The community here at geegeez.co.uk is one of the most considered racing fan collectives in these fair isles, something which doesn't happen by accident. We deliberately cultivate a thoughtful dynamic: I want this to be a place where people who love to engage with the cerebral side of the puzzle hang out. And I want to help racing fans to get as close to the sport as possible, in as many ways as possible.
One of the ways geegeez has facilitated that is through racehorse syndicates. You may or may not be aware that so far in 2020 our syndicates have celebrated ten victories, including one at Listed level. And that's in a year where we lost three months or so to the lockdown!
The challenges of syndication are threefold: the right trainers, the right horses, and the right co-owners.
Let's start with the trainers.
We currently send horses to four trainers, two predominantly flat and two predominantly jumps. They are Mick Appleby and Wilf Storey on the level, and Anthony Honeyball and Olly Murphy over obstacles. These are four of the many excellent trainers in Britain.
Each operates in a very different way, each works for us with a different sort of horse, and each has given us great pleasure on and off the track.
Anthony Honeyball was the first of the four and, as well as having horses trained by him, geegeez.co.uk also sponsors his yard and his two jockeys, Rex Dingle and Ben Godfrey. We currently have two exciting mares in training with him at his base on the Dorset/Somerset border, with a third likely to follow later this summer.
Olly Murphy is a rising star of the game having raced to 223 winners (at time of writing) in a splash more than three years. He sent out his first winner, Dove Mountain, on 4th July 2017... and his first Cheltenham Festival runner was a geegeez.co.uk syndicate horse, Oxford Blu.
Training from a large estate in Wilmcote near Stratford-upon-Avon, Olly also saddled the consistent Swaffham Bulbeck to win a couple of races for us, on consecutive Gold Cup days! After the second victory, in March this year, he was claimed and we don't currently have any horses at the Warwickshire base. But we're on the look out for an exciting juvenile hurdler with which to dream of the Cheltenham Festival once again.
Wilf Storey is an unassuming trainer based in Muggleswick, County Duham, and the horses we have there are generally private syndicates. A sheep farmer mainly, Wilf has had a terrific career which includes something that neither Olly nor Anthony has achieved to date, a Cheltenham Festival winner. Great Easeby was his name, and he won the 1996 Gold Card Handicap Hurdle, now the Pertemps Final. Wilf doesn't have jumpers any more but he punches above his weight with a handful of 'cast offs' that nearly always win at a price.
Mick Appleby is the most recent addition to the team. Perennially all-weather champion trainer, we sent two syndicate horses to him last summer, both of which have won twice for us. Importantly, both ran frequently, collected a fair amount of prize money, and gave their owners plenty of good days out. One of the pair was sold last week, the other 'bought in' to re-frame that syndicate; and we'll be looking to acquire another horse to run late flat season and through the winter in the coming months.
The team of horses shared amongst those trainers varies from time to time. The biggest 'string' we had was ten and, to be honest, that was too many from an admin perspective. I run the syndicates personally and they do take a chunk of time to look after. So it'll be a smaller squad going forwards, and currently numbers five though will be rising to seven or eight by year end.
These are our current horses:
A four-year-old filly by Soldier Of Fortune out of Moscow Nights, she has the same 'mum' as Heartbreak City, who won the Ebor Handicap and was a very close second in the Melbourne Cup. Another half-sister is Melburnian, currently trained - like Heartbreak City - by Tony Martin in Ireland. She bolted up in a Premier Handicap at Leopardstown last autumn and is currently rated in the mid-80's on the flat.
Back to Coquelicot - Cookie - she was bought for €26,000 as a yearling at the 2017 Arqana Autumn sale by me (with help from Anthony, Ryan Mahon, and Ron 'Double Trigger' Huggins, as well as syndicateer Jeremy Blackburn, who was also part of that jolly boys' outing) and the plan was to find a racy dual-purpose type. A small niggle put paid to the planned backend juvenile flat spins, but the time out allowed her to develop physically and still be ready for a 'junior bumper' campaign.
That campaign, as can be seen below, was highly productive: she ran five times, following up two runners-up efforts with a spectacular hat-trick culminating in that Listed race win at Kempton. Her full form is below:
She'll go novice hurdling this season and we're excited to see how far she can progress. Once racing is done with, she'll be a valuable broodmare proposition, too; and then we'll get to cheer on her babies in years to come!
Another unraced filly, this time a 'store', we bought this now five-year-old Getaway mare privately from a field in June 2018 for £20,000. Her dam, Chicago Vic, was a hardy consistent performer with multiple black type (Listed and Graded) placings to her name.
Not flashy at home we were just hoping for a bit of promise when she made her somewhat belated debut over Taunton's sharp two mile trip. The ground was horrible that day but she seemed to relish it: after running green and gawky in the early stages, she barrelled away from her field to score by an ever-widening 13 lengths at the line. And there were we thinking she wanted three miles!
In fairness, it was probably not much of a race, but she couldn't do more than bolt up and we remain excited about her in the context of a greater stamina test.
We currently have two horses with Wilf, Nearly There and Somewhat Sisyphean. They are fun handicappers, a little different in type.
Nearly There was placed in a couple of bumpers before getting handicapped on the flat. He's a consistent performer who just gallops. A winner of two, most recently in March, he's been undone by a slow pace the last twice, his jockey each time being suckered into thinking he's travelling like the winner. If he's travelling like that, he's about to get outpaced off a slow early gallop!
When he has a pace to run at, such as when he won at Redcar finishing best, or when he is made plenty of use of, such as when he ground it out from the front at Newcastle in March off steady fractions, he will always be a threat at his current level. He'll be winning again soon.
This lad is proving very well-named. Having completely fluffed the start the last thrice, he's been beaten less far at the finish than he lost at the outset on each occasion. He'll win when he breaks at least moderately alertly, we hope!
As an aside, Wilf's horses are usually a price. Indeed, here's the handicap form of the horses he's trained for us:
They're collectively +26 points at SP. But who in their right mind bets at SP? 😉
This chap is the embodiment of racing's enigmatic appeal. A half million-plus purchase as a yearling, we acquired him for marginally less (ahem) - £20k - at the Tattersall's May sale last year. He'd run five times for John Gosden over seven furlongs and a mile, mostly with promise, and was rated 74 when we got him.
He worked like a very good horse and we were excited about his debut at Newcastle over ten furlongs. But he ran flat, perhaps just needing his first run for 371 days. Next time he was third, a position he secured on three further consecutive starts, before breaking that sequence with a second place finish at Sandown again over ten furlongs.
Consistent, slightly frustrating, but accruing a few quid back into the kitty. What to do? Up in trip? Down in trip? His stride data suggested seven furlongs to a mile, his pedigree - Speightstown out of a staying mare - offered mixed messages. He really was proving to be a conundrum.
We decided to drop him back in trip to around a mile, at which distance he ran generally moderately though with legit excuses on a couple of occasions. Finally, out of desperation more than anything, we pushed him up to a distance beyond a mile and a half for the first time on 8th June. He fair dotted up, travelling easily and quickening away off a decent early tempo. Bingo!
Next time, over a similar trip at Wolverhampton, he bumped into one: the Wolves specialist, Gold Arch (career handicap record: 4 from 9, Wolverhampton handicap record: 4 from 4). Despite getting whacked seven lengths there, he had just shy of ten between himself and the closest of the other eight rivals, and he did miles best of those racing close to the speed.
Most recently, back at Lingfield though switched to turf and over a mile and six, he burrowed up the inside rail under Oisin Murphy to prevail in a tight finish. This was exciting not just for the manner of victory in the moment, but also because it showed his ability on turf as well as synthetic surfaces and in a steadily-run race as well as in a more truly-run affair. The fine margin of his verdict had two further benefits: firstly, his rider suggested afterwards that Lingfield's slopes were not ideal, teasing of more to come; and second, he only went up two pounds in the weights.
The moral of the story is, there is nearly always a different path to take, a different thing to try. We'll be a touch disappointed if Elhafei is not able to win again before probably heading to the October sales after which he might make a promising novice hurdler for somebody.
The final component of a good syndicate is, or are, the right owners. Racehorse ownership is not for everyone: as can be readily seen from the above, it requires patience - sometimes before a horse is ready to run (Coquelicot, Windswept Girl), sometimes to get the right setup (Nearly There), and sometimes to find 'the key' (Elhafei, Somewhat Sisyphean).
There are more disappointing and frustrating days than exhilarating ones, but they all have their place and they all contextualise and enhance the owner experience.
Owners lose money. This is a harsh and brutal reality; anyone presenting a different perspective should probably be avoided. But drinkers lose money, anglers lose money, golfers lose money, and so on. Spending leisure pounds on a leisure pursuit is a tremendous pleasure for those lucky enough to have some disposable income; and, for horseracing fans, syndicate ownership is a great way to get (relatively) affordably involved.
In my time running syndicates under the geegeez.co.uk banner, I've welcomed more than 70 people into those groups. There have been a couple (like, two) who I found a little more difficult than ideal, mainly because they didn't fully grasp the nature of the game. The rest, the vast majority, have been engaged in good times and less good times, and have taken all that comes as part and parcel of the experience. [It really is an 'experience', by the way, rough and smooth; great days out, on the track and at the yard; memorable moments aplenty, mostly but not exclusively for good].
As you may have seen from my recent emails, and from the notes above, I'm going to be active at the sales in the next couple of months. I'm looking for a store horse project, a potential juvenile hurdler, and a lad or lass to run on the flat, including through the winter. If you might be interested, you can find more information - and tell me which type of setup would be your preference - here >
Regardless of whether or not you're interested in a future syndicate, I hope you've learnt a bit about how we operate and the horses we have; and I hope you'll cheer them on when you see them running!
p.s. please don't message me asking if I fancy one. They are ALWAYS doing their best (obviously), the clues are all there in the form book regarding optimal conditions, and I've specifically teased out most of those clues in the above. Use your own skill and judgement thereafter 😉