Saturday, August 26, 2023 is a date that will live long in the memory of Marc Chan. The Hong Kong-based owner had three runners that day, all at different UK meetings, and thought a win for his prolific gelding Kinross in the Group 2 City of York Stakes would represent a good afternoon’s work.
Not only did old favourite Kinross do the business on the Knavesmire but Angel Bleu also triumphed in his Group 2 assignment, taking the Celebration Mile at Goodwood, while the filly Lezoo, owned in partnership with Andrew Rosen, captured the Listed Hopeful Stakes at Newmarket.
To make a minor adjustment to the age-old proverb, good things come in threes, it seems.
“Unbelievable – we never expected that to happen,” says Chan, speaking via Zoom from his Hong Kong apartment. He bought his first horse in Britain as recently as 2020 but has rapidly made a significant impact on the European racing scene.
To have three stakes winners in one afternoon is quite extraordinary.
“You’re lucky to have one winner on any day so to score a hat-trick within 75 minutes – bang, bang, bang – it was quite surreal.
“Frankie [Dettori, rider of Kinross and that day’s Ebor winner Absurde] phoned me from his car after racing to say well done. I celebrated with some friends and a few bottles of red. To have three
stakes winners in one afternoon is quite extraordinary.”
The common denominator in all three winning horses is trainer Ralph Beckett, who is enjoying his best ever season in terms of both winners (106) and prizemoney (£3.42 million), and at the time of writing was operating at a career-high 22% strike-rate.
A lifelong horseracing fan, having been taken to the races as a boy in Malaysia and Singapore by his father and uncle, both keen racegoers and punters, Chan’s route to Kimpton Down Stables was anything but strategic. Having been introduced to Dettori by a mutual friend, the Italian then put Chan in contact with bloodstock agent Jamie McCalmont, who was tasked with sourcing a suitable horse from Europe to race in Hong Kong.
McCalmont had heard that a two-year-old in training with Beckett might be available and duly put the wheels in motion to buy the gelded son of New Bay. The well-named New Mandate, who had won nothing more than a nursery at the time of his purchase in August 2020, became a Group 2 winner a month later in the Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket and helped set his new owner on his current path in the sport.
Chan explains: “I’d owned horses in Hong Kong for a few years. I’d bought horses from Australia before, but I was looking for something with a bit more stamina to bring to Hong Kong. This was right in the middle of Covid, so it was very hard to source a horse with all the restrictions in place.
“It was quite boring for me just racing in Hong Kong, as I enjoy experiencing the sport in different countries and immersing myself in the culture. Europe has a very strong tradition in racing, so I told Jamie I wanted to dip my toes in the water and try it out.
“So, I bought my first UK horse from Ralph’s stable – and opened Pandora’s box! The advice from Frankie and Jamie was to focus on horses in training to start with and identify two-year-olds that have shown potential. I would race them in the UK first and bring them over to Hong Kong if they were suitable types.
“New Mandate was the first runner we tried to buy – and the owners were willing to sell. Frankie said that Ralph was a very genuine trainer whose horses improve with age. He’s certainly a more conservative trainer who would rather underrate than overrate a horse’s ability. He never exaggerates a horse’s talent.
“I then bought two more horses from the stable – Kinross, from his breeder Julian Richmond-Watson, and Prosperous Voyage, who I co-own with Andrew Rosen, the famous fashion mogul from New York.”
Kinross has proved to be an inspirational purchase for Chan, a tech entrepreneur and investor in the biotech sector, who studied Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Western Ontario, having moved to Canada for his high-school education.
Kinross’s earnings are incredible for a horse running in Europe
A one-time Classic hope for Richmond- Watson, Kinross, who was due to defend his crown in the Prix de la Foret at Longchamp on Arc weekend, has won eight races in Chan’s silks, including two Group 1s, and earned over £1.58 million in prize-money.
Prosperous Voyage was bought after finishing runner-up in the 2021 May Hill Stakes. She came agonisingly close to providing her owners with Classic glory when failing by a neck to reel in Cachet in last year’s 1,000 Guineas. However, the daughter of Zoffany did hit the Group 1 bullseye two months later when shocking the Dettori-ridden Inspiral – sent off at 1-7 – in the Falmouth Stakes.
“We never expected Kinross to perform so consistently at the top level – it’s been quite unexpected really,” Chan relates. “His earnings are incredible for a horse running in Europe – in Hong Kong he’d have banked around £6 million!
“Prosperous Voyage would have won the Guineas with a little more luck, but she got her Group 1 win and is now a very valuable filly.”
Chan will discover exactly what value the market puts on Prosperous Voyage in a couple of months’ time when she will be offered at Tattersalls’ December Mares Sale. Park Paddocks is also the destination for Lezoo, a €110,000 breeze-up purchase at Arqana last year who went on to take the Cheveley Park Stakes.
Yet don’t let the proposed sale of these two Group 1 heroines fool you into thinking that Chan is disinterested in the breeding side of the sport. On the contrary, he currently owns three broodmares, two in Ireland and one in Australia, and is looking forward to his first homebred runner, a son of Wootton Bassett out of the Galileo mare Emerald Green, currently based at Norelands Stud in County Kilkenny.
Chan says: “I’m starting off small in breeding and will look for broodmares with the right pedigrees. I have a yearling and a foal on the ground, but I know that a lot of things will have to go right for these horses to enjoy successful careers.
“I’ve got the bug with owning and racing horses – I started off buying horses in training and have moved on to two-year-olds, yearlings and foals – and now it’s the same with breeding. I’ll breed for quality but not on a commercial basis.”
He continues: “I’m a novice in this sport so I listen to advice from professionals. I’ve been told that owning horses is a numbers game yet even if you pay top money for a horse, that is no guarantee of performance, especially with a yearling.
“With horses in training, you can see the form in the book and their willingness to race and compete. Buying a yearling is like looking into a crystal ball!
“I don’t think it makes sense to go after the top-priced yearlings – I prefer to look at a certain range in the middle market that I feel is an interesting level to play at. After all, horses don’t know how much they cost.
I’m worried affordability checks could cause lasting damage to British racing
“It’s like buying a lottery ticket but this sport is not just about the financial return. There’s a lot of satisfaction in the journey – although it’s never a straight line with thoroughbreds.”
Chan has owned horses all over the world, including France, the US and Australia, complementing those in Hong Kong, Britain and Ireland, where Jessica Harrington trains his Listed scorer Bold Discovery. Yet it is the UK that holds a particular place in his heart.
“British racing is deep in tradition and history,” Chan explains. “It’s more of a cultural heritage than just purely about punting, which is the case in some other countries.
“Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood are real social events at beautiful racetracks that are organic and unique with a superb atmosphere. There’s also very little construction on the courses themselves. I don’t think you see that in the rest of the world.
“It’s also possible to travel over to race in Ireland and France, which makes the sport highly competitive.”
The downside to being an owner in the UK is the poor prize-money, says Chan. He hopes that the current levy negotiations provide a better outcome for all participants. He has followed the industry’s plans for ‘premierisation’ and supports the concept, acknowledging that there are too many races and not enough runners, while stating that those lower down the pyramid must not be forgotten.
On the controversial matter of affordability checks being imposed on punters, Chan is more forthright, saying: “It looks like a fiasco to me. I’m worried it could cause lasting damage to British racing. There’s a huge heritage to protect and I hope they don’t screw it up because there’s no turning back.”
While UK racing continues to wrangle with those issues, Chan is hoping for a strong end to the year, with British Champions Day and the Breeders’ Cup meeting around the corner.
He has plenty to look forward to with his team of established performers, unraced youngsters and a fledgling breeding operation, which also provides plenty of excitement for wife Lily and children Phyllis and Julien, all big horseracing fans.
“Aim high but keep expectations low,” Chan responds when asked about his philosophy on racing and ownership. “We all want to win the big races like the British Classics and the Arc. But any Group 1 anywhere in the world is good enough for me.”