Tuesday, May 17, 2011 | Posted by: Fiona Cullinan
Categories: Personal | Tags: investment, HNWI, Bespoke, magazine, Bespoke magazine, hobbies, ownership, sport, sports, horses, syndicate, Tom Dascombe, horse trainer, racehorse, breeding, horse racing
Racing, once the sport of kings, is now open to anyone – depending on the level of expense you want to spare, from £185 for a syndicate share to £20,000 for your own competitive racehorse. Tom Dascombe, horse trainer, talks about his involvement and we look at four ways to get into the sport.
* This is the fifth in our series – read more high-end hobbies.
Tom Dascombe’s parents must have thought it was just a phase. Their five-year-old son had been watching the racing on television with his grandfather, and now he wanted to be a jockey. If they had gone to the circus, he would have wanted to be a clown. It’s how kids are.
Thirty-two years later, the phase has yet to pass. Tom’s prospects of fulfilling his young dream were not, on the face of it, too promising. He was growing up in the middle of Bristol, and his only ‘horsey’ connection was a grandparent who liked a Saturday flutter. But the two-dimensional animals on the TV screen had reached out and grabbed his heart. Sometimes, it’s how horses are.
A passion for the sport
“There was no family history with racing, it was just a passion for the sport,” Tom says. “I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a jockey and a trainer. Living in the centre of Bristol made it quite difficult, but my mother used to take me riding at least twice a week after school, driving for 45 minutes out of the city and then riding for an hour. All my mates at school thought I was mad.
“I was very lucky, because my parents were so supportive, but when I left school at 16 and went straight into horse racing, even my teachers told me I ought to get a proper job.”
From stable hand to jump jockey
Tom worked as a stable hand for 18 months, riding horses at morning exercise and mucking out stalls, and finally received the jockeys’ licence that had been in his dreams for so many years. Six months later, just after his 18th birthday, he had his first ride in a race.
“It was at Bangor-on-Dee, not far from where I live now,” he says, “and I can still remember every little moment about it. Mick Fitzgerald [a future Grand National winner] rode the winner, and I thought I’d given mine a great ride to finish second, until Martin Pipe [the horse’s trainer] went mad at me. He’d told me not to hit the horse as it was my first ride, but of course, as soon as we turned in…”
These days, Tom is the one doing the training. After 10 years as a full-time jump jockey, the rides started to dry up and it was time to take the next step. Now he trains more than 100 horses at a purpose-built facility in Cheshire, which is co-owned by Michael Owen, the footballer, and Andrew Black, one of the founders of the Betfair betting exchange.
Hobby versus business
“I’ve gone from six horses to 110 in four years,” Tom says. “It’s humbling really, and we still try to work as hard with all 110 as with did with six. Obviously there are far more owners, and they all want your time, but you have to remember that they are passionate about racing, too. They don’t own horses as a business, it’s their hobby, they work hard all week to pay for it and they want answers if things aren’t going well.
“Racing used to be the sport of kings, but now it’s for everyone. Everybody can own a racehorse, it just depends on what level of expense you want. We have some passionate owners with a 100th share in a horse.
“There is money to be made in this business, and also a lot to be lost, but money isn’t everything. I’ve had owners sell horses for many times what they paid for them, but others who have been offered huge sums and turned it down, because no money can match the fun they are having.
“One of my owners had had shares in horses for 40 years and never had a winner, and then at Haydock the other week, he finally had his very first. He’s in his 70s now, and he was crying, he was completely overtaken by the emotion. It was lovely.”
FOUR WAYS IN TO HORSE RACING
1. Buy a horse
In theory, anyone can turn up at a bloodstock auction – Tattersalls in Newmarket, for instance – and buy a racehorse. In practice, unless you want to take it home tied to your bumper, you will need a trainer first.
The National Trainers Federation has a comprehensive list. Call them, visit them, check out their stats in the Racing Post. Above all, find one you like and trust. Tell them how much you are willing to spend, and they will help to identify possibilities, as well as taking care of the bidding and transportation.
The initial cost of buying a horse varies greatly, according to all sort of factors, with the code – ie, flat or jumps – its pedigree and whether it has any breeding potential (most jumping horses, for instance, are geldings) are among the more obvious ones.
In general, there should be no need to spend more than £20,000 to get a horse with at least the potential to be competitive at some level. Training fees, though, will then be around £250-£300 a week minimum, plus vets bills, entry fees, transport costs and other expenses.
2. Join a syndicate
An ideal stepping stone towards outright ownership. A flat fee buys you a share in one or, more frequently, several horses, which is at least a partial hedge against the ever-present risks of injury, fundamental inability and so on.
The price of a share can range from as little as £185 (Elite Racing Club, which has owned top-class winners in the past) to £40,000 or more.
Highclere is the best-known top-end syndicate, with shares next season from £6,950 to £36,950. This year, Highclere’s big wins include Harbinger, who won the King George VI at Ascot, one of racing’s showpiece events.
3. Breed a horse
The ultimate dream for those who want to be involved at every stage. First, you’ll need a mare, and somewhere to stable her. Next, study her pedigree and racing form, if she has any, and try to work out what kind of stallion might suit her.
Find a stallion in your price range (covering fees range from a few hundred pounds up to £250,000 or more), arrange the mating (the covering season runs from February to June) then wait and hope. Your foal will be born the following year, and eligible to race two years after that.
It requires immense patience and huge amounts of luck, but a home-bred winner is, for many, as good as it gets.
4. Go racing
There are 60 tracks in Great Britain. All have websites that list their meetings. They range from historic venues such as Ascot and Cheltenham, to tiny country courses such as Fakenham, and it is the smaller venues that often offer the best introduction to racing.
Away from the pressure and bustle of the festival meetings, you can get close to the horses – try to find the pre-parade ring, rather than the main paddock, for maximum intimacy.
Even at small venues, there may well be famous jockeys such as Tony McCoy, Ruby Walsh or even Frankie Dettori in attendance. And if you catch the bug, one day they might be riding for you.
Feature: © Nick Cartwright. Image: © James Pfaff.
This article appeared in the Winter 2010 issue of Bespoke magazine, which you can either download as a PDF or receive in print format. Here’s how you can sign up to receive future editions of Bespoke. Our Summer 2011 issue will be out shortly.
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