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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