Thursday 15 October 2015

Trainers and Horse Boxes: “I See Them Here, I See Them There, But There’s No Marketing Anywhere”

It constantly amazes me how trainers cope with the endless travelling. Last week my wife and I followed our horses: He’s A Bully to Exeter, Shantou Magic to Newton Abbot and then Jolievitesse and Timeless Art to York, with additional visits to the yards of Anthony Honeyball in Dorset and Karl Burke in Middleham. Encouraging runs for the most part, particularly Timeless Art who was unlucky not to win a valuable 7f maiden and will definitely keep the dream alive over the winter. This was the thick end of 1,000 miles of driving, and many trainers are regularly doing this, week in, week out. In the last blog I gave a few recommendations for places to stay and eat, and there are a few more after this trip: if you’re going down to Anthony’s, the 17th Century Somerset Dining Pub of the Year, is thoroughly recommended, while up in Middleham our favourite, going back several decades, is

By the way, unlike the organisers of commercial syndicates, we don’t charge any expenses whatsoever for going racing. We follow our horses because of the love of the sport, not as a source of income.

While driving round the country throughout this, for us, mammoth trip, I lost track of how many racehorse trainers’ horse boxes that I saw. Stuck behind them, I couldn’t help but observe how boring they are as an advertisement for the trainer and Great British Racing. The great majority are just “A. Trainer”, in a village you’ve never heard of, with few contact details. This is in marked contrast with many lorries that you see from the retailers and consumer goods companies who actively promote their products.

If you were a bit more structured about this, next time you see a horse box, try assessing it in terms of (a) overall presentational impact, (b) selling potential, (c) a specific offering, (d) a call to action, i.e. actually to do something, (e) contact details. If you gave 10 points to each of these five factors, I will guarantee that most boxes will score less than 20/50. Or as my teachers used to say in end-of-term reports, “should try harder”.

As I thought about this a bit more, I couldn’t help but feel that there is huge marketing potential, both for the trainer in selling horses and also more generally to promote British racing. In effect horse boxes are travelling billboards. At any one time there are 18,000 horses in training. Assuming that most horses would race, say, five times a year and be transported around in boxes each time, even in shared transit, there must be at least 50,000 box journeys a year. So 1,000 journeys a week x say, an average of 300 miles x (pure guesstimate) 100 vehicle viewings per mile is a fleeting weekly exposure to c. 30 million drivers and passengers. That must have a considerable subliminal impact on the viewer. I just wonder what value a marketing media specialist would put on 30 million communication hits a week, or 1.5 billion a year. Now of course the maths may be wildly wrong, but you get the drift of my logic.

I’m sure that the vast majority of trainers will have no intention of investing money to convert their horse boxes to high-impact advertising vehicles. And yet there must surely be huge potential for the trainer, their sponsors and British racing if anyone was prepared to facilitate such an investment. Maybe something for the National Trainers’ Federation and Great British Racing to consider? And I know that next year there is going to be a marketing push on syndication. Here is a challenge – every trainer to advertise syndicated horses for sale somewhere on their lorry, and find out if it brings new owners into their yard and the sport. Keep a track of the costs, and new owners and income coming in to the yard, and calculate the return on investment. It seems a sensible idea to me …. but I wonder why I’ve probably convinced myself already that it won’t happen?

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 October 2015

Osarus Sale, Arcachon and the Ayr Western Meeting: All About Getting Maximum Enjoyment as an Owner

Regular readers of the blog will know that I’m a firm believer that because there are so many downs and disappointments with racehorses, it’s vital for owners to try to get as much enjoyment as they possibly can from all aspects of the ownership cycle. Being involved in partnerships with co-owners quickly forms many friendships around the common bond of owning. My wife and I certainly experienced that during September, with visits to the sales and several race meetings in the company of owners who have now become friends.

Owners For Owners Latest Yearling
Sunday Break – Lots of weekends away
with the new horse
A couple of weeks ago we went over to the Osarus sale near Arcachon, south-west of Bordeaux, with Karl and Elaine Burke. We share Karl’s view that there are always good horses in every sale, and you don’t necessarily have to go to the premium sales and spend prodigious amounts of money to obtain them. This has certainly been the case with our last three purchases out in France at the Arqana sale in Deauville, and we’re hoping that we’ve turned up another useful prospect in a chestnut colt by the Japanese / American sire, Sunday Break. He is from the American line of Mr Prospector, and our ideal was a US-bred because they often act well on the quick ground that is becoming increasingly common in northern Europe. As you can see on the photo, he is a big, strong, precocious type, and on breeding he ought to stay middle distances. With the dream starting, one would hope that he might make it to a race such as the Chesham at Royal Ascot, but only time will tell. If not, there is a perfect 6f Listed race for him back at the Arcachon racetrack at La Teste de Buche in early August, with the French premiums boosting prize-money by 64% plus an extra premium for graduates of the Osarus sale. Interestingly this year’s Chesham winner, Suits You, was bought cheaply at Osarus.

However, it wasn’t just the sale that was enjoyable. Being with our trainer and co-owners out in Aquitaine provided opportunities for eating, drinking and good fellowship. Arcachon is the oyster capital of France, and quite a number of mighty molluscs slipped down the system, particularly at the seafront restaurant Chez Pierre, as well as a magnificent reception hosted by the Osarus sales house. One of our fellow owners also bought a Mount Nelson filly, and there is a lot of fun being had in trying to name her. You can guess why if you look at Lot 85 in the Osarus catalogue!

We flew back into the UK on the Wednesday evening and then drove almost straight up to Ayr for the start of the Ayr Western meeting. It is a 12-hour plus round trip and most people would suppose that to watch one’s horse come last would be a dismal experience. The plan was for the horse to be dropped out, with a lot of cover, and be taught to settle. Unfortunately Jolievitesse broke very quickly from the stalls and shot into the lead while the rest of the field were reined back, and then blew up at the mile post. And yet the owners had a fantastic time at Ayr during the three days and soon put the disappointment behind them. This was certainly helped by all of us having a good bet on Karl’s winning filly, Quiet Reflection, who paid for a magnificent dinner (she will probably go next to either the Cornwallis Stakes at Newmarket or a Group 2 at Maisons-Lafitte). There is a theme emerging – good meals and fine wine, in beautiful locations, with friends from racing. This time the seafood was courtesy of
Scott's Bar & Restaurant at Troon harbour, looking across to Aran. At the end of the harbour is another fine restaurant, MacCallums Oyster Bar, as well as Scotland’s best fish and chip take-away alongside – Wee Hurrie. It is the only place where I’ve ever seen lobster and chips!

We’re already looking forward to the Ayr festival next year. It’s a track that looks after owners superbly well, as anyone who has enjoyed the owners’ lunch in the Western Hotel can testify. The atmosphere building to the Ayr Gold Cup is electric, and this year the crowd went crazy after the favourite, Don’t Touch, won readily. It’s rare for me to leave a meeting in profit, but I certainly did from this one, together with great memories from a really enjoyable week.

That’s it now for restaurant recommendations. Having said that, owners are going up to Yorkshire soon to see the new horse, and doubtless we’ll enjoy the sumptuous meals at the
Wensleydale Heifer. Diet postponed!

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.