Plummer & Wechsler

Having a quality two-year-old to dream about over the winter must be one of the biggest thrills and privileges of racehorse ownership.

Ann Plummer and Tony Wechsler have just such a colt in Phoenix Of Spain, but he is not the only string to their bow, as they also won the Portland Handicap at Doncaster recently with A Momentofmadness.

The duo, both in their late 80s and long since retired, are having something of a ‘moment’ themselves, as 2018 has been their busiest and best year yet, with five victories from seven horses to have run at the time of writing.

Explaining their background, Ann says: “My late husband Richard and I ran a British Horse Society one-day event over our farm for ten years and our youngest daughter evented. She moved on to point-to-points.

“When she married and we thought we were losing our jockey, we started breeding racehorses in a small way. My husband, being a prudent chartered accountant, would not let me breed jump horses because of the length of time before they produced any return so we launched ourselves into the Flat.

“I was lucky enough to breed two black-type horses, Merlin’s Ring, who won a Group 3 at Saint-Cloud, and Rada’s Daughter, who was second in the Group 3 Park Hill Stakes. We used to put together a syndicate of seven friends plus ourselves for one yearling each year, and for these Tony – who was a partner with Richard in a major accountancy firm in London – put his wife Enid in as one of the partners.

“Because of my husband’s ill health we retired to Odiham in 2001 and he sadly died in 2010. Meanwhile Tony’s wife had also died four years previously, and in 2011 we decided we’d like to get together and buy the odd horse.

“We were helped in this by a very dear friend, Geoffrey Howson. Now as Howson & [Matthew] Houldsworth, they produce a shortlist of about 20 at each sale which we then look at and make our selection.”

Charlie Hills trains Acomb Stakes winner Phoenix Of Spain, who was then second to Too Darn Hot in the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster, and A Momentofmadness. In addition to his strike in the Portland, the sprinter scored at Chester’s May meeting this year, after which he was third in a Group 2 at Chantilly, and gave his owners a memorable day out at Epsom on Derby day last year when a close fourth in the Dash.

Hills also handles three of the owners’ other horses to have run this year, while Jonny Portman trains a couple.

Ann explains: “Tony’s wife had been a speech therapist and had been down to the Hills yard with a colleague who had previously treated Barry Hills and loved it, so when we bought A Momentofmadness we went down to have a look. We were made to feel so welcome by Charlie and Philippa, and Barry and Penny, that we have been there ever since.”

She adds: “Jonny Portman had done an amazing job with two pretty useless homebreds so we wanted to give him something better. Jonny and Charlie are very different but both have had amazing years.”

The owners are stockpiling magical moments, and asked for  a summary to date, Ann replies: “My two good homebreds, along with the big wins at Chester, York and Doncaster, and fourth in the Dash at Epsom.”

The owners have yet to miss a big date on the racecourse, happy to break up a longer journey with overnight stops en route, while they live about an hour from Lambourn, and so are handy enough for their yards. They are happy to watch their runners on their own but equally pleased if family or friends are able to join them.

Hopefully there are more magical moments in the offing, with Phoenix Of Spain looking every inch a colt who will be even better at three, when he grows into his frame.

“What Phoenix Of Spain has achieved this year has been beyond expectation,” admits Ann. “I don’t think he’d mind me saying but I’m not sure Charlie liked the look of him to start with! He’s a very big boy and has surprised us with how forward he’s been, and the pace he’s shown.”

Tony adds: “He’s certainly something to dream about. It looks like he might be a miler next year, or mile-and-a-quarter horse, while being a gelding A Momentofmadness, who is a five-year-old, will keep going of course.”

The duo have also just bought A Momentofmadness’ yearling half-sister, whom they have called Spurofthemoment and who is with Hills.

Talking of names, Tony explains their star juvenile’s, saying: “His sire Lope De Vega was a 16th/17th century Spanish playwright who had a fair few wives and mistresses, and he was known as the Phoenix Of Spain!”

And A Momentofmadness…?

“We’d reached our limit bidding for him at Doncaster but Ann didn’t allow me to stop!” recalls Tony. “We went higher and then when the hammer came down, I said, ‘Well, that was a moment of madness.”

Asked what they look for when buying, Tony says: “Geoffrey, our bloodstock agent, is very good; ideally black type on the page, along with conformation, athleticism and temperament.”

Jockey-wise, the pair like to use William Buick for A Momentofmadness, the two having struck up a really good partnership, while Jamie Spencer and James Doyle have been aboard Phoenix Of Spain for his last two starts.

As for tracks, Ann says: “The best thing about being an owner is free entry to racecourses and the care the best courses take of owners with runners. Sadly this does not apply to all courses, some of whom expect owners to be able to fork out vast sums for lunch.”

Chester, York, Newbury, Ascot and Goodwood are among the tracks given the thumbs-up by the owners.

Ann’s aforementioned daughter Mouse Hamilton-Fairley, who trained under rules from 2004 to 2011, says: “They complement each other perfectly, with mum’s extensive knowledge of horses and breeding, and Tony’s astute accountant’s mind coupled with his ‘let’s go for it’ attitude.

“They are a great example of why it’s never too late to throw your hat in the ring and have fun! Racing should applaud them!”

As for interests outside racing, Tony played a bit of rugby and follows Northampton Saints, and enjoys cricket, while the pair love opera, going six times this summer.

There is perhaps some crossover between opera and racing – drama, dressing up, inspiring backdrops – and their two big interests will hopefully continue to provide Ann and Tony with plenty of excitement for many years to come.