Champagne Charlies

Features | 8th March 2017

Having found a sporting passion to share when away from the pitch, two of Rugby League’s leading names have discovered that their enthusiasm for racing has proved infectious.

Only hours before they did battle on the pitch last week as Luke Gale’s Castleford Tigers took on Danny McGuire’s Leeds Rhinos in one of the key early battles of the Super League season, the pair had been at Newcastle racecourse watching one of the seven horses they share an involvement in action.

It was Gale who enjoyed the upper hand in that contest as he scored a try and played a pivotal role in setting up at least a couple of others as the Tigers handed out a 66-10 thrashing to their Yorkshire rivals.

But the pair’s mutual interest in racing won’t allow the former teammates – who both play as halfbacks – to be enemies for long, especially now they are united by their involvement in the Champagne Charlies syndicate.

The Champagne Charlies were formed in early-2016 by Craig Harrison, agent to some 80 Rugby League players including the pair, and businessman Peter Taylor, and now has seven horses spread between three trainers – Mark Walford, Karl Burke and Bryan Smart.

Soon afterwards, Paul Brierley entered the fold as racing manager. His previous experience in the sport included a spell as a jockeys’ agent and involvement with other ownership syndicates – both as manager and shareholder.

“Every horse owned by the Champagne Charlies is available in shares as small as 2.5% and when we get approached by potential clients who are looking to get involved as cheaply as possible, that’s something I understand, because how we all start out!” says Brierley.

“First, you take 5%, then 10%, then 20% and it grows. I think the first share I bought in a horse cost me £300 and £50 a month.

“Now if someone comes to us with a particular budget we can tailor things to suit them, even if they only want to lay out something like £1000 or £2000 initially – it might, for example, buy them small shares in two or three horses, as each of the syndicate horses is costed slightly differently.
“Our cheapest shares start from just £60.50 a month for 2.5%.”

Brierley says that each of the Champagne Charlies horses now has a completely different make-up of owners, although rugby league is often a connecting factor in their involvement.

“We have businessmen who are involved in rugby through existing corporate sponsorships, but we also have plenty of ordinary men and women who are fans of the sport,” he explains.

“Peter’s business Ecofficiency, based in Doncaster, is growing fast, and he’s keen to keep expanding his interests, which is great. Ownership offers a great opportunity to build business networks, as well as the fun of socialising at the track”

“Luke and Danny have also got other players interested, including Jamie Peacock, arguably the most high-profile name in the sport at present.”
Gale explains that his interest in the sport extends far beyond just business. Racing has got under his skin.

“I’ve loved horses since I was a kid and I’ve got a real passion for it,” he said. “Being involved in this has developed my interests further. I look at the breeding and a horse’s pedigree. I go to the sales. I watch them on the gallops.

“We started off with just a few people, but it’s taken off quickly – a year ago we only had one horse, but when we advertised it on Twitter, people really wanted to get involved.”

Gale describes himself as “a bit of racing anorak”, while McGuire has also been bitten by the racing bug.

Speaking recently to Total Rugby League, McGuire summed up the whole joy of being part of a successful syndicate.

“It’s just nice that you can own and be a part of something that is expensive to be a part of, but with it being a syndicate you can get all the same feelings for a smaller investment,” he said. “It’s all good people.”

Brierley says that one of the keys to the success so far of the syndicate, along with enjoying five or six winners, has been the importance of communication – something that, happily, comes fairly naturally to all of those involved with the Champagne Charlies.

“We soon realised the need to separate the administration of membership and the finances from the rest of the business, so that I can concentrate upon keeping owners as up to date as possible with any news on their horses,” he said.

“Every Wednesday or Thursday, they will get a weekly update from me, with news of what their horse has been doing, an update straight from the trainer and details of the races which the horse might be entered for over the weeks ahead.

“Keeping everybody in touch is so important. Our new website is under development now and should be ready soon after the start of the Flat season.
“We’re all thrilled with how it’s gone so far and hopefully we can keep up the momentum this year.

“Luke and Danny are enjoying it and so are all of the other owners. Racing is bringing everyone together.”

Team Champagne Charlies celebrate further racecourse success. Pic via @ChampagneCharliesRC