Whether you’re a full‐time racing expert or still learning the intricacies of the sport, the dream of becoming a winning owner on the most famous stage in jumps racing remains the same.
At next week’s Cheltenham Festival, nearly 500 horses will line up in search of success. Only 28 of them will do enough to earn their owners the right to stand on the podium, facing the rapturous wall of acclamation and applause that surrounds the winner’s enclosure after every race, and the chance to raise the trophy.
As a member of Cheltenham racecourse and long‐time racing fan and punter, Graham Leyfield watched the celebrations only from the outside for many years.
But after first dipping his toe into racehorse ownership five years ago with Middleham Park Racing, he has already found out what life is like on the other side of the sanctified white plastic rail.
“I knew I wanted to be a named shareholder rather than part of a larger club, but it was only after doing a lot of research that I first contacted Middleham Park,” says the Chepstow‐based account manager.
“What a fluke to have a five per cent share in a horse like Premier Bond at my first try! The dream when you buy a share in any National Hunt horse is to have a runner at the Festival and four years later we were finishing third in the Kim Muir and going off as one of the favourites for the Scottish National.”
Buoyed by the early promise being shown by Premier Bond and having enjoyed his first taste of ownership, Leyfield expanded his interests into other Middleham Park horses, including his first winner Quiet Candid.
“I have met some fantastic friends and there is a lot of cross‐over between the syndicates that I am now part of,” he says. “In fact, it was through a couple I met who have now become great friends who were involved in Quiet Candid that I took a share in Divine Spear, who runs at this year’s Festival.
“You get to meet all of these different people, particularly with the jumpers where you can own a horse together – as we have done with Premier Bond – for four or five years or even more.
“A friend of mine keeps saying to me that it’s not all about Cheltenham and he’s right, of course. Divine Spear has taken us on to the winner’s podium at Ascot and Newbury and I’ve been to some of the best racedays in the sport as an owner.
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“One memory that sticks out was being at Sandown one day when there was a stewards’ inquiry after a big race. The owners’ facility is next to the stewards’ room and I found myself stood outside, watching the inquiry taking place through the window.
“Next to me also watching through the window was Henrietta Knight and she turned and said ‘What do you think they will decide?’. That’s like going to watch Manchester United and having Sir Alex Ferguson asking your opinion on a penalty.
“I’m quietly hopeful for Divine Spear. I’ve read everything that Nicky Henderson or Nico de Boinville has said in the build‐up to Cheltenham and they both keep giving him favourable mentions.
“The problem is that while I might reckon he has a pretty good each‐way chance if he makes it into the field for the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase, there will be 19 other sets of owners thinking the same thing!”
Leyfield can at least look forward to going to see Divine Spear, Premier Bond and their friends in a less competitive environment at Seven Barrows in a couple of months’ time.
“We tend to go twice a season, once in October or November, and then again in May when Nicky is usually and quite understandably much more relaxed – everyone at the yard is very welcoming and it’s brilliant to be able to enjoy a few bottles on the lawn there.”
Leyfield says that he is still learning about horse‐racing and that ownership has given him a new perspective upon the level of work required to even get a horse to the races, let alone compete.
For Lloyd Iveson, a racing journalist working for the Press Association in East Yorkshire, and a former winner of the Racing Post Naps Table, racing is his livelihood as well as a passion. But as an owner, his Cheltenham Festival ambitions would be realised if he could just go straight on rather than turning right.
“As you walk back off the track after the race, you either carry on to the winner’s enclosure if you’ve finished in the first four, or you turn right to be unsaddled with everyone else in the grassy area on the other side of the weighing room,” he explains.
“It would just be nice to finish in the first four and experience that thrill one day and that’s my hope for Kemboy in next week’s JLT Chase, if that’s the race we end up running in.
“My parents used to own horses with Ferdy Murphy, but when he retired, we looked for new ways to get involved and my brother had become friendly with Steve Massey, one of the racing managers for the Supreme Racing Club.
“Although their horses were based with Willie Mullins in Ireland, it seemed like an amazing opportunity to get involved.
“Kemboy ran in the Neptune last year and finished fifth, the first home of the Irish horses. We were absolutely chuffed with how he ran, he was just a bit novicey at a couple of his hurdles.
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“Personally, I’m quietly confident about his prospects for the JLT. I think at first everybody was a bit surprised at how well he took to fences but his form stands up well.”
For Iveson, the experience of being an owner at the Cheltenham Festival has proved unexpectedly addictive.
“I know there are those who say that the focus on the Cheltenham Festival is too much, but for someone like me it’s the be‐all and end‐all,” he says. “We all go down as a group and make the most of the whole experience.
“There are an amazing group of people involved in the syndicates, a mixture of Irish and British‐ based owners, as well as Americans and Australians.
“For us to get into the parade ring at the Festival. To be stood there, watching the horses being saddled up, talking to the jockey, heading up into the stands to watch the race. To be there in the flesh and be part of it. There’s nothing like it.”