I’m a sucker when it comes to omens. I lay the blame firmly at the feet of my late paternal grandmother who was slightly fey – if not a witch exactly, then possibly something that rhymed with that.
Thanks to a handful of randomly occurring instances I now find myself with yet another (very small) share in yet another racehorse. That takes the current tally to four.
I am not kidding myself that any of these ventures will bring with them great (or even moderate) wealth. At the very most I expect there will be the odd win along the way, celebrated in fine style, but more than likely the journey to any victory will be peppered by disappointment.
Those who choose to dabble in racehorse ownership quickly become accustomed to disappointment. The slightly off-track which hindered your chances; the momentary hold-up at the crucial second; coming up another athlete which is just that fraction better on the day; or even an inexplicably bad performance for absolutely no discernible reason (we are, after all dealing with an animal with a mind of its own).
You rapidly learn to become a good loser when you own even the tiniest hair of a horse’s tail. If you don’t then you won’t be around for long because, unless you luck into an absolute superstar of Winx proportions, there are usually more lows than there are highs.
So why keep going? It is a question I have been asked many times by those on the outside and one I struggle to answer.
Of course, we all aim to be the one who races that champion racehorse. The horse which achieves giddy Group One heights and takes us along on the ride is the dream of every owner.
When the first horse I raced won at only her second start some 31 years ago the feeling of elation was indescribable. I was shaking so much I could barely walk down the stairs to the birdcage but all I could think was, “I want to feel this again.”
She was always going to be very special to me as the daughter of a mare my grandmother (the slightly fey one) had bred and raced, but as my first runner and first winner she was now truly memorable.
From 15 starts she only managed two wins but the die was cast, no matter what else happened in my future there would always be a horse.
And there pretty much has been since then. Even when I wasn’t working full-time, taking time off to have a family, I managed to organise enough freelance work to cover my ownership “fix”.
At one stage, having been part of a plan to do something to attempt to stem the drift of horses and owners from the Central Districts, I found myself establishing and running a massive syndicate which initially comprised around 12 horses with six different trainers. Managing the expectations of hundreds of others was the most daunting aspect of that task, yet I must’ve been a sucker for punishment as I later set up a similar syndicate in the North.
Most nerve wracking was the day our first runner lined up at Trentham and, guided by the very youthful emerging talent which was Michael Walker, romped home by two and three-quarter lengths. The nerves evaporated as I watched that same look of elation I had experienced with my first winner reflected back at me.
We had two-year-old stakes winners, Cup winners and even a runner in the Group One Auckland Cup. I got great enjoyment out of those runners and winners but, as the syndicate manager I felt a huge sense of responsibility, and the enjoyment was tempered by that.
Throughout the time leading up to forming these syndicates I had continued being a part of the beautifully named Ywuree Syndicate. Our horses usually did just enough to keep us hopeful of the next win and then, in 2000 a horse we called Basil made a pretty promising debut.
I still remember watching him loop the field after settling last and storm home to be just pipped on the line.
Rodin – named to reflect his breeding (Masterpiece-Fine Decision) – had arrived, and I was excited thinking we might have a horse who could win us a race or two.
By the time Rodin aka Basil retired in 2007 he had lined up 57 times, won 12, amassed 18 minor placings and given us a hell of a ride. He even provided us with the Group One glory so many seek and never achieve.
Since Basil there have been the usual run of ups and downs and now I find myself with shares in two horses which have made it to the races (one has even captured that often elusive maiden win); another which may make an appearance as a late two-year-old; and the most recent addition, my omen horse.
Most are at that stage of their career where dreams of future glory are still a possibility (one might yet be banished South!). That is surely one of the greatest things about racing a horse – the hours of future dreaming where you still have the potential to win a Derby, an Oaks, a big Cup race.
That, and that indescribable winning feeling!