It’s sure to be a favourite
It could be the ultimate Christmas present – membership of a top class horse racing syndicate. Martin Pilkington reports Cheshire Life: December 2018 Cheshire Life: December 2018
One of the biggest names in British racing has chosen the North of England as the location for its latest venture. Highclere Thoroughbred Racing, the group that boasts 2005 Derby winner Motivator and 2010 world champion racehorse Harbinger among its biggest success stories, is establishing three new racing syndicates here.
The spark for their arrival was a conversation in the paddock at Haydock Park. ‘I’ve known Harry Herbert, Highclere’s MD, and his fellow director Alex Smith, for some time,’ says Jason Fildes, at the time in charge of that racecourse, now overseeing the new development. ‘I asked why didn’t they have more business up in the North, and they said the obstacle was having nobody here to look after it. We kept chatting, and now here I am with Highclere North up and running.’
Three yearlings have already been purchased to go into training in the new year – one at Cholmondeley in Cheshire with Tom Dascombe, who among others trains for Michael Owen; the other two with Yorkshirebased trainers, Richard Fahey in Malton, and Mark Johnston, the most successful British trainer in history, at his yard in Middleham.
‘There are plenty of big races we’ll target up here at courses like York, Haydock, Doncaster and Chester, though naturally we’d also love it if any of the horses ends up contending for the biggest prizes that the South of the country has to offer too,’ says Lancashire-born Jason.
That sort of ambitious outlook runs through the group’s overall approach. ‘We have all the resources of Highclere to draw on, and that above all means top people, including the likes of John Warren, renowned as pretty much the best bloodstock agent in the country – he works for Her Majesty the Queen too,’ adds Jason. ‘He has bought the three horses for us, all priced around the £80,000-£100,000 mark, so we’re aiming for top races – there are cheaper syndicates out there, but none with our level of ambition – we’re after prizes at the top end of racing.’
The three syndicates are each named after celebrated Northern artists: Antony Gormley, David Hockney and George Stubbs and each will consist of 20 members. ‘The horses will race for the 2019 and 2020 seasons, any prize money goes to the owners, of course, then the horses will be sold with proceeds to owners and the syndicates ended – though many in the South over Highclere’s 25 years of experience have re-formed to continue,’ says Jason. All the training and administration fees are included in the initial membership, and there are systems in place to update owners on a frequent basis. The initial cost includes the purchase
price of the horse and all training costs for the first year.
You’d expect that watching your horse race would be the zenith of the experience, but Jason stresses that the social aspect is just as strong as the sporting: ‘We arrange regular stable visits to meet the trainer and watch the horse on the gallops, then enjoy a good breakfast. It’s a great way to meet up with like-minded people, and a lot of firm friendships are formed between syndicate members. And when we do go to the races we’ll enjoy lunch together – it’s a lot of fun, and it’s my job to make that so.’
Watching with friends and family from the owners’ enclosure is another attractive element for race fans, and so is the company’s box (number one) overlooking the finishing line at York, accessible by members for a privileged view of big meetings like the Dante in May and the Ebor in August. Another annual event combines the social and the sporting sides. The name Highclere will be familiar to many who know little or nothing of the turf, given Highclere Castle’s televisual existence as Downton Abbey. The castle is the ancestral home of the company’s managing director, Harry Herbert, and syndicate members will be able to visit the estate to watch its stud’s yearling parade every October, to assess the horseflesh and have a great day out. ‘It’s a very smart event, a real occasion in amazing surroundings, and a brilliant place to catch up with fellow syndicate members,’ says Jason.
‘We’ve got off to a great start, the syndicates are selling nicely – I had a call the other day from a gentleman buying a membership for his mother for Christmas! The horses have been bought, and everything’s in place with the trainers. If demand continues at this rate we may decide to add additional syndicates, and we’re already thinking of purchasing another horse for the 2019-20 National Hunt season.’
It’s typical of Highclere North’s approach that the trainer Jason has in mind is Scotland’s Lucinda Russell, whose One for Arthur won the 2017 Grand National.
It will be fascinating to watch how things progress – especially for those lucky enough to be a part of it.