Even those who prefer jump racing must feel a slither of excitement when Flat horses return to turf in the spring. It may count for nothing as far as championship purposes are concerned, but the Lincoln meeting at Doncaster still possesses a magical quality, four months of all-weather action giving way again to lush green as the backdrop to the speedier side of our sport.
Winner of just the second race of the turf season, the Spring Mile, was Petrus, whose owner Giles Morland’s interest in racing – or at least betting! – has been life-long.
Petrus, trained for Morland by Brian Meehan, landed the prestigious 16-runner Doncaster handicap, which is effectively the Lincoln consolation, by half a length under Tom Marquand as a well-fancied 7-1 chance.
Explaining his background, Morland says: “My initial interest in horseracing started at school. This was very much from a gambling perspective, and the cleaning lady in our house used to place our bets for us. Interestingly she was, at weekends, a part-time police officer!
“When I started in the City, racehorses were beyond my means. I owned a number of greyhounds, which we syndicated around the bank. Later I moved on to racehorses; initially in syndicates and then outright ownership.
“I do all of my racing with Brian Meehan and Sam Sangster, both of whom are great friends. I am Chairman of Manton Thoroughbreds, Centurion Thoroughbreds and Petrus Breeding Investments Limited; all of which I do with Sam and Brian.”
Morland, an investment banker for 30 years before retiring at the end of 2015, adds: “I currently have interests in 18 horses in training, all on the Flat. Six of these run in my name and my colours; the rest are Manton Thoroughbreds where I am Chairman and an investor.”
While Manton and the Sangsters are among the places and name that reverberate in Flat racing, history can sometimes be a burden. Manton must be a lovely place from which to train but also a place where the ghosts of past glories are a constant reminder of high expectations.
Morland has plenty of faith in Petrus’ handler and continues: “My choice of Brian Meehan as a trainer is not only down to our friendship. I believe with the right raw material he is one of the very best in the country.
“He also has an exceptional eye for a yearling, which is important to me. This is an expensive sport and if we can endeavour to make it pay, then all the better. I have had horses with Henry Candy and Archie Watson but am happiest being all in one place at Manton.”
As good a start to the turf season as Morland made thanks to Petrus, it would take something a little bit higher-profile from the four-year-old to make it into his magical moments shortlist.
His owner says: “Two magical moments stand out for me. First was Barraquero winning the Group 2 Richmond Stakes for Manton Thoroughbreds II. Second was Bacchus winning the Wokingham last year, my first Royal Ascot winner.”
Petrus also ran at Royal Ascot last year, finishing 12th in the Britannia off a mark of 97. His Doncaster win saw him rise 6lb back to that same mark. There are a variety of answers when asking someone what aspects of ownership they especially enjoy, and Morland make no bones about the importance of occupying the prime spot in the winner’s enclosure.
“The best thing about being a racehorse owner is the winning; nothing beats it,” he says.
“I also enjoy the camaraderie; it is very much a team effort with everyone pulling together so, when it comes off, it is especially satisfying.”
He adds: “The worst thing is probably the prize-money at the lower levels. I believe that if you have a horse that wins two to three times in a season then, as a minimum, that should be a zero-sum game for you.”
It is a sentiment his thousands of fellow ROA members would undoubtedly share, with the Flat sector hoping for at least a zero-sum game as the turf season cranks up and spring turns into summer.