City slicker Ed’s still wheeling and dealing
Ed de Giles tells Nick Townsend how he turned a City nest egg into a training career
While there are many different routes into the precarious world of racehorse training, few have followed the model adopted by Ed de Giles.
This was a character who became an equities trader in the City with the principal aim of acquiring the significant funds necessary to launch his second career.
His rationale is simple. “Why did I go into the City first?” he says. “Because I didn’t want to start renting a yard as a trainer at the age of 27, 28, or whatever, trying to make ends meet. Now we’re in a fortunate position that we have managed to purchase our yard, and developed great facilities. We own it all. It’s a more comfortable position to be in.”
De Giles, 49, and his wife Claire have been based at Lilly Hall Farm stables, near Ledbury, Herefordshire, since 2010. With an equine occupancy of little more than 30, he has already despatched 121 winners from a yard, set in 75 acres, which boasts facilities including an equine swimming pool. He has sent out three winners in the last 11 days.
Yet, the question cannot be avoided: what possesses a man to forego a lucrative City career to initiate his own training regime in a domain of some 600 rivals?
Or to put it another way: why not merely participate as a well-heeled owner and allow others to throw their wealth into what many believe can easily become a money-pit?
Well, he tried ownership and, among his successes, was the former Hamdan Al Maktoumowned, Freddy Head-trained Markab, which he acquired for 33,000gns. The son of Green Desert, trained by Henry Candy, proceeded to win the 2010
Group 1 Betfred Haydock sprint as a seven-year-old and just over £400,000 in total. But it was not enough for de Giles; never would be, if truth be told.
“I actually found it frustrating not doing the job myself,” he says. “I’m a country boy at heart, born and bred.” He adds: “This is in my blood.”
Originally from Kent, and brought up on his father’s farm, after university and agricultural college de Giles went to work for two years with Nick Gaselee, first as pupil assistant, then assistant trainer, in a period when the stable’s Party Politics won the 1992 Grand National.
He was then offered a position at Francois Doumen’s stables at Chantilly, succeeding Ian Williams. The charismatic Doumen, who retired last year because of ill-health, will be long remembered for the exploits of top jumpers such as Baracouda, First Gold and, memorably, The Fellow, who became the first Frenchtrained winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1994.
It was an exciting opportunity – but one de Giles declined. “I rather annoyed him (Doumen), after he’d offered me the job, that, no, I was going to do something different. I decided to go to the City.”
He adds: “I thought rather naively and rather arrogantly I’d go to the City for five years, earn my fortune and then come and start training. It wasn’t until 15 years later that I thought I’d better get on and do it!”
He spent the majority of those years at Kleinwort Benson. “I was a senior trader, in equities, making decent money, and then a team of us left to go to Kaupthing Singer and Friedlander to set up the capital market division there,” he says. “That was extremely profitable and successful, but the bank as a whole went under in the Crash. I also had a brief spell with Cenkos.”
De Giles had already identified the location for his new training venture, and had started improvements while still working in London.
“When we came here, it was a bit run down, and things that needed changing,” he says. “We’ve been solid, 30-40 horses every year after the first three years. Yes, it’s an incredibly hard business to make money in. But we’ve done incredibly well with what we’ve got. Obviously, we’ll always be wanting to grow.”
He adds: “There are definitely arguments for being in a major training centre, but I’d much rather be out on a limb, doing it on our own, away from everyone in a great environment. The costs of running an operation like this, with all the overheads, are massive. I think you do need a certain number to do OK and my aspirations are to get numbers up to 50-60 but probably no more.”
He is quoted elsewhere as saying that his wife Claire isn’t keen on horses. Could that posmost sibly be true?
“Well, she doesn’t ride,” he says. “But she’s got no choice. She has to be keen on them.” He swiftly adds: “She’s great, does all the office work and all the admin.”
In many respects, de Giles’s previous life still influences his thinking. “It’s all about turning horses,” he says. “Don’t fall in love with them – but turn them when you think the time is right. It’s no different from trading. I like buying low and selling high which you do all day long in the City.” His Kashmiri Sunset, for example, was sold for more than ten times the purchase price
He adds: “Working in the City you had to be right on the ball. If you weren’t all over it and didn’t keep your clients in touch, you’d fail very quickly. That’s probably one of the key strengths we’ve brought to this job. And I was an owner for quite a long time, and I know what it was like getting a bill every month. An owner can very quickly get bored if he feels he’s just churning out money and it’s just pointless – as I’ve experienced myself.”
Primarily a Flat trainer, de Giles has saddled winners over jumps. Indeed, Ajzal was his first winner, in April 2011, landing a handicap chase at Huntingdon by 17 lengths, partnered by his nephew Felix de Giles, who now rides in France.
The stable’s Prince Of Dreams, a son of Sadler’s Wells, won the 2013 Scottish Champion Chase, again under Felix de Giles. “An owner of mine wanted a horse to go jumping with – and what a lot of fun the horse gave us.”
While, like all small to medium trainers, he craves a potential superstar to come his way, de Giles prides himself on enhancing the ability of horses that arrive at the yard.
“Of course, you want a Royal Ascot winner, you want pattern race winners. It’s about attracting the owners to get the right horse. But horses like Lucy The Painter, Frosty Berry and Kingsgate Choice have all come here and improved.
“If the ability’s there, we’ll eke it out of them. With facilities we have, if anyone is capable of getting the optimum ability out of a horse, we can.”
Of his three recent winners, one was Liberisque at Chelmsford. “It was particularly satisfying to see her win,” says de Giles. She’s quite nicely bred, and a horse that will gallop off a cliff for you. If every horse had that attitude the job would be very easy.”
De Giles knows full well by now that it’s anything but. “I tell you what,” he says. “I worked hard in the City, but I never worked so bloody hard doing this job.”
“What possesses a man to forego a lucrative City career to initiate his own training regime in a domain of some 600 rivals?”
Learning curve: Party Politics wins 1992 Grand National
Turning a profit: Kashmiri Sunset was sold for ten times its purchase price Inset: Ed de Giles