Racing: Easy Buck on offer for one-day ownership

RACING: A new scheme for leasing runners will take some of the pain out of paying for the upkeep of thoroughbreds
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How much might it cost to own a runner in the Grand National which has a realistic chance of winning? There is the price of buying a young, well-bred chasing type (or more probably several dozen of them to have a reasonable chance that one will h ave some talent). Then you have to keep it for several years (on the finest oats, naturally), and find a good trainer (they don't come cheap). And how could you put a value on the disappointment if it goes lame on the morning of the race? After you've pa id allthose entry fees, too . . .

If your running total is by now well into six figures, Peter Steveney's estimate might come as a surprise. He would hope to provide you with a runner, in your colours, in the Grand National, with a fair chance of victory, for about £28,000. And that evenincludes the interview with Des Lynam.

There is, of course, a small catch. The horse might carry your colours, and if it wins you get to receive the trophy, but as dusk falls over Aintree, it will be time to shake him by the hoof and say goodbye.

Steveney runs a company called Club Racing Limited, which will lease you a horse for a day for a fee starting from about £2,000.

Clearly, even at the lowest price tier, corporate sponsors who would like a horse in "their" race are Steveney's principal target, though as he points out, "if 10 friends get together, it's £200 each". In return, his customers will get much of the fun ofowning a racehorse, without any of the heartache.

Single-day leasing has been possible only since last October, when the British Horseracing Board amended the stringent rule which had previously insisted upon six months as a minimum lease period. The change was made with at least one eye on the agreement with Customs & Excise which allows owners to reclaim VAT on their training bills if, in return, they attempt to use their horses to generate sponsorship revenue. Leasing out their horse for just one day is enough to convince the taxmen that its owner is making an acceptable effort.

"A lot of owners haven't twigged the problems they're going to have if they haven't managed to find sponsorship," Steveney says. "Smaller owners could be in real trouble when the Customs & Excise ask them what efforts they have made."

There could be other rewards too for owners who allow Steveney to lease their horses. "To get good horses, I've possibly had to be overgenerous to the owners," Steveney says. "I offer them 10 per cent of the penalty value of the race as payment, and if the horse should win any prize-money, they keep it."

The lessor too will benefit if the horse wins. Steveney's leasing agreement includes a pro rata "insurance bet" with Ladbrokes which, if it wins at 5-1 or better, will cover the cost of the entire package. A 10-1 victory will return double the cost of the lease, and so on, which means that if a leased horse were to win the National at 50-1, Steveney's clients would pick up more cash than its "real" owners. The latter's many months or years of training fees would not even secure a place in racing's record books - that, too, would belong to the lease-holder.

A significant success for a one-day owner would be an invaluable advertisement for the scheme, and Steveney's best chance of achieving one could come in the Cathcart Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March. Easy Buck, a useful chaser who will start with a fair chance in one of the meeting's weaker races, is currently on Steveney's books awaiting a prospective owner with at least £7,000 to spare.

"That would be the cost of the basic package," Steveney says, "though if they also want to stay in a castle with 10 guests for a couple of nights, that would be about £17,000. But of course, if Easy Buck wins, they would get the entire cost of the package back."

A Festival winner who pays for the hotel without a single training bill darkening the doormat. An easy buck indeed.