Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson’s obsessed with finding fast runners with a great sense of balance. More and more, that means horses, rather than soccer players.
For more than a decade, the Scotsman has been investing in racehorses, and is among a number of people who’ve put funds into Highclere Thoroughbred Racing. The Newbury, England-based company puts together ownership groups to buy into horses, and counts the 12-time Premier League champion manager as an investor, alongside actress Elizabeth Hurley and former England rugby captain Lawrence Dallaglio.
Ferguson, who turns 70 on Dec. 31, was among 800 people who this week attended Highclere’s three-day annual parade of yearlings -- young, untrained thoroughbred racehorses. He said he got interested in the sport after attending the Cheltenham races with his wife.
“I was probably getting obsessed with my own job, spending too much time, and getting home at night, being on the phone and all that kind of thing,” he said yesterday in an interview. “Then we decided to go away to Cheltenham for our anniversary, my wife and I, and we decided to buy a horse then. So that’s how it started. And then it becomes an obsession with the horses.”
It costs about 20,000 pounds ($32,000) a year on average to train a racehorse. Highclere offers shares ranging from 11,950 pounds to 46,950 pounds a year, which includes all the costs, including training fees, vet and feed bills. Any prize money is shared by the syndicate owners, while further profits may be made from stud fees and from sales.
‘Not an Expert’
“I’m not an expert,” Ferguson said at the stables of Highclere Stud as he posed with a bay colt by Derby winner Galileo. The Scot said he has bought stakes in three Highclere syndicates this year, including the one for a colt from Galileo. It was the most expensive syndicate, with 12 shares at 46,950 pounds each.
‘It’s a beautifully balanced horse,” said Ferguson, who became involved with horse racing 14 years ago. ‘Nothing is as important for any athlete or sportsman as balance.”
Harry Herbert, managing director of Highclere, said the company has sold almost all of the shares in eight syndicates made up of 16 horses.
“I was very concerned about our sales because of the economic woes and especially the problems in the eurozone this year,” said Herbert, whose Victorian gothic family home is Highclere Castle, where the Emmy Award-winning television series Downton Abbey is filmed. “It all comes down to people really loving racing. And the reality is that these folks have the money.”
Highclere this year won 400,000 pounds in prize money from 21 winners. It had more success last year, when it produced a company record 41 winners, with prize money for its part-owners of more than 1.3 million pounds.
One of last year’s winners was Harbinger, who was rated the world’s best racehorse after he won the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot. The horse was sold to a Japanese owner.
“We’ve had a good year, but you don’t get a Harbinger every year,” Herbert said.
Herbert and his brother-in-law John Warren, who is also bloodstock adviser to Queen Elizabeth II, this year spent 1.6 million pounds buying yearlings at sales in France, Ireland and Britain.
Whether the part-owners will be making their investment back remains to be seen.
“The extraordinary thing about the industry and about the horses we’ve been looking at today is that nobody knows,” said Warren, who has been scouting 100 horses a day in the past six weeks to fill the syndicates. “There is no certainty, and that’s what the intrigue is all about.”
There was also strong demand for young, untrained racehorses two weeks ago at Europe’s biggest auction in Newmarket, England.
A slow-down in breeding and increased demand from international buyers including Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum boosted prices for top young race horses at Tattersalls by almost one-third. A yearling by Galileo was sold for $2.8 million, the top price for a filly paid this year in North America and Europe and the highest at Tattersalls since 2007.