With his dad’s memorable 25-1 punt in the Lincoln when the big spring handicap was still run at Lincoln part of his childhood memories, Chris Batterham’s bucket list when a little older went like this: nice house, sports car, painting, racehorse.
Shares in a company that floated enabled him to acquire his first racehorse, Miss Ondee, who ran in the ownership of CM, BJ and RF Batterham – Chris, his wife and his dad – and won a novice hurdle at Ludlow to set the Batterham ball rolling.
She was a Pipe-McCoy horse, as was Majadou, who came along soon after and was a shrewd purchase from France in the days when £40,000 or so could go a very long way and when the small number of other British buyers across the Channel included another Pipe owner, David Johnson, and Clive Smith.
These days, reckons Batterham, a horse like Majadou would set you back €350,000 or so, a situation that was to eventually lead to a successful switch of codes to the Flat.
Buying good horses from France for reasonable money was great for owners like Batterham while it lasted, and even though it was some 18 years ago, Majadou’s victory in the Mildmay of Flete at the Festival still ranks in the owner’s top two magical moments.
“People spend a lot of money to try to have a winner at Cheltenham so I feel lucky and privileged,” he says.
Carlovent, Majadou’s three-parts brother, was another jumper his owner has very fond memories of. He won £150,000 or so more than it cost to get him out of a claimer in France, including victories in the Silver Trophy at Chepstow and the extended three-mile handicap hurdle at the Grand National meeting twice at big prices, so it’s easy to understand why.
At some point around this time, Batterham’s dad suggested buying a Flat horse, and with the Batterhams having a cottage in Masham, a visit to Mark Johnston’s stables at the Middleham open day led to a fruitful association.
“Martin Pipe and Mark Johnston are similar,” says Batterham. “Fit horses, trying to win, and running week in, week out.”
Keeneland purchase Takes Tutu was the Batterhams’ first horse with Johnston, and he was to provide several magical memories, winning at the Guineas meeting and Glorious Goodwood and at Jebel Ali in the UAE.
Batterham recalls: “Mark was writing a column in the Racing Post then. I remember him writing about having four or so horses running in the UAE and not understanding how they weren’t doing better, including at Jebel Ali, which had a steep hill.
"We went to watch Takes Tutu run there, and he was three lengths clear at the bottom of the hill, and while it looked as though he was sure to get collared he clung on in a photo. We got a plastic gold cup for a trophy! I’ve never had to wait so long for some champagne after a win, as there was none at the course and we went to the Burj [Al Arab hotel] for what was the most expensive champagne I’ve ever bought! It was a fantastic weekend.”
It hasn’t all been plain sailing, for Takes Tutu’s half-brother, Lighting Affair, was a case of what might have been, for having finished second twice and then won a maiden at two, he sadly suffered a fatal bout of colic before he had a chance to show what he could do in his Classic year.
Robby Bobby – Batterham and wife Rosie’s pet name for their son – was to come along to provide another magical moment for the owners, winning at Southwell just before Christmas on the last occasion Batterham’s dad was to go racing.
With his son and daughter growing up and going off to university, the Batterhams took a bit of time out from ownership, but after daughter Jennifer had suggested it might be time to re-establish their ownership interests, and Chris had turned 60, the purple and green silks were back.
With Batterham’s “nerdy”interest in the race programme, quirks and all, and with Chesham in his postal address, the rather unique Royal Ascot contest has always been one he’s wanted to win, to the extent his purchases often come with that in mind.
Masham Star ran in it last year, finishing down the field behind Churchill, but with three wins and several other good efforts Batterham is very happy to have the colt, although working out even better for the family is juvenile Nyaleti.
Batterham found it hard to believe he was able to get her for £40,000, but the “rest is history” as he says. Her debut was at Salisbury in the Toby Balding Memorial race and she was to win at 16-1.
Her owner says:“I like the history of racing and I’d much rather win a race with a name that means something. Tony Balding trained up McCoy of course, who rode a lot of my winners, and the Balding family were all there. It was a good day.”
Even better days have followed. Nyaleti went on to finish second to September at Royal Ascot in – yes, you’ve guessed it – the Chesham, and second to another Ballydoyle filly, Churchill’s sister Clemmie, in the Cherry Hinton Stakes at the July meeting.
Then came a day to rival Majadou’s Cheltenham Festival triumph on King George day at Ascot, with Nyaleti storming to a five-length win in the Group 3 Princess Margaret Stakes.
“I think Group races on the Flat are as competitive, if not more so, than races at Cheltenham,” says Batterham, “so I’d put winning the Princess Margaret in my top two magical moments.”
What he describes as “very big-money offers” have come in for Nyaleti, but the owner is not planning to sell, seeing Nyaleti as a broodmare prospect. Besides which, he says: “If I accept an offer and then saw her win like that, I wouldn’t just be gutted on the day, I’d be gutted for months, even years.”
That sentence probably sums up best what owning a horse means to Batterham, who while invariably letting the trainer have the final say, enjoys being a “proactive” owner, one who remains proud of his role in Mondial Jack’s win in an intermediate chase at Kelso 13 years ago.
“It was in May and I managed to persuade Martin to keep the horse in training,” he recalls. “It was Martin’s first runner at Kelso, McCoy’s first ride, and was a fantastic day. They did the training and riding, but it was my entry!”
Pipe was renowned for his successful sourcing of horses and that’s one area where Batterham is very content to let Johnston take the lead, being a little baffled by the “lack of recognition” for his trainer in this field.
Owners can also lack for recognition at times at certain tracks, Batterham feels, while naming Chester, Haydock and York as “fantastic”, while another gripe is the timing of entry to some races – for example the Cheveley Park, which you have to enter for before the Lowther is run – which can see the bills stack up.
It’s helpful, therefore, that Batterham, an accountant by background, has been successful in a business life that has revolved around technology companies, and he remains on the board of a few firms as a non executive director.
He’s been a winner, too, with each and every one of the 18 horses he has so far owned, 13 jumpers contributing 49 victories combined, and five Flat horses notching 15 wins between them – and counting.
Here's to many more.