In this year of big celebrations, Highclere Thoroughbred Racing (HTR) passes its own significant milestone, having formed its very first syndicate in 1992. Thirty years later the famous two-tone blue silks, associated with top-level performers of the calibre of Lake Coniston, Tamarisk and Harbinger, were carried to Classic success by the George Boughey-trained Cachet in the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket.
Mary Neale, a member of HTR’s Wild Flower syndicate, describes Cachet’s Classic triumph as “beyond my wildest dreams”.
The accountant, originally from Somerset but who now lives next to Newbury racecourse, was introduced to HTR by a friend around 12 years ago, having previously been involved with Elite Racing Club.
She says: “I’ve had some successes in the past but nothing like this. To be there at Newmarket with that atmosphere was just fantastic.
“I went there hoping we might finish in the first six – the betting indicated she wasn’t fancied! But her temperament is such that I thought we had a better chance than her odds indicated.
“When I saw her in the paddock, she was walking round just like it was any other day. I suspect people thought she wasn’t very engaged! But that’s just her. The build-up to the race was amazing and George Boughey is a very good trainer from a shareholder point of view, because he keeps you constantly informed with lots of updates and videos.
“George was quietly confident that she would run well so that rubs off on you. On the day the nerves were terrific. Cachet likes to front run and that’s how it panned out.
“She is fabulous to own. Yes, she does it the hard way with her running style, but she’s setting a pace that a number of her rivals can’t keep up with. In the Newmarket Guineas she probably left half of them behind at halfway.
“It didn’t quite work out in the French Guineas [when a head second to Mangoustine], but she was coming back at the end. James Doyle says that when he asks, she just gives. She doesn’t want to get beaten. It’s an amazing attitude – then she comes back in as if it’s a normal day’s work.
“With a furlong to run you’re just hoping she’ll stay on – but if I’m really honest I thought she was going to win. When she went through the dip at Newmarket, she looked like she had it – and she did!
“James rode a brilliant race. He came back and gave us such good feedback about how he felt through the race. He’s been really good the times I’ve listened to him – some jockeys come back and just say what they think you want to hear.”
Having grown up around horses in the West Country, it was a famous former National Hunt trainer that initially stirred Neale’s interest in racehorses, although the move into ownership did not come until later on.
“I’ve ridden since I was nine and got into racing years ago in my twenties when I met Martin Pipe,” she explains. “I lived not far from him in Somerset and was lucky enough to visit his yard and see how he did things. At that time in the 1980s he was quite out on a limb if you like. That was fascinating.
“I had ordinary horses – hunting horses – then it got to a point where I could get involved in ownership. Highclere was the first syndicate I joined, although I had previously been with Elite.
“Being an owner with Highclere has been a huge amount of fun. There have been some great highs and of course some lows, as with everything. They’re a very polished organisation and give their owners as good a time as they possibly can. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself.
“The second year we had a horse called Dominant, who did well and was sold to Hong Kong, then along came Telescope. He finished second in the King George and won the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot, and finished fourth at the Breeders’ Cup [in the Turf]. I thought that was as high as I was going to get – I never really believed I could have a Classic horse.”
Being involved in two top-notchers like Telescope, now a promising jumps stallion, and Cachet prompts the question – how does Neale decide which syndicate to join?
She explains: “I very rarely buy into any syndicates without having seen the horse first. Horses like Cachet and Telescope – if I said the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, that’s the feeling you get. All the ones I’ve done well with, I’ve felt a connection with the horse when you see them. I can’t tell you what it is exactly.
“Also, the trainer is important. Some are more on my wavelength than others and I’ve learnt a huge amount from some trainers. George [Boughey] is obviously very good and Roger Varian is brilliant – he’s taught me a lot about horses and what to look out for. Although I never had a horse with him, Sir Henry Cecil was very instructive.
“I love the stable visits because I can chat to the lads and lasses and learn about the quirks of the horse. It’s about the whole experience. Just to go to the races, watch the horse and say goodbye until the next race is not for me.”
Neale, who now has shares in six Flat syndicates plus a handful over jumps, adds: “Racing and ownership is beginning to play a bigger part in my life. In my job it’s the detail that matters and it’s the same principle for horses.
“You can’t spend lots of money on a horse and guarantee it’s going to win a Classic – it doesn’t work like that.
That fascinates me. Cachet wasn’t that expensive and yet she goes and wins the 1,000 Guineas. I think it’s brilliant for the sport that people like me can do it and succeed at that level.”
Longevity the key
For John Tomlinson, a member of the Middleham Park Racing syndicate that races Marie’s Rock, a Grade 1 winner in the Close Bothers Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival before adding another top-level triumph at Punchestown, the spur to get back involved in ownership came through tragic circumstances.
The investment manager, brought up in the Yorkshire Dales, not far from the racing centre of Middleham, had been involved with syndicate ownership since 2015 before taking a break and reassessing his options.
He explains: “I’d been interested in racing since I was a teenager and had small shares on the Flat with Ontoawinner when I was in my 20s. I had three horses over two years and won one race. The horses tended to run for a couple of seasons before being sold – not really what I was looking for.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get to the racecourse to watch the Ontoawinner horses, what with work and family life etc. They were northern-based syndicates and horses – I’m from Wensleydale – but I work in London. I drew stumps for a couple of years but in 2018 I started to think I should get back involved.
“My cousin sadly passed away when he was in his 40s and it was one of those jolts that got me thinking you’re better off trying to do the things you want to do in life.
“I had the mindset that my previous experience [of syndicate ownership] didn’t quite work out, so I thought I would wait until I’m retired when I’ve got more time to invest properly. Then my cousin died, and I realised it wasn’t the right attitude to have.”
A desire to enjoy a horse over multiple seasons saw Tomlinson look towards the jumping world as he identified a likely candidate on the Middleham Park Racing website.
He says: “I came across a store horse that happened to be in the right price bracket. As a store house the price point was lower – I’ve now got a young family and plenty of outgoings – so I haven’t as much disposable income as I would like.
“It seemed like the right choice – you take your ticket and just hope that you might get to the races and see a couple of wins and enjoy some days out over the next few years.”
Tomlinson has certainly been able to do exactly that, watching Marie’s Rock take her form to new heights this season at Cheltenham and Punchestown, producing powerful finishes in two Grade 1s to supply memories that will last a lifetime.
“To be honest I can remember bits of the day at Cheltenham but it really was quite surreal,” he explains. “I looked at the price afterwards [18-1] and kicked myself that I hadn’t put some bets on with the bookies, but when it’s happening you’re not thinking about that, you’re just trying to take it all in – listening to Nicky [Henderson] giving instructions to Nico [de Boinville] in the parade ring and looking around at the huge crowd, which is one of the biggest you’ll see.
“I was just hoping she would run well – then she goes and wins and you’re ecstatic! To go and do it again at Punchestown was magnificent. She has really proved she can mix it in that company. We’ll see her again later this month and then start dreaming again.”
Of course, racehorses being racehorses, there have been some hiccups along the way, including an injury in 2020 that saw the then promising novice, winner of her first three races, forced to miss the Cheltenham Festival and sit out the rest of that season.
“We had a weird 18 months where she went into the wilderness,” says Tomlinson, who now has shares in five horses under both codes, all with Middleham Park. “She ran no sort of race on her comeback in November 2020, or at Doncaster on her next start. Her minor injury was resolved but it left her compensating and led to a back problem.
“After a long break in Yorkshire – she ate a lot of grass and enjoyed herself – Marie’s Rock returned in October 21 and ran well in a Listed race at Wetherby. We thought that might be her grade, even though we had Grade 1 aspirations as a novice.
“In a couple of races, she has been badly hampered but continued – I think an animal with a less willing attitude would probably have taken the easy route and walked back to the stables.
“She had a lot of speed when she was younger – now she stays 2m5f and can show a turn of foot at the end of her races. She knuckles down and likes to battle. It will be good to go again next season and have another crack at some good races. Hopefully she can show that longevity which is ultimately what brought me round to putting my chips back on the table for a National Hunt horse.”
Next stop is Royal Ascot
“I keep pinching myself. When I got into racing, I thought I was fortunate with handicapper Dubai Dynamo. Now to get this guy – I have to be careful walking across the road!”
It’s fair to say Barry Hunter is delighted with his decision to take a share in sprinter El Caballo, the winner of six of his seven races for Grange Park Racing & OfO Partners.
Alan Crombie, manager of Grange Park Racing, couldn’t find many takers initially for a share in the son of Havana Gold, yet after high profile successes on All-Weather Finals Day at Newcastle in April and at Haydock in the Group 2 Sandy Lane Stakes on May 21, the three-year-old’s value has soared.
Penrith-based Turner, who is 65 and a partner in a building firm which employs around 90 people, explains: “I originally became involved in ownership about ten years ago. I had four or five legs in horses, notably Dubai Dynamo, an 85-rated handicapper trained by Ruth Carr.
“I went out of it for a while then in 2020 I looked at the Grange Park website and saw a horse available for a small amount of money which I was prepared to go for.
“He was second first time out, then won very easily at Carlisle, then he had a stress fracture and was off for six months. Karl [Burke, trainer] came up with the idea of an all-weather campaign, culminating with success in the All-Weather Final for three- year-olds.
“After he won at Newcastle, we were asking ourselves, how good is this animal?
With each race he’s handled the step up in grade – we don’t know where he’ll end up. The next target is the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot – dizzy heights! You think to yourself, surely he can’t get to that level, but he hasn’t stopped improving yet.
“I’d watched him work at 6am on the moor at Middleham on the Monday prior to Haydock. The market was more confident than I was! At the end of the day, he didn’t let us down.
“I was screaming at the screen across from the winning line. I was jumping up and down wondering if it was all real. He’s a special horse and has really filled out. Karl’s not sure we’ve got to the bottom of him yet; he always seems to just do enough.
“When I was in the winner’s enclosure, I went up to the horse, rubbed his nose and then I tickled him under his chin – he was so calm and just taking it all in, as if to say, ‘I must have done something right!’”
Racing is a social experience for Turner – though his wife does not share his enthusiasm for the sport – and he had significant support when El Caballo made it six successive wins at Haydock.
“I paid for 16 of my mates to travel down with me from Penrith in a minibus to watch him – and I even bought them dinner on the way back!” he relates.
“There’s seven of us involved in the horse. Alan struggled to get people interested initially; I guess the pandemic had something to do with it. He’s probably worth a million pounds now! Yes, we’ve had offers, but we want to keep him for this season.”