Many a plan is hatched in horse racing. Sadly, most are destined to fail. But even if things don’t always go the way you might have hoped, there’s much more to owning racehorses than just the dream of entering the winner’s enclosure.
Having launched their first syndicates with just five horses four years ago, Chelsea Thoroughbreds have extended their operations to this year cover 24 horses, of which 13 are two‐year‐olds.
Those juveniles were largely bought with a view to getting as many as possible to Royal Ascot, a meeting that for many syndicate members is the highlight of the racing year ‐ a celebration of the sport, as well as an opportunity to dress up, catch up with friends and enjoy good times on and off the track.
Sadly, for various reasons, that hasn’t happened. Although the team includes a number of exciting two‐year‐olds who could well fly the flag later in the year, Royal Ascot is not on the agenda for any of them. Not this year, anyway.
It’s therefore a good job that Chelsea Thoroughbreds have the reliable Richard Hannon‐trained Tony Curtis to fall back upon when he lines up in the Hunt Cup on the Wednesday. His 10 joint‐owners have already enjoyed plenty of fun with the five‐year‐old and the other horse in the same partnership, Humphrey Bogart, who gave them the thrill of their lives when finishing fifth to Harzand in the 2016 Investec Derby at Epsom.
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The spirit of syndicate ownership means that you’re never really alone and there will be plenty more than just 10 voices roaring Tony Curtis on next week, as syndicate manager James Ramsden explains.
“When you own a racehorse, you learn soon enough that things don’t always happen the way you might have wanted,” he says. “But as a group, I hope we are as well known for our events and the entertainment side of the operation as our achievements on the racecourse, and even if their horses can’t be in action, we’re looking forward to seeing many of our owners at Ascot.
“Each year we put together a calendar of events, including a variety of stable and stud visits, and Royal Ascot is an important week in that calendar.
“This year we will be providing sit‐down picnics with silver service on the Tuesday and the Friday for different groups of owners. But our main event is the picnic for all owners which begins on Wednesday at 11am(!) – all owners are invited along with their friends and families.
“We’ll put up a couple of tents, bring along a couple of our chefs, and there will be food and drink both before and after racing – champagne, chilled wine or even a glass of Pimm’s with which to celebrate or commiserate.
“We’re lucky enough to have our own racing pub, the Sydney Arms (in Chelsea – of course) and the aim is to try and reproduce a little bit of that.”
Meeting up at Royal Ascot is one of many opportunities for syndicate owners to come together during the year. A particularly popular event comes is the lively annual get‐together at the Bibendum restaurant in November at which shares in the new intake of yearlings are first up for grabs.
“It’s a virtual yearling parade,” Ramsden explains. “We put videos of the horses on big screens and Ipads on the tables so people can do their own research. All of the trainers come along too and it’s at that point that people talk to their friends, colleagues and family members and decide which horses they want to be involved with.
“In that way, often some of the people who get involved in our syndicates do know each other from a fairly early stage, although of course there are others who are new faces, although it doesn’t usually take long for everyone to feel involved.
“We don’t have to do much in the way of hard marketing. We don’t advertise at all. But I think people are talking to their friends and we’re growing organically, which is very satisfying.
“We’re unique in that we are London‐based and we happen to own this well‐known racing pub, which is a kind of base. People can pop into on their way home from work to talk about their horses and racing in general.”
As for Tony Curtis himself, hopes are justifiably high, despite the Hunt Cup clearly being one of the most competitive races of the week.
“It’s arguable that those big handicaps are perhaps not as open as they used to be, as to be able to get into them you’ve got to be a horse who is on the verge of being good enough to compete in Listed or lower Group‐race company, so you’re pretty much already exposed,” Ramsden says.
“If you’ve got a horse who is running well, drawn on the right side, and has a patient jockey who can give an intelligent ride, you’ve got a lot in your favour and I certainly think Tony Curtis is on about the right mark to go well if he gets the breaks.”
After Ascot, Tony Curtis is likely to head to Glorious Goodwood for another big handicap in which he finished second last year, but the fun hopefully won’t end for his owners in the autumn with Humphrey Bogart now in training as a hurdler with Nicky Henderson after showing considerable aptitude for his second career when winning at Huntingdon last month.
“It’s been a bit of dream syndicate for his owners and when he injured a tendon, they were unanimous about giving him however long he needed to come right,” adds Ramsden.
“He was ‘our Derby horse’. He owes us nothing and never will but if he stays sound and happy, he could still be anything over hurdles.”