How the Elite Racing Club - and its partner syndicates - can make racehorse ownership into an affordable hobby
When the Elite Racing Club was established over 26 years ago, racehorse ownership was very much a privilege enjoyed by a wealthy few…or should I say elite?
At a time when owners' syndicates were relatively small scale, it was thanks to racing enthusiast Elite's founder Tony Hill that each year 10,000 people now enjoy the sport of kings. In truth, the 10,000 are members and not owners yet they still share the thrill of racehorse ownership - for a very modest outlay.
Elite Racing Club, which is based in Devizes, has had over 380 wins on the Flat and over Jumps, including numerous Group 1 winners in meetings at the Cheltenham Festival, Ascot, York and Longchamp.
Apart from its successes, what makes Elite special is that unlike most other racing syndicates, it has its own breeding programme. Members can follow their horse’s progress all the way from birth to its first steps on the racecourse.
Notable Elite success stories included Soviet Song, who put the Club on the map, Ribbons, Penzance, Pentland Hills and of course, Marsha. Bred from the Elite mare Kalinka, Marsha hit the headlines when she sold in 2016 for the record breaking sum of £6.3m to the world famous operation Coolmore MV Magnier in Ireland.
“It was so nice to be able to follow Marsha from a foal right through. She had a faultless career and that is a rare with horses. She never took a lame step. Elite was grateful to follow everything from day one, but we knew at the beginning of 2017 that she was too valuable to keep,” explains Elite's manager Dan Downie.
Dan is adamant that Elite had not expected Marsha to make such a record breaking sum: “To make that amount was extraordinary. We knew she would be popular but we had half that amount in mind for the reserve. Such was the crowd I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get into the ring!”
The profits from the sale are still being enjoyed by Elite and two other associations it runs; Axom Racehorse Syndicates whose exclusive syndicates are limited to 12 shares, and the Owners Group, who operate large syndicates of around 3,000 members.
Horses from all three groups in the Elite 'stable' benefit from the purchase last year of a 138 acre farm, Equi-Prep, near Market Lavington. The farm is managed by Darrell Scaife, former British international event rider and current British Eventing Youth Team manager.
At the farm yearlings are broken in, young stock brought on, horses in training get a break or rehabilitation from injury, and importantly, horses who have finished their time on the track enjoy retirement and re-training for a new life with private owners.
The Marsha proceeds also helped fund putting a mare to Frankel and this youngster will go into training this autumn. Unnamed as yet, it will be one to watch - as Dan explained to marlboroughequestrian.news: “The ultimate dream would be if the Frankel colt was a superstar. We have never had a stallion. Dandino was fantastic but not quite commercial enough. People don’t forgive stallions as they do fillies - one bad run and they are forgotten.”
Among others to watch is Hydroplane, a progressive stayer in training with Sir Mark Prestcott, who it is hoped will progress alongside Pentland Hills. Elite also has a homebred yearling by Lope De Vega, unnamed at present, who will go into training later this year.
Elite, Owner’s Group and Axom use a variety of leading trainers from those locally based locally - Nicky Henderson, Alan King, Emma Lavelle and Roger Charlton - to those further afield - Paul Nicholls and James Fanshawe, who has one of the longest associations with Elite. Trainers are chosen for the fit and need of each particular horse.
There are those in other equestrian disciplines who will avoid a mare where possible.
But to date, the greatest Elite successes has come with fillies. Does Dan feel they have an affinity with fillies?
“Most of our good horses have been home bred. It has just happened that we have had more fillies…it’s just what we have been given. We do treat all the horses as individuals and do not put them in a box."
Whatever the formula, it has certainly been a winning one and whilst you can never guarantee anything with horses, all the signs look good for the future. So much so that I came away having purchased a share via the Owners Group - which was definitely not in the script!