The Steeple Chasers, as their name suggests, are a jumps-focused band of owners currently living the dream with Forward Plan, dramatic winner of the Grade 3 Coral Trophy Handicap Chase at Kempton in February.

Few who watched that race would have given the progressive eight-year-old much of a chance approaching the final fence, yet a turbo-charged finish saw him overhaul Al Dancer near the line to scoop the first prize of £85,425.

Plotting the next move for Forward Plan is Andy Stone, an engineer by trade, who formed the syndicate with Bill Brindle in 2015, initially based with former Lambourn trainer Charlie Mann.

Stone, 62, originally from Hull and now living in the village of Cottingham, three miles south of Beverley racecourse, explains: “Racing has always been a passion – I remember being six or seven and sat on the settee watching racing on Boxing Day with my grandparents, everyone shouting at the telly. Later my father took me to Sandown to see Desert Orchid, and I was hooked.

“When I eventually started doing alright in business, I took a share with Highclere as a first step in ownership.

“For my 50th birthday, my mum bought me a morning on the gallops with Charlie Mann – it was a Red Letter Days gift – and, of course, Charlie managed to sell me half a horse while Bill also came in for a leg. We became good friends and had some really good years together, including with Morney Wing, winner of the London National and Sussex National.”

Ownership, particularly in the jumping game, is always something of a rollercoaster ride and not all afternoons on the racecourse can end in triumph.

“We’ve had some desperate days in the sport,” Stone reflects. “Fixed Rate was a lovely young chaser rated in the 130s. He was about ten lengths clear at Fakenham when he ploughed through the last and broke his shoulder. He was seven and the world was his oyster.

“Morney Wing was retired about the same time, so we had no horses and it looked like that was that. Forward Plan really was the last roll of the dice for The Steeple Chasers. We scraped the money together to buy him and it’s remarkable how much he’s won for us.”

Forward Plan is trained by Anthony Honeyball, recommended by Mann to take over the syndicate’s horses upon his retirement. He was bought at the Tatttersalls Cheltenham May Sale in 2021 for the sum of £40,000 – not a huge amount for a young horse with winning point-to-point form.

“We were amazed we were able to get him for that money”

While achieving one win over hurdles, the Valirann gelding has improved no end over fences and has taken his form to new heights this season. After winning a valuable three-mile handicap chase at Doncaster in December, he returned to Town Moor to finish an agonising second over course and distance in the Great Yorkshire Chase – beaten a nose – before his big Kempton triumph.

Stone explains: “We bought him three years ago – his point-to-point win was so impressive. He won going away and we were amazed we were able to get him for that money.

“After going to all the sales, we made a shortlist of ten and they all went for £70,000 – £80,000. At Newmarket he was the cheapest one out of 50 horses! I’ve followed every horse from that sale and only two have a higher mark.

“When we got him over here, he was really light and very skittish and temperamental. It’s taken a while for him to settle in but every summer he’s got better. He’s improving at a rate of knots – we don’t know where he’ll end up.

Stone continues: “We thought the ground at Kempton would negate his kick. He’s got one turbo boost and you can only use it once. He was always travelling so well but tends to get a little behind, and he missed a couple of fences. Then, all of a sudden, he picked up and got an incredible jump at the last fence. We thought he would be placed, but we didn’t expect that.

“The feeling when you know you’re going to win? It’s just breath-taking. The Kempton victory was my best moment in the sport without a doubt.”

Forward Plan is being aimed at the 3m1f chase before the National at Aintree this month but next year the 12 members of The Steeple Chasers, along with assorted wives, partners, children and friends, will target the main event, all being well.

“I’ve spoken to Anthony, and we think he is a National horse,” Stone says. “The race has changed – it’s more of a speed test and generally staged on decent ground.

“The fences aren’t so big, and you need a Tiger Roll-type of horse rather than a big, old-fashioned chaser. I don’t think Forward Plan would have a problem with the trip provided the going was decent, but with all these Irish-trained horses it could be difficult to get in!”

Mention of the Irish challenge reflects the column inches dedicated to the quantity and quality of runners from the Emerald Isle, following Willie Mullins’ domination of the Cheltenham Festival where he enjoyed nine winners. Mullins and Gordon Elliott have 23 of the top 40 entries between them for this year’s National.

The BHA did look at introducing a four-horse limit on the numbers permitted from individual stables in major handicaps, which would include the National, before abandoning the idea.

Stone says: “Personally, I think one owner should only have one runner in the National. It’s such a prestigious race. It’s stopping the average UK trainer from getting anywhere near it.

“You’d need to be 145-plus to stand a chance of getting in. Forward Plan has to go up another 10lb – but he’s gone up 30lb in two seasons. He has the right profile – he travels so well in his races, and he has this kick at the end.

“Ben [Godfrey] knows the horse inside out and we wouldn’t jock him off even though he’ll lose his claim soon.”

 I set it up to get more young people involved in racing

Alongside his involvement with The Steeple Chasers, Stone also runs the National Hunt Racing Club ( with a string of seven leased horses, including five for TS Equine.

He says: “It’s been going for four years, and currently we have around 150 members. I set it up to get more young people involved in racing. We do stable visits, gallops mornings and nights out – it’s a different model and clientele to The Steeple Chasers, but when you have a winner, the pleasure is the same.”

Stone takes inspiration from another of his sporting passions, golf, in his efforts to bring a more youthful demographic into racing.

He says: “I’m a golfer and 20 years ago, golf was such a stuffy sport, played by old men in checks. It has really come on, and every golf club now is full of young people, dressed smartly and enjoying themselves.

“Racing needs to drag itself forward and we need to attract more youngsters, not drinking but actually attending for the horses and the sport.

“We’re trying to do that with the National Hunt Racing Club, although we’ve ended up with lots of older people. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I set the model up to appeal to youngsters and it hasn’t happened.”

As for the best aspects of horseracing, Stone says: “You meet so many lovely people in this sport. Most people involved in racing see life the same way – they’re risk takers and optimists, which I like. If you’re a pessimist, you can’t be a racehorse owner.

“I got married last year and four of The Steeple Chasers came to the wedding in Greece.”

Running a syndicate and a racing club means that Stone is always looking for plenty of badges when their runners are in action, with some tracks better than others at accommodating his requests. He says: “Certain courses will bend over backwards to get loads in, some will offer six badges and that’s all. From course to course it’s all varied and that needs to change. What’s the harm in letting 50 people in who will all buy a sandwich and a drink?

“The ARC courses are brilliant – the syndicate lounges are great. If I’m looking to bring 20 or 30 people, it’s not a problem. It’s a real breath of fresh air.

“We don’t necessarily need a meal – we just want to be together and enjoy watching the horses. Kempton were brilliant; they set up an overflow room for us upstairs, with two massive tables, we had 20 paddock badges, and they provided food for us all.”

On potential innovations within the sport, Stone would recommend a Cheltenham Festival race purely for shared ownership groups. “I’d love to see a race for syndicates at Cheltenham, because all the usual faces win everything,” he says.

“A series of races where syndicate runners can qualify for a final at Cheltenham – far better than another mares’ contest or a cross-country race [which was abandoned this year].”

Next year The Steeple Chasers will celebrate their tenth anniversary and will likely head to the sales in the summer to invest in another horse.

A runner in the National would be a fabulous way to celebrate their decade-long journey together but before that there is this month’s race for Forward Plan and the opportunity to add to their prize-money total, which currently stands at just shy of £180,000.

“We’re elated with the horse because we can see how much he is progressing,” Stone says. “I’m looking forward to Aintree and will be there for all three days.

“I always say to everybody, you earn your good days in racing – and when you get them, you have to enjoy them.”