MY knowledge and love of racing started during my school years when I got a weekend job mucking out with trainer Eddie Lynam.
I stayed on with Eddie after my school years and was his head lad for 10 years. Travelling the world with good horses was the dream and Royal Ascot 2014 is still poignant in my mind. I don’t believe that a yard of Eddie’s size will go to that meeting and take two Group 1s and a Group 2 in the same week again.
I’m now working with Sheila Lavery where we keep the syndicate horses. It’s great to have such a hands-on relationship with them, knowing their characters and riding them out each day is very special.
Pressure’s how I got into ownership. My brother John and I started receiving some great track results from some of our budget pinhooks; foals that we were buying to sell the following year as yearlings.
I think nine out of 10 had gone on to win races throughout their careers. However, as we were selling them before their racecourse appearances, we weren’t seeing any economic results ourselves. It was hugely reassuring to know that we were able to spot the racehorses, especially at such a young age.
A couple of friends started to put the pressure on and planted syndicate seeds in our minds. I knew if I did keep a pinhook prospect then I would have to really respect it and it would have to be one that paid on the track.
When buying foals, we’re always buying on a budget and it means that it’s hard to bring pedigree into the equation. The three attributes we try to buy are athleticism, size and scope. If a horse has a real athletic look about them they’re usually able to perform on the racecourse.
The first horse we purchased for Woodfarm Racing was a €6,000 son of Sir Prancelot called Half Nutz. He was mainly syndicated to friends and family and earned €72,000 in prize money for us on the track.
Covid meant that we were absent for two of his wins unfortunately, but it made his last win for us at Naas all the more special. Sheila and I really fancied his chances coming into the race and we egged each syndicate member to make it down to watch.
There were 30 of us in the parade ring, families and kids, and when he got his head in front it was absolutely brilliant.
We’ve now had three winners at Naas and I have to commend how well they treat their owners. They do it better than anyone in my opinion. The locality of the new owner’s bar in comparison to the parade ring is great, the views are lovely and the food and hospitality are exceptional.
Our syndicate Woodfarm Racing is named after the housing estate that we grew up on in Palmerstown, Dublin.
A lot of the original syndicate members were Woodfarm lads as well, and our light and dark blue colours originally represented Dublin. I can’t say that now as we’ve syndicate members in places like Galway and even San Francisco, so we’re definitely not just Dubs anymore!
Any syndicate horse we get will always be put in training with Sheila Lavery. I sent Sheila horses before I even joined her team, due to the yard’s accessibility and accommodating nature. It’s never an issue getting all the syndicate members down for a morning on the gallops.
Her results on the track were another huge factor when deciding trainers. It’s not uncommon for people in ownership to say they’re in it for the days out and we wouldn’t be too dissimilar. However, at the end of the day horse racing is a sport and if you’re in sport you need to be competitive.
We love the days out but we also want the horses to turn up and compete. That’s why I always I keep a share in every syndicate horse.
There is no questioning the expense of being involved in racing. If you presented someone with a list in black and white of the costs associated with owning horses outright, they’d think you were half mad.
However, with the way syndicates are going now you can get into ownership for the price of a football match ticket. People would have no problem paying for a season ticket or €30 a week to watch their team play. If you’re a racing fan and it’s your hobby, joining a bigger or cheaper syndicate is no different.
Slow and/or unsound horses are of course another drawback. They’re expensive and prevent you from getting the full ownership experience. Some of the slowest horses I’ve ever sat on have had the best pedigrees. Ownership is all about luck, which I think is its biggest attraction but also its largest flaw.
In the Woodfarm Racing horse Steps In The Sand, we had a syndicate member, who prior to joining us, had spent 20 years in ownership without a winner. Winners are all people want at the end of the day and I just love the hope that the ownership game sells and the underdog stories it can produce.
I think a lot of the country tracks need to try to facilitate syndicates better.
When we have a runner, we are provided with three meal tickets. We try to share these out on different race days and make sure each member has got to experience the meal. I appreciate that 20 of us all can’t get food but sometimes we’ve gone racing and there’s been 10 of us in attendance and no representatives for other runners. If other owners are absent then potentially trying to share their tickets amongst other owners would go along way.
Syndication is growing massively and we need to keep moving forward to make syndicate members feel appreciated. I also think the food and facility standards of a lot of racecourses could be improved.
Prize money increases would be at the top of my lost for what HRI could improve on, more so than an increase in the number of lower-level handicaps. Fuel and feed prices are all increasing for owners and winning three handicaps a year isn’t covering the training fees.
People aren’t in ownership to make money but they still need the hope that they could and they need the potential of covering their costs.
Fran Kennedy was in conversation with Sophie Mellett.
How can I get into ownership?
My advice to anyone thinking about getting into ownership would be to do your research. There are loads of syndicates and racing clubs that are enjoying great success at the moment, offering big and small shares. There’s nothing stopping you from getting into ownership, no matter what level you want to get into it at. You can!
Trainers are also very accommodating and the majority host open days throughout the year. Go down and get in touch with some, they may even know of some syndicates they train for that are looking for new members. Get in touch with people and just find out what works best for you.