Racing’s Bargain Buys – Cheap Horses that Won Big! (part 1)
Following Facebook phenomenon Flooring Porter's impressive victory at the Cheltenham Festival in March, I thought it was only right that I did some research to find some of the biggest bargains in horse racing history. Whether they were homebred with low expectations, an outcast at the sales that fetched peanuts, or even acquired through the power of social media, these horses all have a story to tell. Just because they didn’t have huge price tags or the most impressive breeding profiles, that didn’t stop these horses from becoming top-class racers. With almost £15 million in earnings between them, let’s get into the list, and where better to start than with the man himself…
Flooring Porter –
Trained by Gavin Cromwell at his base in County Meath, Flooring Porter is perhaps one of the most impressive success stories in recent years. Picked up for a measly €5,000 by the Flooring Porter Syndicate, he has already amassed a whopping £514,875 in earnings across his 20 races under rules so far. Wins in the Grade 1 Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle, and back-to-back wins in the Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham are perhaps his most impressive victories yet, alongside winning the Goffs award for 'Best Value Racehorse Purchase of 2020-21'. The part of this story that makes it unlike any other, though, is the fact they purchased him via an ad on Facebook.
In spring 2018, four friends, Edward Hogarty, Kerrill Creaven, Alan Sweeney, and Tommy Sweeney, purchased Flooring Porter after seeing him listed on Facebook. Richard Rohan had purchased him for €6,000 as a yearling before he was sent to the Goffs Sales in June 2018, but failed to attract a buyer. The name 'Flooring Porter' was decided because Hogarty owns a flooring business in Roscommon, and Creaven/Sweeney owned a pub together, thus putting two and two together. The black and white jockey silks in which he runs represent a pint of porter.
Flooring Porter made history when winning the Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle, being only the second horse ever to be bred in the West of Ireland and win a Grade 1 race. Still only 7, there is plenty of time to add to his growing list of successes, that's for sure!
Hedgehunter, best known for winning the 2005 Grand National after falling at the final fence the year before, was another horse acquired for peanuts that had an illustrious career. He was owned by the late great Trevor Hemmings and trained by top Irish trainer Willie Mullins, but even that wasn’t enough to convince anyone that a 3200 guineas purchase would be so successful. Despite some early promise and a string of 2nds, Hedgehunter was still a maiden after nine runs before hosing up in a hurdle race at Clonmel in February 2002. Despite never setting the world alight in handicaps, he posted respectable efforts in the Hennessy Gold Cup Chase and Coral Welsh National, before getting his day in the sun at Aintree in 2005. He followed up with an equally respectable 2nd in the same race a year later, after finishing runner-up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He would post two further attempts in the Grand National, finishing 9th and 13th respectively, before his retirement in 2008.
His accumulation of £784,593 in earnings is nothing to be frowned upon, after his incredibly cheap purchase as a yearling from the Tattersalls Sales in November 1996.
Many Clouds –
The second horse on this list to don the infamous green and yellow quarters, Many Clouds was another of Hemmings’ Grand National winners. Acquired for just €6,000 as a foal by Highflyer Bloodstock at Tattersalls Ireland in 2007, he was sent into training in England with Oliver Sherwood, where he would win 12 races. Ridden by jockey Leighton Aspell on all 27 occasions, he amassed £928,000 in earnings. Victories in the Hennessy Gold Cup, BetBright Cup, and Cotswold Chase are just some of his claims to fame, besides his Grand National win in 2015. He had another crack at the race a year later, but could only manage a 16th place finish.
Many Clouds' career was cut short following his Cotswold Chase win in 2017, as he collapsed after the race, suffering a severe pulmonary haemorrhage. One of the most popular horses of recent times, Many Clouds was Trevor Hemmings' most shrewd investment, and boy did it pay off.
Tiger Roll –
This wouldn’t be a bargain list if it didn’t include the mighty Tiger Roll! The Michael O’Leary owned Gordon Elliott trained hero was one of the biggest names within the sport before his retirement in March this year. Accumulating over £1.4 million across his 45 races under rules, which included two Grand National wins, it’s clear to see why the people loved him. But it’s perhaps his initial purchase fee that is most surprising. He was purchased initially by Devon trainer Nigel Hawke for a fee of £10,000 at the Goffs Sales in August 2013, having never run for Godolphin. After winning his first start over hurdles in November 2013, he was then sold again, 2 months later, to O’Leary and his Gigginstown Stud for £80,000, where he remained for the rest of his career. £80,000 might not seem cheap, but in the grand scheme of things, he was a bit of a steal! Alongside his back-to-back National wins, he also excelled at Cheltenham, winning the Triumph Hurdle, National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup, and Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase on three occasions (2018, 2019, 2021).
Despite being bred for the flat, and never reaching the track for Godolphin, he soon found his stride over fences, with 14 different jockeys enjoying rides on him throughout his career. What might have seemed a steep investment at the start turned out to be one of the best in times gone by.
Native River –
Partnered mostly by Richard Johnson until his retirement, Native River has been a standout performer for the Tizzard contingent. Purchased for just €6,000 at the Tattersalls Sales in November 2010, Native River began his career with Denis Ahern in Ireland. Just over three years after his purchase, in March 2014, Native River unseated his rider in his first point-to-point appearance at Dromahane, subsequently being sent into professional training with Colin Tizzard. It was here that he would win 14 races, putting together a 16-race run between October 2015 and December 2018, where he was never out of the top three. At 12 years old, he is still in training and has accumulated a shade over £1.1 million in earnings, so this could increase yet! His biggest wins include the Hennessy Gold Cup, Welsh National, Denman Chase (twice), and the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup, where he beat Might Bite by some 4.5L.
Despite things not quite going to plan during his time in Ireland, Native River has had a long and successful career for the Tizzards. Many an impressive performance on the big stage, Native River is a bargain that is not talked about enough!
Lady Rebecca –
Perhaps one of the cheapest horses to go on to big things, the rags-to-riches mare Lady Rebecca was acquired for just 400 guineas at the Doncaster sales in August 1996. Amassing £161,000 in earnings at the time of her retirement, and winning 13 of her 19 starts, she was a formidable servant for trainer Venetia Williams and her owners. Excelling first in bumper races, before winning several top-class Hurdle events, Lady Rebecca proved a horse can be a star no matter the cost. Her biggest wins include three back-to-back victories in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham, alongside several other high-class handicaps, and respectable runs in Grade 1 events.
Piloted mostly by Norman Williamson, she had a very successful racing career, before being retired to stud in 2001. Lady Rebecca passed away from Colic in April 2013, aged 21.
Unsold at the Goffs sales in June 1991, owner Dan O'Neill sent Danoli into training with Tom Foley in Ireland. He began his racing career in the 1992/93 season where he raced three times in Bumpers and was unbeaten throughout. From then on, things would only get better. Never being out of the first four in any of the races in which he finished, he ended his career with a record of 17-3-6 from 32 runs under rules, accumulating £330,661 in earnings, and reaching a peak RPR of 171. His major wins came over hurdles in the Aintree Hurdle (twice), Morgiana Hurdle, and Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, amongst others, but he also enjoyed success chasing later in his career, winning the Hennessy Gold Cup and Denny Gold Medal Chase.
Ridden to success, predominantly by Charlie Swan, and later Tommy Treacy, Danoli was one of the most popular horses of the '90s, often regarded as "The People's Champion". Danoli passed away in April 2006 from Colic, aged 18.
Snow Fairy –
A name that will be very familiar to racing fans, particularly those interested in flat racing, Snow Fairy was a top-class middle-distance racehorse. She was purchased for a mere £1,458 (once converted) at the Tattersalls Irish sales in 2008 by French breeder Christina Petino and was sent into training with Ed Dunlop. She didn’t set the world alight as a two-year-old, winning only 1 of the 6 races that she contested, a Maiden Stakes race at Lingfield, though she had some respectable form at group level. It was at the start of her three-year-old season, though, that she found top gear. She readily won a Listed race at Goodwood before going on to win the Epsom Oaks by a neck under Ryan Moore. From here, she would win a further 5 races (all Group 1), including the Irish Oaks, Hong Kong Cup, Irish Champion Stakes, and Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup x2, accumulating a whopping £3.9 million in earnings from her 21 races.
They retired Snow Fairy in July 2013 following a tendon injury and sent her to Islanmore Stud where she produced just 3 horses, one of which is the useful John Leeper, also trained by Ed Dunlop.
The New One –
Another bargain buy to break £1 million in earnings, The New One was a top-class hurdler trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies. He was sold three times before entering training with Twiston-Davies, initially for just €9,500 by Justin Rea at the Tattersalls Ireland Sale in November 2008, before being re-sold a year later for €26,000, and then a final time for €25,000 in June 2011, being purchased by Highflyer Bloodstock. Expectations were not exactly high, as he was the first foal of the poor racehorse Thuringe, who won none of her 11 races, but he hit the ground running, winning 6 of his first 7 runs in Bumpers and over Hurdles. From here, he had an illustrious career, winning 20 of his 40 races under rules, predominantly under Sam Twiston-Davies, with whom he developed a close bond. His major wins include the International Hurdle x3, Aintree Hurdle, Champion Hurdle Trial x4, and Welsh Champion Hurdle. Not bad for a horse who was purchased initially for just €9,500!
Reaching a peak RPR of 171 with a record of 20-7-2 from 40 runs, The New One was retired in December 2018. He took part in hunting and horse shows but passed away from Colic in 2020, aged 12.
Another big earner who cost just €9,000 as a two-year-old, Danedream was a top-class German middle-distance horse. Purchased from the BBAG Spring Sale in May 2010, she was sent into training with Peter Schiergen, where she revealed herself to be worth many multiples of that price. Her two-year-old season was nothing to shout about, but wins in the Italian Oaks, Longines Grosser Preis Von Baden, and Prix De l’Arc De Triomphe the following year were where she established herself as a superstar. Partnered mostly by Andrasch Starke, she also won the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Royal Ascot as a four-year-old before being retired to stud.
With over £3.2 million in earnings throughout her career, and only costing €9,000 as a two-year-old, Danedream is perhaps one of the most impressive investments the racing world has ever seen!
Back to Ireland now and the John Joseph Hanlon trained Skyace is next on the list. It’s rare to find a horse nowadays to cost just a couple of hundred pounds, but Skyace fits the bill. After just three satisfactory runs in Bumpers for champion trainer Willie Mullins, she was picked up for just £600 at the Tattersalls sales in November 2019. Despite not being the most consistent horse, she has run well at Graded level and wins in the Grade 3 Mares Novice Hurdle at Down Royal and Grade 1 Novice Hurdle Championship Final at Fairyhouse stand out above the rest. Partnered mostly by Jody McGarvey, Skyace has accumulated £107,148 in earnings so far, and being only 7, there could be plenty more to come from her yet!
From a horse that was discarded for pittance, to running at the Cheltenham Festival, Skyace is a revelation! What a piece of business it turned out to be.
Earth Summit –
Purchased by the aptly named “Summit Partnership” in 1992, Earth Summit was a high-class chaser, trained again by Nigel Twiston-Davies. Much like his father, Celtic Cone, he appreciated long distances and took part in runnings of the Aintree Grand National, Welsh National, and Scottish National. Earth Summit won them all and became the first-ever to do so, also boasting wins in the Peter Marsh Chase and Becher Chase. What is perhaps most impressive, though, besides the £5,800 that the partnership paid for him, was his Welsh National win in 1997. Just 7 weeks after his comeback race from 634 days off, following a near-fatal injury at Haydock in February 1996, he won the race by 1.75L.
Earth Summit was a gutsy horse who fell only once during his 37 race career, accumulating £372,566 in earnings before his retirement in 2000, following a minor injury. He passed away in March 2005 following a cancer diagnosis, aged 17.
Flakey Dove –
Flakey Dove is another horse on the list that has a special story attached, notably because unlike modern racehorses, she wasn't a thoroughbred. Bred and owned by the Price family of Herefordshire, she is a descendent of the mare Cottage Lass, purchased shortly after WW2 for just £25, and successful stallion Oats. The difference here, though, is that Cottage Lass’s pedigree cannot be traced back to any of the foundation mares recorded in the General Stud Book, meaning they could not register any offspring as thoroughbreds. This makes it even more impressive that she won races, including the Staffordshire Hurdle, Cleeve Hurdle, Berkshire Hurdle, and Champion Hurdle, accumulating £247,879 in earnings along the way.
A homebred out of a £25 broken down point-to-pointer that achieved 14 wins from 40 races under rules, Flakey Dove became only the third mare to win the Champion Hurdle and was rated as one of the top 10 best jumping mares of the 20th century. She was euthanised in February 2016, aged 30.
Slade Power –
A £5,000 purchase from the Doncaster sales in August 2010, Slade Power established himself as arguably the leading sprinter in Europe during his four and five-year-old seasons. Trained by Edward Lynam (who purchased him, acting on behalf of his owner/breeders) at his base in Dunshaughlin, he accumulated a shade over £1 million in earnings throughout his 20 race career, winning 10. Major wins in the Sapphire Stakes, British Champions Sprint Stakes, Diamond Jubilee Stakes, and July Cup, amongst others, saw him reach a peak RPR of 123, ridden by Wayne Lordan on all but two of his runs. He was retired following a below-par performance in the Darley Classic at Flemington in 2014, going to stud where he still stands today.
His most notable offspring include Raffle Prize and Ejtilaab, and he has a current stud fee of just £2000.
Dream Alliance –
Last but not least, a story loved by everyone associated with racing. Despite not having the big race wins of some others on the list, Dream Alliance is a bargain in his own right. Bred by Janet Vokes and her husband Brian, Dream Alliance is the product of Bien Bien, an American thoroughbred with many big race wins who was in his first year at stud, and Rewbell, a horse that cost Janet just £350 because of a barbed wire injury and a bad temperament. He was born in 2001, reared on an allotment in South Wales, and is owned by the Rewbell Syndicate, comprising 23 members. Aged 3, he was sent into training with Philip Hobbs, finishing 4th, 3rd, 2nd, and then 1st respectively in his first four races. Despite the poor run of form that followed, he won the Perth Gold Cup in 2007, before suffering a tendon injury at the Aintree Festival in 2008, where he was nearly euthanised. After stem cell treatment and 15 months of rehabilitation, he re-entered training, winning the 2009 Welsh National. He also took part in the 2010 running of the Grand National but was pulled up after the 7th fence. He did not place in his seven runs after that and was retired in 2012, having accumulated £138,646 in earnings from his 30 races.
After all fees were paid, every member of the syndicate obtained £1,430 in profit, with the horse being cared for by the groom who worked for Philip Hobbs when he was in training. In 2021, the film loosely based on his life “Dream Horse” was released, perhaps one of the most inspiring and heart-warming stories to come out of racing in recent times.
So that’s that. Part 1 of Racing’s Bargain Buys is complete! Are there any horses that you would’ve included on the list? Keep your eyes peeled. They might be included in part 2, coming soon.