By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)
Horse racing is known as the Sport of Kings. The Queen has owned racehorses for many decades and her home-bred Tactical won the Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot this year. Prince Charles and the Duchess Of Cornwall own Pacify, who is a smart hurdler with Jamie Snowdon. Sheikh Mohammed is the owner of Godolphin, who’s blue silks have been worn on many great horses through the years. Now, it is not just the nobility who can enjoy being a racehorse owner – anyone, even you or I, can own part of a racehorse with syndicates or racing clubs.
Syndicates are a cost-effective way of owning a racehorse and it consists of multiple ‘shares’ (anything from 4 to 4000 in some cases) within a horse. People buy the shares so they own a percentage of the horse. These shares range from £50 a year to larger shares with buy-in fees and monthly payments. I have a share with Owners Group in a horse called Farouk De Cheneau. My parents bought me the share for £55 for my fifteenth birthday and I’ve loved having the updates and videos about him. It was so exciting when he ran at Kempton, when he showed promise despite finishing seventh. For me, this is the beauty of syndicates and racing clubs – I’m fifteen and yet I can say I’m a ‘part owner’ of a racehorse, even if that share represents a tiny percentage of him. There’s no way of football fans having any part of that sport but any racing fan could realistically own part of a racehorse.
For this article, I have spoken to two long-time members of syndicates and a syndicate manager.
Middleham Park Racing is one of the leading syndicates in the UK and Jamie Brownlow has been a part of the syndicate for eleven years, “One particular day, at work, in a lunch break, I was reading through a Racing Post and in the middle section of the paper there was, on the corner, a black and white very small rectangle advertisement and it was from Middleham Park Racing and there was a mobile number of Tim Paling and I thought about it in my lunch break and I gave him a call and asked him details of about what is syndicate ownership and I asked him for help and advice, which he did. Also, he gave me some information that he sent through the post and it was newspaper clippings of Middleham Park runners, of wins and trainers etc, which was very helpful, and also it gave me a couple of ways to give it a think over to see if it was the right thing for me to do to get involved in a syndicate. The first ever horse that I started with was called Park Valley Prince, who was trained by Willie Muir and that’s how it all started just over eleven years ago.”
Being involved in a syndicate has opened a lot of doors for Jamie, including being involved in the Money Rider Podcast, Cheltenham Festival Preview nights and involved in being a ‘RaceMaker’, “It has helped me get involved in ‘race making’. I’ve wanted to be trying to promote horse racing and why horse racing is exciting and also the experience and give people the experience of our racetrack and give them a little bit of knowledge or a little bit of help while they’re betting etc. I put my name down for being a RaceMaker, which I’ve been doing now in these past five years. This would’ve been my fifth year but unfortunately with circumstances with COVID-19 it would’ve been my fifth year. Also, I’ve been involved in RaceMaking at the Champions Day, Qipco British Champions Day, which is always held in October. If people have seen me, or know me, I’m normally the one, with me and the rest of the RaceMakers, throwing scarves to people who’s watching horse racing there at Ascot.”
I was interested to know what Jamie’s highlight of being in a syndicate was, “My favourite part of it is, one, the stable visits. They have a really good insight of what happens behind the scenes at the stables and, two, talking to the work riders/ stable lads and lasses. Also, you get the chance to ask questions to your trainer at stable visits. They parade all your horses in front of you and explain what is the main targets, the horses’ strengths and also his positives and negatives etc. You can ask so many questions and he’ll try and answer as many as possible. Also, on raceday itself, as in being with your syndicate ownership, as in the group, so you’ve got friends meeting there and being in the paddock. People are watching your horse go round the paddock and putting their money on your horse, which is really exciting. On the race itself, it’s a really good buzz – it’s a great day. I was very lucky to have a Cheltenham Festival winner three or four years ago with Towering and that was a tremendous experience on that with all my syndicate owners and syndicate friends, who were there.” Jamie is a huge advocate for syndicate ownership and you can keep updated with the horses Jamie is involved in by following him on Twitter (@BROWNLOWJ74) or on his blog (https://brownlowjblog.wordpress.com/).
David Edmondson first became involved in syndicates and racehorse ownership over thirty years ago. The first experience he had was with the British Thoroughbred Racing & Breeding Club (BTRB), which was run by Toby Balding. The set-up for this was like the current Elite Racing Club, who have tasted top level glory with Marsha, Ribbons and Soviet Song. David got involved with ownership because he “was very interested in the more technical aspects of racing and indeed still am today. However, some years later, having learnt to ride (very badly) at the advanced age of 45 on Dartmoor, I became just as interested in horses. My eldest daughter was quite a good rider and I purchased an ex-racehorse for her to ride from the Ascot Sales. This then led to a fascination with the bloodstock side of the sport.”
Over the years since then, David has been part of many leading syndicates and gave his thoughts on each, “Ontoawinner (OTAW) – This syndicate group has grown considerably in the last 5 – 8 years. They increased their profile considerably by purchasing Quiet Reflection (I turned down a share in her!). They are well-organised and one of their team is allocated to you as an owner. Their communication is good.
“Nick Bradley Racing (NBR) – This has only been going for 6 / 7 years. I had encountered Nick Bradley at MPR and knew that he was a shrewd buyer of horses. In the last 5 years most of my syndicate horses have been with NBR. Communication is good and Nick always responds to emails quickly. Over the years he has tended to buy better bred and hence more expensive yearlings / breeze–up horses.
“Ursa Major Racing (UM) – I have only become involved with this group in the last 4 or 5 months. It is more of a racing co-operative than a syndicate business. Communication is via a set of Telegram app accounts and decisions are made on a voting basis by members of a particular syndicate. Only this afternoon I was viewing a set of videos from this morning’s stable visit. Unlike all of the syndicates above, UM only uses a single trainer.
“Enigma Racing – This outfit scores very highly, in terms of accessibility. They will purchase (say) 2.5% of a horse from either MPR or NBR and then subdivide that into 12 or 15 micro shares. To participate one does have to pay a membership fee of about £77 per year but of course if one owns a number of micro shares this isn’t too bad. Typically, a micro share costs around £250 for year one and less in year 2 and subsequent years. In this way I have a micro share in a Frankel filly. This outfit is VERY well-organised and efficient and pass on information through threads in a very large blog post.”
In addition, I spoke to Clive Hadingham, who is one of the founders of Surrey Racing. “Steve [Grubb] and I decided on Surrey Racing after having owned horses ourselves and being involved with other syndicates. Neither of us were happy with the syndicates we were with (including one of the big ones). There were too many individuals in each syndicate and the personal service was really poor. We thought we address this by setting up Surrey Racing and focus on buying quality over quantity and giving the personal service that was missing in our previous ownership experiences.”
The personal service is something that is very important to Clive and Steve and this is reflected in the way the syndicate has been put together, “Syndicate ownership allows us to buy better quality horses and spread the cost of the horse and training fees over a number of owners. This means they enjoy all the benefits of owning a share in a horse (which are expensive) at a more affordable price and still get the same amount of fun and benefits as owning the horse outright. We cap ownership at 10 shares which spreads the cost but allows the owners to make friends and share the highs and lows of watching their horse. We find this number of owners in the syndicate ensures all the benefits but does not feel impersonal.”
They have roughly five horses in training under both codes, with a range of trainers. One of their horses, Surrey Gold, is entered in the 2021 Derby! He’s by Golden Horn and out of a group three-winning mare, who has produced four winning foals. They’ll have a lot of fun with him and there are still shares available so visit their brilliant website http://www.surreyracing.co.uk/.
I asked all three of my interviewees the same question – “Do you think syndicates are good for the future of the sport and why?”. It was interesting to see the responses they gave. David said, “They probably are. At the moment there is the top tier of the sport in the UK dominated by Godolphin et al – the very big owner breeders. Unless something goes dramatically wrong in the UK, that situation will continue into the future. Thus, ownership needs to be encouraged at the middle and lower level. The vast majority cannot afford to keep a horse in training and so the only way to retain and grow the sport is through syndication.”
Clive mentioned about how syndicates help to attract people to the sport, “Absolutely. Owning a racehorse is expensive and without syndicates you would be limiting participation in ownership to a small the pool of owners at the top end. It is essential for the future of racing that it attracts both more owners and different types of owners (younger, female, families etc). A key element of this will be to make racing more affordable and get people to the racecourse to enjoy a day at the races. As I have explained above, owning a share of a horse with a syndicate makes this possible. More owners means more horses in training and so everyone benefits, from the breeders, trainers, the racecourses and all the employees and businesses associated with the industry.”
Jamie agreed that syndicates are good for the sport, “It is just that people in syndicates have got to start pushing their business a little bit more forward to reach to people who are interested in the sport. […] But we need, the UK, as in Scotland, Wales and England, need to push syndicates. Ireland are very popular with syndicates. They’ve done it very successful and so has Australia. I think that syndicates should push their advertisement in a little bit more – like in newspapers or anything. […] The best thing for all for syndicates is to advertise on social media, which is all free. That’s Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and, if they can, WhatsApp.”
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is going to look a lot different and, combined with the smaller prizemoney on offer than other countries, the type of people able to be involved in outright ownership is going to change. Jamie spoke about this, “I think you will see a lot of own/single owner figures will drop a little because, obviously, they can’t afford the training fees or payments etc because of these uncertain times so you will see a drop in that. You will see, and I’m hoping, a good rise in syndicates as in where people cannot afford their own, they can afford it in a syndicate in a group, which is an easier, if not a cheaper, way. There is a reasonable way of paying.”
An issue Clive raised was in regard to transparency within syndicates as Surrey Racing syndicates offer two badges for each owner and the horses are insured, “Another challenge is that whilst there are many good syndicates – there are also many poor ones with bad horses, too many owners in the syndicate and over-inflated prices. That can give syndicates a bad name and we could lose owners to the sport. I would encourage new owners to do their homework and look for transparency.”
David mentioned a similar issue in terms of the regulation of syndicates, “As far as I am aware, anyone can start a racing syndicate (unless you have been warned-off.) The BHA has published some guidelines for syndicates but of course these are not binding. Most syndicates have a contract and I suspect most are derived from the MPR contract. Three important points that have to be made clear to possible participants: Will one own a share of the horse or is this a lease arrangement? Though it is certainly a cheaper option, leasing makes little sense to me. Prize money is pathetic in the UK and the only chance of getting any sort of return is through the sale of the horse. What is the arrangement for Owner’s badges? For a wet Monday at Catterick this is certainly not a problem. If you are lucky enough to have a runner at Ascot (or even Royal Ascot) this is a BIG PROBLEM. I remember one of the OTAW team running around like a maniac at Royal Ascot a few years ago, trying to get paddock badges for the throng of owners and partners. What control do I have? In the majority of syndicates, one has no real say in the plans for a horse. This really has to be made clear to everyone.”
Something that was brought up by Jamie, David and Clive was the responsibility that racecourses have to syndicates, as they are an important part of racing. This responsibility involves giving out an appropriate number of badges and making sure facilities are good enough. This is something that has been talked about quite a bit whilst the COVID-19 rules are in place at the racecourses.
Recently, I have spoken to Megan O’Brien, who is the racing manager for Titanium Racing, in an interview, which you can read here. Also, in Lockdown, I spoke to Tony Linnett about the North South Syndicate, which he is one of the founding members of and his brilliant little filly Free Love. You can read that here. Martin Smith’s Racing Club is really popular and you can learn more about it here.
I hope you have all enjoyed this insight into syndicates. I’d like to thank Jamie, David and Clive for giving up their time to answer my questions and I wish them the best of luck with their horses.