I have written a number of times in the past about the importance that increased ownership through syndication offers to the horse racing industry. There are very few, if any, other sports where for a fairly modest sum you can own a sports team, and decide in a meaningful way, the strategy that team takes. With cost of wages, feed and property rising, the cost of keeping a horse in training grows yearly. Meanwhile, even with a good winning horse, owners stand to make less than 12p in the pound back through prize money. The fun of the social occasion, particularly in a syndicate, goes some way to adding a much needed dimension to a loss making past-time. Let us not forget that Coolmore are a syndicate, and we are increasingly seeing Darley enter into shared ownership. If these titans of the racing world have to share their costs, then it is the only way racing can hope to get new owners into the sport.
A vast majority of syndicates offer good value as well as in-depth experiences at training
yards and at the races. The public must feel that if they wish to become part of the sport, their investment is protected – even if winning is not a guarantee. For this reason, the need for a licensed, secure set of standards is required to protect members, as well as ensuring that EVERY person with an interest in a horse is known to the authorities to avoid allowing those who would otherwise be barred from ownership from having an influence.
From a breeder’s viewpoint, a larger potential market for their horses has to be welcomed. However, with the rise in syndicates comes an influx of owners who do not perhaps understand that horses need time, and horseracing is not for those looking for instant gratification. It must be extremely difficult, if not almost impossible for a syndicate to purchase a yearling at the sales, find shareholders to finance the enterprise, and then expect those owners to keep paying for maybe 2 or even 3 years more until the horse has its first race.
For this reason, many syndicates, and indeed many sole owners, are looking for early type 2 year olds – and as such the demand dictates that the pedigrees used are from 2yo winning parents. Purchasing a proven older horse is an option, but the recovery of upfront costs PLUS a monthly fee is sometimes not possible. With demand for “cheap, quick speed” not only is the gene pool contracting, but horses winning over medium distances are written off or stand as jump stallions. Likewise mares of foals who won at 3 or 4 are discounted due to their belated race success. It would be unfair to blame syndicates entirely for this, and many of them have very patient and knowledgable managers and members. However, at the point of purchase, the horse that ticks all the “quick speed” boxes is preferred to the slow burner.
Breeders in many cases are having to give horses away in order to get them onto the track and out of their congested paddocks when their latest crop do not fulfill all the requirements of price and precocity, even if they are perfect specimens with real
potential on the race course – although not immediately. This is not sustainable and, as we see on a weekly basis, breeders are stopping either for a year or two in the hope the market rights itself, or for good. A major consideration has to be welfare also. Breeders MUST ensure they breed from mares with some potential in the market. This is the one control they have given that even the most vaunted stallion can become out of fashion by the time the produce of a mating is ready to sell. It is sad that for many breeders, the wish to maintain certain breeding lines (and therefore the depth of the gene pool) is potentially sacrificed for the more certainty a range of inter-bred stallions bring to their calculations. And many small breeders do not have the luxury of off-setting losses against gains when they only have 1 or 2 mares, or of racing the stock themselves.
With an expectation that horses will race sooner rather than later – and win – the potential number of horses thrown on the scrap heap before they have had chance to prove themselves could be massive. And a free or cheap horse, like any animal, has the potential to be seen as a throwaway commodity. I defy anyone to find a pedigree dog for sale for anything less than £700, much for this reason.
All potential owners must realise that it takes 4 years from retirement for a mare to produce her first runner. Even with that, the mare will not actually make a
name for herself unless she consistently produces winners – even then that is no guarantee of demand for her offspring. Therefore, when buying a horse, you are not just buying that animal, but all the time it has taken to build up to it, the upkeep of the stud it came from, the staff and feed costs, vet costs and transport. Many breeders, like owners, do not have their own facilities. This adds to costs, and potentially to welfare issues also, particularly when damage limitation is required to stop on-going costs.
Yes, the prize money is an issue, but so is the polarisation of the bloodlines, and the expectation that good horses come cheap. As the trend continues, we are likely to see a contraction in the number of horses available for sale, as breeders give up, and races with lower entries, lower betting income and therefore lower prize money lead to a lack of interest from owners. Racing will then be for the elite and reliant on a match-race type prize pool – perhaps that was all it ever was supposed to be, and our belief it can be a sport for all is a pipe dream. We have seen the demise of the artisan, small producer on our high streets – we must not see the same in our breeding sheds, otherwise we will see an Epsom Derby of the future raced between horses interbred to the same sire, out of mares who too share the same genes – and jockeys all wearing one of two shades of blue!