Winners of the Future Showcased on Grounds of Downton Abbey

by Annabelle Hood, Luxury Journalist

The annual Highclere Stud Yearling Parade is one of the most prestigious British events in the racing calendar for wannabe racehorse owners. You don’t have to be high-profile, but it helps. In fact anyone can sign up to a Highclere syndicate (there are 9 syndicates with 2 horses in each), provided they have the cash to splash on part-ownership of their own world-famous ‘Frankel’ racehorse of the future (one can but hope).

I was privileged to be invited down this week to Highclere Stud, on the grounds of Berkshire’s Highclere Castle of Downton Abbey fame, to witness 18 newly-bought and very stunning yearlings (aka one-year-old, as yet untrained and un-named future racehorses) being showcased for sale at Highclere for the season 2013.

Chairman of Highclere Racing, The Hon. Harry Herbert, son of the Earl of Carnarvon, enthralled a country-set crowd mostly dressed in smart tweeds and Barbours. Many had an excited glint in their eye as he introduced each young horse that they could potentially part-own. Others looked resigned to the fact they’d soon be digging deep into their wallets having promised themselves they’d only come to “take a look”. “Our horse didn’t have a competitive bone in his body, but we just keep coming back, because we’ve had such fun over the years!” a well-heeled syndicate member guffawed gleefully over a delicious guinea fowl lunch by TableTalk.

To give you some idea of what digging into your wallet means, each Highclere syndicate member can expect to pay a share of around £20-£40,000 depending on the syndicate’s size and the thoroughbred lineage of the horse in question (this year’s young thoroughbreds were bought at market for between 75,000 Guineas to Euros€200,000 each, born of renowned sires such as Invincible Spirit, Danehill Dancer and Cape Cross).

New money is entering the sport: 2000 Olympic gold medallist Denise Lewis attended on the third and final Parade day this week – it’s her second year as a syndicate member. She’s doing well: Her horse ‘Tassel’ has won twice this year under well-known trainer Richard Hannon. Liz Hurley is a member of Highclere’s exclusive Australian Ashes Syndicate (one of whose trainers, Peter Moody, trained the legendary Black Caviar), and sportsman Lawrence Dallaglio is another eminent Highclere syndicate owner.

There’s no doubt, to be part of a Highclere syndicate is prestigious. It may be elite and even glamorous, but most syndicate owners enter the fray because it’s fun, sociable, educational and frankly addictive. I only had to run my hand down the pedigree-soft necks of a “precocious” bay colt and an unusual champagne-grey filly and I was smitten.

It may be an expensive hobby, but part-ownership is also what makes the commitment fairly strings-free, enabling owners to literally share the highs (wins) and the lows (losses) of races as part of a group, minus the burden of responsibility of wholly owning a horse, since under the expert direction of a skilled trainer, maintenance of each racehorse costs a heavy £30,000 a year.

According to Highclere’s seriously knowledgeable trainer John Warren (who is Her Majesty The Queen’s racing advisor), being so young these sleek yearlings still had puppy-fat on them (flat racers are ready to race by the age of two). To my untrained eye, I couldn’t spot a gram of fat on these stunning beasts: I saw strength, supreme glossy beauty and spirited energy (a couple of the yearlings reared up to the sound of clapping in the parade ring, reminding us how green and raring to go they are).
Warren explained to novices like myself huddled in the stands, all the signs that he looks for when buying a potential winner: It’s a long list. As well as the importance of a horse’s pedigree, he mentioned a well-angled shoulder, strength and power needed to reach speeds of around 40mph.

To adulterate the words of a well-known UK advert: These yearlings are clearly no ordinary racehorses-in-the-making, these are the Classics’ winners of the future. The fact that so many top trainers were present at Highclere, said it all (from Sir Henry Cecil to Sir Michael Stoute, William Haggas and Richard Hannon Snr and Jnr).

The dream of every owner does not stop at the winning lines – but also the mega-bucks to come if these winners are then sold on as champion studs. The race is on for the new stars of racing.