Cheltenham Friday - Owner of the Day
ROA Owner of the Day: Value Racing Club
To highlight the support owners have shown to racing the ROA is focusing on raising the owners profile throughout Cheltenham and beyond, especially as owners won’t be able to be at the Festival this year. The ROA Owner of the Day is an opportunity for the ownership story to be shared.
Today’s (Friday 19th March) Owner of the Day is Value Racing Club.
The shifting fortunes of ownership were played out this week for the 15 syndicate members involved in Leoncavallo, flagbearer of Value Racing Club.
The horse’s owners, and others with intended runners on the day, were dealt an unexpected blow when Leoncavallo had to miss the Imperial Cup at Sandown Park on Saturday. The horse box he was travelling in got held up in a traffic jam caused by an overturned lorry across the northbound carriageway of the M5. The staff and horses in the box were all safe, but they were stuck for four hours. To everyone’s relief they had missed the incident by seconds.
It’s likely those dashed hopes have turned to excited nerves with the prospect of Leoncavallo lining up in today’s Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle (4.50pm)..
James Couldwell set up Value Racing Club with a philosophy of introducing new people into racing and to provide a cost effective and simple way to become an owner. Each of Value Racing Club’s syndicates is made up of 15 or 20 shares. Members pay an up-front cost at the start of their involvement. There are no additional costs during the season and each syndicate retains 100% of any prize-money won.
As syndicate manager, Couldwell maintains regular contact with the club’s trainers and provides syndicate members with updates on each of the 24 horses in training. The club’s trainers are geographically spread around the country. Leoncavallo is one of four horses with David Pipe, and the club’s other horses are trained by Jamie Snowden in Lambourn, Mick Appleby in Rutland, Phil Kirby in Catterick, Tom Lacey in Herefordshire and Harry Whittington in Lambourn.
Leoncavallo’s last run was on the Flat at Newmarket in October in the Cesarewitch, where he ran well, finishing sixth in a field of 34 and was then wound down for a holiday.
Connections felt the Imperial Cup would be a race that would be ideal for him. Couldwell explained: “It was all systems go. The yard had enjoyed a double at Sandown the day before. David sent me a video of the horse loading onto the horsebox and then ten minutes later he called me back to explain what had happened. We missed the race and it was disappointing. We were due to be on Zoom chat with ITV Racing but had to shelve plans.”
“The evening before, 246 people had joined the club’s virtual Festival Cheltenham Preview Night. A top panel comprising Stuart Machin, David Pipe, Tom Scudamore, Gary O’Brien, Michael Shinners, Mark Howard, Tom Lacey and Ed Chamberlin were assembled for a Zoom. Those who joined paid £10 with all proceeds benefited the Injured Jockeys Fund, so a nice donation has been made to the charity.”
“We were pretty confident he was going to run a very big race. We were going for the double, but he’s now here as a fresh horse. We had the choice of the County Hurdle or Martin Pipe, and chose the Martin Pipe. It seemed slightly easier and I think the extra trip will help. He’s nine years old now and perhaps not quite as quick as he once was.”
While owners haven’t been able to enjoy racing and other usual events due to Covid restrictions, regular Zoom calls have been arranged to connect the syndicate members. Zoom guests have included Ed Chamberlin of ITV Racing, Martin and Chris Dixon of Racing TV and equine vet Ben Brain, who specialises in breathing problems in horses and gave an insight into wind operations and surgical procedures.
Couldwell explained how updates are shared when members have a runner: “Trainers have been very good at providing video clips and on race days would typically film jockeys in the pre-parade ring, sharing their thoughts on the race and race tactics. Win, lose or draw, after the race we’ve been getting feedback from the jockeys.”
On the club’s horses, he reflected: “We spend around £15,000-£20,000 on a horse as an average, so if one turns out to be a Cheltenham horse, we’ve probably done alright.”
Leoncavallo started off on the Flat with Charlie Appleby before moving to John Ferguson. He won his first five races over jumps, including the Wensleydale Juvenile at Wetherby, a Listed race. He finished fifth in the Triumph Hurdle in 2016. He went back to Charlie Appleby for two runs after leaving Ferguson. He won on the flat but then returned to NH racing and lost his way a little.
He moved to David Pipe in February last year, where he was hobdayed and treated for ulcers and he’s since thrived. Leoncavallo finished second at Sandown on the Flat in June and the following month won by 13 lengths breaking the track record at Stratford over 2m5f chasing.
It seems likely there will be other big days ahead for his owners. Couldwell said: “He’ll run in all the big hurdle races. He could go to Aintree or to Ayr for the Scottish Champion Hurdle and will probably be back on the Flat through the summer. I think he’s got a big - possibly better - chance of winning on the Flat. He’s a proper Saturday horse. One thing’s for sure. He’ll stay with us until he’s retired.”
Couldwell speaks warmly of ‘Leon’. “He’s our leading jumps horse, he means an awful lot to a lot of people and he’s given us some great days out. He can be a quirky character. If you go into his box he’ll enjoy some fuss, but if you turn your back he could give you a nip. He’d run through a brick wall for you though.”
Pipe confirmed: “He’s feisty and you want him on your side, but he wears his heart on his sleeve and he’d back you up if you were in trouble. He’s not overly big, but he’s gutsy.”
Value Racing Club started in January 2014. Since then its owners have enjoyed 73 winners and won £655,000 of prize-money. Last year was the club’s best with 17 winners in one year.
Let’s hope Leoncavallo can add to that tally for his owners.