What’s it like to own a share in a racehorse? We joined an owner for a morning’s exercise to find out.
When a friend asked Lynn Sargeant if she would like a share in a racehorse, she was surprised but curious.
Not knowing anything about racing she assumed it would be prohibitively expensive and that no trainer would want to be saddled with a beginner owner, but some other friends were keen and together four of them decided to invest in a bit of an adventure – they became members of the Dream On syndicate, and proud part-owners of a horse called Culture.
The George in question is George Baker, a former City boy turned journalist then racehorse trainer. It may sound like an unlikely path but his mother Lally, another member of the Dream On syndicate, who showed us around, says a career with horses was inevitable, as George had “grown up with them” and been fascinated by the races since he was first taken to them as a young boy.
At Robin’s Farm Stables their horses start up the gallops in Surrey and finish in West Sussex: the county border crosses over towards the end of the five-furlong stretch.
Living nearby, Lynn is delighted to be able to visit the yard to see her horse – especially since first lockdown restrictions and then a leg injury for Culture have prevented any racing days out yet this season.
After booking our appointment to watch Culture perform his morning exercise, we are welcomed by Lally bearing hot sausage rolls she has made to celebrate a winning horse in the yard the day before (a bumper at Stratford) – victory rolls! For the next five minutes everyone we meet walking around the American barn stables is clutching a half-eaten sausage roll in one hand and piece of tack in the other. (Mash the Labrador, initially challenging, is our new best friend while the roll lasts. Two whippets, an elderly greyhound and a terrier are more polite but equally keen.)
We watch a horse stand blissfully on a vibrating floor while heat lamps beam down on his back. Another horse is brought in from a pick of grass while others doze contentedly in the barn or graze calmly in beautiful post and rail paddocks. The whole scene is one of peaceful efficiency and in the bright morning sunlight it is bucolic.
“I’m so glad you think so,” says George when we mention the quiet, “It’s very deliberate this calm, we work very hard to achieve that, as that means happy horses, which is very important to us. Do happy horses win more races? I’m not sure, but we want happy horses here.”
How does he do it?
“Routine,” says Lally, “Children and animals thrive on it!”
We watch Candida, wife of George, another former City whizz and other half of the training business, tack up Culture. She’ll be his exercise rider this morning before nipping off to look at some yearlings for sale this afternoon. “He’s like a big dog,” she laughs as Culture pricks his ears, “We love him.”
He’s certainly a tall, dark and handsome fella and everyone is smitten. There had been a slight question mark when Candida bought him as a yearling in France, “He had a bit too much of a sparkle in his eye and I wasn’t sure if he was going to be too much trouble,” but she was persuaded to give him a go and his life in England began.
Are beginner owners too much trouble as well? “Owners are the lifeblood of racing,” George is adamant. “We need to encourage more.”
Lynn took up her share in the syndicate as Culture began his racing career aged two in 2018. The first few runs were disappointing, with a commentator pointing out that Culture was still trying to work out what was going on while meandering at the back of one race.
But towards the end of his second season the horse rallied, and surprised his team with a win at Windsor – followed by a second win, again at Windsor, much to everyone’s delight.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many owners trying to get into the winner’s enclosure,” George chuckles about the syndicate, but Lynn says he looked equally thrilled: “It obviously means a lot to him too.”
As a first-time owner the wins were extremely exciting, but any Derby dreams are long gone and Culture’s four-year-old season has yet to begin.
“We’re saying the season for us starts from now,” the Dream On syndicate and George agree, as Culture appears to be recovering well and racing in the UK is getting back into its groove.
There is a suggestion of racing in France and this offers an exciting prospect of travel for Lynn as well as the horse. “Perhaps the Arc?” I joke and am surprised to hear “Oh we went to that last year (although not with Culture!).”
So from non-racing to part owner, Lynn has become an international racegoer too – it seems that with an affordable share, friends in the syndicate, a welcoming trainer, a charming yard and a handsome horse, the racing bug has well and truly been caught.
“It has lifted the curtain on a world I knew hardly anything about,” Lynn muses. “The social part is lovely, meeting up with the others in the syndicate and going to the races. George calls us into the Parade Ring and he’s always very jolly and inclusive so we do feel welcome.
“I did wonder, when Culture was not doing so well, and had been off with slight injuries, whether he might be taking an early retirement, so when he won – twice! – at Windsor’s 7.30 evening meeting each time, it was so exciting, it really was a thrill.
“Then he has been injured again, so now we have to hope that he can come back and be better [at racing] again.
“Being able to visit the yard is so nice – Lally has laid on the most fabulous lunches – and I feel I am getting to know the horse a little, and seeing him so well cared for.
“It really is a fascinating journey and you never know what will happen next.”
We watch Culture travel smoothly up the gallops and come away with fingers crossed.
For further information about George and Robin’s Farm Stables see www.georgebakerracing.co.uk