How many of us have imagined having a runner – or even a winner – at Royal Ascot? The idea of mixing with the great and the good of the thoroughbred world holds massive appeal for devotees of the Turf, at a venue synonymous with outstanding performances, royalty, pageantry, and of course style.

Buying a horse with a chance of glory on the biggest stage of all is easier said than done, however, which is why the concept of owners joining forces continues to be a growth area for the sport. This month, a host of syndicate members will turn up in Berkshire with the dream of capturing one of the most desired prizes in horseracing.


Medallion’s gold medal

It’s a case of hoping that lightning strikes twice for the US-based owners involved in Porta Fortuna. The daughter of Caravaggio, trained by Donnacha O’Brien, enjoyed a stellar two-year-old campaign that featured a striking success in the Albany Stakes at the 2023 Royal meeting.

Porta Fortuna, who was purchased after winning her first race as a juvenile for O’Brien’s mother, Annemarie, subsequently claimed Group 1 glory in the Cheveley Park Stakes and began her three-year-old campaign with an excellent second in the 1,000 Guineas. She races for Medallion Racing and partners Steve Weston, Dean Reeves and Barry Fowler, each holding a 25% stake.

The genesis of Medallion Racing, part of the Taylor Made family, reflected a desire among the operation’s clients to experience racing at the highest level.

“At Taylor Made we like to think we’re the best in the world at selling horses,” says Medallion Racing Manager Phillip Shelton. “We’ve sold over $2 billion worth of horses and been leading consignor in the world at public auction in 19 of the past 22 years.

“The farm’s mission is to help all its clients achieve their thoroughbred goals and for some people that’s not just selling a million-dollar yearling – it’s being on the biggest racing stages in the world. The guys in Medallion want to race, not breed.

“Medallion Racing is an exclusive ownership opportunity at the highest levels of thoroughbred racing. Our model is buying a minority interest in a proven race filly that has residual value – and we get to sell that horse at the end of the day.”

Initially, Shelton was hoping to source a promising maiden for the Medallion partners and bring the horse back to the US. Yet things didn’t work out as planned.

He explains: “We were looking for a filly that had run second or third first time out that we could get a little black type on and shift to Del Mar. Conditions are really important in US races – finding a horse that hadn’t won was potentially more valuable for us than finding a winner.

“We watched a lot of races, but we just kept coming back to Porta Fortuna. Obviously, she was owned by Donnacha’s parents, and we knew that they are sellers, so we were able to get a deal done. There are impressive maiden winners on a weekly basis so it’s about trying to identify the right ones.

“Whilst we enjoy having a horse in Europe, at the end of the day we are an American racing partnership – all our partners live in the US. They are mostly business owners or professionals and the ability to constantly travel across to Europe is not an available option. So, our goal is really to have all our horses run in America.

“However, the advantage in Europe is the opportunities to run a filly like her. A horse that wins a maiden special weight at Keeneland in April basically can’t run in another race on grass until the end of July, because they’ve broken their maiden and there are no allowance races or stakes for two-year-olds. So, you either run on dirt or wait!

“We weren’t missing anything [in the US] by trying to make Royal Ascot last year and if it looked like she wasn’t that type of horse we could have brought her to America.

“After she won a Group 3 at Naas and then at Royal Ascot, we knew we had a serious filly. If she looked like she wanted a mile and a quarter she could still have gone to the US, but a mile is her maximum distance, so she’ll continue to be campaigned in Europe. It’s a novel thing for Medallion but we will continue with a very small percentage of our stable based over there.”

Porta Fortuna is likely to contest the Coronation Stakes over a mile although the Commonwealth Cup over six furlongs is also an option. Whichever race is selected, her owners – some of whom have subsequently invested in other horses in Britain and Ireland – will relish the experience.

“Royal Ascot is hard to describe,” Shelton says. “There’s still this love affair with the monarchy for a lot of Americans. Princess Diana had a lot to do with that.

“The top hap and tails, the formality, the Royal Procession… and then there’s quality of the racing – five days as good as you’ll get anywhere in the world. People are constantly asking me how they can find an Ascot horse.

“There’s this allure to get involved and there’s also been a shift in America with turf racing becoming more popular.

“Ascot is different from any track in America. Saratoga holds a special place in many people’s heart, but it pales in comparison.”


Team Valor’s target

The Team Valor colours will be well-known to many racing fans, perhaps most associated with Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup hero Animal Kingdom, whose own appearance at Royal Ascot, when favourite for the 2013 Queen Anne Stakes, was somewhat underwhelming, finishing 11th of 13 behind Declaration Of War.

The likes of Spanish Mission, winner of the 2021 Yorkshire Cup and later third in the Gold Cup, have performed with great credit at the Royal meeting and this year’s leading fancy is high-class five-year-old gelding Facteur Cheval, owned by Team Valor and Gary Barber, trained by Jerome Reynier and set to contest the Queen Anne.

Barry Irwin is the mastermind behind Team Valor’s syndication operation, which eschews the sales to identify and purchase horses in training with the potential to reach greater heights. Facteur Cheval was one such horse, selected after storming home in a Saint-Cloud maiden in April 2022.

“Facteur Cheval was so overpowering on his debut, I just fell in love with him,” says Irwin, who started out in racing as a journalist on The Blood-Horse in 1969, his passion for the sport fuelled by the likes of Sir Ivor and Nijinsky, North American-breds that became superstars in Europe.

“He had such a turn of foot that really excited me. He was a gelding; we don’t buy that many geldings because I have a tough time syndicating them, but I have some partners that I’ll reach out to that will often buy half. Gary Barber has been very generous; he buys most of the ones that I offer him, and he came in on that one.

“I don’t like the sales because I don’t really like what the consignors do to the horses that are in the sales. They get into them more than I would like; I’d rather pay a premium knowing they have got to the races and can run.”

He continues: “I usually limit it to 10% shares for Team Valor owners – when someone owns more than other people, they often start to throw their weight around.

“I don’t have any real game plan – we like horses that have run once or twice that we feel we can develop, whether sprinters or Cup horses. It’s about what tickles our fancy.

“We have 15 horses in Europe right now, in England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, France and Germany. My goal is to have an equal number of horses in Europe and the United States – I’d like to have about 20 in both locales.”

Having been to the Royal meeting over 20 times, Irwin is looking forward to returning this month with his syndicate, his group likely to number around 20 including wives and partners. He feels that Facteur Cheval, who finished second in both the Sussex Stakes and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes last year and was most recently seen winning the Dubai Turf at Meydan, could be the one to give Team Valor a first victory at the prestigious event.

He says: “Seeing everyone getting dressed up, the pageantry, the quality of the horses –there’s no other meeting quite like it. It’s the Olympics of horseracing.

“We always thought Facteur Cheval would be better at five and six. He’s a big, solid horse for a gelding and carries a great amount of condition. We think his best distance is a mile and a quarter, but the Queen Anne plays more like a mile and an eighth race.

“Then it will be the Sussex and one more race before we target the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He breezed on the dirt in Dubai and absolutely flew over it. That’s the plan and I hope he gets there.”


Home defence primed

Among the home-based syndicates bidding to grab a slice of the Royal Ascot action is Kennet Valley Thoroughbreds, managed by Sam Hoskins.


Sir Busker carried the KVT silks to victory at the 2020 meeting when taking the Silver Hunt Cup and while the public were not allowed to attend that Covid-affected renewal, it still provided huge satisfaction for his group of owners.

Hoskins says: “Even though everyone was sat on their sofas at home it was a really special day and lifted so many people. It was amazing.

“It was the Silver Hunt Cup, a consolation race for the Royal Hunt Cup, so the contest wouldn’t have existed outside of Covid. He was subsequently third in the Queen Anne in 2021 and fifth to Baaeed in the same race in 2022.”

Hoskins, who has sat on both the Racehorse Owners Association and Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association Boards and also runs Hot To Trot Racing, has long championed shared ownership and syndicates as a way of bringing more people into the sport.

“As a syndicate you’re selling the dream,” Hoskins explains. “In what we’re trying to do buying young horses, you’re buying those dreams. It’s a massive thing to have a Royal Ascot horse. Just to compete is a big thing but you want to go with a horse that has a realistic chance.

“Having a winner anywhere is brilliant but being able to go into the paddock at the Royal meeting, meet your jockey and trainer and get that buzz is really special.”

Carrying the hopes of KVT members at this month’s gathering will be Equality, a talented sprinter set to contest the King Charles III Stakes, formerly known as the King’s Stand Stakes.

The six-year-old gelding travelled to Dubai earlier in the year, failing to trouble the judge in two starts at Meydan, though Hoskins feels it was far from a wasted journey.

He says: “Charlie [Hills, trainer] feels the Dubai races are a good conditioner for the horses. He took Khaadem out there last year – he wasn’t in the money in three starts but then came back and won the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Stakes.

“It’s interesting that Equality did really well physically from his trip to Dubai and he proved his wellbeing by winning at Musselburgh. He looks a million dollars and Charlie is really pleased with him.

“He’s not the most consistent horse in the world – you wouldn’t put your last shilling on him – but on his day he’s very talented. Last year he took his owners to Ireland for the Flying Five at the Curragh and France for the Prix de l’Abbaye at Longchamp. It’s exciting to think he’ll be lining up at Royal Ascot.”

There are 16 shares in each KVT horse – “it’s been that way since Nick Robinson launched Kennet Valley with the aim of winning the inaugural Cartier Million” – ensuring a decent turnout at Royal Ascot for the syndicate, which could also run Dual Identity in the Hunt Cup and Dragon Leader in either the Buckingham Palace Handicap or Britannia.

“We’ll have a good crowd for sure,” Hoskins says. “And we’ll put on a Royal Ascot brunch so win, lose or draw it will be a really special occasion.”


Famous silks to the fore

Manton Thoroughbreds, a partnership between Sam Sangster and trainer Brian Meehan, is looking forward to fielding two-year-old Rashabar at this year’s Royal meeting.

The Manton Thoroughbreds silks, famously associated with Sam’s father Robert, one of the original investors in Coolmore, have enjoyed plenty of success in recent seasons with the likes of Isaac Shelby and Barraquero, both Group 2 winners as juveniles.

“We’re looking at running Rashabar in the Coventry Stakes,” Sangster says. “He couldn’t overcome a terrible draw at Chester but Sean [Levey] got off him and said to work our way back from the Coventry.

“We hope he’ll go there with a decent shout. He’s a very progressive colt and he’s been working very well.”

The Manton Thoroughbreds model is focused on buying yearlings to run as two-year-olds, with each syndicate member involved in half a dozen horses.

Sangster explains: “Manton Thoroughbreds is run with Brian Meehan. We underwrite it together with the same structure every year – we’ll organise our tenth partnership in 2024.

“We buy six colts, spending an average of £50,000 per horse, so the total budget is £300,000. The idea with six horses is that there’s plenty of racing for everyone involved.

“We roll in all the training fees and any expenses up front for two years, so basically the purchaser is only writing one cheque. We sell in 10% units – some people choose to break that down while others are very comfortable at that level.

“Some of our members have owned horses individually, spent thousands on a yearling and not had the results, so they are joining syndicates likes us and enjoying being among a group of owners.

“With six horses, if you’re away, working or on holiday and you miss a race, there’s five other horses running for you as well, so you’re always going to get to go to the racetrack.

“Winning the 2017 Richmond stakes with Barraquero was a high point. That was our first Group winner and the fact that he cost only £30,000 was a real achievement. It meant a lot and showed that we are a syndicate that’s going in the right direction.”

Manton Thoroughbreds, which has owners in Australia and the US, could also field promising three-year-old Monkey Island, an impressive winner at Newbury last month, in one of the handicaps or the Jersey Stakes.

Sangster adds: “We’d be thinking about the two-year-old races at Royal Ascot in early March and working out our chances of getting there.

“It’s a tricky route to navigate and you have to jump through a lot of hoops to get there, but if you have the right horse and get to stand in that paddock with a live chance alongside your group of owners, there’s no feeling like it.”