The Rise of Racing Syndicates: with Graham Arnold of Breath of Fresh Air Racing
Racing Syndicates have grown significantly in recent years, partly down to the growth of horse racing as a sport, but also because it provides opportunities for anyone to experience life as a racehorse owner. Back in the day, it was only the nobility who could enjoy such a luxury, but now, through buying shares in a syndicate with other like-minded people, it's easier than ever!
Today, I am joined by Graham Arnold, founder of Breath of Fresh Air Racing Club, to talk some more about what exactly they offer, and get his insight into syndicate growth and its impact on racing.
Breath of Fresh Air was set up by Graham and his business partner Mark Williams in 2021, initially with the opportunity to buy shares in a horse named Scorched Breath, trained by Rebecca Menzies. Graham had worked with Rebecca previously in his 4Racing Owners Club, so knew it was a brilliant opportunity and the horse would be in the best possible hands. Since then, the club has grown to accommodate 3 horses (Scorched Breath, Metal Man, and Odd Socks Havana) all trained by Rebecca, building a fun and friendly community of owners along the way. BOFA aims to offer all the services of a good racing club, whilst being friendly, professional, and affordable. Through Graham, Rebecca, and the team, they offer a great service at a fair price, whilst keeping all shareholders in the loop and offering plenty of membership benefits.
For now, though, let's look at the differences between syndicates and racing clubs, and how they work.
What are Horse Racing Syndicates and how do they work?
Horse Racing Syndicates let you enjoy the full ownership experience of a racehorse at a fraction of the cost. You can own shares in multiple horses, purchase multiple low percentage shares in one horse, or sometimes, spend extra on a larger percentage share. The number of shares available in a horse varies, hence a price variation too. You usually pay for shares on a monthly or yearly basis, with the option to renew once the syndicate year is up. It is important, though, to understand the difference between a syndicate and a racing club:
A Syndicate consists of members (2 or more people, often up to 3000-4000) who own or lease a racehorse. They contribute financially to the purchase and a share of any additional costs, i.e. training fees.
A Racing Club, however, is slightly different. This is where people pay a subscription to experience racehorse ownership at a low cost. The club is the legal owner of the horse and members do not have any equitable rights to it. Members pay the fee purely to be part of the club and enjoy some benefits of racehorse ownership, including a share of any prize money.
Whilst syndicates have been around for many years, they have become considerably more popular in recent times. Over 60% of racehorses trained in Britain are raced in some form of co-ownership, offering an affordable way into ownership whilst promoting the social aspect. Horse Racing Ireland also recorded a 27.5% increase in new syndicate and club registrations over a 12-month period. So why are syndicates becoming so popular?
Why are syndicates, particularly low-cost ones, so popular?
Low-cost syndicates appeal for many reasons: you don't need to bust the bank, you aren't limited to owning just one horse, you can have horses that run under both codes for year-round fun, and it allows you to meet like-minded people and enjoy the experience with them, both on and off the course. Not only that, but there is a lot less financial risk involved whilst still enjoying the perks of ownership. The more expensive syndicates with fewer shareholders offer a greater financial reward, but often have additional costs that have to be paid, with the same risks attached. Whether you own all of a horse or just a hair, you still get the same buzz and excitement come race day! Despite the considerably lower price tag, you still have access to similar benefits to a full owner, including:
Entry to the parade ring and winner’s enclosure when the horse runs
The option to go to stable visits to see the horse and meet the trainer
Regular video and text updates
Entry into ballots for owners’ badges
The ability to meet others who have a passion for racing
A share certificate and info on the horse, i.e. breeding
When I asked him about low-cost syndicates, Graham said: “They have made racehorse ownership affordable to many more people from all walks of life in recent years. These people could only dream of standing in the parade ring, talking to the trainer and jockey before and after the race, and having access to the owners' area of the racecourse, before affordable syndicates came about. Members of our syndicate also enjoy the communications from the Racing Managers and Trainers and get to see what training a racehorse is all about on our open days. Owners can come and meet other owners, look around the stables, meet the team, and see the horses in action."
Why has there been such a rise in syndicates more recently?
There are several reasons that there has been an increased interest in syndicates most recently, namely because of the continued impacts of Covid-19, the growth of social media, and also a general growing interest in horse racing. A recent survey conducted by Red C Research Company found that 39% of the people surveyed nationwide expressed an interest in horse racing, up from 23% in 2020. It was also found that three out of every four expressed an interest in becoming a racehorse owner. Brian Kavanagh, CEO of Horse Racing Ireland, said: "The results of the poll demonstrate that interest in horse racing has increased through the pandemic. The number of people getting involved in racehorse ownership continues to rise, and the survey results reflect this increased appetite." The growth of horse racing through the pandemic has also seen a 13% rise in people who follow the sport weekly.
With the current situation around the world, horse racing provides a level of both entertainment and comfort, particularly when you can get involved through ownership. Having shares in horses makes you feel a part of what is going on and helps many with the social aspect during a difficult time. The increased number of race meetings shown on terrestrial television also makes it much easier to watch the sport, incurring no extra costs or subscriptions. Also, the increased use of social media, both as a place to find information and also as a marketing platform, has helped to push the sport to an increased number of people. Using these websites in today’s busy world makes it far easier to convey information and grab people’s attention. This makes it the perfect selling tool for syndicates and racing clubs alike, as well as making racing, on the whole, more accessible.
Graham also made a valuable point about the increased variety of shares now available: “Affordability is a big thing for many people, with everyone having varying degrees of budget. The increased number of syndicates available nowadays means there is something for everyone, regardless. These shares, of course, come with varied share percentages which impact the prize money you receive, but the main thing is that everyone can get involved.”
So, syndicates are on the rise… But how will this affect racing going forward?
Syndicates and other forms of co-ownership are vital in helping horse racing grow as a sport. Not only will it attract a bigger fan-base, but they will be more active too, with more and more visiting the racecourse. As mentioned above, not only do social media and the internet make it easier to convey information and make horse racing more accessible, but it works as a natural marketing stimulus to raise its profile. The increased number of horses in training that has a form of shared ownership outlines its importance to the economics of the sport, and the push to meet expectations. Most racecourses now acknowledge the importance of syndicates too, offering hospitality and access to the paddock and other areas, alongside owners’ badges and facilities. Lingfield most recently has trialled a Syndicate Owners Suite across its meeting, offering complimentary tea and coffee, and seating for all syndicates with runners at the track. The RSA has been campaigning for such facilities for some time, demonstrating value for syndicates and racing clubs, and encouraging such behaviour to be adopted across more courses.
Shared ownership in particular should also be encouraged at the middle and lower levels of racing. Many cannot afford to buy and train racehorses, particularly with recent impacts of covid-19 and a decline in prize money, and encouraging it would prevent limitations to ownership. Graham said: “The increased number of syndicates holds many benefits for racing. It will give more horses ownership and that means more horses in training. Racing will therefore become more affordable and there will be a wider variety of people involved, allowing the sport to reach new audiences. This will therefore increase turnover at every level, from betting to racecourse attendance, which will aid the sport further.”
Is the proposed race series, exclusively for horses in shared ownership, a good idea?
Dan Abraham, chair of the Racehorse Syndicates Association and key man at Foxtrot Racing, has spoken out recently about a new race being introduced in Australia, specifically for horses that are in shared ownership. The race will be restricted to syndicate-owned horses and will take place on the Magic Millions race day from 2023. The idea has already captured the attention of many within the sport, hoping that introducing something on a similar level in the UK would further promote the sport and attract new owners. Not only this, but it provides a valuable prize pot for those involved in syndication, giving horses of all calibres a chance to enter. Dan said: “It must be a good thing for syndicates and ownership, and hopefully for racing. It's an intriguing idea. Personally, I'd love to see a syndicate-based series that might finish with a race at the Cheltenham Festival or Royal Ascot, rather than being a one-off race. For most people, the opportunity to have a runner at either festival is a dream, but in reality, is very unlikely.”
Several existing owners have already complained about the poor prize money in Britain, however, the focus should primarily be on getting more people involved to help the sport overall. A race series or different race types, to not only benefit shared-ownership horses but different quality horses too, would help make the sport more inclusive of people at all levels. Graham furthered this, saying: “Not only is it a good initiative which proves that the authorities recognise the impact of syndicates and value them within the horse racing community, but it also outlines a future for racing in which syndicates are heavily involved. Their importance cannot be undermined and the plans to create races and/or series show that the relevant people are paying attention and the future of racing looks bright for syndicates of all sizes."
It is also worth noting that the BHA has introduced further plans to strengthen the regulations of syndicates and Racing Clubs. The aim here is to provide a solid foundation for the continued growth of shared ownership. These changes for 2022 include strengthening the existing code of conduct, introducing a code of conduct specifically for Racing Clubs, annual reviews of contracts to monitor compliance, and the ability to view recorded shareholdings for each individual involved. Syndicates and Racing Clubs will play a vital role in attracting and retaining racehorse owners, so introducing further measures will help to give the public and relevant bodies confidence in them for the future.
With everything on track and the number of co-owners continuing to rise, the future for syndicates in horse racing looks bright! I'd like to thank Graham for his contribution to this piece, for taking the time to express his views on the topics, and wish him all the best with his work for the future!