Three racehorse owners on how they will cope when racing returns... without their presence

Marcus Armytage
Horse Racing - Investec Derby Festival - Epsom Racecourse - 6/6/15 Frankie Dettori on Golden Horn celebrates as he wins the 4:30 Investec Derby Reuters  - REUTERS

Racehorse owners on the Flat have been paying training fees and, essentially, keeping trainers and their staff going for two months now without a chance of running their horses.

When racing does return on June 1 - providing the Government give the go-ahead for sports behind closed doors - owners will not be among the very small number of people allowed to attend meetings.

On top of that any prize-money they win will be approximately half what it would have been before the virus struck. But, as Marcus Armytage found out, the vast majority are just glad to have racing back – even without them.

Anthony Oppenheimer

Owner-breeder of 2015 Derby and Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe winner, Golden Horn. He expects to run between 18 and 20 horses, split between five trainers, during the year.

Anthony Oppenheimer runs one of the most successful medium sized owner-breeder operations in Europe and, the absolute key for him, is to get his fillies out to find out if they are any good and, essentially, whether they are worth breeding from.

As a share-holder in his Derby winner, Golden Horn, at stud, this is also a critical season for the stallion. “But getting racing back on is incredibly important for the staff. It makes such a big difference for them.  Star Catcher, my best filly, was not going to run until the second half of the season anyway as there are very few races for her at this time of year so it has made no difference to her.

Frankie Dettori celebrates his victory on Golden Horn in the Investec Derby in 2015 - David Davies/PA Wir

 “I’ll watch the racing on television,” he said. “I’d usually watch about two-thirds of my runners on television anyway, particularly if they are not big meetings. The great thing is you can usually see a race in more detail anyway. I haven’t been to the stud [in Newmarket] for about 10 weeks and hopefully I’ll be able to see the horses at their various stables sometime soon.

“Normally if I’m not at the races I’ll get a call from the trainer instantly the race is run – even if it’s a small race and just to say the jockey rode an appalling race! A jockey has never rung me in my life after a race, not even Frankie [Dettori] who I know well.”

 “I do think some good will come out of it. I’ve always wanted to see the Derby run a month later – I think the colts will be a bit stronger and it might be a fairer race. If I was Ascot I’d allow sponsors this year and if they are innovative they could put a crowd noise through the loud speakers to give a bit of atmosphere to those allowed to go.”      

Sam Hoskins

Manager of Hot To Trot Racing which has 14 horses spread between about 140 members and Kennet Valley Thoroughbreds which has 11 horses with 16 members per horse.

 “The big thing for syndicates like ours is the social aspect of racing whether that is trainer visits, actually going racing or lunches,” explained Hoskins.

“Hot To Trot had a course walk organised at Aintree, trip to Punchestown, a visit to a major stud and we’d have gone to Breakfast With the Stars before Epsom.

“Win, lose or draw we always have a drink afterwards and it is that social side, being with people who share a common interest - it’s what it is all about for a lot of our members. But nothing’s happening.

 “All our members have been great about it. We prided ourselves on our communications before the lockdown but the one positive to come out of this is that we have really had to up our game.

 Breakfast with the Stars  -  Steve Parsons/PA Wire

“We’ve been doing Zoom interviews with our trainers, webinars and have got more films of our horses from our trainers. In that respect Australia has been light years ahead but this has forced us to catch up.

 “Even though our members can’t go they will appreciate having racing back because there’s not a lot else to do. We have three horses for Ascot; Dance Fever in the Britannia, Curious in the King’s Stand and Magical Memory in the Wokingham. If we have a winner I don’t know whether to celebrate by running laps round the garden or naked round the village.

 “Obviously we’ll take the prize-money hit on the chin. Hopefully when it starts opening up again owners will be among the first allowed to go.”     

Graham Clark

Part-owner of Annecdote, winner at Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood in 2013. He has shares in Lethal Talent and Broadhaven with Jonny Portman.

Graham Clark spent over three decades as duty manager on arrivals at Heathrow Airport dealing with lost baggage. “I never met a happy person in 31 years,” he said. “No-one was exempt from losing their luggage – in my last week I spent 45 minutes with Diana Ross.” 

Possibly because of that he sees the pointlessness of getting annoyed and is very pragmatic about the situation. “It’s beyond the trainer’s control, they can’t do anything about it and I don’t see it being behind closed doors as a problem,” he said. “I have no issue with it.

 “I’m not too bothered about the two-year-old I’m involved with being out early. Jonny will bring him out when the time is right. It’s a sport of peaks and troughs, I’ve had lots of peaks and this is one of the troughs so we’ll grin and bear it.

“The prize-money is poor anyway and it’s going to get worse but anyone going into racing thinking they’d make a profit is deluded. Most of us do it because we enjoy it and it’s a hobby. Even if you own only a small percentage of a horse you feel a big part of it.”