By William Hill
Last Updated: 29th April 2019
As the National Hunt season nears its end, we can expect a slew of headlines on who won how much at the major festivals. The same articles about celebrity owners will be trotted out like every year – but what about all the owners around the UK who aren’t A-listers?
Because, contrary to all the ‘how much the Queen made on racing’ headlines, owning a racehorse is, perhaps surprisingly, no longer the preserve of the rich. In fact, it hasn’t been for some time. There are about 8,000 racehorse owners in the UK, and, according to the Racehorse Owners Association (ROA), more than 60% of racehorses currently trained in the UK are in a joint ownership, syndicate or partnership. And while owning a horse outright is most definitely for the well-off, these forms of shared ownership make the experience of owning a horse accessible even for those on a modest income.
It’s far less an investment than a hobby, but as long as you’re clear that you’re unlikely to make money, owning a racehorse can be a lot of fun. But how does it all work? We’ve broken down the different forms of ownership to give you a comprehensive guide to owning a racehorse.
The easy way: Syndication
Joining a syndicate is the most accessible form of ownership. It’s possible to own a small share in a racehorse for a few hundred pounds a year, while larger shares in highly valued horses can run to thousands. A racehorse syndicate usually includes at least 10 and up to 20 people, who split the responsibilities and finances between them. In return, you get all the fun and thrill of owning a horse for literally a fraction of the cost. You can join an established syndicate, which makes things as easy as possible, or you can set one up with friends through the ROA.
The main buyer of the horse needs to be a registered owner, but no one else does. When you join a syndicate you get ownership rights, whether your holding is as little as 2.5% (the usual minimum share) or 10%. That means you get a return from any winnings, while your expenses usually take the form of an annual payment, which is usually fixed in relation to your share.
If the horse is sold at a profit then you could make money, and the same goes if it’s wildly successful. But both those scenarios are not necessarily the norm. The bottom line: you don’t join a syndicate to make money. It’s all about the fun and excitement of being involved first-hand in a sport you love. Talk to any member of a syndicate and they’ll tell you – watching your own horse race is a special feeling, and, for most owners, well worth the outlay.
Syndicated ownership: Success stories
Just sometimes, syndicate ownership can be a runaway success, though. Just take Imperial Commander – the syndicate-owned legend who ruined the Kauto Star-Denman party when he raced to victory at the 2010 Gold Cup ahead of the two favourites and surprised his owners by eventually winning over £700,000.
The ‘almost’ option: Racing club
Technically, joining a racing club isn’t a way of owning a horse. When you join a racing club you can enjoy many of the perks that owners get, such as stable visits, access to an owners’ box, and you may even get a share of any prize money – but you have no ownership rights. The upside is the cost: you can join a racing club for £50 a month and get a taste of what it’s like to own a racehorse.
The middle ground: Partnership
In a partnership model, two or more people share the ownership of a horse (or horses). Everyone in the partnership is a registered owner, which involves more admin and means more responsibility.
A partnership doesn’t have to be equal – you define the percentage you own and split the winnings and costs accordingly. This is a less accessible form of ownership, as it’s generally costlier and you’ll usually split the management responsibilities, whereas with a syndicate, everything is generally taken care of for you. That said, if you’re keen to be more hands-on, this will give you the experience you’re looking for while spreading the financial burden of keeping a horse in training.
The big time: Sole ownership
Of course, you can also buy a horse outright. Firstly, you have to register yourself as an owner with the British Horseracing Authority (BHA). Once you’re registered as the sole owner, everything moneywise comes down to you – you get to collect all the winnings, but you’re also solely responsible for all the costs. And that does add up; the most recent figures from the Racehorse Owners Association (ROA) put the average cost of training a flat horse at £22,595, with £16,325 for a jumps horse (there are various reasons why flat horses are more expensive, but one is their shorter racing career span, which also inflates their purchase price).
The best bit for many: if the horse isn’t already named, you get to name it. And either way, you also choose the horse’s colours.
The outright cost of a horse varies; however, last year’s Gold Cup winner, Native River, cost under £6,000 (€6,000) and won over £500,000 on that race alone. It’s fair to say he was a bargain, though, and you’re usually looking at £20,000 upwards.
Outright ownership: Getting lucky
Your typical successful thoroughbred is often the product of some hefty stud fees – but there are exceptions. Back in 2010 horse breeder Ivy Rothwell picked up a mare in Goresbridge for a bargain €400 (around £340 at the time). Lora Lady happened to have a foal in utero – which is now the eight-year-old Road to Respect, a Gold Cup runner this year and winner of the Mildmay of Flete Challenge Cup at Cheltenham in 2017.