A few interesting days lie ahead for racehorse owner and entrepreneur Alan Spence.
His familiar red and white silks will be spotted at Ascot, when Kilcrea Vale and Josses Hill get their latest campaigns underway. Before I chart their prospects for the coming winter, I wish to take a brief look at the man behind the silks.
Those with a keen interest in football may already know Spence as the Vice-President of Chelsea FC. A life-long fan of the London club, he was asked by former owner Ken Bates to get involved some years back and was clearly thrilled to do so. In a previous interview he spoke of the meeting: “When Ken asked me to get involved I was very flattered. He's an entrepreneur, very much like me, but flamboyant and in the public eye. I had a lot of respect for him, but Chelsea got sold and that was great, too. You have to move on.”
For Spence, the journey to success began as a 19 year-old when he started his own shipping services business based at Epsom. From freight his focus turned to package holidays and during a boom period for foreign travel in the early seventies his company thrived. Britannic Travel made him his fortune, and when he sold the business to an Australian firm he did so to the tune of £50million.
He got involved in racing when bumping into Epsom trainer Arthur Pitt back in 1971. A chance encounter saw Spence persuaded to buy his first racehorse for just a 1,000 guineas. Bitten by the bug, his involvement in the sport has grown over time, and in the past decade, thanks in the main to Jukebox Jury, his passion for racing has intensified.
Spence admits to his fair share of luck both in life and in business. “I've been successful in life as an entrepreneur, and I've been lucky, he says. “I've had a great life, everything's gone right and it's given me the opportunity to do a lot of nice things. But I've always worked hard. I never go to bed before 1am and I'm always up by 6am. I don't stand still - I'm always on the move.”
Though Jump racing is undoubtedly less elitist than its Flat counterpart, it still helps to have the financial clout to make an impact. Spence has horses on both the flat and over the jumps, and uses a variety of trainers. However, it’s Nicky Henderson that is entrusted with his National Hunt squad.
Josses Hill has proved to be the highlight over the past few years. He was touted as a serious challenger for last season’s Arkle Chase, but despite his stature found the transition from hurdles to fences a difficult one. He jumped slightly better at the Cheltenham Festival though appeared unable to ‘shorten up’ at a fence, instead standing off a mile or getting in far too close and thereby losing vital momentum.
He’s sure to have been well schooled prior to his seasonal debut on Saturday, but we remain to see if he can make his mark over the minimum trip, when being slick over the obstacles becomes so vital.
Today it is the turn of another exciting prospect to get his season started. Kilcrea Vale won a point to point before a stunning success in a bumper at Market Rasen in January. He failed to make the Cheltenham Festival in March but is expected to make quite an impact over hurdles this winter. He starts out over the smaller obstacles at Ascot this afternoon.
Some were of the opinion that he would go straight over fences, but Henderson has a powerful looking squad for novice chases and it would come as no surprise to see this fella stay hurdling throughout this campaign, thereby gaining further valuable jumping experience.
I’d be surprised if we weren’t to see those familiar Spence silks in the winners’ enclosure on numerous occasions over the winter. There’s every chance it will begin at Ascot today.