For those who get it right in the sport, horse racing can be a significantly lucrative business, though there are many different characteristics that are required, not least of which, is a great eye.
Of all of the different variables that are involved, there is of course, an element of luck that comes into it (like with anything) and, inevitably risk is another big factor. The horse racing calendar (regardless of whether this is the flat or jump season), is highly anticipated.
Obviously the big horse racing meetings often attract tens of thousands of spectators, in addition to a substantial television audience, which acts as a signal to many investors that the possible returns can be huge if they get it right.
Horse racing has been one of the most popular sports for decades, certainly dating back to the early 20th century, and it has a considerable global following. Not just popular in the UK, but also the US, Australia and now even in the Middle East.
It has seen many of the best horses amass fortunes in winnings for their owners, even resulting in substantial profits and return on investment for their eventual sale.
There have been many momentous occasions in the sport over the years, especially the typical ‘rags to riches’ stories where a horse has come from humble beginnings, sometimes previously having been written off and/or examples of horses that have been bought on the cheap and gone on to achieve great things.
Below, we take a look at some of the biggest cases of horses that have been bought for a bargain price and subsequently exceeded expectations for their owners, gracing the sport at the highest level.
Having fallen at the final fence in the 2004 Grand National, he came back a year later and stole the show – this is one horse that was bought for just over £3,000 – technically 3,200 guineas – still a term widely used in horse racing.
The Trevor Hemmings-owned and Willie Mullins-trained horse conveyed quite a lot of doubt from the inner-circles of horse racing, with many not convinced that he would live up to his price tag.
Despite showing glimpses of his potential, with a string of second-place finishes, he never set the world alight or even made much of a case that he would be anything better than just average.
His Grand National win in 2005, was followed up with a highly respectable second-place in the Gold Cup later that year and he then went on to make a significant impact in the sport. Following the horse’s retirement from the sport in 2008, he had amassed over £780,000 in prize winnings.
“…have a silver lining”; in this case, it proved to be true. Acquired for just £6,000 as a foal in 2007, this is another horse that forged his name in horse racing history. Following his purchase in Ireland, he was then sent to England, to be trained by Olver Sherwood and as a result, went on to win 12 races.
Significant victories included the Hennessy Gold Cup, BetBright Cup, and Cotswold Chase, while he famously won the Grand National in 2015, ridden by jockey Leighton Aspell, who rode him on all 27 occasions.
Also owned by Hemmings, Many Clouds would prove to be one of the businessman’s most astute investments, going on to win £928,000 in prize money over the years. Tragedy struck in 2017, in the aftermath of his Cotswold Chase win, when the horse suffered a pulmonary haemorrhage, though, to this day he is still fondly remembered in the sport.
Owned by Michael O’Leary, this is one of the most successful horses of recent times, having earned a staggering £1.4 million in prize money over 45 races following his retirement in March 2022.
Initially having been bought by trainer Nigel Hawke for £10,000 in August 2013, this generated a substantial quick return, merely five months later for £80,000, after winning his first start over hurdles in November.
O’Leary would bring on board the renowned trainer (Gordon) Elliott, which resulted in a dream partnership, with the horse famously enjoying back-to-back Grand National wins, while he also had an impressive record at the Cheltenham Festival, winning the Triumph Hurdle, National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup, and Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase on a trio of occasions (2018, 2019, 2021).
The horse also showed impressive adaptability, with 14 jockeys having enjoyed races on him throughout his career and, considering his £80,000 investment, O’Leary can take heart from the fact that this more than paid off.
Certainly, a horse that is well-known in flat racing circles, this is one that more than went on to prove herself as a highly respectable middle-distance horse. Bought for £1,458 by French breeder Christina Petino in 2008 at the Irish Tattersalls Sales, she was then sent to be trained by Ed Dunlop.
As a two-year-old she struggled substantially, winning just one race out of six, though in her third year, she started to show considerable promise. Winning a Listed race at Goodwood, she followed this up with a first place finish at Epsom Oaks by a neck, with jockey Ryan Moore sat atop. She then, impressively, went on to win five Group 1 races – the Irish Oaks, Hong Kong Cup, Irish Champion Stakes, and Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup x2.
Despite retiring in 2013, due to a tendon injury, she accumulated an eye-watering £3.9 million in prize money, from just 21 races.
Arguably, one of the biggest bargains in horse racing, Lady Rebecca was acquired for just over £400 in August 1996 at the Doncaster Sales. A horse that simply oozed class, and one of trainer Venetia Williams’ most notable successes, she won 13 of 19 races.
Having won numerous top-class hurdle events, she also recorded three back-to-back victories in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham.
The horse retired in 2001, before passing away in 2013, aged 21, from colic, though her career earnings of £161,000 prove her to be one of the biggest bargains in the sport.
One horse that has perhaps been forgotten in the wider sporting scene, Native River proved to be a significant success for trainer Colin Tizzard. Having been bought for just £6,000 at the Tattersall Sales in November 2010, it took a few years for the horse to hit the heights that it was capable of.
Between October 2015 and December 2018, he put together a highly impressive run, winning 14 races out of 16, never being out of the top three on the two other occasions.
This led to substantial financial success and significantly helped to raise the profile of the horse, winning just over £1.1 million. Throughout his career, some of his notable wins include the Hennessy Gold Cup, Welsh National, Denman Chase (twice), and the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
How Do You Find The Right Horse At The Right Price?
At this point, having read about some of these bargains that amassed fortunes for their owners, you may be wondering where you can find a similar kind of deal.
Though, it is important to bear in mind that many of the owners that purchased these horses firstly were in some way involved in horse racing – this may be the same for you. However, if not, it is definitely worth doing your research about as much as there is to know about the sport.
Most of the sales of horses often occur at horse racing auctions, which usually take place at various horse racing venues around the country and even then, you may have to pay to attend such an event.
Even for those owners and trainers that did find the right horse at the right price were essentially taking a risk – like anything, there are no guarantees that you will get a return from the purchase of a horse and for some owners, it could have been second, third or even fourth time lucky before they struck gold.
In horse racing a great deal of luck comes into it. Depending on what your appetite for risk is, you have to factor in that, at any point, the horse could go lame if it has an injury or is raced before it is ready.
Looking at things such as its lineage may provide an indicator as to whether it is durable and can endure a good number of races, to at least give you a favourable return. Of course, then comes the decision of whether you sell the horse after it has performed well a few times, which means its value would then increase and you at least, will get some kind of return from it.
Hidden Costs Involved
While it might seem that you are getting a bargain for a horse, you should also factor in other costs. These include renting a stable, which often doesn’t come cheap, in addition to training it, with some of the most notable usually costing thousands per month, unless you agree a deal for a win percentage.
Of course, there will be veterinary bills for regular check-ups, obligatory injections and in the worst case scenario for any slight injuries that it might sustain while you are still training it.
Food is also another cost that you will need to factor in, with many race horses needing the right kind of sustenance (and vitamins) to be able to perform at their best, during training and races. Transport can also add to the overall cost for moving horses between venues.
While it does sound (based on the examples)that there are some bargains out there, be sure to do your research first!