There’s an old saying in racing that the best way to turn $1million into $100 is to buy a racehorse. The reality is that the number of people who make big money from horse racing are few, and seasoned owners admit that the benefits are more fun than financial gain.
But, to the punters who stand at the rails at events such as the Brisbane Winter Racing Carnival, Magic Millions and the Melbourne Cup, horse racing looks like a sport full of glamour, excitement and lots of money.
During the Brisbane Winter Carnival more than $8 million will be distributed in prize money. By the end of this financial year later this month $75million in prize money will be handed out to winners across the state – and more than 46,000 starters have been competing for a share! But that does nothing to slow the bidding at the annual Magic Millions sales on the Gold Coast where, last January alone, more than $76million changed hands over the best horseflesh in the country.
Horse racing might be called the Sport of Kings but it’s not just for the rich and famous. One of the most cost-effective ways to own a racehorse is to join a syndicate or ‘partnership’. There are registered syndicators who can help novices to get into racehorse ownership. And it’s becoming a popular investment. Adam Watt who, with his father Dean, is one of Australia’s leading syndicators and bloodstock agents, has seen a shift in their investors at Dynamic Syndications in recent years. “Three years ago, when we took our horses to the marketplace, the uptake was about 70 per cent from existing clients and 30 per cent new owners. However, in the past two seasons we are finding it’s more like 70 per cent new clients and 30 per cent existing clients buying into our annual stock offering,” he says.
Robert Heathcote, Brisbane’s premier trainer for the past three seasons, has earned his stripes the hard way and knows better than most the highs and lows of horse racing. “The feeling you experience when you win a race, whether it’s at Eagle Farm or Esk, is a feeling that becomes addictive,” he tells bmag ahead of the premier event of the Brisbane Winter Racing Carnival – AAMI Stradbroke Day on Saturday 8 June.
“When you enter a partnership and buy a racehorse the owners develop a sense of friendship, and when you win a race together it becomes a sense of achievement.”
“Good horses don’t grow on trees but when you get a good one it’s an amazing experience,” says Heathcote. He speaks from experience as he paid just $22,000 for his current stable star Buffering and offered 10 per cent shares to 10 ‘partners’ in the horse. So far Buffering’s prize money has soared well past $2million which includes a third place in the Doomben 10,000 just over two weeks ago. But, before you see big dollars before your eyes in this potential investment, Heathcote points out that one of the 10 per cent shares in Buffering is divided between 20 owners.
Heathcote suggests anyone considering ownership should first ask themselves the question, “why do I want to own a racehorse?”
“Do your research. Make sure you speak to as many people as possible and always deal with registered syndicators. And it pays to approach registered bloodstock agents when buying a horse. There are some very well-qualified people with proven track records in buying winners.”
And don’t forget to factor in the ongoing costs of ownership – training and maintenance! While there is no set fee that horse trainers charge, costs range from $65 to $100 per day depending on the trainer’s track record, qualifications and location.
In addition to daily training fees, incidentals such as farrier work, chiropractor and vet fees and race nominations mean monthly bills can range from $2000 to $4000 per horse.
Queensland Racehorse Owners’ Association president Kerrina King says being involved in the horse racing community is like being a member of a big extended family but she warns expenses are considerable. King has raced horses for 17 years and she says taking the highs with the lows is part and parcel of the game.
“Things happen in racing that you can’t predict. Horses are delicate animals and they can injure themselves. Then there are bad barrier draws to contend with, sometimes jockeys put in bad rides, sometimes horses get interfered with – the list of things that can go wrong is endless. Winning is fantastic – losing is character building.
“Racing can be expensive but it is affordable if you get into a syndicate,” she says.
“And you must get a vet inspection before you sign for a horse; it has to be an independent assessment from a registered vet.”