Monday 15 December 2014

Welcoming the Director of Common Sense, and Future Gilded’s Novice Chasing Case

Over the last few weeks there have been quite a few announcements of some excellent appointments at the very top of racing. The old adage is that ships either float or sink from the bridge, and Steve Harman, BHA Chairman, is to be congratulated for showing a steely resolve to make sure that racing has a much broader leadership cadre, combining not just in-depth racing expertise but stronger business and commercial acumen. This is all part of putting in place a growth strategy for racing that is essential if the sport is to compete properly with all the other leisure sectors and racing territories. Indeed it says a lot about racing in the past that this will be the first ever proper strategy. Really looking forward to seeing the detail as it emerges in 2015.

However, Owners for Owners is probably the only organisation that is aware that a top-secret appointment has been made, yet to be announced – racing’s first ever Director of Common Sense. Any business sector or organisation can easily become process-bound and overly constrained by the letter of the law on its rules and regulations. We have seen a number of instances over the autumn where relatively minor episodes have an very negative impact on the public perception of the sport. If the day’s top jumps meeting suddenly finds that its best race is in jeopardy because of sunlight, it only makes sense to move it on the day so that it is run as a proper spectacle rather than a strange mish-mash of jumping and flat racing as numerous fences are bypassed by sticking to the same race time. If there is a minor infringement due to a flag man inadvertently waving the wrong flag (obviously fully acknowledging the need for jockeys to be vigilant and never to ignore the potential dangers of disobeying flag instructions), then let the race result stand and don’t overly punish the jockeys through lengthy bans. Racing wants to see its superstar jockeys over the Christmas holiday period, and banning someone such as Richard Johnson for the duration takes away a lot of public interest. Indeed, I think banning is a dubious punishment anyway. Hitting jockeys’ pockets really hard would probably be far more persuasive, and could be flexed to suit the circumstances of the rider.

So a warm welcome to the new appointee, and I can tell you now that the diary is likely to be very full. Indeed, with having this inside information, we have already lined up an important test case of Future Gilded (known as “Frankie” by his friends) vs. The Handicapper. Trainers and owners are finding the new novice / novice handicap chase regulations quite difficult to come to terms with, and I suspect it is likely that they will be tweaked again before too long. It is possible now for a horse to go into a novice handicap chase and run off his current officially-rated hurdle mark. This is a good innovation, because otherwise he would have to race against potential superstars from the Nicholls and Henderson yards in novice chases. Come up against a 150+ horse, run a fine race to come 2nd, 3rd or 4th and your handicap mark is probably blown for ever.

Eighteen months ago, Owners for Owners bought the gorgeous Frankie at our favourite sales venue, Arqana in Deauville. He had won his only race, over hurdles at Aix-les-Bains, and we knew that he wouldn’t be eligible as a result for novice hurdles in his first season with us. He would have gone into handicap hurdles, but for sustaining a slight tendon injury that meant he was on the sidelines until now. He’s a gorgeous, big, strong horse, made for chasing, which is where we’re going with him. We entered him in a handicap hurdle to get a mark, and have now got one – 117. Unfortunately though, when we then considered entering him for a novice handicap chase, we were told he is not eligible “due to the rules”, and that he would have to go handicap hurdling for three races first. Because he must have soft ground, and jumps fences far better than hurdles, this is the last thing we want him to do. He spent the whole autumn building his strength steadily and having regular scans to ensure the tendon has been sound, so it has taken until mid-December to have him ready to make his debut for us. If we go down the hurdling route, the risk will be that we lose the ground before all three races can be run, and then another season has gone. So the only option available to us is to go novice chasing ….. with the attendant risk of coming up against a potential super-star. Our trainer has spoken to the handicapper, who admittedly is sympathetic, but can’t do anything to help us. So we are running today at Plumpton in the 12:40. Do watch it and cheer on Fabulous Frankie. And if I see the new Director of Common Sense, I’ll be arguing my case with him in the O&T bar.

I am always interested to hear your views so please do leave a comment. If you can't see the comment box at the bottom of this post then navigate to the post using the right hand navigation or click here > and scroll to the bottom of the page. Look forward to hearing your views. Thanks very much for sharing them.

Monday 1 December 2014

How Many “Owners” in Owners & Trainers Bars and in the Paddock are Genuine Owners?

I’ve been going to a large number of race meetings over the autumn, following our horses, and as many of you will know I’m quite a critic of the owners’ badge allocation system and its archaic administrative procedures. Ordering and then collecting them is needlessly time-consuming, and often a source of tension as genuine owners often have to convince the O&T desk that they are entitled to them. Definitely a system that needs to be brought into this century, never mind this decade. Smart ID systems, linked to owner IDs, would solve all of it, and also provide really valuable information to racecourses in line with modern customer relationship management practice. Doubtless there would be some technical issues, but as so many other leisure sectors have dealt with them, I can’t believe that there isn’t a perfect system out there, waiting for the racing industry to get up to date and adopt it.

However, in this blog I wanted to switch it round, because I do have a lot of sympathy with racecourses over the widespread abuse of owners’ badges. In effect there is an active black market in badges with lots of people getting access to them, particularly via trainers, jockeys, racecourse officials, syndicate managers etc. This fuels the generally suspicious attitude that prevails at O&T desks. Every person who gets in on a badge that they are not genuinely entitled to, is clearly lost revenue for the racecourse, and it is probably not an insignificant amount of money. Let’s say that 100 people per meeting get in for nothing, then that could easily be £3,000 lost income. Equally that is money that could be spent in the Owners & Trainers facility on better standards of refreshment, food, service etc. as well as improving the overall atmosphere.

As people who know me can testify, I’m very much behind the democratisation of racing and I’d like to see more people from non-traditional areas becoming active owners and investing in our sport. I don’t want to sound snobbish about this, but often I find myself in an Owners & Trainers entrance queue behind “no-good boyos” who are clearly picking up or cadging owners’ badges so that they can go on the lash on the racecourse and particularly in the O&T bar. Similarly at a number of tracks there are groups of people who seem to live there permanently, and yet never go out to see horses. I just don’t believe these people are involved in ownership, but are just exploiting the system and in effect being subsidised to attend privileged facilities by genuine owners.

Another aspect of this is the various hangers-on in the pre-parade and parade ring, who often attach themselves to owners simply because they have some relatively distant contact with a trainer or another horse in the yard. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve no problems whatsoever with owners inviting friends along into the paddock, but it is when you find yourself with individuals with whom there are no real links or ties or friendship at all – they have just become non-paying, limpet owners freeloading on a badge system that is not fit for purpose.

What, if anything, should be done about it? The recommended starting point is clearly tightening up the whole process in a way that genuinely allocates badges in a generous way to owners who are investing in the sport, while making it far more difficult for the free-loaders. More guidelines from the Racecourse Association and National Trainers’ Federation would help. There should be a policy actively to discourage the doling out of freebie badges just because many individuals are brazen enough to ask for them. A half-way house might be to allocate a small number of badges to trainers so that they both manage and police the allocation in a way that is deemed to be equitable to their network of contacts and owners. Another and very innovative suggestion (which I know is being examined) is to set up a system for people to become “owners for the day” where they attend the racecourse as owners when a horse’s genuine owners are unable to attend, thereby experiencing at first hand the pleasures of being a racehorse owner. But they would pay for that privilege.

I don’t have any statistics on the scale of the problem, and hope I don’t sound too curmudgeonly, but I think the industry ought to be actively discouraging the freeloading, while equally actively encouraging investment in owning horses.

I am always interested to hear your views so please do leave a comment. If you can't see the comment box at the bottom of this post then navigate to the post using the right hand navigation or click here > and scroll to the bottom of the page. Look forward to hearing your views. Thanks very much for sharing them.

Saturday 15 November 2014

The Long and the Short and the Tall: Reflections on the Autumn Buying Campaign

Probably the biggest change since we set up Owners for Owners 2½ years ago has been the resurgence in bloodstock prices, particularly on the Flat, but increasingly for National Hunt as well. When we started the average for us was c.£30,000 per horse, whereas now it is climbing nearer to £50,000. It has also meant that from a standing start we have nearly half a million pounds’ worth of bloodstock and there is over £¼ million a year going through the books in training fees, entries and all the miscellaneous costs that make owning such an expensive business. Thank goodness we have a great bunch of committed owners to spread the risk and share the enjoyment.

We’re almost through the Autumn buying period, with one more NH horse to find for Martin Keighley. Then as we go into 2015 the plan is to stop buying for a while and run the current stock of horses through their various campaigns, be it Flat, hurdling or chasing. We’ve also found that the whole process of organising and administering the partnerships, as well as going to see them race, is quite a bit more time-consuming than we expected, which is why we’ll cap the number of horses in training at any one time at 12.

Another very interesting learning over the last year or so has been the way in which certain agents work well for Owners for Owners, whereas others, for all sorts of reasons, don’t. Increasingly in National Hunt we’re now using Gerry Hogan and also last week, Aiden Murphy at the Tattersalls sale in Ireland, described as “the world’s most comprehensive NH sale”, which had 1,492 horses, mainly foals, listed in the catalogue. We ended up buying two bay colt foals – Lot 735, a Sholokhov who will go to Aiden’s stud near Stratford-upon-Avon, and Lot 920, by Oscar, who will stay at a farm in Tipperary near Gerry, until ready to come into training. This is the first time we’ve ever bought foals, and we’ve invested in them because the price of three-year-old store horses and ready-to-race jumpers is climbing incredibly rapidly. In effect we have bought two for the price of one, even when adding in the cost of keep. We’ve bought them to race, not primarily for pinhooking, although obviously we’ll keep an eye on both their development and their value as we go through the next couple of years.

We don’t always buy through agents, and indeed Rachael Green was also looking for a yearling, and she and Anthony Honeyball will continue their search for a youngster, which when bought will go to them. Equally on the Flat the whole of the Burke family have an excellent eye for a horse and to go to the sales with them is like participating in a master class on buying (and rejecting) Flat horses. The most pleasing common denominator is the way in which all these people have Owners for Owners’ best interests at heart. They won’t let us over-pay and are quick to reject unsuitable horses. Since the initial buying decision is probably the most important decision any owner makes, it is fantastic to have all this expertise on our side.

So it only seems fitting to introduce some photos of current youngsters. As you’ll see there is one of the mighty Lord Ben Stack who we bought at Arqana, Deauville last Autumn to race on the Flat with Karl Burke. We’re hoping he will come out in the Dante next Spring and we can plan a campaign from then onwards. Amusingly, all our jumps trainers have already said how much they would love to have him! Then at this year’s Arqana sale we bought a lovely Medicean from a superb dam line for the knock-down price of €40,000. He is a great example of finding value at the sales because he went into the ring with an abscess on his near fore which inhibited bidding. Karl and another of our contacts, Lars Kelp, felt that this was relatively minor and could be easily treated, which is turning out to be the case. He is a tall horse and like many Mediceans will need time. As you can see, he has just started the breaking process and is learning the ropes at Middleham. Finally there is an endearing picture of the baby of the trio, the foal colt by Oscar. You can now see why I headed this blog, “The Long and the Short and the Tall”. We wish all three of them the very best over future Flat seasons.

I am always interested to hear your views so please do leave a comment. If you can't see the comment box at the bottom of this post then navigate to the post using the right hand navigation or click here > and scroll to the bottom of the page. Look forward to hearing your views. Thanks very much for sharing them.

Saturday 1 November 2014

Bloodstock Prices on the Flat Still Climbing: Ordinary Owners Have to Work Harder!

Despite the real economies around the globe still being in post-recessionary deficit reduction modes, there is little evidence of that in the rarefied world of global bloodstock, particularly on the Flat but increasingly in NH as well. Regular readers of the blog will know that several of us connected to Owners for Owners have been trawling through the sales catalogues over the autumn, trying to find a well-bred and racy filly. Indeed, Tim Dykes and I have probably looked at 500 fillies ….. and amazingly haven’t bought one, for the simple reason that the well-bred ones didn’t impress as racehorses but the ones that did were not bred in the purple, or at least within our budget. Reluctantly we’ve come to the conclusion that to find both criteria fully met we would have at least to double our budget, to over £150,000. So we have postponed this hunt until there is a softening of the market.

For a graphic illustration of this, here is a summary of the average and median prices from the Goffs’ Orby and Tattersalls’ Book 1 sales:

Sale Year Average Median
Tattersalls’ Book 1> 2014 235,935 gns 150,000 gns
2013 207,501 gns 130,000 gns
2012 162,825 gns 100,000 gns
Goffs’ Orby 2014> €109,234 €70,000
2013 €101,571 €57,500
2012 €90,331 €58,000

As you can see, yearling prices have basically gone up by 50% during the time that Owners for Owners has been in existence. We surveyed our owners recently and there is no desire whatsoever to chase these sorts of prices. So the only way forward has been to work harder at the various sales, scrutinise more horses using the skills of trainers and agents, and on occasions take a bit of a risk in the purchase itself.

Our latest yearling purchase illustrates our approach. We swerved both Goffs and Tattersalls and went back to the Arqana Deauville sale on 20th October. This is the select day of that particular sale, and where we bought our 90+ rated horses, Lord Ben Stack and Jolievitesse, last year. Hopefully lightning struck again with the purchase of a beautiful Medicean yearling colt for the hammer price of €40,000 (£31,431). All the details and a video are on And there will be further information about the partnership on the web site shortly. Karl and Elaine Burke bought him for us and both felt that if he had gone through Tattersalls’ Book 1 he could well have been double or even treble that. Indeed, when I checked, the average for a Medicean at that sale was £171k, and even in Book 2 it was £47k. Unfortunately for them the vendors, Haras de Bourgeauville, were unlucky because the colt developed an abscess on his foot shortly before the sale and they ran out of time in which to treat it properly. We took advice from Lars Kelp (who, as well as being a former trainer in Scandinavia, is a hoof expert) who felt that it should be relatively straightforward to treat, and it certainly won’t stop the horse being broken at Spigot Lodge. As a late April foal, we will need to be patient and give him all the time he needs to develop.

All the breeding of our horse shows real quality. Medicean was owned by Chieveley Park Stud and trained by Sir Michael Stoute, while the dam, Bellona, was owned by US owner / breeder George Strawbridge, and trained by Freddy Head. Medicean didn’t race at 2yo, but improved steadily from 3 to 4, winning the Celebration Mile, Lockinge, Queen Anne and Eclipse over 1m to 1m 2f. Notably game, he raced 12 times and was in the money on ten occasions. These qualities have been passed on to his progeny, of whom more than 10 have been Gr.1 winners, mostly over similar distances, including Neatico, Bayrir (Secretariat Stakes in Arlington), Capponi, Siyouma (Sun Chariot), Al Shemali, Almenta, Nannina (dual winner at Royal Ascot, Coronation Stakes and Windsor Forest), and then the speedier Dutch Art who was unbeaten as a 2yo, winning the Norfolk at Royal Ascot, the Prix Morny and the Middle Park.

On the dam side, Bellona won a Listed race and was placed in Gr.3s. Her winning daughter, Es Que, produced Dominant, who was sold by Highclere for over £1m to Hong Kong and went on to win the Gr.1 Hong Kong Vase, and Es Que Love, who is still in training with Clive Cox and won the Lennox at Glorious Goodwood this year. It really is a great dam line with black type all over the page, with one of the more recent ones, We Are, winning the 1m 2f Gr.1 Prix de l’Opera for fillies and mares on this year’s Arc day.

Sixth shares are available in this cracking colt, and if you want to view him at Spigot Lodge over the autumn, just let me know. 50% of the horse has already been taken!

I am always interested to hear your views so please do leave a comment. If you can't see the comment box at the bottom of this post then navigate to the post using the right hand navigation or click here > and scroll to the bottom of the page. Look forward to hearing your views. Thanks very much for sharing them.

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Our Reaction to Booming Bloodstock Prices – Building the Pipeline in Different Ways

I’m writing this while listening to the Newmarket Tattersalls sale on the computer in the background. While it is obviously great for the vendors and the bloodstock industry to be harvesting such returns, it is definitely a head-scratcher. We have had trainers and agents looking closely at both National Hunt horses and the yearlings for the Flat at the various sales, and they are staggered by how many distinctly average horses are realising such enormous sums. At the Derby sale in Ireland (where we bought The Fugitive), there were numerous store horses going through for €150k+, none more so than the procession of Yeats’ progeny who were bought back in by the Magnier clan. Again at the Goffs Orby sale, records were broken and that momentum has continued through Tattersalls Book 1 and into Book 2. At our own level, there is just no way at all that we can chase these prices, not that we would want to. It is becoming increasingly clear that the dominance of NH owners with Messrs. Henderson, Mullins and Nicholls means that when they clash, the prices rapidly escalate to the ludicrous. Equally on the Flat, there is a platinum tier of global owners for whom money doesn’t matter.

So as a result of all of this, in Owners for Owners it is time to take stock. We’re not prepared to pay the sums required, and equally not prepared to lower the quality standards. What is our current thinking?

On the Flat we’ve commissioned Karl Burke and his family to work with us through Book 2 and then the Deauville Arqana sale next week, where we had tremendous success last year buying our two 90+ rated colts, Lord Ben Stack and Jolievitesse, both of whom have won and shown more than enough promise to indicate that they could easily be winning Group horses next season. All the owners now have the Dante meeting at York pencilled in their diaries, and we’ll be disappointed if one of them doesn’t go for the eponymous race itself. We’ve also joined forces with one of our key owners, Tim Dykes, who is investing in buying a number of fillies, both to race and to breed. By doing this we have been able to increase the budget to a maximum of £80,000 (inclusive of commissions etc.) and this is going to be a joint ownership: 50/50 between OfO and Tim. That way our owners can buy into the horse in shares for less than a total of £40,000. Bearing in mind how well we have done this year, please let me know as soon as possible if you’d like to be involved. At the moment the plan is to race the filly for two years and then we would breed from her. We’ll be giving owners the options of buying in either to race only, or to race and breed.

For NH, I was very struck by some comments made recently by Dan Skelton, who is pursuing what he termed, “the Marks & Spencer supply chain model of building a supply pipeline”. That is something that we are also going to pursue. Rather than just buying ready-to-race horses, such as those who have won their point-to-points, we are going to invest in a number of foals and have commissioned top agents Aiden Murphy and Gerry Hogan to act on our behalf at the upcoming foal sale at Tattersalls in Ireland, week commencing 10th November; and also Anthony Honeyball and Rachael Green. We would then have three horses in the pipeline and can make decisions as they develop whether we retain them so that they come in to racing in two to three years’ time, or sell them in the normal way as store horses. While it is higher risk, we’re hoping that by buying three we will have at least one or two able to race for us at a lower total price than investing in equally high-risk store horses or paying over the top for the winning Irish pointer.

As you can see, therefore, there is a shift of emphasis where over time we may accommodate not just buying policy around “buying to race” but also “breeding to race”. The intention is to do this in a balanced and judicious way while still working closely with our trainers and agents to buy horses able to come in to training on a much shorter timescale. As ever, I’ll be circulating details of the next opportunities for owners to become involved with us as co-owners. Watch this space!

I am always interested to hear your views so please do leave a comment. If you can't see the comment box at the bottom of this post then navigate to the post using the right hand navigation or click here > and scroll to the bottom of the page. Look forward to hearing your views. Thanks very much for sharing them.

Wednesday 1 October 2014

First Class or Third Class: The Beastly Business of Bargaining for Badges

Very occasionally in my management consultancy career I enjoyed entering an aircraft and turning left to fly first class. Bearing in mind that I was a procurement specialist, it would hardly have been an impressive action on the part of the client to spend all that money on me. However, when I did travel like that, I really enjoyed it, and it was always on the Heathrow to JFK run. Currently a first-class flight with British Airways and onward helicopter into Manhattan is just a whisker under £5,000. You book your ticket and check in online; there is a limo to the airport; you are fast-tracked through security; you can relax with a glass or three of Krug before being feted by top-class cabin staff while enjoying an excellent gourmet dinner; before a relaxing sleep in a luxury fold-down seat.

You’re probably wondering why I’m wittering on about such luxuries. It is because, if you take the average price of the average racehorse and its average training fees over its average career, and total it all up before dividing it by the number of races the horse runs, you’ll find that it is between £4,000 and £5,000. If you take into account the purchase price of the bloodstock and write that off completely, it would take the average racecourse appearance cost up to nearer £7,000.

So next time you go racing as an owner, you may (but then again, may not) want to consider the fact that your investment for that afternoon is somewhere between £4,000 and £7,000. You may also want to reflect upon whether you are being treated in the same way as someone with a first-class ticket on British Airways.

That, in a nutshell, is the difference between being a purchaser of racehorses and a purchaser of other luxury goods and services. In one, we have traditionally been treated as relatively unimportant, whereas in the other we are the number one customer.

Let’s just examine one aspect in more detail – badge allocation and collection. In our house, my wife Jack and I share the same office to do all the admin and communications for Owners for Owners. One of the biggest sources of tension is dealing with racecourses and persuading them to allocate as many badges as we need for our owners. Some courses are miserly, while others are generous; some are highly inefficient, requiring lots of emails and phone calls, while others appear far more switched-on and customer orientated; some hide behind health & safety rules (“we can’t have too many owners in the paddock”), while others will do everything they can to accommodate; some of the staff on O&T desks haven’t a clue, whereas others are highly professional “owner ambassadors”; the one common denominator is that you will invariably have to join a shuffling queue and be given the once-over by someone who suspects you are trying to blag your way in for nothing. Allocations can vary between 6, 8, 10, 12 or more. Sometimes there is a free hot meal and sometimes only a bun and cup of tea. Some accept ROA swipe cards, some don’t. Hardly ever do you see a computer. Usually there is just a long list of names by horse and race, and someone has to track down manually who you are.

I don’t think airlines selling first-class tickets would keep many customers paying £4-5,000 a time for the privilege of being treated so shabbily and inefficiently. Surely it’s time to catch up with modern customer relationship management and jump several decades at a single go, by introducing smart technology, owner recognition systems, privilege cards, professionally trained customer liaison staff and also some old-fashioned courtesy towards racing’s number one customer, i.e. the owner. Many decades ago I worked with British Airways on their behavioural training programme, “Putting People First”. It’s about time racing and racecourses did the same: “Putting Owners First”, and genuinely meaning it.

I am always interested to hear your views so please do leave a comment. If you can't see the comment box at the bottom of this post then navigate to the post using the right hand navigation or click here > and scroll to the bottom of the page. Look forward to hearing your views. Thanks very much for sharing them.

Monday 15 September 2014

Cheltenham’s New Era ….. And Will That Be Extended To Owners As Well?

I always find September and October one of the most interesting periods of the year. We’re working through the last of the big Flat racing festivals and just starting to sense that the spectacle of Jumps racing is about to begin. This year in particular we have had a really thrilling couple of races from our two-year-olds, Lord Ben Stack and Jolievitesse, so I’m keen to hold on to the Flat and the fine weather for as long as possible. It is likely that the imposing Dylan Thomas (Lord Ben Stack) will go for the Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket on Saturday, 27th September (Cambridgeshire day), while the equally impressive Elusive City (Jolievitesse) will be aimed at a Listed race before being put away for the winter. At this stage we’re really excited by both prospects, so much so that we’re creating two high-flying plans for next season: Lord Ben Stack’s early target to be the Dante ahead of the Derby, and for Jolievitesse, the English or French 2000 Guineas before the Sandown Classic Trial. (If you can’t dream, you shouldn’t own racehorses!)

So with this focus on the Flat, it has taken me a few days to read through the ultra-glossy brochure from Cheltenham that turned up recently, outlining its “New Era”. The long-overdue, £45m grandstand development is well under way, with everything expected to be ready to open for the Festival in 2016. In the meantime of course we’ll just have to get by as best we can, and doubtless there will be some grumbling about diminished facilities available for our £330 full membership. I’m sure though that the new grandstand, changes to the weighing room, redesign of crowd flow over the pedestrian bridge etc. will be a very big improvement and I’m really looking forward to everything being completed on time.

However, I’m going to ask Cheltenham what the “New Era” will mean for owners. The glossy brochure was obviously aimed at selling tickets, membership, hospitality and even the “unique opportunity” to join the ultra-ritzy Cheltenham Club that will be situated on the top floor of the new grandstand. While it won’t be as expensive as the rumoured £80,000 annual charge for a private box, you would certainly need a few hefty wins on the track to pay for admission. Unfortunately the 36-page brochure says almost nothing at all about the benefits for owners. So here are a few of my own recommendations:

  • Redefine the owner experience so that Cheltenham sets a new benchmark standard for excellence.
  • Dramatically upgrade the Owner & Trainer facilities both within the new grandstand and elsewhere, so that Cheltenham can provide that standard of excellence on every day of racing including the Festival.
  • Stop the differentiation in facility access between the owners in top graded races at the Festival and in the handicaps. It costs the same amount of money to train a horse regardless of its race, and all owners should enjoy a high-quality experience on the track. Stop sending owners off to crummy facilities in marquees where they have to buy their own food and drink.
  • Be far more generous with owners’ badges. Last year, when our Shantou Magic ran in the Martin Pipe, we had to pay £90 for each additional badge. Bearing in mind that our owners were also members at Cheltenham and had already paid over £300, this is excessive.
  • Cheltenham may argue that numbers have to be restricted because of health and safety in the paddock etc. If that is genuinely the case, increase the size of the paddock now as part of the redevelopment scheme, so that it can accommodate more owners. This is our Olympics and showcase, so why restrict numbers?
  • Sort out the Owners & Trainers entrances so that badges can be allocated and picked up without the hassles that have been experienced over recent years. It is demeaning to have to stand there, trying to convince the desk staff that you are a genuine owner entitled to a badge.
  • Finally, set a new era on prize-money. Three recommendations: dramatically increase the quantum of total prize-money; have prize-money down to 6th place; and apply the principle that any placed horse must win enough to cover the cost of entry, jockey fees and transport to the track. Lots to discuss as we all pile in to the revamped See You Then bar at the start of the new season on Friday, 17th October.

I am always interested to hear your views so please do leave a comment. If you can't see the comment box at the bottom of this post then navigate to the post using the right hand navigation or click here > and scroll to the bottom of the page. Look forward to hearing your views. Thanks very much for sharing them.

Monday 1 September 2014

Northern Racetracks and Part 3 of Dealing with Owners Exiting from Syndicates

It was really interesting talking to a number of our owners who went up to York for the Ebor meeting. There was a really strong consensus that York’s flagship racing festival manages to get almost everything right, and owners and race-goers are really well looked after, not least with the best value Champagne of any course in the country. Perhaps more importantly, they bumped up the prize-money this year by another £0.25m to a record of £3.5m and guaranteed place money down to 6th for all 25 races, thereby ensuring that each race was worth not less than £40,000. Well done to everyone involved in this at the Knavesmire. If only this could be copied by other so-called “festival” meetings, as owners we’d have a bit less to grumble about.

At a much lower level, also well done to Thirsk which has also boosted prize-money recently, and with a few exceptions every race there is now worth at least £5,000. Even beautiful Beverley is doing its bit for the owner experience, their latest idea being a wide selection of home-made cakes in the O&T bar. Go racing in Yorkshire! Which all adds to the reasons why we’re such positive supporters of Karl Burke in Middleham.

In the last couple of blogs I’ve been looking at some of the issues involved in terminating syndicates and exiting from horses. I’ve been arguing that partnership agreements must have an indication of the likely term of the syndicate, and that there are reviews, particularly after two years, that enable owners to leave. I am particularly against open-ended syndicate agreements where horses are kept in training even though they are distinctly moderate, but are really only running to generate fees for the syndicate manager.

One of the difficult situations to deal with, though, is when most of the owners want to stay with the horse, but one or two want to leave. This is particularly compounded when an owner decides to exit regardless by giving an ultimatum to co-owners, normally along the lines of: “I want out and I don’t intend to pay any more money.” It definitely helps if the written agreement maps out a number of principles and scenarios, such as:
  • If one partner wants to end their involvement, they should at their cost attempt to sell their share to a third party, provided it is offered to other partners who have first refusal.
  • If several partners wish to do the same, then again they can try to sell their shares privately, but if not the horse can go into a public auction to establish its market value (and it will be up to the continuing partners to buy it back if they want to).
  • If one or more partner(s) want to sell their share(s) without going into a public auction, then two independent valuations need to be obtained, with the average of the two valuations being the basis for share buy-out, again with the cost borne by the partner(s) wishing to sell. There is no obligation on the other partners to buy the share(s).
  • In all of these scenarios, there should be a requirement to continue paying training fees for a defined period, e.g. three months, or until the next available suitable sale.
  • Finally there can be the very unpleasant scenario where an owner backs out precipitately, leaving the rest of the owners to pick up the pieces. This is clearly unacceptable. It should be made clear that they forfeit their share of the horse, but that will be ineffective if the horse is moderate and has little or no value. In that situation there are then only two remedies: legal pressure to pay (with threat of court action), or getting the non-paying owner on to the BHA’s Forfeit List, thereby ensuring that they will not be allowed to become an owner in British racing again.
The more explicit agreements can be, the better. However, the real key is everything to do with the horse, its training and wellbeing being actively communicated on a regular basis and at the same time, keeping very open communication with all the partners so that if anyone is becoming disillusioned and wants to terminate their involvement, it can be discussed as early as possible, in the most constructive way. Alas, however, human nature being what it is, there are always some individuals who adopt completely unreasonable behaviour. Hopefully you don’t encounter them in your syndicates or partnerships!

I am always interested to hear your views so please do leave a comment. If you can't see the comment box at the bottom of this post then navigate to the post using the right hand navigation or click here > and scroll to the bottom of the page. Look forward to hearing your views. Thanks very much for sharing them.

Friday 15 August 2014

The Two Key Decisions for an Owner – Part 2, Moving the Horse On

In the last blog I argued strongly for full transparency on the costs of buying horses, particularly when it is done through commercial syndicates. This certainly struck a chord and I had a number of emails and telephone discussions with owners about it all. Indeed there is quite a strong view that syndication should be more strongly regulated, as it is in some countries such as Australia. Personally I would like to see a syndicate charter which outlaws a number of the shady practices pursued by unscrupulous syndicate managers.

Another area that can cause a lot of problems is how joint owners and syndicate members can actually come out of a horse in which they have invested. It is not unknown for owners to buy into a yearling and still find that it is racing at 10 – albeit with a lowly rating and not many, if any, wins. The problem as always is the preponderance of conflicts of interest. It can be very tempting for some trainers and syndicate managers to hold on to moderate horses purely as a contribution to overheads and profit margins. Quite a few syndicate managers will be making at least £5,000 per year on each horse that they manage, and that is before additional contribution is secured through add-on costs for offices, travel, web sites, staff, hospitality etc. In some of the biggest and best-known syndicates you can be talking about very substantial increases on that figure.

In Owners for Owners, by the way, we have a standard charge of c. £3 per week per owner, or £150 per owner per year, so £900 in total for a horse, with no additional charges whatsoever, not even for VAT reclaim which we do ourselves (rather than using Weatherbys which is c.£160 per quarter).

We believe that owners should not enter into an open-ended commercial relationship, but that there should be proper reviews with the trainer about each horse at the end of the first and second year. If the horse has physical problems and / or is unlikely to win a Class 4 or better, then it is in the interests of the owners to move the horse on. Obviously this rule is not applied inflexibly, but as we say on the Home Page of our web site, we’re determined to avoid keeping horses for too long (“It doesn’t cost any more to train a good horse than a bad one. Realism is necessary. Move on the unsuccessful”) and no proper reviews (“Decisions have to be taken about horses, their performance and their welfare. As co-owners, work closely to make the right ones”).

Therefore it is a strong recommendation for anyone going into a joint ownership or syndicate that they ask specifically about the term of the partnership. All of us as owners go into ownership with optimism and high expectation, but inevitably in our sport there are more disappointments than successes. An important role for anyone involved in organising syndicates is to do everything possible for the horse to realise its potential, but at the same time not to avoid the difficult discussions when it has become clear that the animal is moderate at best. It is just too easy to hold on to a poor horse for too long. Delaying the decision to move the horse on then becomes both very expensive and ultimately demotivating. It is not much fun going racing to support a horse where there is no longer a dream.

And of course there are a number of situations where consensus cannot be achieved, particularly when one or more owner(s) decide they want to throw in the towel. We’ll look at ways of dealing with that in the next blog.

I am always interested to hear your views so please do leave a comment. If you can't see the comment box at the bottom of this post then navigate to the post using the right hand navigation or click here > and scroll to the bottom of the page. Look forward to hearing your views. Thanks very much for sharing them.

Friday 1 August 2014

The Two Key Decisions for an Owner – Part 1, Buying the Horse

In many ways the two key decisions about any horse are the initial one to acquire the animal, and then deciding when it is time to move him on to pastures new. One of the reasons we set up Owners for Owners is that we were dissatisfied on too many occasions by how these decisions were managed. Over the last six weeks we have experienced both, buying The Fugitive (3yo Flemensfirth gelding) and selling Houndscourt. In this blog I’ll use the example of The Fugitive to look at some of the shady practices in buying, and in the next one, how best to move a horse on.

Like many people we came into owning via syndicates. Some worked well, but others didn’t. There were two practices we really disliked. One was the syndicate manager picking up a horse that quite frankly not many people wanted. We’ve always hated the phrase, “a fun horse”, ever since. All too often they are useless and it costs no more to train a good one than a bad one. The other practice was that of adding a big margin on to the purchase price of a horse – indeed, often doubling or even trebling it.

So how do we go about buying a horse? We always like the trainer and the bloodstock agent to buy a horse together, against a well-defined specification. Ours was £50,000 hammer price maximum, top ten NH stallion, strong NH dam line with multiple winners at listed quality or above, no ancient mares, no first foals and with the scope and correctness for chasing. We went over to Tattersalls’ Derby Sale in Ireland in June with both Charlie Longsdon and our preferred agent for NH horses, Gerry Hogan, who is based over there and has his ear well and truly to the ground. They selected over 20 horses for detailed consideration, and we eventually bid on two. We let the first one go – a Presenting who was bought for €160,000 – but acquired the second, a gorgeous Flemensfirth from the family of Albertas Run. This is a real Cotswold staying type of horse (Charlie is based at Chipping Norton) because many of his close relatives have run for trainers such as Jonjo O’Neill and Nigel Twiston-Davies, with particularly fine records at both Cheltenham and Aintree.

Here are the details of what we paid. The hammer price was €52,000 and when you add on the Tattersalls commission (6%) + Gerry’s commission + vetting + LRT transport to the UK, the final cost was £46,320, which is what we are partnering him out at, with 1/6th shares costing £7,720. I find when buying horses that as a rule of thumb you need to add about 10% to cover the various related and unavoidable costs. In Owners for Owners we don’t add on any margins or mark-ups and we don’t charge anything for going to the sales, since we enjoy them so much.

So I decided as a comparison to have a look at two large syndicate companies to see what they would charge. One of them would have syndicated the horse at somewhere between £90,000 and £100,000 (so a sixth share would cost c. £15,000) while the other, on their policy, would have been well over £120,000 (sixth share c. £20,000). I just do not understand why anyone is prepared to end up either paying twice or three times the price or, looking at it the other way round, potentially halving the quality, with their money going to pay for lower quality stock but with high margins being maintained by the syndicate manager. I’ve actually discussed this with the self-appointed trade body for racing clubs and syndicates, and they are just not prepared to acknowledge that this is a completely unethical practice.

Obviously anyone can run any business in any way they like, and owners going into a commercial transaction should have their eyes wide open, and as always, “caveat emptor” – let the buyer beware. The problem though, I think, is that some racing managers of syndicates are using this practice to conceal profit margins. Personally I believe that if there were a code of practice for syndicates and racing clubs it would outlaw it, and require all racing managers to provide explicit and transparent breakdowns of costs of purchase and also their ongoing charges. If the syndicates then continued to ramp the price of the initial purchase, I think they would lose business rapidly. Transparency would drive much-needed changes in commercial practice.

What do you think? You have been warned!

I am always interested to hear your views so please do leave a comment. If you can't see the comment box at the bottom of this post then navigate to the post using the right hand navigation or click here > and scroll to the bottom of the page. Look forward to hearing your views. Thanks very much for sharing them.

Tuesday 15 July 2014

Strong Vote of Confidence in Owners for Owners – and Some Ideas for the Future

Most years in early July, my wife and I spend a week or two in Spain, usually developing our golf swings (with moderate success) and exploring the pleasures of new wave, innovative Spanish wine (far more successfully). A great time for R&R, and reflection on the past year. This time, I also brought out with me the feedback replies from our owners on the first two years of Owners for Owners. Many thanks to everyone for their emails, telcos and face to face discussions. It’s really great that we’ve had such a positive response to what we’re doing. So, here is the feedback and recommendations for the future.

Overall approach and differentiation from syndicates
  • Don’t change any of the basic principles and ways of operating.
  • Keep the focus on everyone being genuine co-owners, not syndicate members.
  • Don’t dilute the ownership experience with more owners per horse.
  • Stay with six co-owners maximum per horse. That enables everyone to be close to the action.
  • Maintain the not-for-profit organisation of OfO and the low cost base.
  • So we definitely won’t be changing the core co-owner model. The plan is to maintain the current horse numbers and to replace them as they retire or are moved on.

OfO trainers
  • Lots of positive feedback on the support and openness of the trainers on our roster.
  • They were selected not only for their training ability, but also for communication with owners.
  • Owners have enjoyed visiting other trainers as well as their own.
  • Acknowledgement by these trainers of our owners when they meet them on the course is appreciated.
  • We will continue to support our current group of trainers, and because we value their commitment to us, we want to maintain our loyalty and continuity with them. Therefore we won’t be adding any new trainers at the moment.

Horse buying policy and budgets
  • Lots of concern about the bloodstock market, and the escalating prices and market dynamics.
  • There is a clear feeling that ordinary owners are being priced out of the market.
  • There is no desire to increase the maximum hammer price budget for OfO of £50k.
  • This is one of the most important areas for reflection. No-one wants OfO to become more like Highclere or Thurloe. Chasing very high bloodstock prices leads to large syndicates and / or reduced overall quality for the same money, as the commercial syndicates try to maintain their margins. The view is that we need to consider more creative options that produce good value for money while hopefully buying well-conformed and well-bred horses that will take owners to the better races at better tracks.
  • We’ve made decisions therefore to: invest in store horses rather than the ready-made Irish P2P winners (as per the new 3yo Flemensfirth for Charlie Longsdon); select a top-quality agent as our NH buying partner (and this is Gerry Hogan); avoid the increasingly prohibitively-priced sales such as Tattersalls Book 1 on the Flat and Brightwells on the Jumps; buy in France to take advantage of both their bloodstock and the prize-money premiums (we’re planning to revisit Arqana in Deauville with Karl Burke in the autumn); and buy several NH yearlings (two commissions have now been given – one to Gerry Hogan to buy and keep the yearling in Ireland and another to Anthony Honeyball and Rachael Green in the UK – for which the purchase budget will be c. £15k each).

Social events
  • No-one wants to see these cut back, but equally few want to pay more to cover additional costs.
  • There is no desire to have a standard charge built into everyone’s monthly / annual payments.
  • Everyone loves the stable visits and “meet the trainer” mornings.
  • The Cheltenham picnic was really appreciated.
  • It looks as though we’ve got the balance about right. We’ll continue to organise visits, picnics etc.. There won’t be any standard charge, but we will let people know in advance if costs are going to be incurred. There were several suggestions about the possibility of OfO race sponsorship; attending the black tie ROA dinner; organising a golf day and barbecue. We’ll definitely look into these.

  • Really pleased that everyone is happy with what we’re doing here, and the quality of the web site.
  • The frequency and standard of communication seems to be right.
  • Owners really appreciate being kept closely involved, and with nothing hidden.
  • In response to the recommendations to go on Twitter, we have now done that. We’ve developed a “content calendar” where we communicate daily where possible on Twitter (which can also be read on the feed into the Home Page of our web site), weekly with the Sunday updates and fortnightly through the 1st and 15th round-ups to all our owners, plus the bi-monthly blog.

Accounts and Administration
  • The complete transparency of costs and accounting received very favourable mention.
  • Clearly this has been a problem area with some of the commercial synciates.
  • Jack’s work on the admin and VAT reclaim is very much appreciated.
  • The only changes here are that some owners wanted quarterly invoicing as a reminder, and also a six-monthly finance summary, particularly if a large surplus is building up in the bank account. We’ll do that and let owners know in advance when there will be a summary on any surplus.

Once again, many thanks for all your feedback. Do keep on letting us know about any potential changes or areas of innovation that we ought to pursue. And let’s hope we have a great time on the track in the years ahead.

I am always interested to hear your views so please do leave a comment. If you can't see the comment box at the bottom of this post then navigate to the post using the right hand navigation or click here > and scroll to the bottom of the page. Look forward to hearing your views. Thanks very much for sharing them.

Tuesday 1 July 2014

Reflections on Royal Ascot 2014 – Fabulous Showcase for British Racing …. and a Few Issues

I don’t know if you saw the typically eloquent comment from Alastair Down in the Racing Post during Royal Ascot: “Because it is easier to pander to prejudice and caricature than it is to explain the many-layered complexities of Ascot, the broad brush stroke of the media settles for the simple portrayal of the meeting as some anachronistic toff-fest by Class Distinction out of Behind The Times.” He, like me, disagrees with that, although I often have trouble with some of the “pomp and circumstance” that is always associated with the Royal meeting. But before flagging up a number of issues that came to the surface, here is a personal view of the racing:

  • What a start to the meeting for Sheikh Joaan Al Thani’s Al Shakkab Racing (by the way, named after a massive battle in the 19th Century in the Ottoman Empire) with Toronado winning the Queen Anne and then The Wow Signal prevailing for John Quinn. Must have been a huge sigh of relief from Harry Herbert.
  • Fabulous results for Eddie Lynam with Sole Power in the King’s Stand, Anthem Alexander in the Queen Mary and Slade Power in the Diamond Jubilee. How can such a relatively small yard do so well with sprinters?
  • I’ve said to all our NH trainers how much I’d love to see our horses go to one of the staying races at Royal Ascot. Wouldn’t you love to have owned Domination in the Ascot Stakes, Hartnell in the Queen’s Vase or Pique Sous in the Queen Alexandra? You could have bought all three for under €100,000! And of course, what about Landing Light, under a superbly mature ride from Joseph O’Brien in the Gold Cup where, for my money, he out-rode Ryan Moore despite hitting the horse 11 times and being banned and fined.
  • I’m glad I wasn’t the punter who had £100,000 on Kingman as they swung into the straight in the St. James Palace. But I would have been, after I saw the magnificent acceleration. Hasn’t 2000 Guineas form worked out well, with winners of the Irish Guineas, English and French Derbies and now this race.
  • Everyone expected Treve to show why she is Timeform’s highest rated horse in the Prince of Wales. Amazingly she is the first Arc winner to race in Britain since 1990. Obviously not right in her action, she was thrashed by The Fugue who is top class when conditions are in her favour.
  • I liked the comment from Jamie Osborne after Field Of Dream won the Royal Hunt Cup, when asked: “How will you celebrate?” …. “Well!”
  • Eagle Top looked a top-quality horse in the King Edward VII. Would you keep him to 1m 4f or go for the Leger?
  • Great to see Telescope bounce back in the Hardwick. Although I’m not a huge Highclere fan, it’s always good to see a syndicate grab a big one at Royal Ascot. Another sigh of relief for HH. There is quite a bit of rumbling amongst owners that maybe Highclere is no longer the main focus of Messrs. Herbert and Warren.
  • In the Wokingham, Karl Burke’s horse Rivellino ran a blinder from a poor draw to finish 3rd, to land a number of good each-way bets for OfO owners. Thank you, Karl!

Phew! Sorry if I left off some of your favourite horses. But what about some of the issues that inevitably surround the world’s best Flat fixture? Quite a bit of murmuring that racing / bloodstock is increasingly being concentrated in the hands of a small number of very high net worth individuals. That was reinforced by the ultra-premium Goffs London Sale, in association with Qipco, at the Orangery in Kensington Palace on the Monday evening. That notably saw mare, Crystal Gaze, with Frankel foal, selling for £1.15m to the Magnier clan. CafĂ© Society was snapped up to go to Australia, and will go to the Melbourne Cup. It now seems that all you need to do to trouser £300k+ is to have a top-notch, 95+ 1m 2f to 1m 4f Flat horse and flog it out East. There was also the appearance of a new Russian buyer, Volga Star Racing, who spent £400k on a son of Giant’s Causeway. A fabulous sale, lots of spiffing champagne for the invited audience ….. but out of the price-range of most.

On the track itself we saw Stoute’s yard bounce back, and with John Gosden, dominate the meeting; so, again, a concentration of trainer power as well as buyers. The interference rule now appears to be too lenient and needs to be tightened up again, judging by the ease with which Hartnell gained the race having almost knocked Century over in the Queen’s Vase. Jockeys, equally, are ignoring the whip rule with over 46 days in bans being doled out. There is increasing controversy about the bias on firm ground on the straight course between those drawn high vs. low. Worryingly, not a single horse came to Ascot from the Southern Hemisphere.

Finally, there was a lot of debate about BBC vs. RUK vs. Channel 4. Depending on how you interpret the figures, it looks as though viewing has dropped over 50% under the C4 stewardship. Bearing in mind that only a few years ago, Ascot used to have an excess of 1.25m viewers, while simultaneously C4 was broadcasting from other venues with ½m viewers. A lot of viewers appear to have disappeared, and if that is maintained, it has considerable funding and media rights implications. Personally I’d sack a number of the presenters and bring back more individuals who can share the passion and excitement of racing. You don’t necessarily need lots of high tech for that, but you do need to be able to communicate the essence of what makes Royal Ascot such a stand-out meeting. And, very rarely for me at Ascot, I finished in profit on the betting front! But then, so did almost everyone else.

I am always interested to hear your views so please do leave a comment. If you can't see the comment box at the bottom of this post then navigate to the post using the right hand navigation or click here > and scroll to the bottom of the page. Look forward to hearing your views. Thanks very much for sharing them.

Sunday 15 June 2014

Going Beyond the Scoop 6 – Why there should be more innovation in betting, ideally with a racing-owned betting operator

I think most of us who like a bet were delighted when the Scoop 6 was finally won, and the great eight carried off their £1.3m each – partly because it was costing a fortune every week to take part, in a vain attempt to win it, and partly because the races being selected were becoming increasingly impossible to assess. Indeed, you felt that Betfred were going out of their way to make it difficult. This was also not helped by some of the races being absent from terrestrial TV. A cynic would also argue that the cut to Betfred from organising the Scoop 6 had become a nice little earner …… or even a nice large earner?

Peter Jones, when he was boss of the Tote, invented the bet over a decade ago, and when it began it always included the best races of the day. That is definitely not the case any more, and it is debatable whether this is now a horse-racing bet or just a lottery bet. However it was designed to produce a big pool with a huge pay-out, and they certainly achieved that in May. The Scoop 6 has been a great success, and notwithstanding the reservations above, it is undoubtedly a good example of betting innovation. But do you think bookmakers generally are innovative, or that their business models and offerings are somewhat tired and old-fashioned?

Personally, I feel that the whole sector could do with a radical shake-up – both the bookmakers and the regulators in the Gambling Commission. I’ve discussed this with a number of our keen gambling owners, and one in particular has argued that their mission, “To ensure gambling is conducted fairly and openly”, is no longer being achieved. The largest gamblers now find that they can only bet if they lose; they are closed down if they win; and at best their bets are arbitrarily reduced or refused at the bookmaker’s discretion. And the sector lacks the necessary competition and creative leadership to drive positive changes.

So if you look at it from an owner perspective – as the largest stakeholder in racing, with an annual contribution between £0.5 and £0.75 billion on keep, training fees and bloodstock – would the sport gain if racing had its own betting operator? Many felt that was the case last time round, with the Tote privatisation, and an attempt was made (albeit late in the day) to try and put together a consortium of high net worth owners to take it over. When that failed, a massive opportunity was lost. In a couple of years’ time Betfred’s pool betting licence expires, and hopefully second time around the racing industry rises more forcefully to the challenge and takes on the traditional bookmakers with a completely different commercial model and purpose: “To become the most innovative betting operator in global racing: run by racing, for racing, with a highly compelling and innovative range of racing-specific bets that appeal to all gamblers both in the UK and worldwide”.

I know that Rachael Hood, the President of the ROA and wife of John Gosden, is already raising this issue and Owners for Owners are very much in support of it. Setting up a fixed-odds bookmaker that deals only with racing and which embraces the most modern technological and social media platforms could underpin the whole of racing’s finances and surely is worth examining closely from the standpoint of both the business case and the enablers to achieve it. To be successful, planning has to start soon.

In the meantime, the sport would probably gain from a forensic review of the practices surrounding how the Tote is currently being run. There is a fair bit of disquiet about manipulation of the pools and the take-out rates compared to the initial operating contract. The feeling is that it is just being run as a cash cow which, as ever, is hardly a stimulus to innovation.

This of course is not to say that there are no other major innovations possible. If the racing industry had a significant commercial profile in gambling, it could open up all sorts of collaborative ventures with both UK racecourses (such as leveraging independent racecourse betting, as at Chester) and also many different third parties in other territories around the world. Indeed, there may well be high net worth individuals, particularly in Asia, who could be very attracted by both the commercial opportunity and its centrality to great British racing – which by a considerable margin has the highest integrity in the world. Leaders, please step forward.

I am always interested to hear your views so please do leave a comment. If you can't see the comment box at the bottom of this post then navigate to the post using the right hand navigation or click here > and scroll to the bottom of the page. Look forward to hearing your views. Thanks very much for sharing them.

Sunday 1 June 2014

Happy 10th Birthday to Racing UK ….. Hopefully they will give much greater recognition to owners over the next ten years

Do you remember Rishi Persad’s opening remarks on the launch of Racing UK, back on 29th May 2004? I thought not. It was an interesting time for televised racing, because the first version of At The Races (ATR) had collapsed with the termination of their £307m, ten-year media rights contract, launched in 2001 with BskyB, Channel 4, Arena Leisure and 49 of Britain’s racecourses. ATR adopted the thuggish negotiating tactics (subsequently adopted by Arena Racing Company (ARC) and which have always been the default behaviour of bookmakers) of then threatening the racecourses that if they didn’t pay back the media money they had already received, they would be sued.

With hindsight, these threatening tactics jolted the key racecourses into a collaborative venture which must be regarded as one of the most successful in the racing industry’s history. Strong leadership from people such as David James (then Chairman of RHT Racehorse Holdings Trust – forerunner of Jockey Club Racecourses) and Simon Bazalgette (who became Racing UK’s Executive Chairman) led to the launch of RUK as a dedicated racing channel headed by Andrew Franklin (founder of the channel’s production partner, Highflyer). Despite a lot of early concerns, most of the top racecourses signed up, with Goodwood, Newbury, York and Cheltenham leading the way. It really was an excellent move, particularly with all profits being ploughed back into the sport. Racing UK’s parent company – Racecourse Media Group – delivered over £65m to racecourses in 2013, and the channel has at least 50,000 current subscribers.

Since then, we have seen BBC pull out of racing altogether and Channel 4 adopt a rather sterile approach to broadcasting with an unfortunate abandonment of some key personalities such as John Francome and Alastair Down, while ATR quite frankly irritates with its endless adverts for bookmakers and payday lenders while chopping and changing between the low-grade fare of all-weather and the lesser tracks.

Hats off to Racing UK on its birthday. Now for a challenge! Why is it that owners receive so little recognition from broadcasters? How often have you watched a magnificent performance, only to hear and see the horse referred to as “XYZ trainer’s horse”? No mention whatsoever of the owner. Equally, how often are you irritated by a microphone being thrust into the face of a jockey who has only just pulled up his horse and not yet had time to provide any debrief to the owner who is paying the bills? Indeed, the normal broadcaster behaviour is either to ignore the owner completely, or just push them away in the scramble to interview the trainer and jockey. I believe there should be a step change in behaviour in this area, with owners receiving much higher profile and proper recognition of their contribution to the sport.

I’m not arguing for that from an egomaniacal perspective – although on the one or two occasions I have been interviewed, I have enjoyed it – but I think it would really help the racing industry’s cause for both the racing fan and the broader public to understand the centrality of the owner as the number one stakeholder in the sport. Every year, owners are spending £0.5bn on their horses and almost £0.75bn if breeding and bloodstock are taken into account. Very few people understand that. Equally, I’m confident that there are many human interest stories and personalities across the owner community that should be nurtured as a way of bringing more excitement and variety into the rather formulaic TV broadcasts.

So, Racing UK – with your excellent interviewing and commentary team, could you please build more owner coverage into your programmes? Mention them more frequently in connection with their horses; include more background interviews with owners when you visit yards; seek out the human interest stories that bring the highs, lows, excitements and disappointments of owning to life; build a recorded bank of case studies relevant to the key races and weave them into your programming. Hopefully this will also engender more enthusiasm for new owners to enter the sport, and you can also illustrate innovation in horse partnership …. maybe by covering how Owners for Owners operates?!?

I am always interested to hear your views so please do leave a comment. If you can't see the comment box at the bottom of this post then navigate to the post using the right hand navigation or click here > and scroll to the bottom of the page. Look forward to hearing your views. Thanks very much for sharing them.

Thursday 15 May 2014

The Crowning of King Richard II – Reflections on Newmarket and also Nottingham

Ever since student days at Cambridge, I’ve enjoyed going up to the Rowley Mile to watch the 2,000 Guineas. Back in the early 1970s I was slumming it in the Silver Ring, followed by a few pints of Greene King Abbot Ale and the hottest curry in the Indian restaurant just down from Fitzwilliam College. Indeed in one year I can remember a friend ordering a fuming vindaloo and then promptly fainting into it. We carried on regardless. Now, I’m staying in the excellent Tuddenham Mill, swanning around in the Members and drinking fine claret. Still like a few pints of Abbot Ale though.

Only those with excellent memories will recall Mon Fils, at 50/1, beating Noble Decree by a head in 1973, trained by a much younger and slimmer Richard Hannon. I’ll never forget it because most of my student money that year had gone on Noble Decree, at odds from 33/1 down. Going into the dip he was several lengths ahead, but was pipped on the line. Many years later I mentioned this to Richard, and his gruff comment was “I needed the money more than you did, son”. True. So I was delighted this year when Richard II managed to win the Guineas with Night Of Thunder, in his first attempt at a Classic, again at generous odds of 40/1. And yet again, my selection was 2nd, after a very unsatisfactory race in which the relatively small field split into two groups. Lots of bad luck stories after the race. You just wonder why Newmarket doesn’t doll off a narrower portion of track so that such a split wouldn’t occur. Is that too obvious?

It was also encouraging that the winner had been bought for just 32,000 guineas, which with hindsight is an absolute steal for a son of Dubawi (out of a mare by Colmore’s wonder sire Galileo), who has already had 15 Group 1 winners and this was the second 2,000 Guineas winner for him after Makfi. The only bad thing about the day was the punch-up that developed between two rival gangs after the last race. Hopefully that is not the start of a trend. Then, a week later on the way up to the Dales for a walking holiday and a visit to Karl Burke’s yard at Middleham, Aran Sky ran a cracker at Nottingham for us, only beaten half a length by a useful-looking horse under an excellent ride by Graham Lee. We pulled 6 lengths clear of the field and it only looks a matter of time before our horse wins. As someone who can be pretty critical of racecourses, it is a pleasure to be able to say that Nottingham really has improved its facilities for owners, and the new lounge is top-class. Congratulations to them. Looking forward now to the two-year-olds with Karl, Jolievitesse and Lord Ben Stack, making their first appearances later in the summer.

I am always interested to hear your views so please do leave a comment. If you can't see the comment box at the bottom of this post then navigate to the post using the right hand navigation or click here > and scroll to the bottom of the page. Look forward to hearing your views. Thanks very much for sharing them.

Thursday 1 May 2014

The Scandal of Racehorse Administration – Time to Stop the Profiteering

Fortunately for the vast majority of you who read the blog, you don’t have to fill in the endless forms and complete the arcane administration associated with registering horses. As a result, you probably also don’t know how much it costs. Since setting up Owners for Owners, 90% + of our post is now connected with racing admin, and I would say 60% of all telephone calls likewise. We often get multiple letters from Weatherbys, followed by multiple telephone calls – all very time-consuming and, I have to say, needlessly expensive. Until I know more to the contrary, I’m going to assume that many of these costs are actually driving revenue streams and profits for organisations such as Weatherbys. If I was being more generous I would say that all they are doing is recovering the costs ….. but that is because the processes aren’t joined up, and are paper-driven and extremely antiquated. I’ll be doing a few more blogs on this subject. But let’s start with a summary of some of these registration fees, so you can see why I’m ranting a bit about it. All the costs below are inclusive of VAT. They are up-to-date: we’ve just been through them twice with our two French-bred horses, Jolievitesse and Lord Ben Stack. There are extra charges associated with importing them.

Registrations at Outset
As an Owner£89.10
Joint Ownership (this and Racing Partnership below are alternatives)£95.30
Racing Partnership£336.80
Authority to Act (Trainer)£57.60
Colours (the owner has to register colours) £48.60
Shared Colours (the owner then shares them with the partnership) £31.60
Horse Name £144.90
Owner’s Sponsorship (necessary to get a D2, see below)£42.40
D2 VAT Authorisation (necessary for application to HMRC)£60.30
VAT Admin (once registered for VAT by HMRC)£42.40

Annual Re-registrations: have to be renewed every year. Amazingly, no discount even if you register your colours for 20 years!
Authority to Act £57.60
Colours £48.60
Shared Colours £31.60
Joint Ownership £24.60
VAT Admin£42.40

French Bred Horse:
Identity Check£45.80
Lodge Import Certificate£152.00
French Export Certificate£42.36
French Registration of Name (to race the horse back in France)£92.51

That little lot adds up to £1,486.47. Throughout the year, according to the BHA Racing Factbook, there are 28,486 different horses in training (2011 figures). While recognising that not all of these may apply every year, we’re still talking of somewhere over £30m …. and then of course there are entry fees. Again, I’ll be doing a blog on this subject soon. We ought to be paid appearance money, rather than having to pay to enter. Lots of cages to rattle on this one. Paying the money out is bad enough, but the inevitable hassle must be a big turn-off for many owners, particularly those in co-ownerships and larger partnerships. Time to change it …. radically.

I am always interested to hear your views so please do leave a comment. If you can't see the comment box at the bottom of this post then navigate to the post using the right hand navigation or click here > and scroll to the bottom of the page. Look forward to hearing your views. Thanks very much for sharing them.