There is no question John Dance has had some good fortune when it comes to racehorse ownership – but he is determined to enjoy the ride with Bravemansgame after going through the full experience with Laurens.
A stockbroker by trade, his company Vertem is known to racegoers through its sponsorship of major races both on the Flat and over jumps.
Dance was lucky enough to own Laurens relatively early in his foray into the sport, and he readily admits he will struggle to find another remotely as good as the six-times Group One winner.
However, just the second National Hunt horse he has owned is now among the favourites for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham – and has already won a Grade One at Newbury into the bargain.
“To be fair I was always a Flat person, because a combination of the form analysis I did was more consistent on the Flat and I just found the Flat a bit more exhilarating from an athletic point of view,” said Dance.
“It was probably Laurens’ fault that we became involved in National Hunt. When you have a horse like her and she gets tucked away for the winter you end up wishing your life away waiting for the next season to start.
“We got into it a little bit just to keep us mentally occupied through the winter – and it’s worked out all right!
“Bravemansgame was on a list that Paul Nicholls, Tom Malone (bloodstock adviser) and Megan Nicholls were really interested in, along with Jeremy Pass who we bought. I had in my mind how much I’d be willing to spend, but he went flying by that with no signs of stopping.”
Nicholls and Malone went to £370,000 at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival Sale, but Dance wanted someone to share the experience with. Step forward Bryan Drew, who has tasted glory at Cheltenham before through his horses with David Pipe.
“Tom and Paul still bought the horse and came back to me and said ‘we know you’re interested, if you want half we might have somebody else who wants half as well’. I had a little think and it went ahead, so the partnership with Bryan was formed,” explained Dance.
“The reasons for getting involved with Paul were two-fold – we didn’t want it on our doorstop as we were with Laurens, as we thought we were too involved so we thought it was a good idea to have one at the other end of the country, out of sight out of mind from an interfering perspective.
“Also we wanted to make new contacts, like Bryan Drew. It’s paid off so far.”
When you spend that sort of money on a horse you expect to be competing in the upper echelons – but racing is littered with examples of big-money purchases who failed to make the grade.
“Everyone was pretty adamant that while it is a cliché, whatever he did before he went chasing would be a bonus, everything about him just suggests he will be better over fences,” said Dance.
“You shouldn’t think you are ever buying a Grade One chaser, however much they cost, but we certainly didn’t think he’d be a Grade One hurdler. Because of the long-term outlook we had for him this is all very much a bonus.
“He’s a big guy, he’s got a long stride and in some respects a bit like Laurens in that he’s a relentless galloper. I think what surprised Paul at Newbury is that he’s not built to show that turn of foot.
“To show it after the last, in that grade of race, was really quite explosive. He was winning anyway but that turn of foot – against what looked some good rivals on paper – was what caught us out a bit.
“The Irish challenge will be strong, so much so that we aren’t favourite any more, but we know how the ante-post markets work with recency bias. I’m delighted to be honest, it eases the pressure a bit.
“Being the favourite adds a degree of substance to a reputation, but when you aren’t favourite you aren’t expected by the majority to win. There’s no reason why, but I always find they run better when you aren’t favourite.”
Dance knows just how fortunate he was to have owned a superstar like Laurens and that the likelihood anything he is involved in down the years is highly unlikely to match her exploits. What he hopes to have gained, though, is a sense of perspective regarding how to treat everything racing can throw his way.
“Having had Laurens she sets a pretty high benchmark so while on one hand you want to repeat it and it could be a disappointment if you don’t repeat it, the other side of the coin is we have experienced those highs – she won six Group Ones,” he said.
“This horse has won a Grade One already so we should be able to handle the pressure, we’re not in the position of wondering whether we will ever win one.
“Laurens will make the whole experience with Bravemansgame more enjoyable. She won Group Ones at two, three and four, but we felt pressure when she ran. This time around we’re determined to enjoy it.
“If we’re lucky enough to win another Group One on the Flat, it is very very unlikely the same horse will win six. Our aim is just to win a Listed race!”
Dance cannot be accused of helping the sport either, as his high-profile sponsorships at Doncaster and Newcastle attest.
“We sponsor the Group One at Doncaster (Vertem Futurity Trophy) and the Eider Chase at Newcastle. I’m a believer in you make your own luck, but we’ve been lucky, very lucky. It’s better to be lucky than smart, though!” he said.
During Cheltenham week, that is not a bad mantra to cling to.