Pair Of Queens Gives Syndicate A Strong Hand


Grangee and Jody Townend win at the Dublin Racing Festival |


There have been 28 runnings of the G1 Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltenham and 10 of them have been won by Willie Mullins. The Festival's most successful trainer of all time even rode the first of his winners, Wither Or Which (Ire), and he trains five of the 15 declared runners for this year's race, which is the final contest of Wednesday's card.

Of that quintet, the Cheveley Park Stud-owned favourite Sir Gerhard (Ire) (Jeremy) cost £400,000. Lower down the sales scale is the little mare Grangee (Fr) (Great Pretender {Ire}), a €25,000 purchase who now races for a syndicate of 50 owners, each of whom made an initial investment of €500. She has already given them plenty of bang for their bucks.

Jack Cantillon founded Grangee's ownership group Syndicates.Racing, which has a total of 13 horses in training, and it is fair to say that he is bordering on evangelical when it comes to persuading people to become involved in owning racehorses.

“I'm a lawyer by profession and friends would come to the Arc with me every year, or to Cheltenham, and it always puzzled me a little bit why they didn't buy shares in horses,” he says. “The reality is that it's prohibitively priced, but I did feel that there was a number there that people would invest, but in the hundreds rather than the thousands. Invariably our shares are in the hundreds.”

If you were at the sales last autumn it would have been impossible to miss Cantillon in his bright yellow jacket promoting his new stallion, Far Above (Ire), whom he stands in partnership with Micheal Orlandi of Compas Stallions. With his various projects in the bloodstock world, it's questionable whether Cantillon ever sleeps, but what little shut-eye he does manage to grab is likely to be even less this week. Not only do Syndicates.Racing have Grangee in Wednesday's Champion Bumper but, remarkably, its only other National Hunt horse in training, Cabaret Queen (GB) (King's Theatre {Ire}), is set to run in the G2 Mrs Paddy Power Mares' Chase on Friday.

Formerly owned by Highclere Thorougbred Racing, Cabaret Queen was a shrewd purchase two years ago by Cantillon and Adam Potts for just £13,000 after she had already won over hurdles and fences for Dan Skelton. Since then, the 9-year-old has won two €100,000 chases, the Munster National and the Kerry National, as well as finishing third in the Galway Plate. Grangee has also scooped a lucrative prize and equally valuable Graded black type when landing the mares' bumper at the Dublin Racing Festival to take her career tally to two wins and a third from three starts.

“You could give me €10 billion and I'd still be on the rope at Tattersalls, or down the chute in Arqana, or in the pocket at Goffs trying to rob horses for 20 grand. I know nothing else and I have to buy what I perceive to be the value horse,” Cantillon says.

Of the purchase of Grangee at Arqana just over a year ago, he recalls, “I wasn't at the sale but there was a mare I was interested in. I didn't get her but Fanny Cypres, who is a good friend and whose family bred Grangee, had had a look at the mare for me and she said I should have a look at this other filly. There had been suggestions she had worked quite well for Hector de Lageneste and the guy who owned her was getting out of racing. When the video of Grangee dropped I thought she was captivating: she's jet black and she has this lovely presence. She didn't sell in the ring but I bought her afterwards.”

He adds, “I didn't sell Grangee for a while, she was a slow burner, but it was the start of the Covid pandemic and people were a little reluctant. But we have assembled a variety of individuals and they are all enjoying the ride and are understandably very excited for Wednesday. Some of the people are in both Grangee and Cabaret Queen and they are pinching themselves at having two runners at Cheltenham, as I am.”

It was as recent as 2008 that the first race devoted solely to mares was run at the Festival. There was some short-sighted grumbling about the G1 David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle, more still when the G2 Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle was introduced in 2016 and, undoubtedly, there are plenty of jump racing fans that dislike the fact that this year sees the inaugural running of the G2 Liberthine Mares' Chase. But that is to fail to see the jump racing industry as a whole.

For years, fillies, whether sold as foals or stores, were all but being given away, leading a number of stallion farms to offer discounted nominations by way of compensation if a mare produces a filly foal. Initiatives by the TBA and ITBA, such as the National Hunt Mare Owners' Prize Scheme (now incorporated into the Great British Bonus) and Elite Mares Scheme, as well as significant expansion of the mares' racing programme in Britain and Ireland, are slowly making jump fillies and mares more enticing prospects at the sales. With three mares' races at the Festival, owners and trainers have gradually been encouraged to pay them more attention, though it is Cantillon's view that this is still a sector that represents great value.

He notes, “I think the most under-valued type of horse that you can buy is a National Hunt mare, and I think in 10 years' time we will be asking why they were so cheap at the time. The programme is remarkable and is improving the whole time, the bonuses are increasing, and in the UK if your mare has achieved a rating over 125 you basically get free nominations for life, which is amazing. If I was advising anyone that wanted to get involved in racing with a fun horse, I think a National Hunt mare is the first port of call.”

Cantillon continues, “In National Hunt racing, 22% of horses in training are mares and of course there's never going to be parity because horses will be retired at seven, eight or nine, but I think we should be moving towards 40% mares in training. That would be a brilliant thing for the breed, because then we are breeding from our best horses, and as a result the whole ecosystem that we develop, with layer upon layer of pedigree, will be more advanced as the best mares will be going to the best stallions. Cabaret Queen will be bred this year and she'll go to a very good stallion, but she wouldn't be going to one if there hadn't been the incentive for us to keep her in training.”

He adds, “When we get to the day when there is no longer the commercial necessity of a discount for a filly foal then we have reached the appropriate point. The overall goal needs to be the testing of the racehorses, and that is achieved by having the appropriate races for them and by continuing to invest in the mares' racing programme both in Ireland and in England.”

Cabaret Queen, from the final crop of the former multiple champion jump sire King's Theatre, will retire to the Cantillon family's Tinnakill House in Ireland at the end of the season and, as her youngsters eventually take to the track, will doubtless be the subject of continued interest from the owners who leased her during her racing career

“I usually end up with around 50 owners in a horse,” says Cantillon. “Cabaret Queen was on a lease basis and her training for six months was €210 per 1%. Some people take five or 10% but the majority take 1%. It allows a lot of people to be part of it, the everyday racing fans, and that's what's so heartening for me, the people who love racing for racing.”

He continues, “The amplification we achieve with the wider public from the 50 individuals who have a share in Grangee at €500 is amazing. It's something to be celebrated and fostered. And she won a €100,000 race so Grangee has decided she's going to be picking up the bill going forward.

“Maybe some owners think they would prefer to be in a syndicate with, say, five people, which is a bit more intimate. Nick Bradley does a great job, Middleham Park Racing do a good job. It's not just about Syndicates.Racing, it's about finding the syndicate that suits you, and I don't mind which syndicates people get into, I just want them to become part of the experience. I have a few shares in horses in Australia and I love waking up in the morning and receiving updates.”

For this week, however, it is Cantillon and his racing and bloodstock director John Bourke who are charged with keeping the many owners of Grangee and Cabaret Queen updated, especially in a year when the ongoing pandemic means that Festival is being conducted behind closed doors.

“It's a testament to Willie Mullins and his team and it's quite remarkable that they are both running in the Cheltenham Festival,” Cantillon says.

“The Festival is a festival in the sense of everything that surrounds it. It's looking at the Mullins string on the Monday morning, it's the walk up the hill, it's the fevered texts I get from people I haven't heard from in years looking for tips. There's all that, and of course the great racing, and not being there this year makes it very weird, but we are all still very excited.”








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