A lifelong interest in horseracing led Ged Shields – the man who devised the Ronseal slogan ‘It does exactly what it says on the tin’ – to take the plunge into racehorse ownership in 2015. He can’t believe that he now has a share in the Willie Mullins-trained Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Kemboy as part of Supreme Horse Racing.
The seven-year-old heads to the prestigious event having progressed to land the Grade 1 Savills Chase at Leopardstown in December and is fourth favourite for the contest behind Presenting Percy, Clan Des Obeaux and Native River.
Shields became involved in the Kemboy syndicate after the horse had finished fifth in the 2017 Grade 1 Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle won by the late Willoughby Court. A share was available in the then hurdler and Shields, who had ambitions to have a runner at the Festival, stepped in.
He said: “I never dreamed that Kemboy would improve as much as he has done, and the hope was that if he ran well once at Cheltenham then he’d run well again there.
“He ran in the JLT Novices’ Chase last year [won by Shattered Love] where he came fourth and that was wonderful because finishing there meant I was able to go into the winner’s enclosure. Now, of course, he’s carried on improving and heading for the Gold Cup.
“Sport is about anticipation and looking forward to these big events and you can’t put a price on that. Cheltenham is what I’ve been thinking about mostly for weeks now!”
It gives you that chance and opportunity to experience the sport at an affordable level
With 11 shares in Flat horses and four shares in jumps horses, including Kemboy, Shields is an advocate of syndicate ownership, highlighting that if he added up all his shares together, he would own 115% of a horse.
Syndicates offer an affordable way for fans of racing to experience the sport of kings without having to invest large amounts of money.
Shields continued: “It’s hard to believe that a small group of people, by no means the richest section of owners, can end up with a horse as good as Kemboy. It’s remarkable and I feel incredibly fortunate.
“Some owners might have 200 horses and not have one as good as Kemboy. Quite often what happens, both on the Flat and over jumps, is if a smaller syndicate has a good horse, invariably it gets sold before the main event.
“Supreme are great because they stick to their principles on that and resist any temptation to sell.”
A sensible way forward
The 58-year-old believes that syndicates represent a sensible way forward for the sport to attract new owners. However, he highlights that racecourses need to be more geared towards accommodating this section of ownership. The availability of only a limited number of badges on a raceday is a common problem for syndicates.
“Different racecourses have different rules as to how many free badges they give out,” he said. “Most people when they go racing, they typically go with their wife or partner.
“With Kemboy there are 14 people in the syndicate and if they go with their wife of partner, that makes it 28 people who are coming to see him race. I know it is a lot of people, but racing needs a general policy on this.
“If you don’t want to give badges to that many people then don’t allow syndicates with that many people in – it’s as simple as that. Then you have to face the consequences of not being able to attract as many people into the sport.”
Shields would also like to see racehorse ownership and syndicates promoted on racing’s biggest stage, the Cheltenham Festival. He believes the four-day spectacular, where crowds of 60,000 and 70,000 will be present throughout the meeting, represents a golden opportunity.
He added: “Cheltenham do a fantastic job of promoting the Festival but how much effort will be made to promote racehorse ownership?
“It’s a golden opportunity to push the sport beyond the fact that you can have a great day out, a few drinks, a flutter and that kind of thing. Believe me, a lot of people would be interested if they did so.
It’s one of those things that will live for me for the rest of my days
“British racing should be more transparent about what it costs, as some might not know the costs of training a racehorse and push the benefits of ownership. For a long time, I used to wonder when backing a horse, what extra do you get if you own it and win?
“It’s hard to describe that feeling but you are just so much more actively involved in the sport when you have a share and get a hugely enhanced experience.
“Some people might think that owning a racehorse costs a significant amount of money and might be surprised that it doesn’t cost more.
“From a training point of view, it costs me around £1,500 a year for Kemboy, which gets me one of the best National Hunt trainers in the sport and a Gold Cup runner at the biggest National Hunt festival of the year. It gives you that chance and opportunity to experience the sport at an affordable level.”
I woke up in the middle of the night and I thought I was hearing the commentary
The prospect of having a first runner in the Cheltenham Gold Cup has of course captured Shields’ imagination and he relays that he is not trying to get ahead of himself by dreaming what will happen in the blue riband.
He added: “Recently I woke up in the middle of the night and I thought I was hearing the commentary as they had two or three fences to go. It does things to your mind and certainly if he is in contention two or three fences from home, wherever you are you’ll probably be able to hear me!
“You have to go for it, it will be a special moment. It’s one of those things that will live for me for the rest of my days.”