Monday 15 January 2018

Beware Expensive NH Horses at Sales – Even If You Want to “Dine at the Top Table

I know, I know …. I must put into practice the New Year’s resolution and get out more; stop being Mr. Grumpy and doing an impersonation of The Curmudgeon; forget the stats and put away my anorak …. But yesterday, when I was watching racing from Warwick, the names of two owners triggered a memory of one of the sales. The horse was Mr. Whipped, who won the Gr.2 Ballymore Leamington Novices’ Hurdle over 2m 5f. The owners were Grech and Parkin. After the race, when interviewed, one of them said, “If you want to dine at the top table, you’ve got to be prepared to spend the money”, which they certainly had done on this fine son of Beneficial, having paid £160,000 for him.

I remember going to the Tattersalls’ Cheltenham Sale on 26th May 2016, where one of the top ten horses from that sale is also now owned by Messrs. Grech and Parkin, so in an idle moment between the end of ITV Racing and supping the first glass of claret, beyond the witching hour of 6pm, I went to check my records.

If you’ve been following the blog over the last few months you’ll already know my views that the Irish point-to-point scene, and the way in which winning horses appear in the top boutique sales, is questionable to say the least. Before m’learned friends sue me for libel, here is the performance of the top ten lots from that sale.

Lot 17, Redhotfillypeppers. Sale price £200k. By Robin Des Champs and trained by Willie Mullins. Had won a 4yo mares’ maiden P2P at Necarne thirteen days prior to the sale. Has won once since and total prize-money is £9,440.

Lot 37, Lough Derg Spirit. Sale price £190k. By Westerner and trained by Nicky Henderson. Owned by Grech and Parkin. Had won a 4yo geldings’ maiden P2P at Athlacca nineteen days prior to the sale. Has won twice since, and total prize-money £33,372.

Lot 28, Secret Investor. Sale price £175k. By Kayf Tara and trained by Paul Nicholls. Had won a 4yo geldings’ maiden P2P at the same meeting as Lough Derg Spirit. Has not won a race since, and total prize-money of £4,694.

Lot 64, Super Follo. Sale price £150k. By Enrique and trained by Noel Meade. Had won a 4yo maiden P2P at Barlemy ten days prior to the sale. Hasn’t raced since.

Lot 47, Drovers Lane. Sale price £135k. By Oscar and trained by Rebecca Curtis. Had won a 4yo geldings’ maiden at Necarne twelve days prior to the sale. Hasn’t raced since.

Lot 52, One More Hero. Sale price £100k. By Milan and trained by Paul Nicholls. Had won a maiden P2P at Dromahane 32 days prior to the sale. Has raced once since, winning £286.

Lot 34, Minella Rebellion. Sale price £90k. By King’s Theatre and trained by Nicky Henderson. Had come 2nd in a 4yo maiden P2P at Dawstown 24 days prior to the sale. Has not won a race since and total prize-money £1,145.

Lot 32, Searching For Gold. Sale price £88k. By Gold Well and trained by Charlie Longsdon. Had won a 4yo maiden P2P at Ballindenisk eighteen days prior to the sale. Has won once since and total prize-money of £2,093.

Lot 45, Westendorf. Sale price £85k. By Coroner and trained by Jonjo O’Neill. Had won a P2P Flat race at Tipperary fourteen days prior to the sale. Has won once since and prize-money £12,139.

Lot 26, Glen Rocco. Sale price £80k. By Shirocco and trained by Nick Gifford. Had won a 5 & 6yo geldings’ maiden P2P at Ballindenisk eighteen days prior to the sale. Hasn’t won a race since and prize money of £954.

Dear oh dear. Apparently great P2P form going into the sales, but equally apparently pretty lamentable performances subsequently. Total hammer spend of £1,293,000 and a cool 10% commission to sales house and agents of £129,300, let’s say £50k each on training fees and associated costs as most of the trainers are not exactly the cheapest is another £500,000, giving total spend of £1,922,300. Between the lot of them, they’ve only won five races since the sale, with total prize-money a measly £63,169 at an average per horse of £6,317. If you then do the maths and work out the return on total investment, it is a staggeringly dismal 3.2%.

Methinks there’s not too much fine dining at the top table for anyone involved with these horses. Without doing a massively time-consuming exercise looking at all the other sales, I think I’ll stand by the assertion that turning up at top sales and spending money like water is the way to the poor-house. Anorak now taken off again. Time for another glass of fine claret. Cheers!

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Monday 1 January 2018

A Turning of the Tide on Prize-Money in 2018 – New Year’s Resolutions Being Put Into Practice

Firstly, Happy New Year, and may it be a truly successful one with lots of winners for all our owners. May the horses all be happy, healthy and improvers. One of the horses we are closely involved in running – Buckle Street, with Martin Keighley and the Condicote Clan – definitely fits into that category, putting in a really game performance to win at Catterick over 3m 2f. That was a super Christmas present for all. While up there, a number of us had an excellent discussion over a beer with the BHA’s Chief Executive, Nick Rust, whose horse Paddling was also running. This horse won at Catterick the following week, so well done to Nick and his co-owners. Indeed, he was the first person to come up to me in the winner’s enclosure to congratulate the Clan.

During the discussion with him, he flagged up the imminent announcement that prize-money in Britain is likely to reach a record £160 million in 2018, an increase of £17 million from 2017. This is a really welcome development, particularly as it follows on from an autumn announcement that £8 million of central levy funding is being channelled into grass-roots racing. Readers of the blog will know that I believe raising prize-money is the number one issue in British racing, because without it the risk is that the sport is in a downward spiral, with owners not being attracted or retained, the number of horses in training declining, and through that a lack of competitiveness in the sport that is the lifeblood of gambling.

Although the discussion with Nick over a pint and a very unusual-coloured and flavoured Catterick lamb curry was anything but formal, his statement to the press on this announcement was rather more measured. He said: “It is very important for all those involved in our sport that we are due to see such significant prize-money increases in 2018. Although there has been a gradual recovery in total prize-money in recent years, driven by increased investment from racecourses, the returns to our sport’s owners and participants have not been sufficient, in particular to those who are not competing at the top echelons. The support we received from the government and, indeed, all political parties in establishing the new levy has been crucial and means that we can target support towards those operating at the racing’s grass roots. The increased prize-money on offer in 2018 does not resolve the sport’s prize-money situation outright, but it is a step in the right direction. We hope that this good news will serve as an incentive to racehorse owners who are thinking of putting horses in training, and provide a timely boost to jockeys, trainers and stable staff, who rely in part on prize-money for their livelihoods.”

I can only raise a glass to Nick and the BHA for both the extra money and the sentiments expressed. Having said that, there will probably be a wry smile on his face when he sees the prize-money summary after deductions on the next BHA or Weatherbys statement relating to Paddling’s win at Catterick, which as an independent is definitely not the most generous of courses with its prize-money.

At the same time as this announcement, a couple of racecourses also confirmed the way the tide is now flowing. A few years ago I took issue with Newbury on a number of fronts, and like to think that I was one of the pressure points for change that led to the previous CEO being dismissed. I have a lot more time for the latest CEO, Julian Thick, so was pleased to read that prize-money is set to exceed £5 million in 2018 following an injection of £250,000 by the racecourse. As a result, total prize-money at all the track’s 29 fixtures will amount to at least £50,000, with the feature race at three-quarters of all meetings offering £20,000. Thick commented to the press that: “As an independent racecourse, Newbury is committed to ensuring prize-money levels increase as and when we can afford to make additional investment, and 2018 will see a continuation of that policy with our own direct prize-money spend increasing …. Since 2013 we have increased our executive contribution by over £1 million and 2018 will see us break the £5 million mark for the first time …. This is a reminder of our commitment to reinvest in the sport, and complements well the substantial capital investment we’ve made on fabulous new facilities for horsemen in the past three years.”

Time therefore to raise the glass again to Julian and his team at Newbury. A couple of years ago we ran our horse Shantou Magic in the Challow Hurdle, and I complained strongly to Newbury that the prize-money was less than it had been ten years previously, so it is great to see a reversal in that trend. Also for those who haven’t been there recently, the new Owners’ Club is superb. Great to see this track being improved so radically, and it is now a course that owners really like to go to, even if the preponderance of “luxury executive apartments” is not to everyone’s taste.

Finally another glass to be raised to the very progressive Chief Executive of Perth, Hazel Peplinski, who is increasing their prize-money by 35% this year to nearly £1.25 million. That also includes a new appearance money scheme across their 15 fixtures with average prize-money per race increasing to £11,500 from £8,500, with the hope that it will stimulate a rise in field sizes. Personally I am going to do everything I can to support Perth this year and will be suggesting to our trainers that if we have suitable horses, we take them there.

I’m definitely a believer in credit where credit’s due, so it’s most encouraging to be able to start the year on a positive note on the prize-money front. Don’t worry, I’ll still be applying pressure on those tracks that don’t yet seem to have picked up the message that prize-money really matters.

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.