Owning a race horse is generally for the wealthy or expert, it is not a field normally open to amateurs or those looking to experiment. However Great British Racing has started a new venture called In The Paddock which aims to make it much more accessible, fun and affordable to invest in your own race horse.
I went up to Newmarket to spend a few days behind the scenes with the professionals and find out more about this intriguing new proposition and exactly how the bloodstock, training and racing business worked.
Newmarket is one hour and twenty minutes from Kings Cross or two hours by car. Once arrived at the quaint and diminutive Newmarket station I was chauffeured to the rather lovely Bedford Lodge, the best place to stay In Newmarket. It has a gorgeous little spa, an excellent restaurant and an exceptionally pleasant bar that even stocks Bruichladdich, one of the great Islay single malts.
Tattersalls, Europe’s leading bloodstock auctioneer, were holding one of their special Craven Breeze-Up sales in the paddock at Newmarket that evening and one of their auctioneers Matthew Prior was on hand to explain the intricacies of buying your own racehorse. It is a very swish affair, with immaculate lawns outside and clean white picket fences marking the enclosures where the horses are presented before the auction starts. The Neo Victorian architecture is ideal and suitably underpins the quality and atmosphere of the event. Everyone is dressed in tweed or smart suits, with flat caps or trilby’s and there is an old world gentlemanly atmosphere that pervades the occasion.
Tattersalls was started in in 1766 near Hyde Park Corner by Richard Tattersall, ex stud groom to the Duke of Kingston. Sporting and betting men who were members of the Jockey Club could gather and purchase a horse, safe in the knowledge that its pedigree and provenance were assured by Tattersalls and many of finest horses of the time were sold there. Tattersall remained a family business until 1942 when upon the death of Somerville Tattersall it passed to his partners and moved to its present location at Newmarket in1965.
The horses are paraded around the enclosure by the grooms and potential buyers eye them with a seasoned air and chat amongst themselves exchanging opinions and insight. The horses in this auction are around two years old and aimed primarily at trainers who will bring out their full potential before offering them on to syndicates or private buyers. Trainers take the risk of developing these horses, before selling them on, hopefully at a profit. The dream being of finding the next Frankel, trained by the legendary Henry Cecil, the most successful race horse of his generation and currently charging a fortune in stud fees. In fact the offspring of Frankel command very high fees at auction.
The auction itself is fascinating, as with all auctions the bids are fast, but here they are also very discreet to prevent others knowing just who is buying what, to prevent price hiking, so the auctioneers have to be keen of eye and even have bid spotters standing by their side to help. The horses are trotted around the inside enclosure as the bids are made, in guineas rather than pounds as per tradition. A guinea is roughly a pound so it’s not too challenging and it really does add to the sense of history. One of the horses is bought by John Henderson at 575,000 Guineas for Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. These auctions attract the top buyers from all over the world. Some of the horses here are being sold by Pinhookers (great word), trainers who bought yearlings to break and train and hopefully then sell on at a profit. Post auction we retire to the Tattersalls’ Restaurant and discuss the horses and what to look for.
The pedigree or parentage of the horse is important and this can be checked at Tattersalls website or indeed at Wetherbys, both maintain stud books going back hundreds of years. In fact most race horses have lineages that aristocrats would envy. Many buyers rely on their instinct and experience and check the horses carefully as they run the two furlongs in the Breeze prior to the auction. Buyers look for a balance of qualities: athleticism, a good walk, proportions, frame, chest size, movement, attitude, ring behaviour, gallop, mentality and even expression as they run the Breeze. A good pedigree will always drive up the price, so a good eye can pick out a bargain irrespective of lineage.
Early the next morning I meet with a very successful young trainer, Charlie Fellowes, at his stables to watch the horses ride out for their morning exercise. It is a gloriously sunny day and a quite a sight as horse after horse trots by, their riders colourfully adorned, heading for the Jockey Club training gallops, a vast open space of gently sloping hills dotted with white fences that dominate Newmarket. Hundreds of fine race horses thunder by, through the swirling morning mist, creating this glorious unbroken vista of equine perfection. There are over 3,000 horses being trained here, a relic of the past that is proving very successful today, an entire town devoted to one profession over all others. This is horse central, it reminds me of the great medieval tradition where areas would specialise in perfumes, chocolates, cloth or metallurgy, bringing together the finest experts in the land.
Charlie and his team look after over 50 horses for many different owners, some have raced, but most are in training for their first coming out race. Though Charlie does own one, Barbary, who recently raced and won at Lingfield, making him very proud. He has many two year olds, one is a son of the revered Frankel, so his owner will have high hopes for him. Essentially it is Charlie’s responsibility to train and bring out the best in every one of the horses in his charge. He is a firm believer in equine psychology, getting to know each horse, what training suits their character and how to get the best from them when they race. For example a horse’s personality will dictate the tactics in the race, as some will perform better by being kept back so they finish strongly, rather than lighting up too early and getting tired at the end.
Charlie is clearly very successful and passionate about racing, he trained with some well known horsemen, such as James Fanshawe, Lee Freedman and Nicky Henderson and confesses that his love of horses started early, “From the age of six, I started to develop an infatuation with the magical combination of intense competition and nature at its magisterial best.” In three seasons they have trained 52 winners with a 15% strike rate. Strike rate is the ratio of wins to the number of times the horse ran in a race. He manages a pretty big team, with its head girls, stable lads and lasses (don’t you love the terminology) and he would be a pretty good expert to start with or just to get some advice when considering investing in a horse.
As the morning sun rose over the gallops, it was time to go actually watch these horses race, so the morning tweeds were swapped out for a natty three piece suit for a day at Newmarket Rowley Mile Racecourse. Newmarket is the home of racing and arguably the greatest equine racing venue in the world. The atmosphere is stimulating as dapperly dressed punters eye the horses parading round the enclosure prior to the races. People nod to friends and acquaintances as they pass and opinions are expounded and exchanged on each and every aspect of the runners. You can feel the excitement build as people prepare to lay down their hard earned cash on a whim, a tip or simply a feeling about a particular horse. The bookies stand on their boxes lining both sides of the Premier Enclosure fence, with the betting boards updating constantly as bets are placed and the odds change. It’s worth keeping an eye on these as some offer better odds at different times to others.
The races were impressive, the tension rose swiftly just before the start, then soared higher as the horses sprung out of the gates, rising as they reached the end of the flat and reaching a crescendo as the winner crossed the line. There was just enough time between each race to note and pick a favourite and place a bet either with the bookies or with the lovely grizzled old lady in the restaurant, who had clearly been doing this for eons. I picked every horse that came in last with quite impressive consistency. This was soon noted and others in our party soon started betting after me on everything I eschewed with some very successful results, making a little more than their money back. Horses and roulette consistently outwit me, but I have a little more luck with poker. Horses for courses.
The Premier enclosure does give you access to the best facilities and views and there is also the Champions Gallery restaurant, with its capacious, leaning windows overlooking the approach to the finish line. The food is very good, with some great wines and the service was excellent, personal, attentive and friendly, though they were reluctant to give out any tips for fear of letting us down, which was probably very wise. The ambiance is impressive and friendly, mixing the racing professionals, regular punters and social butterflies out for the day. It is a great British day out, every age group and families mingling happily.
If you want to get up to speed fast on horses then visit the Palace House Newmarket Museum. It is a stunning colossal mansion in the centre of Newmarket, Her Majesty The Queen is the official patron, a devout and passionate supporter of horses and racing, and it is now a New World Heritage Site. It possesses a quaint cafe in the spacious courtyard and is the definitive repository of all British equine history.
Racing and race horse ownership is coming of age, once regarded as exclusively for the professionals and the wealthy it is transforming into a captivating all inclusive social and business experience. You can invest in shared race horse ownership for as little as £100 and enjoy some great days out with friends, impressive perks and immerse yourself in one of the oldest historical sports in the world. This is a stylish way to mix business wth pleasure, entertain clients, or simply bring a load of friends together to invest in a horse. You might even get lucky and bag a winner, there’s another Frankel out there somewhere!
Great British Racing have all the information you need to get started here: http://www.inthepaddock.co.uk
Bedford Lodge Hotel Newmarket
Palace House Museum Newmarket