Highclere is a name that has a certain ring to it. Highclere Castle is one of the truly classic British homes, located just outside the racing town of Newbury between London and Oxford. It’s so iconic in its presence that the castle was chosen to play the ”lead role” in the TV series Downton Abbey.
But Highclere Estate is not just a pretty house on TV. It has been the scene for racehorse breeding and management for many years. Highclere Stud covers more than 300 acres and is home to about 20 top quality broodmares.
”We have been into racing here for more than 100 years,” says Harry Herbert, who is the man behind Highclere Thoroughbred Racing.
Harry’s father was racing manager for The Queen, and the family lived at the now-famous castle. The royal racing manager duty is still in the family as Harry’s brother-in-law, John Warren, now holds that responsibility.
John is also considered one of the world’s top bloodstock agents, and he has a long track record of finding future racing stars at reasonable prices at sales.
”Me and John sat down one day some 20 years ago and talked about the fact that so many of the big races are won by the same owners.” Herbert said. ”You see the same silks over and over again and the same faces in the winners’ enclosures at the major races.
”At the same time you see new owners buying expensive horses and putting all their eggs in one basket. That often turns out to be not so succesful.”
With the knowledge and facilities at hand the two decided to create a brand new form of racehorse ownership—a group of syndicates aimed at owning horses at the very highest level. In turn, that gives the share owners a true race horse ownership experience at the highest level.
”The very idea is to give a full experience at a fraction of the cost and a fraction of the time normally needed. A bit like being Royal without the need for a royal income…”
”Syndicates are nothing new, but many times the share owner is reduced to a bill-payer,” said Herbert. ”Our idea was to provide the experience that many want but that is so hard to come by. And to do it at a cost efficient level.”
Highclere Thoroughbred Racing is different from many as it is not one syndicate. It is a group of syndicates. Also, it is not affiliated with any one trainer. All syndicates have two horses, trained by two different trainers.
”We create our new syndicates every year in June,” said Herbert. ”At that time there are no horses in them, but the trainers are already named. So when you look at a syndicate you chose one with a trainer combination that you like. Such as Andrew Balding and Richard Hannon or Sir Michael Stoute and William Haggas.”
Many of Highclere’s trainers are known for not normally accepting horses owned by partnerships, as it often means a lot of extra work for them. Highclere Racing has been an exception, having horses with most top trainers in the UK as well as some of the most respected names in France and in Australia. Once the syndicates are formed, Warren goes out to find the right horses for each syndicate. Normally some 18-20 horses are purchased at the yearling sales starting in Deauville in August and ending in Newmarket in October.
All yearlings are then shown at Highclere’s Yearling Parade at Highclere Estate in October. The event gives the new share owners a taste of what is to come. Here in the shadow of Highclere Castle everybody is a VIP and can meet their horses trainers and mingle with other owners.
”Owning a race horse is never to be seen as an investment,” said Herbert. ”It is something that adds to the fun of life, and our job as an ownership company is to make sure that each shareholder gets as much fun as possibe as ‘dividend’ for the money they put in. The best fun is of course to be in the winner’s enclosure—but we want to make the time leading up to that to be fun as well.”
After the yearling parade, horses get their first schooling at Highclere Stud before being sent of to the trainers after a few months. This gives Highclere staff a good chance of seeing the individuals and advising the trainers on any particularities.
Share owners in Highclere’s syndicates get regular updates and can also feel trust in having the same racing manager as The Queen.
”John keeps constant track over the most suitable races for every horse and gives advice to the trainers,” said Herbert. ”And they know that his advice is normally worth listening to!”
With 30 percent of all syndicates ending up owning Black Type horses, the statistics speak for themselves. Not to mention, wins or places in all UK Classic races and seven champions. This includes the world’s highest rated racehorse in 2010 —Harbinger.
Tours to trainers yards are organized during the training period and owners get a chance to stay at the historic ”Jockey Club Rooms” in Newmarket. When a horse runs, each owner gets two owner-badges that give access to the paddock and all owner-only facilities.
”We don’t just send out e-mails,” said Herbert. ”We find it very important to have a living contact, and we often call owners to give them information and to tell about upcoming races.” Highclere Racing also has their own box at Newbury Racecourse and makes arrangements for hospitality on major race days.
”The very idea is to give a full experience at a fraction of the cost and a fraction of the time normally need,” said Herbert.
”A bit like being Royal without the need for a royal income…”
Shares in Highclere Thoroughbred Racing start at about £16,000. That includes all costs for 2 horses until the end of the 2-year-old season.
A second, smaller payment is made for the 3-year-old season.
Each syndicate has 10 – 20 owners.
After the 3-year-old season, proceeds are split between owners. Any minus in the books is covered by Highclere Racing.
Famous Highclere horses
Harbinger, bought for 180,000 Guineas had 6 wins in 9 races including King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in 2010. That year he was ranked the best horse in the world (135).
Memory won her debut at Goodwood before going out to win The Albany Stakes (G3) at Ascot and the Cherry Hinton Stakes (G2) at Newmarket.
Petrushka won the Irish Oaks and the Yorkshire Oaks in 2000 as the first ever syndicate horse to win a Classic race in Europe. Sold for $5.25 million to Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley Stud.
Delilah, bought for 72,000 Guineas as a yearling she went on to win the Princess Royal Stakes (G3) at Ascot and the Constant Security Park Hill Fillies Stakes (G3). She was then sold in the USA for $600,000.
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