Irish Medical News feature on horse syndication

3 March 2008

How to join a racehorse syndicate

Imagine the thrill of owning the horse first past the post at the Galway Plate this year. Such was the level of excitement for the MGH Syndicate when Rockholm Boy proved a surprise 20-1 winner of the 2002 Galway Plate.

The local syndicate members were Mr Hugh Bredin, a consultant urologist at University College Hospital, Galway, owner Gerry McMahon and Martin Cuddy along with Limerick trainer Michael Hourigan.

The victory in the €150,000 Plate was all the sweeter as it was the first ever success for the syndicate named after its member’s first initials.

According to Mr Bredin, he believed he was already lucky having a horse running in the Plate, let alone it being the winner on the day. While for many of us becoming a racehorse owner is a dream that will never be realised, it turns out that owning your own thoroughbred is not as difficult or as expensive as you may have been led to believe.

The most important step in becoming a racehorse owner is to seek the advice of an industry expert be it a trainer or bloodstock agent, says Ms Shona Draper, horse ownership advisor at Go Racing.

Horse Racing Ireland’s official website offers free advice on ownership, with Ms Draper providing a dedicated owner advice service to facilitate current and potential owners. “A thorough briefing with an industry expert is the smartest move to make,” she says.

The Irish Racehorse Trainers Association is a recommended source of information. Online forums such as,, and talkinghors, all have horse racing chat forums. On establishing what type of horse, timescale, budget and racing is desired the trainer or agent can then begin the all important search.

Ms Draper says that a healthy, correct animal with average breeding should be considered. She explains that the animal should have a clean veterinary certificate which is automatically carried out on a horse at the public auction, while it is recommended another be carried out by your own vet.

The sales catalogue will contain terms of agreement and conditions of sale. It is also advisable to go along to the sales or to the private yards to view the horse prior to purchase.

She highlights the following annual charges: training fees, €15,200; entry and riding fees, €2,500; routine veterinary, €1,700; and transport, €1,000; bringing the total yearly costs to €20,400.

Warning against making rash decisions before carrying out adequate research, she says: “Those who rush in and do not take time to research properly are often the ones who contact us a couple of months in to seek advice on an issue. The three major pitfalls are lack of knowledge and not seeking advice, unrealistic budgets, and verbal agreements among syndicate members.”

She adds that, “the Novices Syndicate that own Champion Hurdler winner Brave Inca is possibly the biggest syndicate success story to date given that it was their first venture into ownership with seven members paying out €2,000 a piece and having competed with ample success at the finest festivals and race meetings in the sport.”

In the Cheltenham Festival, Brave Inca defeated War of Attrition to give his trainer Mr Colm Murphy the perfect result with his first runner at the race.

Draper says that it is essential that owners enter into the game with realistic expectations.

“The words ‘horses’ and ‘investment’ should not be associated in the same statement. It should be viewed as any hobby such as golf membership or travelling. To get to the track and have a few enjoyable days out can be expected, to break even is rare so owners should not view horse ownership as a profit-making exercise race.”

“Syndicates are all about having fun – live the dream,” is the advice of Mr Oran Crean of Winning Ways, which says it prides itself on giving novice and regular racing enthusiasts the opportunity to really get involved in a racehorse ownership experience.

Mr Crean was once a member of the afore mentioned Novices Syndicate that owns Brave Inca.

“If you are looking for some cheap fun as opposed to taking it more seriously, it may be worth considering leasing a horse. You will then need to decide what type of horse you are looking for: flat or national hunt and within each option, do you want a horse that has already raced (thus rendering it more expensive) or do you wish to look for an untried horse where a lot depends on who picks the horse,” says Mr Crean.

If buying on the flat, prices for an average horse may be in the range of €50,000 to €100,000. Untried horses usually require two years to realise any potential. In national hunt, the prices are lower and a good horse can be bought for €20,000 to €40,000.

Buyers such as JP McManus and Michael O’Leary are known to spend around €80,000 on a new purchase.

Currently Winning Ways has an 11-member syndicate which owns Kimberlite King and a 12-member syndicate which owns Captain Bondi. He says that the cost of the horse does not determine the level of its success. “Beef or Salmon cost just €6,000 at the sales. Brave Inca cost 14,500 Irish pounds and won a Champion Hurdle. That was in 2001 and that would be around €35,000 now. Kimberlite King cost €27,000 in 2005 and has won two races. Both were lovely individuals and I think this is important.” He adds that he has built a very strong relationship with Winning Ways trainer, Mr Colm Murphy, and has been at the sales each time they have bought a new horse. “Colm has a very good eye for a horse. Trust is vital and I believe the good relations I have built with Colm represent a very strong competitive advantage.”

Mr Murphy, 32, a successful amateur rider, worked closely with Aidan O’Brien in the early stages of Mr O’Brien’s training career. In 2000, he began training horses at his stables in Killenagh, close to Gorey in Co Wexford. Recognition of his ability to date is highlighted in that his owners now include Michael O’Leary (Fier Destrier) and JP McManus (Clew Bay Cove). Mr Murphy says that he finds the Winning Ways team to be very knowledgeable about racing. “Without a doubt, I would recommend Winning Ways to anyone who is thinking of getting into a race horse syndicate. It is a great way to get involved in owning a race horse in an affordable way. Mr Oran Crean knows the horse racing game well and having him as the key contact person between me and the syndicate members works well for all concerned.”

When looking to hire a trainer it is important to find out where he is located, how many horses he is currently training, what is his strategy for managing syndicate owners, are pre-arranged yard visits allowed, and what are his charges? “After the sale, the new owners come down to the stables quite a bit and once things settle down they usually come to visit the horse around once a month,” says Mr Murphy. Now with 45 in training at his Wexford stables, he says that they have been very lucky with Kimberlite King with it having performed exceptionally well to date having won two bumper National Hunt flat races. Meanwhile, he says that Captain Bondi, a five-year-old bought in June 2007, is showing a lot of promise.

When establishing a syndicate, an agreement needs to be drawn up between the members who should all then register their ownership forms with Horse Racing Ireland, as well as on any syndicate bank account before being invited to join Mr Crean at the sales. An accountant by profession, Mr Crean prepares syndicate financial statements each year and all members get a copy of the accounts. He always tries to protect members by asking members to pay six months fees in advance. This means that if a member drops out then there is enough time to find a replacement. Winning Ways charge €250 per annum per syndicate member and is a registered member of the Association of Irish Racehorse Owners.

Canadian-based consultant psychiatrist Dr Peter Moran races horses at an amateur level to highlight the importance of diabetes research. Originally from Co Monaghan, he practises at the Pain Management Centre, Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto.

Dr Moran raced in the Newmarket Town Plate, the world’s oldest and longest thoroughbred flat in August 2006 on Baranook and came third. His trainer was Mr Geoffrey Huffer while Baranook was provided to him on lease from owners Gill and Terry Warner for the race. “It is normal practice for amateur jockeys involved in charity work to lease a horse for a nominal fee of £1 sterling provided the jockey insures the horse while racing it.” In 2007, he rode Noadibou (FR) in the same three mile, six furlong race and took second place. The horse was loaned to him by owner Evan Williams. This year Dr Moran intends to take a break from the race to concentrate on his work in Canada.

While you may not land the Gold Cup, if you enter into racehorse ownership with a view to getting involved you are guaranteed a thrilling experience according to industry insiders – but you will never know this if you don’t take the chance.






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