Mark Harding reports in the Weekly Review on the success of Brad Spicer who syndicated Starspangledbanner who became a huge success for the 33 people lucky enough to secure a share in the handsome Choisir colt.
Horse racing’s household names include Bart Cummings, Peter Moody, Damien Oliver, Glen Boss and more, but there is an argument to say none of them has done as much for the sport in the last 12 months as a Williamstown plumber whose passion for the turf was fired the day Tommy Woodcock died. Brad Spicer hung up his spanner a couple of years back to become a full-time syndicator of horses and is the man behind racing’s current greatest advertisement, the international sprinter Starspangledbanner. Spicer put together 33 people from diverse backgrounds to race Starspangledbanner, a magnificent chestnut colt, that won two group 1 races here before being sold for $10 million and heading to England where he has since won two more group 1s. Following on from that success, Spicer Thoroughbreds currently has 12 horses under syndication with about 250 owners, almost all of them newcomers to racing. As the sport struggles to project itself outside its 50-day spring carnival sphere, that’s a major contribution to attracting vital new blood. And it reinforces Racing Victoria’s spiel that owning racehorses is “the game anyone can play”. Certainly, Spicer’s results, and those of a growing band of syndicators, show that you no longer have to be royalty to be a part of the sport of kings. The owners of Starspangledbanner held shares varying from 25 per cent (owned by the colt’s breeder Tony Santic of Makybe Diva fame) down to 0.5 per cent, and they crossed almost every demographic of age, profession and background. For many of them, the success of their investment changed their lives. In ball park terms those who owned 10 per cent of the colt turned their $15,000 investment into $1 million. Those who owned just 1 per cent spent only $1500 and picked up $100,000 – somewhat better than the return on property or the stockmarket of late. Of course, not every set of new owners can expect those sorts of riches but they can expect to have a lot of fun with the prospect of a good return on a modest investment. “Syndication gives the everyday Joe a chance in a big race,” Spicer says. “It doesn’t matter what percentage you have, whether you’ve got $500 to spend or $50,000, you still experience the same level of jubilation after a win.”The mounting yard scenes after the Caulfield Guineas last spring and the Oakleigh Plate last autumn were proof of that with some extraordinary scenes of celebration – and just one race after Starspangledbanner won the Oakleigh Plate at Caulfield, similar outbursts were seen when another syndicated horse, Star Witness, won the Blue Diamond Stakes. Where serious wealth was once required to own a class racehorse, Spicer says barely a meeting goes by these days without several syndicates appearing in the winner’s circle. Spicer’s love of racing was born at Werribee racecourse from the age of 19, when he used to sell the afternoon newspaper The Herald. The most papers he ever sold was on the day the legendary strapper of Phar Lap, Tommy Woodcock, died, and as the racegoers flocked to read the news, the young lad knew there was something special about the sport. Spicer was introduced to racehorse ownership when he was 20, joining a group put together by the man he describes as the “father of racehorse syndication” in Australia, Harry Lawton. Lawton recognised Spicer’s drive and passion for racing and installed him as the manager of the syndicate even though he was the youngest member. The horse, Kayhan, won five races and Spicer was hooked. Ironically, Lawton died in September last year, just as Starspangledbanner was announcing himself as a serious spring contender. Six years ago Spicer began syndicating horses himself, initially as a hobby, organising three horses a year for the first few years. Then he did five horses, then eight: some of his successful horses included Fernandina, Noesis and Origami Miss. After Starspangledbanner won the Caulfield Guineas Spicer said he would cut back to five horses so he could handle everything himself. Instead, it’s gone the other way. There are 12 on his books and he has had to put on staff. Not that he is the biggest syndicator, not by a long stretch. There are plenty of bigger ones out there, each offering a dream for
less than the price of household whitegoods. Administrators were initially slow to embrace syndication but have seen the benefits of the publicity it brings and so most clubs have eased some of the restrictions on mounting-yard passes. The message is that syndicate members are “real” owners, and it’s a message Spicer endorses. “Not once did I hear my owners say, ‘I own 2 per cent of Starspangledbanner’ – they were loud and proud and they ‘owned Starspangledbanner’!”
For more information on becoming an owner visit Racing Victoria and Spicer Thoroughbreds.
BALLPARK COSTS TO RACE A HORSE
So how much does it cost to own a racehorse? How long is a piece of string? Apart from buying a share in your thoroughbred, you will be up for training costs, which can be as little as $45 a day with a small country trainer or $120 a day with a big trainer at a city track. Then there are vet and farrier fees, which can vary greatly, depending on the health of your horse and the training philosophies of your trainer. The good news is that by joining a syndicate you can have the thrill of ownership for a fraction of the cost.