Owning a race horse sounds glamorous. It might seem as though ownership of a thoroughbred race horse affords a lifestyle of travelling from one meeting to the next, constant excitement during countless races - a life lived off the prize monies won by your heroic horse. It seems exclusive, the direct ticket to join the horse racing elite. Naturally, this is not exactly the case.
The idea that the ownership of race horses is only an option for the very wealthy is a misconception; however, an easy one to fall prey to. As one needs - for a start - a lot of space to keep a horse, it is logical to assume that mainly people owning large blocks of land are able to keep a horse. The Queen, to name the most affluent example, for instance invests substantially in the royal stables. With the combined costs of feeding, training, grooming, transporting and entering the horse into meetings, as well as veterinary expenses, it seems that ownership of a horse is a matter best left to the affluent others.
Opening Up The Track - Syndicates
Most people do not realise that a large number of race horses are not owned by one sole individual but groups of people, thanks to the wonderful concept of 'syndication'. This trend arose out of all the issues of horse ownership mentioned above, operating on the principle of sharing the load as well as the winnings, thus allowing even fairly average race horse lovers to own a part of the action.
There are several different types of syndicates. The original form of syndication, of course, was a group of friends getting together, pooling their money and purchasing a horse. The purchase can either be registered in the name of one syndicate member - with informal contracts amongst the group regulate the share and responsibilities of each -, or the group can register as a collective owner, making the syndicate official. This does involve a lot of paperwork, but it also safeguards against arguments over fair share should the sydicate disintegrate or lose a member.
However, the syndication of horse ownership quickly became commercialised. Today web sites offer as little as 1%-10% shares in race horses, often only for one season. For as small an amount as £70 you can have a small percentage share of a horse's takings during one season. In a commercial syndicate you will not have to concern yourself with any of the horse maintenance or issues that might arise, once you have paid your fee; however, you will also have no influence on the horse's training, well-being and choice of race meetings. Although it may be amusing to co-own a horse with a group of anonymous strangers for the duration of one racing season, it will rarely afford the excitement you can share with close and personal business partners. Another drawback of commercial syndication is that you are unlikely to see 'your' horse performing until after the purchase of your shares, which forces you to rely only on the information offered by the main share holders. However, some syndicating services offer yard visits to assist you in your choice.
In total there are four types of co-ownership when it comes to race horses: Company ownership, in which a horse is owned by the shareholders of a company with a registered agent to deal with the horse's business on the company's behalf; a racing partnership, which can include 2-20 people, at least two of which must become or already be registered owners; the joint ownership, which is the original form of syndication explained above; or a leasing ownership, in which the horse is borrowed for a set amount of time - ranging from a single race to its entire racing career - rather than permanently acquired.
The VAT Scheme
In 1993 the United Kingdom introduced the so-called VAT Scheme for race horse owners; enabling them to register for Value Added Tax (VAT) in order to reclaim their outlay for their racehorse interests. If you wish to own or co-own a horse in the UK, it is paramount that you register for the Vat scheme as soon as you are eligible. Having been reviewed in 2005/6 the scheme has been granted and extension and no date for future reviewing has been set, a success due to the great benefits is affords race horse owners and by extension the racing industry as a whole.
Although it is possible for the average human being to own a horse these days, the fame of the horse usually surpasses the fame of the owners, and rightly so. In a few cases however, the horse and owner are equal celebrities, each in their own right.
Sir Alex Ferguson
Better known as the frequently enraged manager of Manchester United, Sir Alex was also the co-owner of the hugely successful thoroughbred Rock of Gibraltar. The horse took ten wins out of thirteen races in its two active seasons; Sir Alex fell out with his co-owner Susan Magnier after the horse's retirement. Although the matter was settled out of court, it shall serve as a staunch reminder never to enter a co-ownership lightly or without the proper paperwork in place.
A comedian most famed for annoucing to the public press that he had eaten a hamster - a stunt comparable to Keith Richard's confession of having snorted his father's ashes - Starr was the owner of 1994 Aintree Grand National Winner Minnehoma.