There is a giddiness in Niall Quinn's voice as he begins to talk about Each Way, an unraced four-year-old filly he has bought along with a few buddies from Sunderland.
Quinn is a lifelong racing fan who watched Cois Na Tine carry his colours to victory in the 1993 Futurity Stakes at the Curragh. The Jim Bolger-trained filly ended her career unbeaten with four wins from four starts. He also enjoyed huge success with Halmahera and The French Furze, who won 20 races between them. He was bitten by the racing bug long ago, but the buzz never goes away and now he is back in racehorse ownership.
“I made some great friends during my time at Sunderland and we've all got together to own a filly who we have sent to Paul Nolan to train. I can't tell you how much fun it has been and she hasn't even run yet! I just hope she doesn't spoil all of our fun!” says the former Ireland striker who was capped 92 times between 1986 and 2002.
Quinn continues: “We hired a bus and took a spin down to Paul's yard in Wexford to see the filly a while ago. One of the main objectives was to come up with a name for the syndicate but the craic was mighty and it was only the next day that we all realised we never actually came up with the name. Getting to go to the stable and see what happens behind the scenes is always really enjoyable.
“This is a great way for a group of very good friends to stay in touch. We have even set up a WhatsApp group, although I had to educate a few of the lads who presumed phones were just to talk into. It is a case of so far so good at this stage. Her brother has a good bit of ability but, as Paul [Nolan] told us, Elvis Presley's brother couldn't hold a note so not to get carried away. It is exciting, though, and we are all getting great enjoyment out it.”
Enjoyment is what racehorse ownership is all about and, when your friends are involved, it often adds to the excitement. It certainly has for Quinn. That collective enjoyment is surely one of the key contributors to the soaring of syndicates in 2017. There were 548 registered syndicates last year, up from 520 in 2016 and 492 in 2015. Racing clubs rose at an even higher level, up 51 per cent from 2016.
Racing clubs are larger groups with anything from 20 to 400 or more members. With prices starting from about €400, it is an affordable way of getting in on all the fun. Syndicates are smaller with 5 to 20 members and are often a collaboration of close friends or colleagues, just like Quinn's unnamed one.
For the price of a golf membership you and your friends could tee off at the racecourse instead and, with prize money continuing on an upward curve, there is also the prospect of some return on your investment.
Brian Kavanagh, chief executive of Horse Racing Ireland, says the scenes at Leopardstown's Christmas festival told you all you need to know about the thrill of owning a racehorse. “The coolest customers you would ever see are often beside themselves with excitement when they have a horse running. Look at Timmy O'Driscoll [owner of Flawless Escape who won a maiden hurdle on December 28] who led his horse back into the winners' enclosure. The sheer joy on his face was a wonderful sight. You can't buy that feeling,” says Kavanagh.
“There is a reason we call them race meetings. It is about meeting people and enjoying yourself. Owning horses is a great way for people to switch off. Those that are stressed in the office from Monday to Friday can get a release at a racecourse. It is a social event and getting involved in syndicates or racing clubs is a great way of spreading the costs.”
Two of the biggest race meetings in the history of Irish racing take place on February 3 and 4 as Leopardstown stages the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival - a unique event that will celebrate Dublin’s richness and diversity across racing, culture, comedy, music and food. There will be one familiar face in the crowd anyway. "I certainly hope to make an appearance," says Quinn. "It should be a fantastic weekend and one I don't want to miss."