'You Can't Afford To Be Risk Averse In This Game And I'm Not That'

Andrew Black (right) at Royal Ascot | Racingfotos.com


   Andrew Black is renowned in the gambling industry, being co-founder of Betfair, one of the biggest exchanges in the world. 

   However, there is much more to the 59-year-old than being the man who revolutionised betting; he is also hugely passionate about breeding and playing cards.

   Black got to the semi-finals of the world Bridge Championships last week and his breeding endeavors at Chasemore Farm continue to go from strength to strength. 

   He will bid for Group 1 glory at Haydock on Saturday when homebred Brad The Brief (GB) (Dutch Art {GB}) runs in the Sprint Cup while Noble Style (GB) (Kingman {GB}), sold by Chasemore at Book 1 to Godolphin for 525,000gns last year, is well on his way to becoming a top-notch colt after landing the G2 Gimcrack S this season.

   From breeding potential superstars like Noble Style to discussing his plans for Chasemore and revealing a recent near-death health scare he suffered last Christmas, Black makes for a fascinating interviewee.

Brian Sheerin: It has been a brilliant year for Chasemore Farm and it could get even better with Brad The Brief in the Sprint Cup on Saturday. You must be looking forward to it?

Andrew Black: I am, assuming we run. It's well known at this stage, he likes a cut in the ground, and I think there's rain forecast for Friday night or Saturday morning at Haydock. He wants it soft, good-to-soft would be okay, but as he's got older, the need for soft or heavy ground has reduced a little because his knees are better now than they've ever been before. In his early days, he suffered from immaturity issues and, as time has gone on, that situation has improved. If the going was good, I would expect him to find things a little hot, but if it's on the soft side, I'd expect him to be in the mix.

BS: He's two-from-two this season, including at Group 2 level. It's interesting that he was in the horses-in-training sale last season. Was that ever a realistic destination for him?

AB: I don't think so. It's interesting that Hugo [Palmer] seems to have done better with him than Tom [Dascombe] did. We have paid a good bit of attention to his knees and it seems to be working. Tom didn't want to campaign him at a high level and was always insisting to us that he was a 90-rated handicapper at best and we should aim quite low with him. Hugo has sorted out an issue with his knees this year and he seems to have progressed. He's definitely moved on this year and to see numbers like 120 beside his name, that's pretty exciting. I think he can do more–when conditions come up right, I think he could pull off a Group 1 win. 

BS: Has anything been changed in his training routine to bring about the improvement?

AB: The only thing that has been changed is that, when he came back to Chasemore Farm, we observed that his knees might benefit from being medicated. He's had two separate courses of medication and that's possibly what made the difference as he's moving very well now–he'd always been a bit scratchy. He's a very good-looking horse and is everything that you'd want a sprinter to look like. That little bit more freedom of movement appears to have made the difference. 

BS: You have been quoted as saying, “for me, seeing an animal you bred winning a big race is as good as it gets.” Things have been going pretty well of late, not just with horses running in your own colours, but with Noble Style as well.

AB: This year has been amazing for us. You could consider it a breakthrough year. Not only have we had a lot of success on the track, but a lot of the yearlings that we have going to the yearling sale this year are a lot more interesting; we have some good stuff coming through. Noble Style obviously tops the list. He's quite a fiery character and, as he grows up, I think he's going to improve more. He looks like much more than just a 2-year-old to me. His mother [Eartha Kitt (GB) (Pivotal {GB})] didn't do it until she was three. She could have been even better at four but we retired her early as we lost her mother. She won a listed race on her final start at three but, if we kept her in training as a 4-year-old, we'd have got a lot more out of her. I'm certain of that. I was actually out-voted on that at the time, I wanted to keep her in training but we have got Noble Style out of it so I can't complain. I think he's really special. He could be a proper Group 1 horse. I don't even want to say that out loud and I am touching wood as I say it. 

BS: What's pretty cool about Noble Style is that the family extends all the way back to Baldovina (GB) (Tale Of The Cat), one of the first horses you've owned. It's a family that you have nurtured. 

AB: That's what's really amazing for us. What interested me about Baldovina when I claimed her was, not the black-type on the page, but the fact that there were not many animals in the pedigree full stop. The black-type as a percentage to animals on the page was interesting. Her dam, Baldwina (Fr) (Pistol Bleu {Ire}), was a Group 3 winner, so it was only really Baldovina who had failed. After I claimed Baldovina, her dam went to Japan and produced Jeweler (Jpn) (Victoire Pisa {Jpn}), who won the Japanese 1,000 Guineas, among others. Baldovina amazingly had become a half-sister to a Classic winner after I claimed her for just £17,000. She was one of the first horses I ever bought, so that was a bit of a turn up for the books. We did so well from selling horses out of her that we got her money back many times over. There's always a lot of interest from Japan whenever we go to sell anything from the family. It's an emerging family. We have a lovely Camelot (GB) filly foal, who is a half-sister to Noble Style, and we also have a Frankel (GB) half-sister to him as well. She is now a 3-year-old but unfortunately she could never race but she's a beautiful filly and I think she will produce something for us. 

BS: If we didn't know you and know your backstory, we could say that Baldovina was beginner's luck.

AB: In the case of Baldovina, it was beginner's luck, but she should never have been in that claimer in the first place. She was a daughter of a French Group 3 winner who only had the one foal in the UK before she went off to Japan. Not only that, she finished second in her first two maidens before her form fell off the face of a cliff, which happens. She was by Tale Of The Cat, who I felt was an interesting stallion, given it is that Storm Cat line. You don't see many pedigrees as interesting as that in claimers, certainly not fillies anyway, and I think they made a mistake putting her in there. Maybe they didn't appreciate what they had and I was very happy to claim her and take my chance. I thought I made a mistake for a while, and even put her in the sale and bought her back, as I did with Ceiling Kitty as well, but I think that's because I was under a bit of pressure from other people at the time. I had bloodstock advisers who were wondering what I was doing. I had a fair bit of money and they were wondering why I was messing around claiming horses when I should have been buying expensive well-bred fillies. As it happened, she was the most exciting animal that I had at the time, despite the fact I paid quite large sums of money for some very well-related fillies. None of those left the footprint she did at Chasemore Farm. Not by a long way. We got that one right but made other mistakes. 

BS: You've obviously got good business instincts but it's interesting that you also trusted your gut in racing and breeding despite the fact you had advisers trying to steer you in another direction. 

AB: I would always respect the advice of others. But, at the same time, if you don't learn any lessons and chance your arm every now and again, what is the point? You've got to go out there and do a few crazy things. If you are afraid of making a fool of yourself, you won't achieve much in this game. I never liked looking stupid. Nobody likes to look stupid. But I won't let that stand in my way and, in cases like this, I didn't. I mean, I claimed Beacon Lady (GB) (Haafhd {GB}) after she came last, and she went on to win eight races for us. You can look pretty stupid when you claim a horse after it finishes last but, again, that one worked out. You've got to be prepared to lose money and to get things wrong from time to time. I don't think you can afford to be risk averse in this game and I'm not that. In fact, I'm probably a bit too far the other way. I'm always happy to chance my arm. 

BS: I know that you said before that you'd like the broodmare band at Chasemore Farm to be around the 25 mark. I also see that you bought Chachamaidee (Ire) for 200,000gns at the July Sale just gone. What is the philosophy going forward?

AB: If anything, I'm increasing my numbers at the moment. My business life is going very well. Outside of horse racing, I am involved in two industries; one is oil and the other is vaccines. Both of those have had a very good run in the past few years. In years to come, I could have more money to spend, so things have panned out well for me. I think I will probably be spending more at the sales and the plan is to steadily upgrade over time. It was always my plan to upgrade anyway. The idea was, after buying the farm, that I needed to go out there and buy a certain number of broodmares. I needed to stock up, get my processes going and get good people working on the stud. The idea of starting with four or five horses and then building my way up to 30 didn't make much sense. I needed to get up to 30 quite quickly and then upgrade them over time. So that was the plan. That has been playing out and, whether we get good mares like Chachamaidee by going out and buying them or if we breed them ourselves, it doesn't matter to me how we get them. We've got a fantastic team here at Chasemore and we've got a couple of really good clients here as well. We like having the boarders here as it keeps us sensible and it's good to have customers. We're seeing a bit of success, which helps us to believe in ourselves a little bit more.

BS: There's also been a change to your approach to racing. You revealed that you were in the process of selling your share in Manor House Stables around the time that Hugo Palmer was announced as Tom Dascombe's replacement there.

AB: Yes, that's correct. By the time Tom left Manor House, I had decided to leave anyway. The reason why I left is not because I had any problems with Manor House, as I am very happy with what's going on there, but it's just a long way away. We decided to be a bit more supportive of Epsom. The problem with Epsom historically is that the facilities were a little bit weak. That's being resolved and Epsom is becoming a better training centre. Money has been spent on the gallops and there is the potential for more to be spent. It feels like Epsom is on the up and we want to support the training centre, which is right beside where we are. The idea of getting out of your bed at seven o'clock in the morning and going to the gallops at Epsom as opposed to getting out of bed at four o'clock to travel to Manor House also appeals as I am getting old and don't have as much energy as I used to have. The four-hour trip to Manor House is not as attractive as it once was. There's a lot of good people in Epsom as well so I think we'll be a little more involved there. I am always going to send one or two horses to Manor House, just because I want to keep that relationship with Michael [Owen], who's a great mate. We've had a lot of fun together and Hugo is training very well from there now so there's no reason not to send horses there. I just won't be sending the numbers that I used to. We'll have horses around in different places and will have some in Newmarket as well. 

BS: But I gather your main interest lies in breeding rather than racing?

AB: Yes, I think so. I have got as much pleasure watching Noble Style winning for Godolphin as if he were mine. I realised that I get an awful amount of pleasure out of watching horses we've bred come out and win. They don't have to run in my colours. The breeding side of things is what has always really interested me. I never interfered too much on the training side of things and always left that up to the trainer to make the decisions. Also, I'm not somebody who particularly likes the limelight in any case. It's not what I am about so, for me, breeding is more interesting. 

BS: And what else excites you on the farm at present?

AB: We have a pretty good draft for Book 1 and Book 2 at Tattersalls this year. It will be interesting to see how that goes. We've got a very nice Siyoini (Fr) foal out of a Red Clubs (Ire) mare. He's really quite powerful. We have a Kingman half-brother to Uncle Bryn (GB) (Sea The Stars {Ire}) and he looks pretty interesting. All four of my Book 2 animals are interesting and the pedigrees have improved just this year. We have a sister to Lezoo (GB) [Brogan], for example, by Pivotal (GB), and she is a potentially interesting producer. We have a full-brother to Breege (GB) (Starspangledbanner {Aus}) who is good-looking and there's a number from the Ceiling Kitty (GB) family as well. But, if I had to pick one as being the most exciting on the farm, I'd say it's the Camelot (GB) out of Eartha Kitt (GB). That's a foal and will never be sold. She could be very nice. 

BS: You've always had a soft spot for Camelot

AB: I have and that's just me as a punter. You see certain horses on the racecourse and grow an affection towards them. I absolutely loved Camelot. I thought he was a fantastic physical specimen and always wanted to produce a nice horse by him so I have favoured him over a lot of stallions, in truth. Camelot and Kingman, I have spent a lot of money on those two stallions. 

BS: Of course, you were a professional punter at one stage in your life. Has the breeding replaced the punting or do you still bet?

AB: I still bet. I've had a bad year betting for whatever reason. I've had some good years but this year has been terrible and I don't know why. I just can't seem to get moving. Can't get going. Every time I think I'm on a run it just peters out. I've lost loads of money gambling this year, it's just been one-way traffic, but I don't bet like I used to. I still bet in reasonable sizes when I bet but I rarely spend a day betting. I probably place four or five bets a week whereas, in the old days, I'd have been betting heavily every day. I think I'm getting old. I find it a little bit boring and can't follow the form like I used to. The time I would have spent studying the form, I now spend studying the matings and looking through pedigrees. The breeding study has replaced the betting study. 

BS: That's twice now that you're after saying that you are getting old.

AB: Well, I had a heart attack last year. It was actually quite a severe heart attack and it happened on Boxing Day. Maybe that's why I feel old. It was a good thing in many respects as I have lost five stone since then and I am doing a bit more exercise now. It has been a good year for me apart from that. I got to the semi-final of the World Bridge Championships last week and knocked out the World Champion in the quarter-finals. That was amazing for me. I take Bridge pretty seriously and play on a team. It's a big thing in my life and I came so close to winning the semi-final. Mentally, I'm in a pretty good place and that showed me that, if I can still compete at the highest level playing Bridge, my brain is still okay. I think I'm in a good place. The heart attack has been a good thing for me. I'm on God knows how many pills now to keep things steady but they're working for me and my blood pressure is low and I'm very calm. I try to stay in that calm place and I spend a lot of time thinking, which is what I most enjoy. Listen, I see myself as getting old but I am perfectly happy with that. I am 59 years of age and the heart attack scared the shit out of me. It was pretty scary to contemplate one's own death so, having failed to lose any weight for a long time, it became a lot easier to make the effort. I got some positive impetus out of that and I just have to build on that now. 


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