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Syndicates ready to thrive again as full crowds return

Several of racing’s biggest syndicates have spoken of their relief as members are able to enjoy the full thrill of racehorse ownership again following the easing of remaining coronavirus restrictions.

While the pandemic did not have the catastrophic effect on memberships many feared back in March 2020, it was still a testing time for organisations trying to market an activity for which the major selling point – going racing – was unavailable.

However, with the numbers allowed on track gradually going up before Monday’s ‘Freedom Day’, the syndicates find themselves in a far healthier position than they could have imagined last spring.

Tim Palin, of Middleham Park Racing, said: “Initially there was a big panic on, and we feared for our business because we thought the first thing to go for most people would be luxury items like a share in a racehorse.

“But in actual fact, while we initially lost four per cent of our revenue, we found that when racing was scheduled to resume on June 1 (last year) and the Government were being kind in propping up the economy and people were saving money, we found they had more money to spend.

“We’re quite lucky that most of our owners are established, elderly gentlemen, middle-class and not so affected by being made redundant like a lot of casual workers were. Unfortunately, it’s the young guns who suffered more.

“We were also careful to diversify – we used more trainers to give us the broadest appeal out there, and that has stood us in good stead.

“Our owners have been fantastically loyal, and we’ve actually seen growth in the horses that we have. I was a teacher for 30 years and probably spent £200 a month getting to work – all the home working has been a saving for people.

“It has been a bit frustrating badge-wise, limiting it to fours and sixes. Nine days out of 10 we’ve had to disappoint people who wanted to go racing. We’re delighted that racing carried on and have serviced most of our requests, but we have had to disappoint some people. Fortunately we hopefully should be getting what we want most of the time now.”

Sam Hoskins, who manages various syndicates including Kennet Valley Thoroughbreds and Hot To Trot Racing, paints a similar picture.

Sam Hoskins, racing manager of Kennet Valley Thoroughbreds
Sam Hoskins, racing manager of Kennet Valley Thoroughbreds (Simon Cooper/PA)

“Since May we’ve been able to get up to 10 owners on track, and some tracks have been extra helpful,” said Hoskins.

“I think some people are still being cautious, which isn’t surprising – and to be honest we aren’t getting the demand which was there pre-covid. We did have a lot of people wanting to come to Ascot on Summer Mile day, and Ascot was very helpful then.

“It’s great to be getting people back on track and it has got a lot better in recent weeks. I didn’t quite get the headache I thought we might have had as the numbers gradually increased and also people haven’t been going racing as much – but I’m hoping they will.

“We were really worried when lockdown was announced about how it would affect us, but our owners have been really patient. It’s been a long old time.”

Simon Turner of Hambleton Racing, who own Group One star Glen Shiel among others, said: “At various points it’s been very difficult, but we’ve been blessed in that our owners have been terrific, so it hasn’t been as painful as it could have been.

“But there’s no getting away from it – our members want to get on a racecourse and get back enjoying their racing, so it’s brilliant they can get back on track, enjoying what they’re paying for.

“Owners drive the sport, so it’s great that their experience can get back to normal, if they want it to.

“We haven’t seen a drop off in numbers. We’ve made sure we’ve looked after our current owners and we’ve seen lots of interest from potential new owners.

“What has happened in the last 12-18 months may have focused people’s minds. Ownership might have been something they thought of one day, but they’ve decided to kick on and look into it. There’s not been much else they could spend their money on!

“We have stable visits at David O’Meara’s and Archie Watson’s this week, and things like that are why you get involved. So it’s great to be able to offer those, along with paddock access once more.”