird or Secretariat? Ratings are only one way of doing it. Critics will always argue that Frankel never properly raced outside his comfort zone, didn’t travel beyond the UK, didn’t tackle the critical distance of 1m 4f and wasn’t fully tested. But then who has been around to test him? The star performance of Champions Day was actually Excelebration in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. Yet Frankel had thrashed him by 10 lengths in the Queen Anne ....

But for racing, Frankel has been absolutely fantastic, a public relations dream and the making of the British Champions Series. It looks as though the mid-October slot will remain, in the short term. All it now needs is for the Irish, French, British and American racing authorities to show rare strategic vision and map out a global series of championship events with at least three weeks between them; upgrade some of the non-Group 1 races at Ascot, find even more prize money, add at least a two-year-old race and even consider extending the meeting to two days, as they do with the Arc and the Breeders’ Cup. What a prospect!

My personal memories of Frankel’s final outing all revolve around the tremendous cameraderie of the crowd, the seemingly continuous applause from his appearance in the pre-parade ring, the short-lived gasp of shock when he failed to come immediately out of the stalls, the realisation at the three-furlong marker that he was definitely going to win, then the crowds all rushing to have a final glimpse of him afterwards. Two notes of poignancy: the frailty of Sir Henry Cecil and the sight of Frankel being led off to his retirement. My wife and I went to see him after the race and watched him walk back to the stables, through the autumnal Ascot trees, never to grace a racecourse again. A final reflection – it made me chuckle when I saw The Times’ comment about “Fifty Shades of Hay”, and the pleasures ahead of him at stud.

Not that any of this affected The Curmudgeon. Received an abrupt phone-call. “Never mind all this nonsense about Frankel. How can he be classed the greatest horse ever if he’s never pinged a fence at full gallop? What about Big Buck’s, Kauto Star, Denman, Best Mate or Desert Orchid? And you tell me why the racing authorities managed to clash the so-called ‘Champions Day’ with the ‘Showcase’ meeting from Cheltenham. They just don’t understand proper racing!” Such debates will run and run. Unlike Frankel.

Monday 15 October 2012

Patricians, Partners, Plebs ..... and Marodima

What is the connection between Andrew Mitchell, the Government Chief Whip, and a £2.5m guineas Galileo colt out of the dam of Authorised, purchased at last week’s Tattersalls Book 1? Both illustrate the British obsession with aristocracy, superior breeding and the supposed differences between toffs and plebs. Indeed in racing it sometimes feels as though we are trapped inside the famous sketch involving John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett. “I am upper class, and naturally can afford the best. I own the best mares and stallions and go to the best trainers. Economic crisis – what crisis? I look down on other owners. They are plebs, and little people.” “I am middle class. I aspire to being a bigger owner, and buy the best I can afford. I envy the top owners and hope I find a Saturday horse one day. I go to mid-week race meetings but at least they are on turf. I look down on those who go to Wolverhampton and Southwell.” “I am a syndicate owner. I am lower class. I get what’s left over. I go to the all-weather and the gaff tracks. I know my place.”

The rarefied, platinum end of racing occupies a space that is completely disconnected with economic reality. It is a closed world where the top breeding interests and wealthiest people are increasingly appropriating all the real equine stars. This makes it exceptionally hard to compete. Indeed a friend of mine who had a Cheltenham Festival winner twenty years ago was lucky enough to find another star recently, but was offered a sum that was impossible to refuse, given the current economic climate and paucity of prize money in racing.

This goes right to the heart of what we are trying to do in Owners for Owners. Apart from the very privileged few, the rest of us need to link up with others and “join forces to buy better horses”. Unfortunately some of the largest syndicates are either far too expensive (with 60% + of the cost going into their overheads) or are buying low-quality “fun horses” with little probability of winning big races.

However, it can be done. I am lucky enough to be involved in Jamie Snowden’s nine-year-old warrior, Marodima. Many can remember his former exploits in the Arkle and Champion Chase. Alas, he then went into a decline with many physical problems, but has bounced back in the twilight of his career. From 12th January to 5th October this year, he has run nine times, winning five races and being placed in the other four. His rating has gone up from 112 to 143. We are now considering taking him further afield, possibly Auteuil where there is superb prize money and obstacles that suit his style of jumping. Partnering with ambitious young trainers, enthusiastic co-owners and courageous horses such as Marodima is a real privilege.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Aintree – Stop Tinkering, Start Defending

Recently announced changes to the Grand National course appear to have been welcomed by most groups, although the RSPCA irritatingly gave Aintree a “yellow card”, which presumably means that any further casualties will lead to more protestations.

Lots of changes, most of them minor: start to be moved 90 yards further down the track, away from the noise of the stands; the no-go zone for jockeys to be increased to 30 yards from the starting tape; the starter’s rostrum to be placed alongside that zone; jockeys to be given a more detailed briefing before the race on both the rules and the need for co-operation with the starter; there will be a more consistent methodology (whatever that might mean) for the start; an additional catching pen will be trialled near fence 4 for loose horses; the landing areas for fences 4, 5 and 13 will be levelled out; a different central frame and core material for fences will be trialled at the Becher Chase meeting in December; and there will be an improvement in irrigation.

So, nothing too dramatic. Arguments had been put forward for a major reduction in field size, removing some fences, moving the start much nearer to the first fence and even changing the size and style of the fences. None of these have been acted upon.

The big issue is whether this is the end of the tinkering, or whether there are going to be endless changes after every National, depending on the casualties (which are, sadly, inevitable). No-one has problems with ongoing improvements and fine-tuning, but what shouldn’t be happening is for Aintree and racing to be permanently accommodating the views of lobby groups such as the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare. Indeed the risk is that the tinkering appears to be an implicit acceptance that in some way Aintree is ethically unacceptable from a horse welfare standpoint.

It really is about time that the racing industry embarked on a properly planned PR campaign of its own to defend Aintree, the National and, for that matter, National Hunt racing as a sport that is cherished by a large percentage of the population. In other words there is a line to be drawn here between risk and safety. Racing should not be afraid of standing up for the integrity of our sport.

On a different subject, everyone in racing was terribly upset by the recent death of a great supporter of the Grand National, Lord Oaksey. There was a lovely letter in the Racing Post recently which recalled his winning rides on Happy Medium in the Watney Mann Red Barrel Chase. Apparently part of the prize was a 36-gallon beer barrel and the noble lord, on the journey back home, opened it; with one of the happy drinkers being the horse himself, who swigged a bucket-full of beer. In the same race a year later, as the horse entered the home straight, he seemed to realise where he was. Oaksey reported that Happy Medium “pulled his way to the front like a thirsty man in a crowded bar, and won going away”. Doubtless they celebrated as before. RIP.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Dunkelbrauner Hengst

As we’re racing into the full sales season now, all our trainers are looking out for exciting prospects. Since the last blog we have also added two new trainers, in Philip Hobbs and Charlie Longsdon. I’ve had horses with both of them before, and full details are on the web site. Great additions.

Karl Burke, Lars Kelp, Jack and I kicked off the yearling sales with a visit to Baden Baden (BBAG) on 31st August. Very impressed with the overall quality at the top end, and we tried very hard to buy a Shirocco colt (in German, a “dunkelbrauner Hengst”). Alas, Anthony Bromley was even more determined to secure him. Some of us then consoled ourselves with a couple of days in the Black Forest before watching Danedream complete her prep run for the Arc in the Grosser Preis von Baden. Terrific stuff. Karl and Lars are now going on to the sales in Ireland and Deauville on the yearling hunt. We’re determined to buy outside the UK to use the £ / € currency advantage to best effect, while also looking for real value. Again, full details on the web site.

On the National Hunt front, both Jamie Snowden and Charlie Longsdon are working with their lead agents, Tom Malone and Highflyer respectively, in a search for top-class chasing prospects. We’re hoping to have more details over the next month or so.

Finally, Philip Hobbs has given us an option to purchase up to three young NH horses. In effect this means he is giving us priority to buy, while he and I use his network of owners to (hopefully) enable us to commit to some or all of them. Details of all three horses will be on the web site soon. My personal favourite is the impeccably bred Presenting 3yo filly out of a Cadoudal mare, who is a half-sister to Geos. This season sees an increase in the number of races for fillies and mares only, including several Listed races, so there’s never been a better time to own a national hunt bred mare with longer term breeding prospects.

Do please let me know as soon as possible if you are interested in a share of any of these horses with one of our roster of four trainers.

Friday 31 August 2012

Novices (At The BHA)

My involvement in six NH horses, three of whom (Ballyboker Boy, Cross Of Honour and Kings Lodge) will be starting their chasing careers this autumn, makes me particularly interested in changes taking place from 1st October with regard to novice chasing. Alas, as with much of racing at the moment, the needs of racecourses and bookmakers seem to be at odds with those of trainers and owners.

It all probably seems pretty straightforward to a non-owning administrator, hunched over spreadsheets in BHA Towers in Holborn. Runners in novice chases have been falling over the last few years, and too many have had seven or fewer; betting turnover, and therefore levy, is declining; racecourses are naturally worried about non-competitive racing. What to do about this? Simples. Cut the number of novice chases being run in the UK (20% across novice, beginners and maiden chases); don’t allow novices to go straight into novice handicaps (it will now be mandatory that novices make their chasing debut in weight-for-age races); offer a few sweeteners to owners (three end-of-season novice handicap chases, run in April, probably at 2m, 2m4f and 3m, with a minimum of £60,000 prize money, open to horses that have run in at least two weight-for-age novice chases during the season). Problems solved.

Two obvious questions don’t seem to have been addressed by the BHA. “What is the purpose of novice chases”, and “Why has there been a decline in the number of runners?“

Surely the whole rationale of such races is to educate inexperienced horses and give them the confidence to show their potential. Evenly paced races, with smaller fields of similar standard horses, on courses and over fences that do not over-face the animal, are essential. Forcing young chasers to come up against potential superstars from the big yards strikes me as a recipe for disaster. There must be a real risk under the proposed regime that two sets of horses will be competing in the same race – a few top class, but the majority out of their depth. This will either lead to the lesser contingent being overfaced, with an inevitable increase in fallers, or jockeys being encouraged to pull up the weaker brethren as soon as possible. Especially since the new system doesn’t stipulate that horses actually have to complete their races.

The issue of declining numbers of runners is clearly complex. Doubtless one contributing factor is the lack of incentives for owners in the current racing financial model. More specifically, in the context of novice chasing, I wonder whether the BHA made any real attempt to explore longer-term incentivisation options that could address some of the root causes. Let me know what you think – just drop me an email on

Racing isn’t just about putting money into bookies’ satchels. I’ve watched all Frankel’s races this season. Small fields. Not competitive. Not a betting medium. And yet he’s drawing capacity crowds. I’ll be following Sprinter Sacre in the same way over the winter. Can’t wait! 

Wednesday 15 August 2012

The Curmudgeon Stirs

What a magnificent fortnight of sport we’ve just experienced. Even the most cynical and sceptical of individuals must have been enthused by the Olympics. A tremendous success. I’ll definitely be following dressage horses in future after the great Valegro’s exhilarating performances. If I can find a spare couple of million, he’s mine.

Went down to Glorious Goodwood to see the equally fabulous Frankel turn in another pulsating performance in the Sussex Stakes. On the way back, popped into my local, The Pheasant at Lambourn Woodlands, only to find the Curmudgeon propped against the bar. He was not in good humour. Apparently Racing for Change (RfC) pursued another of their “ground-breaking initiatives” at Sandown recently as part of “making our sport more accessible”, with a trial of dual displays of imperial and metric weights and distances. “So tell me, Hughesie, why are all the races in the US still in good, old-fashioned imperial distances? If it’s such a great idea, do you think golf will be changing yardages any time soon? They don’t seem to have any problems with that in China and across Asia, do they? In fact why doesn’t RfC go the whole hog and recalculate the Guineas? And while they’re about it, let’s confuse everyone in York for the Juddmonte International and see if Frankel stays the extra distance, in metres not furlongs.” I knew what was coming. “Come on, you’ve got a Cambridge education. What’s the metric equivalent of one mile, two furlongs and 88 yards? And when you’ve worked that one out, tell me how that’s going to improve the racing experience.” Sometimes in life it’s better just to feign stupidity. A bit like RfC. Maybe Rod Street can convince the Curmudgeon and make it all seem necessary and relevant. I know I can’t. It was time to beat a retreat.

Let’s just hope that Frankel enjoys his next spin, over a distance of around 2100 metres. I’ll be up in York, cheering him on regardless. Can’t wait.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Greedy Managers

You may have seen the headline in the Racing Post earlier in the month, “Racing Lovers Could be Lost to the Sport by Greedy Managers”. While I didn’t come up with that title, I did write the text for the piece. After it came out, I was delighted by the large number of telephone calls I had – universal support for the sentiments expressed. So, if you missed it, here is the full article. 

“Not all is rosy with the syndicate scene, by any means. There is little or no regulation, some are badly managed, owners can easily be regarded as lambs to the slaughter, the commercial frameworks connected with ownership often lack transparency and it is easy for people to get into them without realising the open-ended commitments and costs involved. Some of them are clearly run by the syndicate managers as lifestyle businesses where the syndicate owners are in effect paying for that lifestyle. My worry is that the syndicate scene can easily be the bottom of the barrel of ownership in an industry that is prone to exploitation. I would certainly like to see syndicate owners treated with a much more positive attitude by the whole industry, rather than as easily expendable contributors to overheads. More specifically a framework / checklist is needed for syndicate owners to consider so that they know they are not going to be ripped off.

What did the syndicate horse actually cost to buy? In far too many instances the price charged to the syndicate is massively inflated to generate an easy profit for the syndicate manager. What is the term of the syndication – how long will it last and what are the precise rules for exit? Without that, it is too easy for a poor horse to be kept in training for too long and be run as a revenue stream for the syndicate manager and trainer.

How will any disagreements or potential conflicts of interest be handled? What is the appropriate annual remuneration for a syndicate manager and / or his business? In some syndicates the majority of the charges are to do with that.

What access can you get to the syndicate horse and the training yard, and is it likely to be a really enjoyable social experience? Getting into some yards is extremely difficult and syndicate members are made to feel distinctly unwelcome. Some syndicates don’t encourage visits at all.

Finally, what financial transparency will there be of all the various charges and costs associated with owning the horse?

A typical monthly fee is £275 x 12 owners. That is £3,300 per month, or £39,600 for the year – double the Racehorse Owners’ Association’s current view on the average cost of owning a horse. It can be very easy for syndicate managers to massage costs in a way that absorbs a lot of that additional payment. If they don’t provide detailed, transparent accounts then it is impossible to pinpoint exactly what happens to that money. Yes, an annual dividend may be returned to the syndicate owners but only after other charges have been taken from the balance. Please don’t read the above as the comments of a disillusioned owner – far from it. I adore racing and am expanding my involvement in it as an owner. However, since I came into ownership seven years ago, it has been a huge eye-opener to understand what I have called on my website “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” of syndicates.

Unfortunately, I know of too many instances where enthusiastic lovers of horseracing have come into syndicates, had a disappointing experience and then been lost to the sport. It would be interesting to know the statistics, not just of how many syndicate owners there are every year, but what the annual churn is – i.e. those who leave the sport never to return. It may be far higher than many would like to acknowledge.

I hope you find this perspective relevant. I for one would like to see some form of code of practice made available that would encourage the whole industry to embrace syndicate owners as a really key stakeholder that is helping to underpin racing.”

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Worcester Sauce

What did you think to the boycott co-ordinated by Charlie Mann that enabled Moulin De La Croix to walk over at Worcester on 11th July? Personally I’m very much in favour of the approach adopted by the Horsemen’s Group, particularly when they are targeting courses owned by companies such as Northern and Arena who persist in putting up sub-tariff races. But I also feel sorry for the local management at Worcester. Indeed, some friends and I took a box and sponsored a memorial race there recently and they went out of their way to make it a really enjoyable occasion, and it is a decent track, even if the facilities are not the smartest.

It was definitely a source of lots of comments, with the Racing Post blog capturing a wide range of views, one being “Prize money is terrible and something needs to be done”; but another saying, “Owners are fulfilling a hobby, no more, no less, most people fund their hobby themselves, why are racehorse owners any different?” So there may be grassroots support, but also little genuine understanding about why prize money needs to increase, how it benefits trainers and their staff as well as owners, and its broader impact across the whole racing community.

I think Rachel Hood, President of the Racehorse Owners Association, strikes the right note when she argues that “an appropriate share of racing’s revenues should go into prize money”. The challenge is how to apply a proper strategy to secure that share, while working with all the major stakeholders to grow the revenue pot. Alas, I think racing tends to focus too much on dividing up that pot, rather than maximising the revenue from the global betting market, media rights, racecourse attendance and sponsorship. A theme that will doubtless be covered again in this blog.

Just to show that prize money isn’t everything, our mare, Ursula, has now been sold and will go to stud in Ireland. The day before the Worcester débâcle, she won a Class 5 at Southwell and the huge pot of £2,264. Everyone was thrilled for her and the new owner, and also for the Burke family. Ursula was well ridden by Michael Metcalfe, who is a really promising rider at Spigot Lodge and enjoying a great strike rate for them at the moment, and the horse was led up by Lucy Burke who has looked after her for most of the last five years. A superb result for everyone. Despite the shocking prize money.

Monday 2 July 2012

The Rip-off Races On

Blimey!  I’ve clearly stirred up a veritable hornets’ nest with the last blog on some syndicate managers’ shenanigans.  Don’t get me wrong – many syndicates are extremely well run, and bring great pleasure to lots of owners.  My criticism was levied at managers who make huge mark-ups on the sales price of horses prior to syndication.

Mind you, in a week when “Big Boy” Barclays’ bankers have been in the limelight for fixing Libor rates, it pales into insignificance.  Or does it?  Arrogance towards customers, no proper regulation, open abuse of the system, readily exploitable and opportunistic culture, self-serving lifestyle, complete lack of transparency and a love of Bollinger .... and that’s just a few of the syndicate managers!

So are there other dodgy commercial practices in syndication that need to be looked at?  Some of the whispers I’ve picked up cover luck money, back-handers on purchase, discounts and rebates not being passed on to the syndicate members, overly generous claims for management expenses, mishandling of VAT reclaims, duplicated mileage and spurious hospitality.  It will be interesting to see if the Racing Post’s series on syndicates even hints at any of this mismanagement.  I suspect that it will present syndication through very rose-tinted spectacles.  I’ll comment further once I’ve read the articles.

On a much more solemn note, what a tragedy to befall Campbell Gillies.  That stirring day at the Cheltenham Festival on Brindisi Breeze now seems such a distant happy memory.  Our thoughts go out to his family, friends and all who knew him.

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Would you buy a share in “The Rip-off”?

Like many owners, I regularly receive flyers and marketing materials from racing syndicates, and I’m always interested in looking at the way they frame prices and costs.  Unfortunately in our industry there is an extremely common and, as far as I am concerned, very pernicious practice that’s regularly applied.  Here’s an example.

Syndicate manager goes to UK sales and buys a horse, The Rip-off, for £6,000 + VAT.  Pretty cheap and probably with a few negatives on conformation or breeding.  Never mind, it’ll be a “fun horse”.  Put together the sales bumf and offer it at £2,500 + VAT for a one-twelfth share.  A £6,000 horse is now priced at £30,000.  If you challenge the manager, he’ll probably say there are a lot of associated sales costs to justify it.  Utter nonsense.  If you add up the buyer’s premium, bloodstock agent’s commission, vetting and transport, it won’t exceed £3,000.
Three months’ initial keep, breaking fees, BHA fees, turnout, farrier, clipping, etc., etc., might come to another £3,000, but that will be covered by the monthly subscriptions.

Total cost for purchase and the first quarter therefore cannot exceed £12,000.  The syndicate manager, though, is now sitting on a 300% profit margin of £18,000 minimum.  Do this ten times a year and he’s got a cool £180,000!!

What should you do about it?  Firstly, never buy into a horse without seeing a fully transparent statement of account for the purchase and associated costs.  Secondly, refuse to be ripped off, and negotiate a fair price.

Thirdly, it might be far better to come to Owners for Owners, where we never adopt this practice.  There are no hidden margins on the purchase of the horse.  This is a scandalous practice.  I’m going to ask the trade body for syndicates what they think to it.  Should be an interesting discussion.

Friday 22 June 2012

First Owners for Owners blog - A Cup Half Full

Welcome to the first blog of Owners for Owners.  Many of them will be written by Jon Hughes, but other owners will be making guest appearances, including the acerbic views of The Curmudgeon commenting on all the things that go wrong in racing. The blog is on 1st and 15th of each month.

A Cup Half Full

There is certainly no shortage of challenges and self-inflicted wounds in horseracing.  Persistently weak leadership in the BHA;  a serious funding crisis;  inept handling of the Tote sale;  a surfeit of low-grade racing;  a customer experience at many tracks that remains lamentable despite the efforts of Racing for Change (or as The Curmudgeon calls it, “Racing for Small Change”);  narrow-minded and non-collaborative factions trying to beat three bells out of each other all the time, rather than working together for the good of racing;  and a declining breeding, training and owning industry as a result of austerity and recession so lots of subjects to air on the blog.

And yet racing also remains capable of stirring passion, pleasure and total absorption.  It is a marvellous sport.  As a friend recently commented about owning horses:  “It is definitely an addiction and there is no known cure.”  Thank goodness!  Throughout the blog, though, we will be looking at the positives and not just the negatives.  In our modest way we intend to suggest some recommendations for action that might improve the industry and the experience of racing.  Yes, it is a cup half full, not half empty.