Thursday 15 February 2018

“The Ace in the Pack” …. But with More to Come, Hopefully. The Change of Plan Pays Off with Acey Milan

As anyone who reads this blog regularly will know, I’ve been astounded by the huge increases in bloodstock prices for National Hunt horses in recent years. Horses that used to be selling for £30-40k are now going for £60-100k, and there is no shortage of very rich owners who are prepared to pay considerable multiples on top of that. The average hammer price now for a three-year-old store horse at the top sales in Ireland is €50k, so with sales commissions on top, and then maybe a year’s training before you get the horse to the track, you’re knocking on the door of £70k or more on average and, unfortunately, paying that amount of money most definitely doesn’t guarantee you a nice horse. In fact increasingly it looks as though the good horses are being taken out of the equine supply chain very early in their life, and there is no shortage of trainers and agents scouring England, Ireland, France and Germany looking for them.

So, back at the end of 2014, in Owners for Owners we decided to change tack and adopt the policy of “if you can’t beat them, join them”. Rather than buying the majority of our horses as ready-to-go point-to-pointers with some form on the page, we created a new buying plan in conjunction with trainers and agents. The focus shifted to foals, yearlings and the occasional unraced 3yo store so that we had more confidence that we were dealing with a “blank canvas” and not buying into someone else’s problem. Fortunately we found quite a few owners who shared a very similar philosophy and had come to the same conclusions. They all wanted to enjoy the development journey of watching a youngster grow up into a racehorse, and were prepared to fund that for three years or more. Patience became the key virtue, with absolutely no pressure whatsoever to kick on with the youngsters too soon.

In 2014 / 15, we bought the first three foals, all by proven or up-and-coming sires: Milan, Sholokhov and Oscar. We also bought a beautiful year-older Getaway at the same time, and since then two more foals, one by Beat Hollow and one by Mahler, as well as a 3yo by Presenting. Quite an investment in seven youngsters, and inevitably with horses there will be one or two disappointments. However we felt that if we managed to achieve better results than we had been doing with the ready-to-go horses, it would be a vindication of the policy.

I’m not in any way crowing about this because, alas, we did have a tragedy with one of them, which hit all his owners extremely hard. But with one of them, Acey Milan with Anthony Honeyball, we appear to have a seriously smart animal on our hands who won the Listed bumper at Cheltenham and then, last Saturday, following up in the top bumper of the season so far, at Newbury. He annihilated the field, going away to win by 11 lengths, in the process probably establishing himself as the best bumper horse in England and entering the betting as 4th favourite for the Champion Bumper at the Festival. He’s the only four-year-old of the first 20 horses. The last 4yo to win this bumper was Cue Card!! Whether or not we go there will very much depend on whether the horse is in the same form by mid-March, and if he starts to train off in any way after four bumper runs, we’ll put him away and look forward to staying novice hurdles in the autumn. He is running over two miles on heavy ground at the moment but there is a view that he might be better over 2½ miles plus on better ground.

It was obviously amazingly exciting to win the two Listed bumpers as well as one at Wincanton in November, but the real source of pleasure has come from watching Acey Milan develop. When we bought him from Bryan Murphy’s stud near the Dunraven Arms in Co. Limerick, he was pretty small and quite sickly. Anthony and Rachael Honeyball came over to Ireland with us, and when we were shown him we were all very impressed by his beautiful long stride. The deal was done on the basis of that. Nothing in the meantime has changed our view of his conformation and action, and it is a noticeable feature when he’s racing. As you can see in the three photos below, he has developed considerably since, although he is still not a big horse – just a very fluent athlete. We used to joke when he was still a little tiddler that he was saying to us, “Don’t worry – when I grow up I’m going to be a racehorse”. None of us lost the faith, and it is tremendously satisfying to be where we now are. Special mention has to go to his groom all the way through, Chloe Emsley, who as you can see on one of the pictures to the right absolutely adores him. There was a day up on the gallops with Anthony back in the early autumn when Acey Milan was doing a breeze with Regal Encore. Chloe gave him a bit of rein and he shot past his older companion. Anthony just looked at me and said, “Hello …..” We haven’t really looked back since.

We’re just about to start partnering out a couple of new babies and store horses, and if you’d like to get involved in a similar journey, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Here’s hoping we have lots more Aces in the pack.

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