Bradley Makes Racing A Numbers Game

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Nick Bradley | Tattersalls photo

By Tom Peacock

Attempting to make an impact in the bloodstock industry without any form of early equine education would surely be considered a disadvantage. Fortunately for Nick Bradley, he appears to have been blessed with the sort of restless and analytical mind which would be the envy of most dyed-in-the-wool horse folk.

A former primary school teacher, and a professional gambler for 15 years, the 40-year-old has not only established the burgeoning Nick Bradley Racing syndicate but has investors in 30 broodmares under the banner of Glebe Farm in Lincolnshire.

His racing branch began after a parting of the ways with Middleham Park, for whom he bought the likes of G1 Sprint Cup winner G Force (Ire) (Tamayuz {GB}) and the dependable Penitent (GB) (Kyllachy {GB}).

An early Royal Ascot winner in the Queen Alexandra S. with Commissioned (Ire) (Authorized {Ire}) arrived before the white and black silks were carried to victory 41 times in their second season. There were several more near-misses with Raising Sand (GB) (Oasis Dream {GB}), who is likely to be kept on ice for the Royal Hunt Cup.

“I’m a bit overwhelmed by how much backing I’ve received from people,” he said. “I think I spent north of £2-million at the sales last year and we’ve got less than 10% of the stock left to sell. The nature of the sales system is you spend it all in one go, then you’ve got three or four months to sell all the shares as the yearlings turn two. We jumped in both feet first, started off with about a dozen yearlings that ran at two; this year we’re up to about 40. The supporters are really investors, not people wanting a day out and I couldn’t be happier, to be honest.”

The string is split between 17 trainers in Britain and Ireland, including such wise heads as Roger Charlton, Gordon Elliott, David O’Meara and Joseph O’Brien. However, it is transparent that Bradley’s input is part of the deal.

“I was always gifted at maths and that sort of helped me select and manage horses; I think it gives me an edge,” he explained. “When the hammer goes down, 99 times out of 100 I own that horse so I have to make sure I’m happy owning it at that price. I have to make sure I’ve made zero errors–if you buy the wrong horse it could sink a company like mine.”

“With every horse of interest, I watch all its races so when I get to the sales I’ve not got a list of two horses, I’ve probably got 5% of the catalogue at the right price,” he continued. “I’ll place them with the trainer I think will get the best out of them and place them where I think they’ll do their best, so when they line up they’re not 33-1, 50-1 chances. We had a 14% strike-rate last year, I think that’s pretty good considering the amount we spend on the horses.”

Bradley uses a similar train of thought when it comes to recruiting yearlings, which invariably remain in the five-figure bracket.

“If I’m keen to buy a horse, I try to find a trainer who was also keen on it,” he explained. “I don’t have to bid against them in the sales ring, and that strategy adds up in the long run.”

“I bought an Iffraaj (GB) (Zafonic) filly at Book 1 for 67,000gns but Richard Fahey probably had 80,000 to get her. By teaming up, we saved the man in the street money straight away and improved my odds in getting a return on what I spent,” he said. “I’m not from a horse background at all but I find that the best judge of a horse is the person that goes around and looks at the most. After comparing hundreds and hundreds, your eye improves. People like Richard Fahey, Robin and Mouse O’Ryan and David O’Meara kind of guided me at the beginning and I’ve learned and gone and done my own thing.”

Sometimes, though, Bradley’s processes seem to belong to a different intellectual plane altogether, as he bandies around a few more examples.

“Tattersalls Book 1 fillies only need to win a Class 5 race to win the £25,000 bonus whereas a colt would need to win a Class 4 race. So if I bought a filly in Book 1 I’d try to send that to a trainer in the north because there are a lot more Class 5 maidens or novices now in the north. For a colt, Class 4 races tend to be in the south, so I’d position it there.”

“Lots goes through my head,” he added. “We have a filly called Bungee Jump (Ire) (Canford Cliffs {Ire}), who won at Kempton the other night. I’d have probably been telling the owners to move her on at the end of her 2-year-old career but I’ve noticed through the last couple of winters that 3-year-old races on the all-weather are very lowly subscribed. It’s very fixture book oriented, and whenever I place horses, I try to find weak races.”

Even the best laid plans go awry. Bradley bought Line House (GB) (Kheleyf) for 27,000gns in November specifically to send to Dubai for what he considered winnable 3-year-old fillies’ events. Unfortunately, she was in season after a disappointing effort behind Winter Lightning (Ire) (Shamardal) in the UAE 1000 Guineas Trial and may go on the recovery trail in the main event on Thursday.

“I thought she ticked every box, hopefully she’ll do better this week,” he rued.

Bradley also has mixed emotions about Thunderbolt Rocks (GB), a Hugo Palmer-trained son of Farhh (GB) who is tackling the colts’ division.

“I actually bought (G3 Acomb S. winner) Wells Farhh Go (Ire) as a foal and sold him as a yearling, and at the same time bought this one, so I kind of got it half right,” he explained. “Thunderbolt Rocks ran very green first time and then won easily at Wolverhampton. Unfortunately there are loads of 3-year-old colts in Dubai and ideally we’d run in the Guineas if we don’t get balloted out, or there’s another turf race. Sometimes when you take them back from Dubai they have an edge on the ones who have wintered over here, particularly if we have a harsh winter, so hopefully we can take him somewhere like the Craven meeting.”

The stud is expecting 20 foals this season, from the likes of Kodiac (GB), Exceed And Excel (Aus), Belardo (Ire) and The Gurkha (Ire), taking a commercial stance with a view to sell, but one of the wisest decisions taken so far was to keep the homebred Cribbs Causeway (Ire) (Rip Van Winkle {Ire}) to race. She won five times through the campaign and was listed placed at Lingfield.

“She was out of a Dansili mare, Bristol Fashion, the first mare I’ve ever bought, and the best pedigree I’ve ever bought. Cribbs Causeway was her first foal and I’d be surprised if she didn’t win a group race this year. We resisted a couple of offers through the winter and she’s likely to start in a new race at York for older fillies at the May meeting.”

Despite showing an ability to adapt, Bradley is clearly not immune to frustrations with the industry.

“Everyone is going to say prize money but I do think trainers are taking advantage of the situation a little bit,” he said. “This year nearly all of mine put their training fees up, a lot of them blamed rises in wages but when I go to the yards a lot seem to be understaffed and are having problems recruiting. It just annoys me a bit because the margins they operate at appear to be excessive, for me. I can understand it, a lot of them are successful, but it does make it difficult for people like me and my investors to get involved.”

“The paperwork I find excessive as well,” he added. “You get charged £350 to set up an account to race a horse, then there’s the running costs. I won a listed race in France last year and when I checked the statement I’d been credited prize-money on one exchange rate and debited jockey and trainers’ percentages on a different one, and both were against the owner’s interest. There’s no need for that in my eye.”

“Some of the race planning is a bit ambiguous and poorly thought out, too,” Bradley said. “When I hear all the trainers complaining about the same thing, I think they should pay a bit more notice and apply a bit of common sense.”

If a few others in authority shared the cerebral capacity of this particular individual, then one imagines that creative solutions would quickly be found.

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