TDN Weekend

A Racing Club Like No Other

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Members of the Royal Ascot Racing Club | RARC

By Emma Berry

Two years ago, Royal Ascot launched a marketing campaign with the tagline ‘Like nowhere else.’ It’s a title that could be equally applied to the Royal Ascot Racing Club.

There are plenty of syndicates in operation in Britain, and the rise in this type of ownership can only be seen as a positive for racing all around the world, but there are few shared ownership experiences which can boast quite the same level of luxury and access as the one started by Ascot racecourse almost 20 years ago.

The club’s racing manager Harry Herbert was initially contacted by Ascot’s then-chief executive Douglas Erskine-Crum with a view to setting up a racing club at the course.

“Various racecourses were putting racing clubs together and we thought about all the things members could possibly want – car parking, metal badge, access to an amazing room with private catering. And then of course there are the horses,” Herbert reflects.

At this time of the year, there’s understandably a huge desire from many owners and trainers to take a runner to Royal Ascot with a fighting chance. When a horse is owned by several hundred members of the Royal Ascot Racing Club, the pressure must be even greater for the trainer in question but this season the club looks as if it could have 40% of its string on target for the Royal meeting.

The 2-year-old Headway (GB) (Havana Gold {Ire}) built on an eye-catching debut at Newbury on April 21 to run out the easy winner of a Chester maiden recently, in turn teeing up a possible tilt at the G2 Coventry S. Meanwhile the dual winner Projection (GB) (Acclamation {GB}) holds an entry later in the week for the ultra-competitive Wokingham H. As respective representatives of William Haggas and Roger Charlton, both horses hail from stables currently enjoying a rich vein of form.

“Of course it’s wonderful to have two potential candidates for the Royal meeting and Ascot does a fantastic job looking after the club members,” says Royal Ascot Racing Club manager Harry Herbert.

The club initially started with six horses in training but now has five, with Richard Hannon and Michael Bell completing the line-up of trainers along with Haggas and Charlton.

“The horses are all with top trainers and members can call us at Highclere at any time to talk about plans for the horses,” Herbert continues. “They are kept very well informed with plenty of stable visits and dinner in the Jockey Club Rooms ahead of visiting the Newmarket-trained horses. When we set up the club I don’t think anything like it had been seen anywhere before.”

Similarly unique was the sight of members of the club packing the famous winner’s enclosure at Epsom after Motivator (GB) (Montjeu {Ire}) pulled off the dream result for Michael Bell and his many owners by winning the Derby in 2005.

“Motivator was incredible, it was just a fantastic moment,” recalls Herbert of the club’s most famous victory.

Along with his brother-in-law and The Queen’s racing manager John Warren, Herbert has been entrusted with the selection of the horses from the outset. “We’ve had 55 horses so far in the club’s 19 years and around about 20% of them have been black-type horses,” he says. “In our first year Brancaster won the [G3] Horris Hill then Siege was a top handicapper who was second in the Britannia.”

The success with Motivator was continued through one of his daughters, Pollenator (Ire), who won the G2 May Hill S. of 2009 for Richard Hannon, while the club has also enjoyed notable victories with G2 Richmond S. victor Revenue (Ire) (Cadeaux Genereux {GB}), Bannister (GB) (Inchinor {GB}), winner of the G2 Gimcrack S., and Windsor Forest S. winner Supremacy (GB) (Vettori {Ire}). Whatever happens on the racecourse, however, membership has extra advantages, not least during the Royal meeting.

“We’ve found over the years that firm friendships have been made,” Herbert says. “It’s really all thanks to the Duke of Devonshire and Douglas Erskine-Crum. They got it all off the ground and didn’t cut any corners. The club filled very quickly and I think people liked the idea of paying an annual subscription and then being able to enjoy the haven of the rooms at Ascot. You have not only the comfort but also fantastic service to really enjoy the racing.”

Nick Smith, Ascot’s Head of Communications and International Racing, emphasises the importance of the club to the racecourse.

“We always try to make sure that the club is integrated into the racecourse activities and email members with any updates of what is happening here,” he says. “We want it to be seen as a racing club rather than a hospitality club and we are always interested in new members who are really focused on the horses. That said, the facilities are amazing with viewing on both sides of the racecourse, and right by the winning line. The atmosphere when the club has a winner at Ascot is fantastic and we’ve been fortunate in that regard. We’re buying horses at a level where we should see some decent success and the members have become very used to that.”

In addition to members being provided badges for themselves and a guest for every day of racing at Ascot, including the Royal meeting, all prize-money won goes back to the club to be shared equally, as well as 50% of the sales price of any of the horses. Herbert says, “There aren’t many clubs you can join where you actually get something back for your membership fee but it’s the racing side that’s really important. Of course it’s wonderful to have success anywhere but when it comes at Ascot it’s even better. Symposium (GB) won for us there, as did Supremacy (GB), and Revenue (Ire) won the Windsor Castle S. at the Royal meeting, which was even better. It’s the glue that binds everyone together.”

 

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