by James Carney
Becoming a horse owner is extremely exciting. The thrill of watching a horse you own race is one of the best feelings you can have (legally). The main problem with horse ownership is that racing is extremely expensive. The average price of a 2-year-old is right around $75,000 - (Jockey Club resource). So unless you are an accredited investor with more than $1,000,000 net worth, it will be hard to responsibly purchase a horse on your own.
There is some good news, don’t worry. The rest of us can use syndicates to get the same upside with a far less risky downside. A syndicate is where you go in with a group of people and purchase a horse. With all this upside, you do have a great downside. Which is you have less control. In a nutshell, a syndicate might be for you if you are willing to compromise some of the control to maximize on a wide variety of benefits. If this is something you’re considering, keep reading.
There are plenty of pros to why someone should get involved in a syndicate. The pros vastly outweigh the cons, in my opinion. That doesn’t mean one is better than the other, it means one is better for a certain type of person than the other. With that said, here is a list of benefits of a syndicate.
Work with the pros.
Horse racing is a sport where you can spend your entire career trying to become an expert, and end your career knowing there is still more to learn. It’s a very complicated sport with very complicated rules and regulations which may vary depending on your state or country you’re racing in. The main benefit of working with a syndicate is that you’ll be working with a horse professional who will be much more equipped to handle the administrative and day to day stress that comes with horses more so than you would be able to on your own. So what does this mean for you?
It means you won’t have to worry about how often the farrier needs to come. It means you don’t need to know what a farrier is. It means you don’t have to worry about what type of food to feed your horse. It means you don’t need to worry about what supplements to give your horse. It means a lot more too. You get the point. It means you don’t need to be an expert horseman to be part of the beautiful sport of horseracing. It ultimately means you can be an amateur horse owner and a full time horse lover and not have to worry about the stuff that gives the regular horseman a headache.
You can afford a better horse.
Lets assume you have $80,000 to spend on a horse. That’s a little more than the average price of a 2-year-old at auction in North America. If you buy that horse by yourself, you are stuck with one horse. If that horse doesn’t turn out good, you can end up losing some money.
Now lets say you decide to put that $80,000 into a syndicate. You not only get to diversify your investment, which I’ll mention later, but you also get to put that money towards a higher quality thoroughbred. That money could be put into a few horses that are worth much more. You could get a sizeable share of a few $500,000 horses when you use a syndicate. You could get several 5% shares in some $500,000 horses. Which typically the better the horse, the better the ROI.
Sure, horseracing is a business for some people, but for others it’s a huge social event. Seeing pictures at the track make it seem like such a fun time, which it is. You meet all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds that you’d never meet otherwise. You can travel the world because of horses. When you do that, you will meet all sorts of people. It’s obviously more fun when you don’t have to worry about how your horse is doing. A syndicate provides you with piece of mind so you can enjoy your time at the races and hopefully in the winner’s circle.
Don’t need to worry about the legal aspect
No one likes messing around with administrative parts of the business. When you must deal with that, it really takes the joy out of the sport. Which if you haven’t learned yet, there are a lot of administrative tasks that need to be done if you own a racehorse. Some of these tasks include starting your LLC, reading through the conditions book at your home track to make sure you aren’t breaking any rules, obtaining your racing license, registering your silks, finding and entering your horse into races. A lot of that stress and admin work is taken off your plate when you are part of a syndicate. Most syndicate managers have an administrative assistant, if they don’t have one they have years of experience dealing with it and know what to expect.
Syndicates know how complicated and stressful this process can be. They want to make this process as simple as possible to help keep you as a partner.
It’s common knowledge that you need to diversify your investments to limit your risk. This is as true in horse racing as it is in other investment. If you have enough money to invest in horses, you will be much more successful if you spread out your investments over a few high-quality horses rather than 1 great horse. Sure, you might think that your horse is the next California Chrome, but for every California Chrome, there are hundreds of gelded horses that end up breaking even and retire as a pleasure horse. This is even more important if you aren’t a professional horseman. This is a complicated sport that people spend their entire career learning how to pick out the best horses. No matter how much money you have, if you don’t have an expert helping spread your money intelligently, you will burn out quick.
How does a syndicate alleviate that? I talked about this above during the “You can afford a better horse” a little bit. To further the point about risk. If you have your hands on 5 different horses, and 1 of them ends up losing money, you have 4 other horses to offset that cost. Imagine if you just bought that one horse that ended up losing money. That’s a quick way to burn through some cash. If you have your hands on several horses, the great ones help outweigh the cost of the bad ones.
Think of what venture capitalists do. They have the money in several companies and one of them will take off and absorb the losses of the other ones. Horse racing is very similar. You’ll have horses that you think are worth a lot and end up not being worth a lot, and you’ll also have horses you think aren’t worth that much and end up being worth a lot. The longer you’re in the sport, the more often you’ll end up on both sides of the coin. That’s what makes this sport so exciting! The only way to last long enough to enjoy the excitement is to spread your investments out to many horses. You don’t want all your eggs in one basket.
Easiest Way for a non horseman to get into the sport
To sum up the pros of syndicates, this is the best way to go if you aren’t an expert. If you want to become a true horseman, then this is a great place to start and build connections to help you along the way. If you are a horse lover and just want to enjoy the sport, this is a great place to start. You’ll be able to have fun on the ride by letting someone more qualified take care of the behind the scenes work while you enjoy the other parts of the sport.
Sure, syndicates have a lot of good things going for them. There are conferences I’ve been to that have spent hours just talking about the pros of syndicates and how to get people involved in them. But all those good things come with a cost. To boil it down to one thing, it’s the lack of control you have in the sport.
Don’t have ultimate say
A lot of syndicates have one manager. When you join the syndicate, there will be a contract you sign with the expectations from you and the manager. Typically the contract will say something about the manager having final say in what happens. They will take your thoughts and concerns into consideration, but they will have ultimate say. For instance-- There is one syndicate that will be nameless, had a horse win a few races and they had several people call and make offers on the horse. The horse was bought for under $100,000 and someone offered $600,000 and the syndicate manager turned the offers down.
I don’t know the full story on the horse and what the plans are for that horse, but a 6X ROI on your initial investment would be nice. The manager talked to other syndicate members to get their input, but it was ultimately the manager’s decision. I should mention that those decisions typically made lightly and there are several reasons why a manager would do that. The manager is dealing with 10-20 different member’s opinions. That was a delicate decision to make either way, and I’m assuming that manager did what the majority of the people wanted.
No control on where your horse races.
When you own your horse flat out, you have complete control over where your horse races. If you want to have your horse race at Santa Anita, you can. If you want a vacation and want your horse to race at Gulfstream Park, you can. There is a lot of freedom of that comes with being a horse owner, but when you’re in a syndicate then you might lose out on some of that freedom. Any reputable syndicate manager will take your thoughts into consideration, but typically they have complete control.
No control on the trainer
Typically a syndicate manager has a relationship with a group of trainers, depending on the talent of the horse, they’ll probably hire a certain trainer. If you’ve owned a horse before and used a specific trainer, you might not be able to use him with that horse.
The manager might take your recommendation for the trainer into consideration, but since the manager would already have a relationship with a few other trainers it probably wouldn’t happen.
Horse ownership can be such a rush! The main thing you should be aware of is how to manage your expectations. A syndicate is a great option for a first-time horse owner. There are a lot of benefits that come with being a syndicate partner, and in my opinion they outweigh the cons. Especially at first. If you are experienced in the sport and have owned horses before, there are different pros and cons of a syndicate. You might join a syndicate for networking benefits, for instance.
But assuming you are a first-time buyer or just an inexperienced horse owner, there are some things you should ask yourself before you jump into a syndicate or sole ownership of a horse:
- What level of experience are you and were you do want to go?
- How involved do you want to be?
- How social are you or do you want to be?
- How much control do you want to have?
These play a role in syndicate. Obviously, if you are a top notch breeder and are constantly winning races and awards, maybe a syndicate is not your best move. Flip the coin—If you are looking for a slightly above average horse and just want an excuse to go to the races, then going to a select 2-year-old sale and buying the sale topper for more than $1,000,000 isn’t your best bet either.
There are a lot of things to consider, and thankfully, a lot of resources. If you want to learn more about joining a syndicate, I can put you in touch with someone who could be a good fit for you. If you want to do some research on your own, you can check out the websites listed below to get more info on syndicates and their public records.
- www.Ownerview.com has a lot of ownership information and syndicate information
- www.Equibase.com has a lot of stats on trainers, owners, jockeys and horses. It’s a great place to go and dig into the stats of certain people and horses.
There are more interesting articles in our section on Racing & Wagering.