The time has come for (nearly) everyone to own a racehorse

Authentic, the horse that won the Kentucky Derby in the US at the weekend, has no fewer than 4,600 co-owners. Imagine all those folks trying to cram into the winner's circle at Churchill Downs' racecourse, eager to pat their champion on the hindquarter? Perhaps it was a good thing a pandemic ban prevented crowds from attending the 146th running of the famous old race! In South Africa, we have a fair amount of syndicate ownership of horses, with sometimes up to a dozen people on hand to proudly lead in their winner. Though there is nothing locally on the scale...
Authentic, the horse that won the Kentucky Derby in the US at the weekend, has no fewer than 4,600 co-owners.

Imagine all those folks trying to cram into the winner's circle at Churchill Downs' racecourse, eager to pat their champion on the hindquarter? Perhaps it was a good thing a pandemic ban prevented crowds from attending the 146th running of the famous old race!

In South Africa, we have a fair amount of syndicate ownership of horses, with sometimes up to a dozen people on hand to proudly lead in their winner. Though there is nothing locally on the scale of the Authentic operation, perhaps there could – and should – be.

With racing about to be restructured following the collapse of large operator Phumelela, "inclusivity" and "transformation" are top of the agenda. What better way to aim for those targets than by spreading ownership as widely as possible; giving thousands more people some skin in the game?

Racing is not known as "the sport of kings" for nothing. It's a damn expensive business, dominated around the world by royalty and other mega-rich individuals.

Yet, in a world consumed with redressing inequalities – and in an industry desperately seeking new models and new fans – fractional ownership seems an obvious road to take.

Most of three-year-old Authentic's 4,600 owners are members of two syndicates – Spendthrift Farm and MyRaceHorse. The latter, which owns just 12.5% of Authentic, has an international membership base of 12,500 – some of whom took the opportunity offered by Spendthrift Farm's owner B Wayne Hughes to get a slice of the action.

The smallest share is a mere $206 (R3,474).

"Wayne really took to the idea of being able to bring horse ownership to literally every man and woman, of any economic status," Spendthrift president Eric Gustavson said after an exciting finish that saw 8-1 shot Authentic hold off the challenge of 5-8 favourite Tiz The Law.

"Wayne is a real advocate for racing. He literally put his money where his mouth is and invested with MyRaceHorse and he's just a champion for it."

Spendthrift bought Authentic in partnership with yet another syndicate, Starlight West, for $350,000 at the 2018 Keeneland Yearling Sale.

MyRaceHorse founder Michael Behrens told horseracingnation.com how Hughes reacted when approached about selling part of the star colt.

"He told me, 'The reason I do this is because the sport is better than the NFL [the US National Football League or American gridiron]. We just got to let people know.' So, he wanted everybody to compete at the highest level. He wanted to do it in a way that had never been done before."

Even Authentic's trainer Bob Baffert, winning a record sixth Kentucky Derby, owns a tiny slice of the glory in a partnership with members of his family and a clutch of US celebrities.

It is often noted that grooms are closer to racehorses than their official owners or trainers, as they spend so much time with them, looking after their every need and ensuring their welfare.

That might be somewhere to start with fractional ownership. Discontent among South African grooms has seen protest action disrupting race meetings in recent years, but a real stake in the progress of their charges will surely make these essential workers feel part of the game and invested in its prosperity.

Staff ownership schemes at some local breeding establishments have proved highly successful, with workers ploughing their profits back in and growing enterprises that feed many mouths.

It's long been a lament that there are so few black African racehorse owners. Though black entrepreneurs have grown notably in wealth in the past three decades, few have ventured into an arena they probably see as highly risky.

Racing will always be risky, but the rewards are well worth it for true converts. If an initial investment is cheap as chips, so to speak, many more people might be inclined to tata ma chance.

Millions of avid black punters are proof of an appetite for some racing risk. Indeed, these pillars of the game, would be odds-on to buy into promising racehorses if the price was right.

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