The best way to buy a racehorse is to join a syndicate or racing club and buy a stake in your own racehorse, says Emma Lunn. But do it for the love of it, not the profits.
Horse racing might be the sport of kings, but participation is not confined to blue bloods or multi-millionaires. There are plenty of options available for any racing fans who harbour ambitions of watching their own horse galloping down the home straight, but aren’t quite ready for the commitment and expense of owning and running their own stables. According to the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) there are about 14,000 racehorses currently in training in the UK. Meanwhile, the Racehorse Owners Association (ROA) reckons that more than 60% of racehorses are owned via some form of joint ownership. Owning a stake in your own horse gives you the chance of combining the fun of being a racehorse owner with the remote, yet tantalising, possibility of banking a win. But before we go into the details, just remember that like any other “trophy” asset, such as classic cars or fine wines, buying a share of a horse should be viewed as a hobby rather than an investment. Although you’ll hear tales of bargain buys that turned out to be superstars, there’s also a long list of expensive racetrack flops – it’s as much of a gamble as a day out at the races.
Invest in a bit of a racehorse
So what are the options? Charlie Liverton of the ROA says the most cost-effective way to get involved in racehorse ownership is to join either a syndicate or a racing club. “Many trainers operate their own clubs or syndicates and, of course, there are commercially run syndicates up and down the country,” he says. Syndicates enable a group of buyers (typically up to around 20 people), who are often unknown to one another, to share in the ownership of a horse or horses. The syndicate manager runs the day-to-day business and liaises with both the horse’s trainer and the syndicate members, providing the latter with progress updates. Trainers in the UK need to be licensed by the BHA, and they are responsible for preparing horses for races as well as deciding when and where the horse will compete.
Syndicate costs will vary depending on the size of your stake, and the prestige of the horse you’re buying – the offspring of world champions will clearly cost you more than a horse with less-noteworthy parentage. Liverton suggest looking at industry-backed website InThePaddock.co.uk for a better idea of what syndicates are currently available and at which different price levels. Owners’ badges are usually made available to syndicate members on race days. Badges allow access to parts of the racecourse off limits to the general public, such
as the parade ring – and, if all goes well, the winners’ enclosure.
What to look for in a syndicate
If you join a syndicate, you need to understand what you’re getting into. First, is the horse bought or leased? With a leased horse, the original owner retains ownership of the horse, but the syndicate pays a fee to run the horse in its name, and keeps any prize money earned. If the horse has been bought, on the other hand, it belongs to the syndicate. This means that as well as earning race prize money, members can profit if the horse is sold to a new owner or sent to stud for breeding. Also, says Liverton, make sure that you understand exactly what you’re paying for and what’s included in the price. “Is the purchase price a one-off payment or are further instalments required? Are you buying a capital share of the horse or does the club or syndicate manager retain ownership? Does the initial cost include training and racing fees?”
In general, there are two main ways for syndicates to charge members. Some simply charge a one-off fee for the purchase and training of a horse for a set period of time, while others charge an upfront fee, plus an ongoing monthly training fee. For example, Highclere Thoroughbred Racing (HTR) is one of Europe’s leading horse-racing syndicates and also runs syndicates in the US and Australia. It launches new syndicates each year in the week before Royal Ascot in June. You can either buy into a syndicate then, or wait until the yearling parades in October to see the horses in the flesh (a “yearling”, as the name suggests, is a horse between one and two years old).
“MOST RACEHORSES ARE SOLD AT AUCTION, AND RANGE FROM YEARLINGS TO UNRACED TWO-YEAR-OLDS AND OLDER HORSES. THE AVERAGE HORSE SELLS FOR £26,897”
Typically, there are ten to 20 people in each syndicate and two horses. Share prices range from £6,950 to £47,500 plus VAT (although this is later claimed back on the owners’ behalf). This fee, says Highclere, covers all expenses – including buying the horses and training them, vet bills, transport on race days, and race entry fees – up until the end of the horses’ two-year old career. At that point, “a smaller additional sum, which is clearly stated on the agreement form, is due for their costs as a three-year-old. The share involves a commitment of three years as most of the HTR horses are then sold”, although some are kept on to race as four-year-olds, as long as “it is thought they can increase their capital values and win good prize money”. Examples of successful horses that have been owned and raced in the past by Highclere include Harbinger, rated the best horse in the world in 2010 after winning the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in record time; and Petrushka, who won the 2000 Irish Oaks, Yorkshire Oaks, and Prix de l’Opera, among other races.
Other syndicate options
Another syndicate option is Value Racing Club, run by former race tipster James Couldwell, who set up the business in 2013. It offers 20 shares in each of its horses, with each member of the syndicate owning 5%. “For example, if we buy a horse for £20,000 the purchase price will be £1,000. The training fees are on top of the purchase. The cost for a year is £1,400 – this covers training, travel, race entries and jockey fees. The second season is cheaper as the purchase has been paid so it’s just training fees. Clients own the horse and not us, while they keep 100% of all prize money.”
Other syndicates offer different percentages (typically 2.5%, 5% or 10%) of a horse for an upfront sum plus a monthly fee for training, racing and veterinary costs. For example, Middleham Park Racing is currently selling shares in two-year-old filly Blue Harmony. A 2.5% share costs £1,255 upfront and £80 per month; a 5% share £2,420 upfront and £145 per month; and a 10% share £4,774 upfront and £279 per month.
Join a club – or go it alone
A cheaper alternative to buying a share in a syndicate is to join a racing club. Members of a racing club enjoy some of the benefits of ownership, but don’t actually own the horse. Because members are not acquiring any of the bloodstock equity, there aren’t any ongoing costs for training fees or veterinary bills, or any of the other costs associated with owning a racehorse. Race prize money is shared between members, but the club keeps any profit made from selling the horses. Elite Racing Club (EliteRacingClub.co.uk) costs £199 for a year’s membership. The club maintains an average of 25 horses across various training and breeding regimes. Inspire Racing Club (InspireRacingClub.co.uk) has six horses in training and costs £399 a year.
Alternatively, if you want to make all the decisions and keep all the profits from a racehorse yourself, sole ownership is the obvious option – but you’ll need deep pockets. The British Horseracing Authority estimates that the average annual cost of owning a racehorse is £16,500. But many cost a lot more than that – costs can quickly escalate if your horse is injured and runs up a large vet’s bill during the year, for example.
“IF YOU WANT TO MAKE ALL THE DECISIONS AND KEEP ALL THE PROFITS, SOLE OWNERSHIP IS THE OBVIOUS OPTION – BUT YOU’LL NEED DEEP POCKETS”
If the idea still appeals, you’ll find that most racehorses are sold at auction, and range from yearlings to unraced two-year-olds and older horses. Figures from the UK’s largest racehorse auctioneer, Tattersalls, show that at its autumn “horses in training” sale (which took place at the start of last month) the average horse sold for 25,617 guineas, or £26,897 (guineas are the traditional currency for selling horses: one guinea equals £1.05). The most expensive horse sold in the sale was Elizabeth Browning, daughter of champion racehorse Galileo. She sold for 700,000 guineas (£735,000).
Company ownership is another way to become a racehorse owner. In most cases the horse is owned by the company’s shareholders and the company must appoint a registered agent to act on its behalf. Companies usually buy a racehorse for prestige and marketing purposes – they can name the horse after their brand, jockeys can wear corporate silks, and racing offers great client entertainment opportunities. VAT and training fees are usually reclaimable so it can have tax advantages too.
However you decide to get involved in racehorse ownership, just remember – view it as an enjoyable hobby rather than a serious investment. You’re paying for the fun – any money you make is a bonus.