Introduction to Horse Race Syndicates
Horse racing syndicates aren’t a new phenomenon. They’ve been around for many years but in recent times, they have become more popular as a result of them being a more affordable way into racehorse ownership as well as having an appealing social element side to them.
Horse racing syndicates exist in all the major racing jurisdictions, namely Ireland, the UK, USA, France, Japan, Hong Kong and South Africa. Australia would be considered the leader of racehorse syndicates worldwide, with many of the best Australian horses being syndicated. You would be less likely to see a top racehorse being syndicated in Ireland or the UK but this dynamic is starting to change as syndicates are becoming more popular in the Northern Hemisphere countries.
History of horse racing in Ireland
Ireland is one of the first countries that you think of when someone mentions horse racing and records show that the relationship between horse racing and Ireland stretch back to 60 AD.
Over time, wild horses were taken from the Irish highlands to become domesticated and trained for racing. They were then sold on to neighbouring countries and were recognised as some of the fastest and strongest horses. The native Irish breed began to prosper.
Match races became popular during the 16th and 17th centuries with the first document relating to horse racing as we know it, dating 1603.
During the 17th century, King Charles II introduced the valuable Kings Plate races. These were like Group 1 races nowadays with the horses that won them turning into very valuable breeding prospects. Breeding became more selective during the time of these races too as they were generally four mile races where horses had to carry 12 stone on their backs so it required a tough, stamina laden horse to win them. These races took place at the Curragh in County Kildare, which is now home to the biggest training centre in the country.
As the popularity and interest in the Irish breed began to grow, Ireland established a reputation as a leading horse racing nation. Thus, Irish horses became embedded in Irish culture and as time went on, the racehorse became a symbol of wealth and status.
During the mid-18th century, a regulatory body for Irish racing was set up at the Rose and Bottle Inn on Dublin’s Dame Street. It was called the Society of Sportsmen before changing to the Irish Jockey Club. In 1784, it changed again to The Turf Club before becoming the Irish Horse Racing Regulatory Board on the 1st of January 2018.
The Irish Horse Racing Regulatory Board
In 1866, the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee was integrated into The Turf Club so national hunt racing could run under the same rules as their flat counterparts.
Since then, racing has continued to grow in Ireland. Modern day technology like online betting and x-raying horses has developed the industry further with the sport being as popular as ever. Horse Racing Ireland, a semi-state body, was set up in 2001 to bring horse racing to the next level and is now enjoyed by millions every year. Irish bred and trained horses continue to have a global reputation as being some of the best in the world.
The latest report on the economic contribution to horse racing in Ireland was carried out in 2017. Some of the main points to take away from the report were as follows;
Economic contribution to horse racing in Ireland
28,900 people are employed either directly or indirectly by the horse racing industry.
€1.84 billion was the total direct and stimulated expenditure.
€438 million was the total generated at bloodstock sales by Irish vendors.
There were 9,381 foals born in Ireland in 2017 (third highest in the world).
8,187 individuals were involved in ownership.
1.3 million people attended race meetings in 2017.
21% of the top 100 rated flat horses are Irish bred.
There are 50 thoroughbreds for every 10,000 people in Ireland compared to 5 for every 10,000 in the UK, 4 for every 10,000 in France and 3 for every 10,000 in the USA.
Racegoers spent €45 million at racecourses.
Types of Races
Group 1 races are the highest class of race. The best horses all around the world compete in these races and they are the most prestigious type of race. After Group 1 races, we have Group 2 races, then Group 3 races and finally Listed races. These four classes of race are collectively known as stakes races. They are where the best horses compete, working their way up to Group 1 level. All horses carry the same weight in these races so they’re on a level playing field.
Below listed races are handicap races. This is where it gets a little bit tricky. Every horse is allotted a handicap mark after three runs in maiden races (see below). The handicap system goes from the lowest mark of 45 up to the highest mark of, approximately, 132. Any horse rated 102 and above would generally compete in stakes races.
If you have two horses running in a handicap race with one horse rated 45 and the other rated 46, the horse that is rated 1 mark higher than the other would be forced to carry one pound more. This is done via the weight of the jockey. In other words, 1 mark is the equivalent of one pound. In theory, this gives every horse an equal chance of winning. The job of the handicapper therefore is to get every horse finishing in a straight line across the winning post.
Let’s take Cisco Disco as an example. Cisco ran in three maiden races and was given a rating of 73. Once he was given that rating, Cisco began to run in handicaps as he was against horses of similar ability so it gave him a better chance of winning races. However, he ran poorly a couple of times and the handicapper decided to drop his rating to 65. As a result of this drop in ratings, Cisco was able to come out and win at Galway off 65.
The idea of the handicap is to give every horse an equal chance of winning. If we go back to Cisco, he started off this season poorly so the handicapper dropped him in the ratings. Since that drop, he went on to win two races and will now be running off a career high rating next time out as a result of those efforts. There’s no science to handicapping as it’s all done by the human eye of the handicapper and his team around him.
Maiden races are the other important class of race. Any horse that hasn’t won a race can run in these races. They are also for young horses, just starting out, that haven’t received a handicap mark yet. All horses run off the same weight in maiden races. Generally, the horses will finish well-spaced out as there is usually a big gap in ability between the runners. Maiden races are important for horses to learn how to race and get invaluable experience of what to expect on a race day.
The prize money per race depends on the class of race with the minimum amount of prize money in Ireland being €10,000. Prize money purses rise as the class of race rises with the Irish Derby and Irish Grand National having the two biggest prize funds in Ireland with a €1 million purse. Of the total purse, the winner will receive 60%, the second 20%, the third 10%, the fourth 5%, the fifth 3% and the sixth 2%. 70% of owners win prize money on average in Ireland.
To enter a race, you have to pay a certain amount and that is decided on by the amount of prize money on offer. The entry fee will cost 0.8% of the total race value while the declaration fee costs another 0.2% of the total race value. There’s a booking fee of €12.50 per race while the cost of hiring a jockey per race is €175 for a flat race and €200 for a jumps race.
Syndicate owned horses have won the biggest races in the UK and Ireland however, with the first syndicate owned classic winner coming in July of 2000 when “Petrushka” landed the Irish Oaks for the Highclere Thoroughbred Racing syndicate. “Motivator” won the 2005 Epsom Derby for the 200 plus strong Royal Ascot Racing Club and since then, he has gone on to be a successful stallion, siring the dual Arc winner, “Treve”.
Syndicates have also tasted success over jumps in recent times with “Put The Kettle On”, owned by the One For Luck Racing Syndicate, winning the 2020 Arkle Novice Chase and the 2021 Champion Chase, both at the Cheltenham Festival.
Syndicates and famous people are also a common occurrence with former Love Island star turned tv presenter, Chris Hughes, heading up the Coral Champions Club while X Factor judge and tv personality, Simon Cowell, was part of the aforementioned Royal Ascot Racing Club.
TV Channels to Watch Horse Racing
Nowadays, there is so much horse racing on everyday around the world. There could be one meeting in Ireland, six in the UK and many more in Australia and the USA. As a result, there are two specialist racing channels in Ireland and the UK, that solely show horse racing. Sky Sports Racing, formerly At The Races, is part of the Sky Sports Family, can cost around €70 a month (includes all Sky Sports channels). Racing TV is the other specialist racing channel and that costs €31 a month. Racing TV shows all Irish racing and approximately 60% of UK racing while Sky Sports Racing shows the other 40% of UK racing as well as French, American, Hong Kong and Australian racing.
The Racing TV logo
In more recent times, with the development of online betting, most bookmakers will let you watch UK and Irish horse racing for free as long as you have a registered account with them. Previously, you had to have had a bet on the specific race but that rule has disappeared recently.
Betting and horse racing go hand in hand. Horse racing needs betting to survive from an economic point of view and funding point of view. However, betting is not the same as syndication and they are certainly not directly linked to one another. You could say that betting on a horse is like owning a horse for that specific race in order to make a profit where syndicating a horse means owning a horse for their whole career but you can also bet on the horse in whatever race it runs in. Syndication involves the extra costs that you don’t have when betting on a horse, such as paying for training fees and paying to enter races. On the flip side, the perks of syndication involve getting owners tickets for race days, being able to visit your horse in the trainers yard, receiving a share of any prize money that the horse wins etc. These are perks that aren’t there when you simply bet on a horse.
Record Breaking Horses
“Kincsem” was a Hungarian thoroughbred horse who won all 54 races of her career. She won races in all the major European countries including Germany, France and England. She was born in 1874 and had five foals prior to suffering colic and dying when she was 13 years old. She foaled two classic winners and her legacy still lives on through one of her modern descendants, Camelot, the multiple classic winning racehorse who is now a stallion at Coolmore Stud in Ireland.
Kincesm in her stable during her illustrious racing career
“Black Caviar” was an Australian trained mare who was undefeated in 25 races and won an Australian record 15 Group 1 races. She was born in 2006 and was the world champion sprinter on four different occasions. She even won the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2012 after a 30 hour flight from Australia, highlighting her brilliance.
Black Caviar and Luke Nolen, one of the world’s greatest ever racehorses
“Frankel” is a modern legend of the game having won all 14 starts of his career, including an incredible six length win in the 2011 2000 Guineas. The World Thoroughbred Racehorse Rankings have “Frankel” down as the best horse they have ever seen since their records started in 1977. He is now a successful Group 1 producing stallion.
Frankel and Tom Queally winning the 2012 Qipco Champions Stakes at Ascot“Arkle” is widely considered the greatest national hunt horse of all time. He won three Cheltenham Gold Cups as well as many more big races. He was awarded a timeform rating of 212 at his peak, the highest ever recorded for a national hunt horse. He was born in 1957 and was trained in Ireland by Tom Dreaper.
Arkle and Pat Taaffe
“Best Mate” was another three-time Cheltenham Gold Cup winner who was born in 1995. “Best Mate” unfortunately died at Exeter when racing in 2005 and he was so loved by the people that his death was a front page headline the next day. Subsequently, there was a statue of “Best Mate” erected at Cheltenham.
Best Mate and Jim Culloty on the way to winning their third Cheltenham Gold CupOther horse racing legends down the years include;
Kauto Star – First horse to regain the Cheltenham Gold Cup
Red Rum – Three time Grand National winner
Dawn Run – Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup winning mare
Brigadier Gerard – Best racehorse in the UK in the 20th century
Nijinsky – Triple Crown winner in the 1970s
The horse racing calendar has two distinct seasons in Ireland and the UK. From March to November, there is the turf flat season. From October to May, there is the national hunt season. From June to September, there is the summer jumping season while there is all-weather flat racing, on an artificial sand surface, all year round. As you can see, the seasons overlap with each other quite a bit, meaning that the only time when there is no racing at all is on the 23rd, 24th and 25th of December.
All-weather racing has really taken off in the last few years as, the name suggests, it can take place no matter the weather conditions. There are three different types of all-weather surfaces, namely polytrack, fibresand and tapeta. Polytrack is the most popular of the surfaces in the UK as it is the fairest. It’s a fast surface with little ease in it and next to no kickback, like you would see in dirt racing in the USA. Tapeta is becoming more popular and it is very similar to the polytrack surface as there is no kickback. It’s effectively like racing on a good ground turf track. Fibresand is the last of the three surfaces and is quite different. It’s a lot slower than polytrack and tapeta so it requires the horse to work a lot harder to get through it. It’s like a soft ground turf course as horses sink into it, more than they would on a polytrack or tapeta surface.
A Polytrack all-weather racing surface
RacecoursesThere are 59 racecourses in Great Britain, 51 of which are in England, five of which are in Scotland with the remaining three in Wales.
There are 23 national hunt only tracks so they only host jump racing. There are 19 flat tracks which only host flat racing while there are 17 mixed tracks that host national hunt and flat racing. Included in those numbers are the six tracks that also host all-weather flat racing, namely Chelmsford City, Kempton Park, Lingfield Park, Newcastle, Southwell and Wolverhampton. The majority of the racecourses in the UK are owned by ARC (Arena Racing Company) or the Jockey Club, who are the UK’s largest commercial horse racing company.
A map of racecourses in the United Kingdom
There are 26 racecourses in Ireland with three of those being flat only tracks and two of them being jumps only tracks. Dundalk is currently the only all-weather track in Ireland and they race on a polytrack surface.