What does a racehorse owner look like? The Queen? She’s one, for sure. An Arab sheikh? They seem keen on racing. Rich businessmen; Andrew Lloyd Webber for example? Well yes – they do all own racehorses, that’s true. But you don’t have to be as wealthy as a sheikh or as famous as Andrew Lloyd Webber to partake in racehorse ownership. These days, many racehorses are owned by groups of people – whether that’s five family members who’ve clubbed together, ten strangers put in touch by a trainer or a syndicate manager, or fifty people as part of a racing club.
Perhaps obviously, the main attraction of owning a racehorse as part of a group, rather than on your own, is the fact that it allows you to split the costs. It can cost anything from a few hundred pounds to a few hundred thousand pounds just to buy a horse. On top of that comes training fees, entry and transport fees, farrier, vet and feed bills… The list does go on a bit, so having a few mates to spread the load will help to keep your bank manager slightly happier. Group ownership also gives you a forum in which to share the blows together – if and when they do come – as well as share the highs. (Though having said that, if your horse starts winning, I’d imagine that you won’t be short of friends to share your winner’s champagne with.)
Belinda McClung owns the 2017 Grand National winner One for Arthur as one of the ‘Two Golf Widows’ syndicate with her friend Deborah Thomson. ‘It has been the best fun ever owning a horse with somebody you’re friends with’, she explains. ‘We’re not in it for business. We’re purely in it for a bit of fun really, and my God we’ve had our fun.’
Sam Hoskins, who is co-owner of the Hot to Trot racing syndicate as well as racing manager of syndicate Kennet Valley Thoroughbreds, agrees. ‘Joining a syndicate gives you the best chance of having a slice of the action at the highest level, but for a fraction of the cost. It’s all about making racehorse ownership accessible to more people. And also about sharing it with a lot of like-minded people; sharing a success is much more fun.’
So what are the options? The first one – a syndicate – is fairly simple. A horse is split into ‘bits’, so say you own one fifth of a horse. You’ll pay one fifth of its training fees and all other fees, and whatever winnings come in, you’ll get a fifth of those too. In a syndicate, all members own the horse, so you’ll have to buy you share of the actual horse in the first place, and if you ever sell it, you’ll get your share of the sales price back as well.
The other option is to join a racing club. These tend to have more members than a syndicate, and it’s usually cheaper than being in a syndicate. You don’t own the horse so won’t get anything back if its ever sold, but pay a fee (often annual) which tends to be all-inclusive, so there won’t be any hidden surprises. Whether you get a share of the winnings depends from club to club, and there might be a bit of a fight for the owners and trainers badges if your horse ends up at Royal Ascot or the Grand National – but this is the most affordable option, especially for anyone who is interested in dipping their toe in the water.
Just because a horse has lots of owners doesn’t mean it’s not any good. Marsha, winner of the Palace House Stakes and the Prix de l’Abbaye, sold for a record-breaking six million guineas in December 2017. She was owned by Elite Racing, one of the more well-known racing clubs.
Many trainers put together their own syndicates; in other cases, groups of friends club together before going to a trainer and asking them to find a horse for the group to buy. Ruth Carr trains just outside of York, and has trained over 315 winners in ten years of training racehorses. Unlike at most racehorse yards where the horses spend much of the day in their stables, Carr’s horses spend much of the day turned out in paddocks – a routine she learnt from her grandfather David Carr. She has a number of syndicate-owned horses in training with her, such as Mutamaded, who’s owned by a group of accountants called the ‘Bottomliners’.
Racecourses are becoming far more accommodating to syndicates, too. Whereas before syndicate members might have to battle amongst themselves for owners and trainers badges when their horse was racing, now many racecourses allow a horse as many as 16 badges per horse.
Making racehorse ownership ‘more accessible’ is the line often used; but what does that actually mean in practice? Well, of course it depends. If you own half a share of a horse, that’s going to cost more than if you own a tenth. But in some cases, a share of a horse can cost less than £120 a month, while at Hot to Trot, an inclusive annual share in any of their syndicates is £2,095. Perhaps ‘cheap’ isn’t the right word to use, but it’s certainly more accessible than people might think. It just goes to show that racehorse ownership doesn’t have to be restricted to Rolls Royce owners and royals.
For more information on racehorse ownership, www.inthepaddock.co.uk offers more information on racehorse ownership, as well as a searchable list of 120 syndicates and racing clubs from across the UK.