Ralph Beckett was not the only trainer at Royal Ascot 2023 to saddle a one-two, but that both horses concerned carried the same silks gave this year’s Hunt Cup double act a remarkable aspect.
Chelsea Thoroughbreds were the proud owners of the duo, Jimi Hendrix and Sonny Liston, the former defeating his stablemate by two lengths in one of the most competitive handicaps of the year.
As its name implies – along with those of its string like New Kings Road, Cadogan Gardens and South Kensington – Chelsea Thoroughbreds is towards the more exclusive end of the shared ownership experience, although the share price covers everything in year one, with a smaller additional sum for the second and consecutive years after, for training fees and racing costs. In other words, you don’t need to own an SW3 mansion to get involved.
“Partnership is the best way of describing it,” says Managing Director Emma Spencer. “Syndicates could mean 5,000 members but we’re not that, we are small partnerships of like-minded people that come together.
“Winning on your own can be quite lonely sometimes, standing there cheering a horse on, all on your own. We’ve up to ten people in a horse, and they’re never on their own, even if they’re in different horses
“One of the owners in Jimi was saying that he went to Bath for his own runner on the Saturday before Royal Ascot and he was there on his own.
“We don’t have 20 or 30 people in a horse and we’ve never advertised. It’s totally transparent, including the sharing of vet reports if a horse has had an injury. I think it’s the only way to be.
“There’s a management fee but once they’ve paid, nothing further goes on the bill, even if there are additional costs for us. Also, horses are bought and then shares sold, rather than pre-sold. Owners receive their share of prize-money and proceeds if the horse is sold.”
She continues: “We do a lot of videos from trainers, when a jockey gets off a horse a recorded interview goes straight to the owners, and we try to make communication very good. If someone wants to go and see a horse, they can go and see a horse. It is easy to arrange. I’d like to think we look after our owners.
‘’We also have The Sydney Arms pub in Chelsea as our clubhouse, where we have a Cheltenham preview, a Royal Ascot preview, and might meet there for a drink as it’s a sports pub really.
“And we have events, for example a Royal Ascot picnic, a virtual yearling parade over lunch, which is in Chelsea in November and is always fun. We do a lot, and people end up getting to know each other.”
One member of Chelsea Thoroughbreds who had a particularly fun time at the Royal Meeting was Albert Mackie, as he is an owner in both Purple Haze, for Jimi Hendrix, and The Big Bear, for Sonny Liston.
“Unbelievably he also had a reverse forecast that paid 500-1,” says Spencer.
“They’re two very different horses,” she continues. “Jimi Hendrix is pretty good at Ascot, he was third in the Britannia, then of course he won the Hunt Cup – by nine lengths on his side – and is a talented horse who just took a bit of time to figure out.
“We put a pair of blinkers on, and maybe he had been feeling a bit claustrophobic as he didn’t run his race in the Cambridgeshire or the Lincoln.
“Ralph had always thought he was a Group horse, from when he won his maiden at two. It’s just taken a bit of time to get to where he’s at.”
She adds: “We had Sonny gelded, he’d lost his way, and sent him to Adam Kirby in November – we send quite a few yearlings to Adam to be broken in – and he is brilliant to deal with. Sonny probably didn’t go back into training until at least April, with Ralph having been with Charlie [Hills].
“We put a pair of blinkers on him at home, and it was like, ‘Wow!’ So Ralph was very confident he’d run well at Royal Ascot; you can never know for sure but blinkers worked with him. He was ridden cold by Ryan [Moore] and that seemed to suit him, he was last off the bridle but just on the wrong side.
“I was watching them both and genuinely didn’t have a preference. It was quite nice a furlong out to know you’ve got it covered!”
Both horses ran next on ‘Super Saturday’ last month. Jimi Hendrix acquitted himself well in his first run at stakes level, finishing third in the Group 2 Summer Mile back at Ascot, while Sonny Liston ran too freely to give himself a chance upped in trip in the John Smith’s Cup at York.
Spencer runs Chelsea Thoroughbreds with President and founder Richard Morecombe, while Ella McNeill is the National Hunt Racing Manager.
“Myself or Ella will always try to be on course, or else one or two others we work with,” says Spencer. “Ella loves going racing. There’s a lot of work involved for us, but it’s a ‘nice busy’ job.”
Aside from Beckett and Hills, the trainers’ roster for Chelsea Thoroughbreds, whose string currently numbers around 17, three of which are jumpers, includes Richard Hannon, Andrew Balding, Hugo Palmer, James Ferguson, Olly Murphy and Alan King. Explaining the process of equine recruitment, Spencer says: “Ralph has a good record for us and picks his horses himself; he buys his own, with Alex Elliott and our involvement. He knows what we like, so there’s a good understanding there.
“Otherwise, I have worked with Stu Boman for the last couple of years; he bought Sydneyarms Chelsea for nine grand and she won a Group 3 last year. There’ll be a shortish list, then I’ll look at them and say what I like and what I don’t. Richard will look at the pedigrees. We then put a price on it and if it goes for too much, it goes for too much. That’s worked well.
“Charlie Gordon-Watson normally buys one a year for us – he bought Sonny Liston – and Kerri Radcliffe bought one at Tattersalls last year and one the year before. We narrow them down, look at them and decide between us, and if we can get them at the right price, away we go.
“We mainly buy from Newmarket, Ireland a little bit, and we did have one from Germany last year. We get them as yearlings, we’ve not done any breeze-ups recently, though that’s not to say we won’t.”
She adds: “Basically, it’s a two-year commitment, but if something is worthwhile then we’ll continue with them as an older horse. If the right offer comes along, well, you have to put some money back in the bank account sometimes.
“The older horses like Sam Cooke are always really satisfying, though. When they get to seven and are still trying their heart out, that’s pretty good.
“Sam Cooke has been a star, a real fun horse who seemed to get better every year. It’s a shame we’ve had to recently retire him, but he’ll have a lovely life.”
The Wednesday of Royal Ascot this year will live long in the memory, but Spencer definitely has a soft spot for the aforementioned Sydneyarms Chelsea when it comes to magical moments.
“Sydneyarms Chelsea winning the Prix Six Perfections at Deauville last year would be a real highlight, that was pretty cool,” she says.
“We have never otherwise bought one at that sort of price, but we thought we’d do that and incorporate some people from the pub and make it more accessible – there were about 16 owners in her. She ran in the colours of The Sydney Arms, managed by Chelsea Thoroughbreds, until we sold 50% of her to Cornthrop Bloodstock. She’s had a niggle but is on the way back.”
Chelsea Thoroughbreds are certainly already here, and the ethos is crystal clear.
“It’s just a case of building and expanding but at a manageable level, so that everyone’s looked after and it’s not too big that you can’t do that, and it all gets slapdash with runners everywhere,”
says Spencer. “We want to have runners at nice meetings, that’s the aim. Along with making it a fun experience for everyone.”