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.