Fancy a spot of horseplay?

Join a syndicate and you can take a thoroughbred of your own to the races

If putting a bet on the Grand National is the closest you have ever got to a racehorse, you might be interested to know that buying one is not as complicated or as expensive as you might think.

If putting a bet on the Grand National is the closest you have ever got to a racehorse, you might be interested to know that buying one is not as complicated or as expensive as you might think.

An increasing number of horse-racing enthusiasts are looking for ways to invest in their favourite hobby, with the hope of generating some enjoyment as well as a financial return on their investment.

Sole ownership of a racehorse is not financially viable for most of us and the British Horseracing Board (BHB) reports a decline in this type of ownership. Syndicate ownership, meanwhile, is growing in popularity as individuals come together to pursue their interest in horseracing by buying an animal collectively.

If you regard such a purchase as an investment though, you may have to think again. The BHB advises people not to expect to make a profit if they buy a racehorse.

"The word investment does not really spring to mind," says Nick Biggin, who used to be part of a syndicate that owned two racehorses. "It's not quite like buying a lottery ticket, but you aren't guaranteed to make money in the same way as if you bought a particular postage stamp or bottle of wine."

Mr Biggin, who owns a bookmakers in Harleston, Norfolk, was part of a syndicate of seven who bought a horse in 1992. Mr Biggin, with five other members of the group, worked in the City at the time. The other partner was the trainer. Their first horse, Glidepath, was very successful but the group invested in a second, Jacks To Open, which was not such a hit.

"We were lucky that Glidepath was so good as we came out roughly level, and his success covered Jacks To Open's costs," says Mr Biggin. "So many horses run for so many years without winning a race that people need to be realistic if [they] do decide to buy a share in a horse."

The cost of buying a horse varies widely. Zoe Davis, spokeswoman for the BHB, says you could pay anything from £10,000 upwards. The average price is about £20,000.

The BHB gives information about buying a horse, financing it and finding a trainer. It is running a two-day seminar in Newmarket at the end of September for anyone interested in horse ownership, with the aim of giving prospective owners a thorough insight into the venture. The seminar costs £225, which will be refunded to anyone who buys a racehorse within a year.

"Always use a trainer or a bloodstock agent to advise and help find a horse," says Ms Davis. "If you opt for a trainer's help, they will expect to train whichever horse you buy, and if you decide to get help from a bloodstock trainer you will have to pay them about 5 per cent commission."

Accountancy firm KPMG calculates that it costs about £16,000 a year to own a racehorse. This includes the trainer's fees, vets' bills, farriers' costs, race entry fees and the jockey's fees.

At the moment, the Racehorse Owner's Association (ROA) is lobbying for the prize money to be increased, since the rates of return on a horse are very low in the UK - about 25p in the pound according to the ROA.

"Even if your horse wins, by the time you've covered the costs and paid the trainer and jockey their share of the winnings, there is very little left," says Mr Biggin. "It's through betting on the horse and others in the stable that you can make money, and if you've got a trainer who knows when the horses are [likely to win], you should be able to do this."

Every racehorse owner's dream is to have a Derby winner. A few lucky owners could find such a successful horse but many others will own duds. You can increase your chances of a profit by opting for a portfolio approach as you would with other investments: if you can afford shares in 10 horses that you can put with different trainers around the country and race on various courses, you will have a greater chance of increasing your rate of return.

"By putting your eggs in different baskets you'll have more chance of finding that rough diamond that could pay back the whole lot," says Mr Biggin. "But you'd need very deep pockets as you may have to cover the costs for years before you have a significant win."

Prize money alone is unlikely to make owning a racehorse profitable. While it may not be an investment in the traditional form of a money- making tool it can be great fun - the reason most syndicates do it. If racing is your passion and you have some spare cash, it could be worth considering.

* Contact: British Horseracing Board information line, tel: 01753 441198.

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