As you may have read here, I was at the sales recently looking to buy a horse with flat form to go hurdling this winter. I was actually looking for a three-year-old but, with my choices either making fortunes or having one or two potential issues, the horse I've secured is a year older and, I now feel, represents excellent upside potential.
The only real implication of that is he won't be targeted at the Fred Winter or Triumph Hurdles, assuming we were good enough for that job. Instead, we have a horse with the size and scope to jump a hurdle - and maybe a fence in time - and who might just make up into a smart winter recruit without the eye-watering price tag normally associated with such prospects.
Almost Sold Out
Three shares remaining!
He's called Makthecat, and was formerly trained by Karl Burke. He won a mile novice stakes at Southwell in January, and has been fairly busy since the resumption of racing. In the past three months, he's run six races, placing third twice. My feeling, and more importantly that of Olly Murphy, who will train the horse in his new career, is that he's probably got more to show over a longer trip, and perhaps (though not definitely) doesn't want to be ridden so assertively from the front either.
He has flat form off a rating of around 70 but, most interesting - and relevant - of all, he ran in one *excellent* bumper. On that first day in school, at Huntingdon in November last year, he finished a close second, splitting a pair of subsequent Listed bumper performers - with six lengths and more back to the other dozen runners in the race.
The winner and third - whose subsequent form you can see below - both won Listed races within two starts of the Huntingdon race; and both ran in the Champion Bumper, a notoriously difficult contest for four-year-olds, with Ocean Wind managing an impressive sixth of 23 starters. As you can also see from the image below, they were rated 130 and 118 respectively ahead of that Champion Bumper contest.
"Junior" bumpers are run over a trip shy of two miles - this one was a mile and three-quarters - so stamina has ultimately to be taken on trust. But he wasn't stopping there, and his stride/cadence metrics fit the profile of a horse that would normally stay two to two-and-a-quarter miles. I cannot categorically say he will stay but I obviously feel he will, or I wouldn't have signed for him!
His run at Huntingdon gives plenty of hope that we're right about trip and riding style, but obviously we now get to roll the dice and find out!
Makthecat was picked up last week from Newmarket and has gone directly into a field where he'll have a short break to freshen up and acclimatise to his new surroundings.
After that, in a couple of weeks' time, he'll head to Charlie Poste's farm where he'll be schooled over barrels and poles and, in early to mid-October, he'll join the routine at Warren Chase, Olly's training base.
With a following wind, he'll be ready to run in a novice hurdle in middle or, more likely, late November. So we'll be on the track sooner rather than later, assuming no hiccups between then and now.
He looks a really nice horse with which to try to win a novice hurdle and, after that, we'll see how far he can go in his new sphere. It might be he can get competitive in conditions races; more likely we'll be running in handicaps, hopefully good and valuable ones.
The dream is always to have a horse good enough to compete at the spring festivals. Olly realised that dream for us at the first attempt with a horse called Oxford Blu, who won on debut by 20 lengths (!) and went on to run in the Fred Winter. Sadly he was badly hampered in that race but it was a day as owners we'll never forget.
Most horses are not good enough to compete at that level, and the balance of probabilities is that Mak will find his place at a lesser table (you need to be 140+ to get into most Cheltenham Festival handicap hurdles these days).
Regardless, he looks sure to give us plenty of fun through the winter, spring and beyond.
I'm syndicating Makthecat into eleven shares. I've taken one myself, as always, and have sold three more. So there are seven shares available.
The cost to join the syndicate is £4,000, which covers 1/11th of the purchase costs, plus all training and racing expenses in year one, up to 31st August 2021.
As a syndicate member, you will be entitled to an equal share of prize money and any sales proceeds down the line, in line with your shareholding (i.e. 1/11th). There are no charges built in for running the syndicate month to month, but I do propose to take 7.5% of the sale price, assuming the horse is sold, for my trouble. That is for another day, of course, but I want to be completely transparent about it from the outset.
Also, as a syndicate member, you'll be able to take part in yard visits to Olly's stables near Stratford-upon-Avon and will be entitled to at least one owner's badge each time our lad runs. Where there is availability, you may request a second badge but these cannot always be accommodated.
And, naturally, you'll receive updates on our horse's well-being, current work load, and the plan as it unfolds.
In essence, you'll be able to get up close to the sport you love as a racehorse owner.
I expect this syndicate will sell out quite quickly: it's a 'point and shoot' type arrangement with a fit horse from the flat who just needs a little time to re-train for his new job. He'll be ready to race in little more than two months assuming all goes well (it sometimes doesn't, so keep that in mind!), and that's more appealing to many who don't enjoy the longer road associated with, say, a store horse.
Anyway, that's a verbose way of saying that, if you're interested in potentially joining this syndicate, do please read the agreement linked to above and make sure you're comfortable with it, and then drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
There was a big horses in training sale at Newmarket this week. Late August seems a perfect time to acquire a three-year-old off the flat with a view to going hurdling and so I set to work on a mission to find such a horse.
Sadly, though obviously not surprisingly, I was not the only one at that public auction with that intention: the place was crawling with the great and good of the bloodstock agent and training ranks all seeking the pick of the sophomores to embark on a change of subject.
The reality of racehorse syndication is that there will always be people with deeper pockets; actually that's just a reality of life which is also reflected in the microcosm of the sales ring. But, as in life, so it is the case that some smaller owners are consistently 'lucky'. They make their limited budgets stretch far beyond wealthier purchasers for all that the very top prizes are still almost always out of reach.
In recent times we've been 'lucky'. Luck, as Gary Player famously once articulated, is primarily a function of effort and persistence. So I try hard to find a route in which, if not exclusive to me (there's very little new under the sun, especially where such sums of money are concerned), is generally under-utilised. And then, importantly, I rely heavily on my data-driven research being underpinned by expert conformation eyes. When the data agrees with the eyes of experts, we want to play. Naturally, so do many others.
But sometimes horses slip through the net.
We bought Coquelicot, who was at the time already a half-sister to an Ebor winner and Melbourne Cup second and by a rising star of the stallion ranks (Soldier Of Fortune), for €26,000. She was a three-time bumper winner, most recently in Listed grade, in her first season.
We bought Windswept Girl, a 13-length winner of her only start to date, for £20,000. Both are exciting mares' novice hurdle prospects for this term and, because of their pedigrees, have long-range broodmare possibilities, too. We recently bought a Kayf Tara full sister to a Grade 2 winner (and twice G1 fourth) for £22,000. She is showing early promise and has a similar blueprint at a similar price point to her pair of proven predecessors in the geegeez livery.
Previously I've bought two three-year-olds to go hurdling. Both were sourced for me, though they had a similar style: not small, recent winners on the flat, likely or certain to stay, proven on softer turf. In the world of juvenile hurdlers, where so many are either too small or can't see out the trip, that's enough to win races; at what level is the remaining question.
Of that pair, Oxford Blu won a Fakenham juvenile hurdle on his debut for us by 20 lengths before running in the Fred Winter at the Cheltenham Festival. Swaffham Bulbeck was very consistent but didn't quite see out two miles and/or wanted softer ground than he typically got. He won twice, though, on Gold Cup day this year and last, both at Fakenham and both decent prize money. Importantly, they both gave us a lot of fun. That is pivotal when seeking a syndicate horse.
And so to Project Three-Year-Old Hurdler...
As ever, I was looking for an edge, and one thing which I think is not (yet) subsumed into this market is stride length and cadence. This is a new dataset that has emerged from the Total Performance Data sectional output. We store this data in our database but do not yet publish it. Attheraces already do publish it.
I'll not talk much about stride length and cadence because that master of matters sectional and striding, Simon Rowlands, has written some excellent introductory pieces, which are linked to from here.
The crux is that a longer stride covers more ground (duh!) and implies a bigger horse; a lower cadence (speed of stride) implies an ability to switch off - not over-race - and suggests stamina: it is very difficult to stride often and for a sustained period. Try sprinting 600 metres!
My theory, then, mindful of not having endless resources, was to find a biggish horse capable of relaxing in its races and therefore having the best chance of getting home when upped to two miles.
The Research, Part 1: What's Flat Got To Do With It?
One thing which seems fairly unclear at this stage is whether there is a correlation in National Hunt racing between stride data and performance. There may or may not be: hurdlers stride shorter and turn over their stride less frequently, due to the longer trip, the often softer ground, and the need to conserve energy to leap an octet and more of obstacles. Moreover, a greater proportion of jumps races are not run at an end-to-end gallop.
So what's the point in measuring strides?
Crucially, I was interested in the relationship between a horse's stride data on the flat and its subsequent hurdling ability. In other words, does a certain stride/cadence configuration imply a greater chance of success in the winter sphere?
Step one was fag packet research. Or, more correctly, back of an envelope research. I first looked at Class 1 and 2 UK juvenile hurdle winners.
C1/2 UK Hurdle Winner Flat Stride Lengths
I found that, for those which had raced on the flat at 10f+ (and for which stride data was available), they had generally achieved a 24ft+ peak stride length and somewhere between 2.2 and 2.3 strides per second during the flat race in question.
I then grabbed another envelope, a slightly bigger one, to review UK Class 4 and 5 juvenile hurdle winners' stride data from their previous flat careers. This is what that recycled paper looked like after I'd data vomited across it:
UK Class 4/5 juvenile hurdlers: flat race stride data
Here, I found that their cadence remained quite consistent at 2.2-2.3 strides per second; but their peak stride length was shorter. That might simply be as a result of these being smaller horses: regardless, it does seem at least a touch material.
The Research, Part 2: Projecting Forward
Mindful that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, I set to work in applying this half-cooked quackery to the upcoming - now just passed - sale. Armed with the timeform sales guide, a snip at £50 (well, if you're about to spend £30k on a horse...), the ATR striding data, and a spreadsheet, I listed every three-year-old that had achieved a TF rating of 75+, plus a couple of vaguely interesting extras.
[I eliminated some trainers from whom I would never buy because, for whatever reasons, they leave very little with which to work]
And then I added in some breeding intel, some ratings intel, and some stride intel.
Then, just for fun, I created a composite figure for each horse's official and Timeform ratings (added the two together and divided by 20).
And I created a second composite from stride length and cadence (stride length plus [[10 - cadence] x 2]) divided by five. Examples will help.
Camouflaged had an OR of 76 and a TF rating of 83. His ORTF composite, then, is (76+ 83) / 20 = 159/20 = 7.95
He had a stride length of 24.93 and a cadence of 2.21. His StrCad, then, is
Camouflaged's total was the sum of those two numbers, 16.05
These formulae are obviously sub-optimal. They're a stab in the dark on the basis of a tenuous going in position and, as such, they may be worthless. But this is what the embryo of progress looks like: data fertilised by an idea, loads of chucked away doodles and partially credible beginnings eventually whittled down to something which may form a basis for more robust and rigorous analysis.
To this crackpot code I added some delicious conditional formatting and it all looked a bit like this:
Then I Watched Some Races
The numbers, good or bad, will only take us so far. We must subsequently trust our peepers and our people. Eyes first.
I watched a lot of races involving the horses on my shortlist. I was looking for nods towards stamina, or horses being asked to do the wrong job, or racing with the wrong run style.
The challenge with those at the front is always whether they got outpaced or were simply not good enough. Honestly, I can't usually tell the difference. With those finishing off their races from further back, it's easy. Or at least easier.
To my spreadsheet I added some comments, which have not been sanitised below, so apologies for any offence caused:
The Sale Context
And then the sale began. I was buying this horse to be trained by Olly Murphy, and I relied heavily on his eye for conformation in conjunction with those on my list I considered more likely. That meant the most obvious horses - which would go for considerably north of my top budget - were not inspected.
The ones listed in green on my sheet were those I felt we had a chance of getting. As it turned out, they either went for plenty more or had underlying issues which meant they might be hard to train. Some will take a punt on such horses, and a subset of those punters will get lucky: consider Hilltop Racing's £2,500 purchase of Sceptical. He was a horse who hadn't stood training but managed to win a bunch of races and place in Group 1's in what turned out to be a short but illustrious career. He has since sadly perished, fatally injured while galloping.
Hilltop's modus operandi is thus - horses with great pedigrees, latent ability, but physical weaknesses - and it must be terribly attritional. That is their business, of course.
Looking for a biggish horse with a clean bill of health on a middling budget is tough. Here is my spreadie with the hammer prices and purchasers appended. I've removed some comments about physical issues observed.
What Did I Buy?
There was little of interest to me on the first two days, though I felt Far Rockaway and Chankaya might have been good. I wish their new connections luck but had reservations which precluded a bid.
The horse I liked on Tuesday made bundles - £82,000 - and might be decent. He kind of wants to be for that sum.
There was most to go at on Wednesday but, when my marker horse - Camouflaged - was knocked down for £90,000, I was resigned to the game being up.
The one that might have got away is Just The Ticket. It's possible, maybe even probable, I overrated his form a touch; and, if I didn't, his hammer price implies a potential physical issue. The agent who bought him buys for owners in the Arab states so I guess at least I'll not be frustrated to see him win the Triumph Hurdle..!
The horse we eventually bought was...
Makthecat was not what I went looking for at all; indeed he was already bought by Olly by the time I looked at his form. Almost all of his track form - a mile and a half clunk on the Southwell fibresand aside - has been at ten furlongs or less and ridden prominently or on the lead.
But... hark back to his career debut and his only run on turf beyond a mile and a quarter... where he finished second in a junior bumper... where he had a Listed bumper winner in front of him... and another one directly behind him! Six lengths back to the fourth.
Makthecat handles soft ground, looks likely to stay, and has a good size about him. He was bought for 22,000 guineas, and I am syndicating him right now. Current syndicate members get first dibs as always.
Oh, and he has a stride length and cadence 'in the zone': quite what that is worth, time will tell. I've added all the spreadsheet horses to a QT Angle so I can see how they go.
What About You?
This exercise took time, and it may ultimately have no nutritional value. But the process is important. Asking questions is important. Seeking candidate solutions is important. Trusting yourself to look for hints, clues, answers is important.
Some of you will not be curious, most will not trust themselves, or simply will not have time or inclination for such a project. Fair enough. But if you are curious, do trust yourself, and have both the time and the inclination to look inside the box, there are mysteries to unravel and there is value to be had, be it at the sales, in your punting, or in another walk of life entirely.
And, crucially, the process itself was great fun for me regardless of how things pan out. Life, as far as I can tell, is a series of journeys where the destination is often irrelevant.
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].
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 😉
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