Owning a racehorse is a luxury usually reserved for the world's wealthiest; those who can afford to see their cash literally run away from them.
But for those who yearn for the thrill of the racetrack, or have a desire to rub shoulders with actors, pop stars and sporting celebs - not to mention, often, royalty - or those who just have a love of horses, then an affordable alternative is horse syndication.
In Dubai, there's a company that offers punters the chance to lease or buy anything from as little as a one per cent share up to as much as a 75 per cent share of some of the best horses in the world.
The Emirates Entertainment Racing Club is run by expats Justin Byrne and his wife Rebecca. The pair is horse crazy and had a passion for horse racing long before the syndicate was born.
Justin, originally from Birmingham, met Rebecca, who was born to English parents in Dubai, back in 2001. Their love of horses created a bond between them that is still in evidence a decade later.
Soon into their relationship the couple would buy odd shares in racehorses themselves, to add further interest to the race meetings they would regularly attend. But in 2006, after a particularly successful race meeting, they decided that they were having too much fun alone and needed to share that experience with others. What was born from that evening is the leading horse syndicate in the UAE.
The couple first bought a horse in a claiming race, which is a thoroughbred race in which the horses are for sale for more or less the same price up until shortly before the race. That horse actually won the claimer race but when it was brought to Dubai it was unable to run in the harsh desert climate.
Undeterred, the couple went on to buy a quarter share in a horse called Sir Edwin Lanseer, or Eddie, which went on to win in the Dubai International Racing Carnival in February 2006. It was while the couple was celebrating the win that they decided to set up the club, "to give everyone a chance to join a syndicate," says Justin.
Today the club, or syndicate, has 108 members. Justin says, regrettably, he lost a lot when Nad Al Sheba closed as those members feared the new Meydan stadium would be delayed - which it was. However, he is confident that membership could hit 200 next season. This season (2009/10) many new members took up one per cent shares and he expects many will come back next season to buy larger shares, because "once you are in, you are hooked".
There are now seven horses racing in the UAE in the club's racing colours and six in the UK. Aside from the club, Justin and Rebecca also have shares in horses in South Africa, America and Zimbabwe, in which a few select friends from the syndicate have bought an interest.
Currently in the UAE there is Prince Shaun, who placed second in a Carnival race and fourth on Super Thursday in a Group 3 race this season, and the syndicate hoped he would make the World Cup. There's also Clasp, who won in the Dubai International Racing Carnival in 2009, and is a favourite among the syndicate. There is Mister Fasliyev, who came third in the Carnival this year, and second at a race in Jebel Ali in 2008 when he was ridden by the world renowned Lanfranco "Frankie" Dettori. Giant Among Men, Jackson, Valiance and Sand Cat, who won at Sharjah this season, round off their stable.
"The 12th December 2009 was a special day for the syndicate this season. Sand Cat raced at Sharjah at 15:30 and won; five minutes later, Sand Cat won; Sweet Child O'Mine won her first ever race in the UK at Southwell. That was a very special day for the EERC," says Rebecca.
There's a jump horse called Chorizo in the UK, and a three year-old filly called Sweet Child O'Mine who's had a great record over four races: two wins, a second and a third. There's also Jupiter Warning and three unnamed two-year-old fillies. Unfortunately, Sir Edwin Landseer, a quirky grey horse whose win in the Dubai International Carnival led Justin and Rebecca to set up the club, will be retired this month.
As yet, the club has only run horses in the UK and the UAE but is looking to foreign fields for the future. "We would like to take syndicate horses to Ascot [UK], Singapore or Hong Kong, but you need a very special horse that can travel and a trainer who will look at global race meetings as a whole," says Justin.
With over a dozen horses now in training, EERC has a genuine chance of having a runner at every meeting during the 2010/2011 winter challenge in the UAE, regular runners during the summer in the UK and the opportunity to expand in the US, South Africa and Australia. The club also uses some of the best trainers in the world, including Doug Watson at Red Stables, Dubai; Erwan Charpy, Green Stables, Dubai; Richard Guest, United Kingdom; and Gary Moore, UK.
In the 2009/10 season there were ten meetings in Dubai, on a Thursday and Friday evening, plus the World Cup. The Dubai International Carnival, which is advertised as being the best racing in the world, usually runs to 21 races in Dubai.
Throughout the season, there are also meetings on a Saturday afternoon in Sharjah, Friday afternoons at Jebel Ali and Sunday evenings at Abu Dhabi.
The EERC offers prospective owners two options - to lease and to buy. Within each option there are four tiers and a multitude of percentile increments. For lease, you have group A-D horses and to buy there are four levels of membership - bronze, silver, gold and platinum - depicting the levels of horse breeding and handicap.
A one per cent lease of a group A horse will cost as little as Dh2,350 compared to Dh3,950 for a group D horse, and either way this is a one-off payment for the entire season as all bills are inclusive.
"Punters get to feel what it's like to be an owner and we hope they really enjoy it and step up to become owners at the end of the year," says Justin.
When buying shares, you can expect to pay between Dh2,000 and Dh7,500 for a 2.5% stake.
Justin explains, "Owners get more privileges over leasers, such as priority on the owners badges. And if the horse is sold share, owners get the return whereas leaseholders don't.
"By placing second and fourth during the Carnival, Prince Shaun has paid for his season," he says, "And should he be invited to run in the World Cup then we will likely be offered a lot more money than we paid for him.
"Last season, if you had leased a share of Clasp, you could have gone racing 20 to 30 times and it would have cost you only Dh130 in all. He had a very good season," says Justin, adding, "If you value what it costs to be a lease member this year, even on the two most expensive horses, and what you got out of it, it represents great value for money."
Furthermore, out of the seven horses that have rode this season in the UAE, five have covered their costs.
However, Justin warns, "I say use money you can spare - this is not something that I would suggest you get into to make money. It can be done, and some have done it but I would not recommend it."
The most expensive horse the club has bought is Prince Shaun, which is currently running in Dubai at a cost of £100,000, but at the other end of the scale was Sweet Child O'Mine which only cost £4,000.
However, "The cost is often arbitrary because you can spend $100,000 and get a bargain or you can spend $20,000 and have wasted your money."
With ownership, you have the added expenditure of maintenance costs. These include training, vet bills, running costs, jockey hire, transportation, silks, registration, entrance fees, and so on, and together they can amount to roughly Dh100,000 - of which you will be a share equivalent in size to your stake.
Regardless of whether you lease or buy your horse, you will get a share of the winnings, equivalent to the percentile you invested. But first the jockey takes 10 per cent, the trainer 10 per cent and the stable 5 per cent. But if it's a big Carnival race, you could still be looking at a sizeable sum.
This year, the winning horse in the World Cup received $6 million and the average Carnival race winner receives around $100,000.
On top of the thrill of horse ownership and the potential to win money, syndicate members also enjoy a fantastic social life. On race day, each horse receives six owner badges, which are shared among the members, permitting each access to the VIP grandstand and the winner's enclosure.
Here, you get a complimentary buffet and the chance to mingle with celebrities, or meet the horses and the jockeys.
"We try to make it fun for our members and we openly admit it costs us a fortune. If you go into horse racing and think you will make money, you are mistaken. You must love the sport."
Paul Hayward Smith
My involvement is down to my wife who bought me a one per cent share of Evil Kneival for a season as a birthday present. He never ran for us but we were hooked.
Going to the races is a big hook but EERC is much more than that - it's the people you meet, it's the fun on the night, and it's the community that Justin and Rebecca have been instrumental in building.
That said, there is nothing to beat the moment when your horse is racing and challenging and you are shouting and cheering. You can always tell an EERC member: we will be the only ones jumping up and down and being seen enjoying ourselves.
A good half of the involvement is about the social side - and believe me we are a social crowd, particularly on a Thursday night.
Personally, I have shares in five horses in Dubai and five in the UK, with the biggest single share being 15 per cent in Mister Fasliyev.
I would advise others to get involved but do not do it to make money - just enjoy the unique moment when your horse is challenging for the winning line.
Thursdays and Fridays are not the same when the season is over.
This is a fantastic way to be involved in high quality horse racing but also with a heavy bias on the social side of racing. We have members with varying amounts of racing expertise but all come racing to enjoy each other's company and have a good time. Personally, I've met many new friends through my involvement in EERC.
I have shares in nine horses with anything up to 2.5 per cent in each. There have been small returns, all of which have been re-invested. But, to be honest, it's not about making money. The money spent against the enjoyment gained is great value. When Clasp won at the Carnival last year I think we spent more on celebrating than we had won. We socialise heavily - too heavily - during the season, and still get together regularly out of the season. Justin and Rebecca focus heavily on this being a social experience alongside the racing.
We regularly visit the stables and are always made welcome, particularly by our major trainer Doug Watson. We regularly meet other trainers, jockeys and other owners in the horse connections lounge.
If you want to get involved in top quality racing with a great social side to it, this is the best value place in the world to do it. But don't get involved hoping to get rich. The world is full of Ma Yorams!
The syndicate is fantastic, both socially and for enthusiasts. I have 12 horses and my largest share is 2 per cent.
This has been my first season, so the return has been nil in monetary terms but in expectation and thrills you cannot put a price on it.
How could I ever be able to have the chance of owning a runner on World Cup night if it was not with this syndicate? We get to meet both the trainers and the jockeys we have an open invite to view the horses. It really is up to us.
I would say to prospective members, ‘Know your budget, research the syndicate and the horses and get ready for the thrills and excitement of being an owner at the best racecourse in the world'.