Make winning a family affair

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4th February, 2018
Our Duke, with Robbie Power, on their way to winning the Boylesports Irish Grand National Steeplechase at Fairyhouse Racecourse in Ratoath, Co Meath. Photo: Getty Images

Syndicates are for sharing. The costs are condensed, the headaches don't hurt as much and the celebrations last longer. There is safety in numbers. Enjoyment is often enhanced too, especially when your family hops onto the same carriage of the rollercoaster. The Coopers, from the Kildare village of Rathangan, will testify to that. They have yet to stop celebrating since Our Duke made his first public appearance in a Punchestown bumper in mid-November 2015.

He won that race by 21 lengths and has since mopped up the Grade 1 Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown and Ireland's richest jumps race, the BoyleSports Irish Grand National. They bred him, they own him and they worship him. The Cooper Family Syndicate is made up of brothers Billy, Nigel and Sloane and their brother-in-law Charles Piggott, who is married to their sister Hazel. Today at Leopardstown they will watch the favourite for the Unibet Irish Gold Cup carry their white and green colours. Victory could mean they own the favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup next month.

"He has been a brilliant horse from day one and we have got great enjoyment out of him," says Billy Cooper. "He owes us absolutely nothing and anything more he achieves will be a bonus. When your family are involved it is obviously very special.

"It's funny, we were going to take him out of the Irish National as we felt the ground was too quick for him. If there were a few more minutes of sunshine, he wouldn't have run. Robbie [Power, jockey] said he would pull him up after four fences if he wasn't enjoying it so I was fully expecting the dream to be over early. He ended up winning the race by 14 lengths!”

Not all syndicates get to savour superstars like Our Duke. For former Irish rugby international Johne Murphy, the quest to find one even half as good has just commenced. He has combined his two passions in life to form the Rugby and Racing Syndicate. There have been 13 shares sold at €10,000 a share and Murphy has brought in a clever initiative, using rugby stars as brand ambassadors. Conor Murray, Keith Earls, Andrew Conway, Damien Varley, Fergus McFadden and Sean Cronin are six stars to back the scheme, members of the syndicate will get opportunities to meet and greet them on the gallops at Joseph O'Brien's Owning Hill base.

“As well as their rights as owners on the racecourse, there are also tickets for rugby matches up for grabs and the chance to meet the lads in a relaxed environment on the gallops rather than a corporate setting," Murphy says. "There are terrific networking opportunities too."

The Rugby and Racing Syndicate have already acquired two horses, Apparition and Chateau Conti, and Murphy is hoping that one of those might bring them to Cheltenham. “We are quite excited about Apparition who has good form on the flat and over hurdles. He could run at Cheltenham and what an exciting venture that would be.”

The last 12 months have proved to be a very exciting venture for Fitzwilliam Racing, a ten-strong syndicate which owned nine horses trained by Johnny Murtagh in 2017. Four of those won races, with Too Familiar and Yolo Star, scoring twice. Dudley Solan split the joining cost with a friend and has faith in the way the syndicate is run.

“You never really know what to expect when you get into racehorse ownership but the thing I liked about Fitzwilliam Racing was that the exit strategy made sense,” says Solan.

“The fact that the option is there to sell the horses if the time is right means that it limits the amount you lose each season. There's some percentage back on your investment. We recycle. It is a nice idea and I have certainly enjoyed it so far.”

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