Saturday, 15 July 2017

The Ballad of Thady Quil – A Parable on Financial vs. Emotional Return on Ownership

It’s always very interesting talking to owners about what they want from the ownership experience. The more you’re involved in racing and the better you get to know owners and trainers, so the more complex the whole equation becomes around the various factors that contribute to a really positive owner experience.

At one end of the spectrum a lot of owners I know couldn’t really care less whether the horse wins or not. They just want to be on the inside track of racing, close to trainers and, most importantly, close to the absolutely superb animal that is the racehorse. They don’t mind standing in the mud on a cold winter’s day, cheering on a mediocre horse as it (slowly) makes its own way home in a Cl.5 or Cl.6 at a country track. If the horse manages to win it is a fantastic bonus for them, but it is not the economics that determine whether they enjoy owning racehorses or not. For them, the emotional return on ownership is everything.

However at the other end of the scale I know an equal number of owners for whom the financial return on ownership is extremely important. While they love the whole experience of racing and owning, they look at everything through the prism of finances and commercial return. Because we all know that the prize-money in British racing is amongst the worst in the world, this financial perspective is often more to do with stopping loss rather than making any profit. So they tend to take a very realistic and pragmatic view on horses and if the animal is unlikely to win at, say, Cl.4 or better, then it has to be moved on as soon as possible.

The more horses you own, the more you tend to move along that spectrum where the commercial return matters. Because with mediocre horses you are losing 92p in the £, you soon develop the mentality that it is better to come out of the horse rather than stay with it. The dynamic between these two very different types of owner and owner experience is probably the hardest aspect to manage when running partnerships, as in Owners for Owners.

One of our horses, Thady Quil, neatly illustrates both ends of the spectrum. He was bought at the Brightwells sale as a gorgeous prospect. We were dreaming of Cheltenham successes with this beautiful, big and sturdy son of Stowaway. We didn’t name him, but his namesake (actually spelt “Quill”) was a well-known Irish character immortalised in The Ballad of Thady Quill. Listen to it on the following link: You can even sing along to it, as we adapted the ballad for our horse. Here’s our verse:

For runnin’ and jumpin’ and winnin’ his races
And leadin’ the field up the Cheltenham hill,
In all your days’ racin’ you’ll see nothing finer
Than the great chestnut gelding, the bold Thady Quil.

What dreams we had. Unfortunately when we took him home to Martin Keighley’s and trained him, we soon realised that his wind wasn’t everything it should have been. His debut for us was at Newton Abbot on 7th May 2015, and he was pulled up – the first of six such occurrences. The renowned wind surgeon, Ben Brain, worked through three operations of increasing severity until there was nothing more that could be done. In between the disappointing episodes of pulling up, there were a number of encouraging performances, most notably at Warwick when Thady came 2nd to Paul Nicholls’ El Bandit, who is now running off OR 141. But these were rare glimpses of the potential within, and for most of the time the wind prevented our horse showing his “inner racehorse”. The mark dropped steadily until on 5th July this year at Worcester he was running off 82 in the Worcester News Handicap Chase, Class 5, 0-100.

By then, half the partnership had dropped out, the economic return on ownership having kicked in. Not enough fun for the money. Not everyone relishes Family Fun Days of summer jumping.

Thady Quil – Spot the Owner
So what does Thady do on 5th July … he wins by 12 lengths from Cry Fury, with the 3rd horse another 20 lengths back. Finally, finally, he gets his day in the sun, winning the huge purse of £3,119. Racing Post comments were along the lines of: “travelled smoothly, jumped well, drew away for a comfortable win”. Those of us close to Thady, who absolutely adore him, shot straight off the scale of the emotional return on ownership – huge pleasure, deep joy and a profound delight that our lovely horse had finally showed us a glimpse of what we always thought he was capable of.

The handicapper promptly banged him up by 15lbs, which I have to say is a complete disgrace for a horse who has had three serious wind ops and finally managed a win in a race that fell apart around him. Once again it highlighted the appalling economic return with the handicapper doing everything possible to block the luxury of a repeat. Who knows, maybe Thady will prove him right, and nothing would give me greater pleasure for the owners who elected to keep the faith. Their emotional return is something they will never forget. Go, Thady!

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Saturday, 1 July 2017

Buckle Street and Belinda Keighley at York – My Most Enjoyable Day Ever on the Racecourse

I know we’ve just had a fantastic week’s racing at Royal Ascot, with the most magnificent performances from horses such as Lady Aurelia in the King’s Stand, Thomas Hobson in the Ascot Stakes, Highland Reel in the Prince of Wales, Big Orange in the Gold Cup, Caravaggio in the Commonwealth Cup, Winter in the Coronation Stakes …. but for me the absolute highlight of June was the superb win by Belinda Keighley in the Macmillan Charity Race at York the previous Saturday, 17th June, on Buckle Street (who is part-owned by my wife).

Regular readers of the blog will know that despite the many attractions and elegance of Ascot, for my money I’d always much prefer a day out on the Knavesmire. Not only is the racecourse top class, but the prize-money is always superb. Indeed this year’s Ebor Festival, which runs from 23rd to 26th August, has record prize-money totalling £4.4 million, a 48% increase over the last five years. That boost is not just in races such as the Juddmonte International, now worth £1 million, but every race at the Festival is worth at least £65,000 and the meeting has the richest maiden, nursery and apprentice races in the UK. Hats off to York.

Having said that, because Buckle Street ran in a charity race, the prize-money was absolutely zero, but it still definitely counts as a York win. Belinda comprehensively out-rode the field, not just on the track but in charity donations raised. As the chairman of Keighley Racing Ltd., I know I’m biased, but it was the most wonderful achievement, as described by Paul Davis, one of the co-owners who also organises The Condicote Clan partnership. I have never enjoyed a day’s racing so much, nor cheered on a winner with such pleasure. York looked after everyone magnificently, with the Champagne flowing long after racing. That continued right through the evening, with a large group of friends and owners going out for a celebratory dinner with Martin, Belinda and their boys Freddie and Harry.

Paul always does a post-race report for every run by the horses in partnerships that we organise at Martin’s. Here is the one he sent out after the race – it really does capture the excitement and emotion of this Knavesmire win.

Saturday June 17th 2017 - York - 1 mile 1 furlong, Good to Firm - Best Western Hotels & Macmillan Ride of their Lives

Just occasionally a day's racing will come along that is guaranteed to live long in the memory and yesterday at York was one such day. When Belinda and Buckle Street passed the line in front the tension, excitement and anticipation leading to this moment erupted into a euphoric outpouring of joy and emotion for all those connected with horse, rider and the yard. Indeed, Jon has stated it was definitely his best day's racing that he has ever had, and many of us feel the same.

Though Belinda had been aiming for this race for a very long time, the choice of her mount in the race wasn't confirmed until Buckle Street came back into the yard in early May. This allowed enough time for Martin to prepare Buckle for the race; for Belinda and Buckle to develop a solid partnership on the gallops; and for Jon, Jack and me to start assembling the new partnership.

But it wasn't just the owners of Buckle Street who were in attendance to support Belinda and Buckle Street, as there were also numerous other owners, Racing Club members and yard supporters in attendance to support them in their quest - and not one of them will have regretted their long journey to the newly crowned Racecourse of the Year on one of the hottest days of the year.

Belinda's day started with an appearance on The Opening Show two friends and owners in attendance who had won the privilege to see behind the scenes having been the highest bidders on the the extremely successful charity auction held last month at the renowned Cotswolds racing pub, The Hollow Bottom. There were also appearances on Racing UK and other media commitments for Belinda to fulfil, but soon enough the clock ticked round to the time for her to get changed into her racing colours and for Buckle Street to be saddled up. Even before the 10 noble horsewomen and horsemen had been legged up each could rightly by acclaimed winners having collectively raised enough money to employ a Macmillan nurse for over two years with Belinda raising a whopping £26,000 alone - a truly wonderful effort for a charity so close to her heart.

Great ride, great win, great cause.
In the parade ring, Buckle Street looked magnificent and took the preliminaries in his stride despite the searingly hot temperatures. After being legged up, Belinda and Buckle cantered steadily to the start of the appropriately named 'race of their lives'. The plan was simple, go to the front, try to dictate matters from there, and stick to the inside rail if possible kicking for home early to exploit Buckle's stamina since he was being opposed by some flat specialists some of whom were rated 10 pounds superior to him on the flat. And as the starter's flag went down, Belinda and Buckle did exactly what had been instructed by taking up the early pace. However, two or three others also wanted to dictate matters and so, after a couple of furlongs, these went past Buckle which, in a moment of cool tactical judgement, Belinda allowed them to do remembering her coach Warren Marston's wise instructions that some of the field may want to go too fast, so let them burn themselves out. So, for the next half a mile, Buckle was in 3rd or 4th place, about 5 lengths behind the clear leader. As the field swung into the straight, it looked for a moment that the other runners with their proven flat speed might sweep past Buckle and Belinda. But we needn't have worried. Belinda kept Buckle wonderfully balanced and as the others began to make ground on her, she let out an inch of rein and began to close in on the leader who was beginning to weaken. At the two furlong marker, Belinda and Buckle were disputing the lead with many of the field just one length behind her. Buckle's stamina now began to come into play and, bit by bit, he edged ahead. As they passed the furlong marker, the Condicote combination had nosed in front and quickly went a length clear. Pushing him out with hands and heels, Buckle responded admirably and galloped all the way to the line winning the race comfortably by 1 1/2 lengths.

A race full of winners.
And then, passing the line, a moment of pure theatrical magic. Belinda stood up in her irons and punched the air. It wasn't showboating. It was the realisation of a goal achieved; of many months dieting and hard work all being worthwhile; and the knowledge that the dream had come true. It was the release of the pressure and responsibility that she had felt knowing that she wanted to do the very best for the newly formed partnership that now owned Buckle Street. And perhaps, most of all, it was for her mum Kathy and her Dad John, both of whom she sadly lost in 2010 following Kathy's brave 18 year fight with cancer. It was magical, and the magic continued for the next hour in the winners' enclosure and parade ring as the presentations were made, all 10 jockeys rightly congratulated and then followed by all competitors and their supporters celebrating the fantastic occasion as one huge extended family with numerous glasses of champagne generously provided by the race sponsors. Each and every jockey was a winner yesterday and it was a privilege to be there.”

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.