David Parkin on the serious business of horsing around

IT sounds like a cast of outlandish characters you would pitch for a modern day remake of The Cannonball Run meets Austin Powers.

Although I’m sure the director might think the writers had overdone themselves when sketching out the main players.

How about the Australian who lives in Lexington, Kentucky and who has created a sophisticated algorithm to analyse the DNA and biomechanics of race horses?

Or the Brazilian former jockey who now trains horses in Ireland?

What about the corporate finance expert who established a racehorse bloodstock business?

Or the tulip farmer’s son from South Lincolnshire who became a serial technology entrepreneur?

It is amazing the people you meet when you go to a convivial post-lockdown lunch.

My recent blog reminiscing about the Lord’s Taverners Balloon Debate prompted a very nice email from former Yorkshire Tavs’ chairman Simon Chappell.

An invitation was forthcoming to a lunch in Harrogate.

I was very keen to go, not just because Simon is great company with a wonderful sense of humour, but also because we share an appreciation of fine wine.

And on my part, particularly when Simon is buying it.

If I told you that lunch was in the car park of the Fat Badger pub in Harrogate you might not be particularly impressed.

But that sun-dappled space has been covered in artificial grass and teepees erected around it with staff from the Badger shuttling food and drink from the venue to eager patrons enjoying their limited freedom after a lengthy period of restrictions and winter weather.

Also at our table, Simon had invited another serial entrepreneur, Andrew Cope, who found great success building up vehicle leasing business Zenith and has gone on to be involved in a number of other thriving ventures.

Andrew has spent lockdown growing his hair and is clearly pleased with the results.

I admired his flowing mane with not a hint of envy.

Simon also invited Oliver Duckett from KPMG and Jeremy Thomas of Deloitte, who took over as Lord’s Taverners Yorkshire chairman.

Conversation covered many topics and turned to horseracing when Simon mentioned that a horse that he and Andrew own, Credence Star, is running at Doncaster today.

They think it has a good chance of winning, but then again, so do a lot of people as the last time I looked it was hot favourite at 11/10 on.

I don’t think my 50p each way is going to bring me a lottery-sized win that will open the way to a move to the Costa del Sol.

It might give me the petrol money to get as far as Pontefract though.

Anyway, Simon also mentioned that he was off to the annual sale of two-year-old racehorses at Doncaster this week.

His Star Bloodstock business, in which the eclectic cast of characters I mentioned above are all involved, was selling two horses they had bought as yearlings and trained at their base at The Curragh in Ireland.

As someone who is fascinated by everything to do with horseracing but knows nothing, I swiftly prevailed upon Simon’s good nature and invited myself along to the sale.

We headed off early yesterday morning and various road closures saw us take a circuitous route which took in many picturesque corners of MP Nigel Adams’ Selby and Ainsty constituency.

It enabled me to ask Simon more about the bloodstock business and his colleagues involved in Star Bloodstock.

Matt Eves is the corporate financier with a deep knowledge of racing who established the business.

Byron Rogers is the Aussie with an analytical eye for equine talent.

Diego Dias is the Brazilian ex-jockey who prepares the yearling horses at the Star Bloodstock base in Ireland.

And Simon is the de facto chairman of the business and the Lincolnshire farmer’s son who was an accountant and involved in private equity before he founded Backup Technology above a nail bar in the Leeds suburb of Crossgates and later sold it to a stock market quoted company for £23m.

He then became co-owner of a professional cycling team with England cricketer Tim Prior before starting up another business, Assured Data Protection which is based on the Harewood House Estate and is enjoying strong growth with many customers across the world including Silicon Valley.

Simon has a long-term love of horseracing and as well as owning a string of horses is also involved in breeding and is as happy visiting his foals in the fields in North Yorkshire as he is in the winners’ enclosure at Royal Ascot.

The annual Goffs UK Breeze Up Sale features two-year-old horses who are run and timed over two furlongs on Doncaster Racecourse watched by interested buyers who then bid for them in an auction which lasts the whole day.

The number of cars in the car park showed the interest in the sale and the gathering of racehorse owners, trainers, jockeys and officials ensured a wonderful people-watching opportunity.

As we leaned on the fencing around the parade ring in bright sunshine Simon pointed out one of the horses he was selling.

“Is that Diego leading him around the ring?” I asked.

“Yes he is called Diego and he is Brazilian but he isn’t the Brazilian Diego I told you about, he is another Diego,” explained Simon.

“Do you employ every Brazilian called Diego in Ireland?” I asked.

“I’m pretty sure we might do,” replied Simon.

We wandered around the parade ring and then to the stable yard behind where there are enough stables for 500 horses, which shows how big these sales are.

Yesterday’s sale set a new record with 128 horses sold for a total of £6.2m including 15 for six-figure sums by bidders attending in person or online.

While the restrictions the pandemic has inflicted on British racecourses has seen prize money plummet, that does appear to have dented interest from buyers.

Simon introduced me to some real characters from the world of racing including trainers David Easterby and Scott Dixon and jockey Johnny Fisher.

I bumped into one interested potential buyer who I recognised, Andy Finneran, the former finance director of R&R Ice Cream.

During Andy’s time at the North Yorkshire business, which is now known as Froneri, it became Europe’s biggest ice cream maker and if you haven’t heard of the company, you will know their products – Fab, Oreo and Skinny Cow.

I personally prefer a Nobbly Bobbly, but that’s just me, missus.

I introduced Andy to Simon and listened as they talked animatedly about horses and horseracing.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you so quiet!” Andy said to me.

I told him I was going to look at the sale of a horse that interested jockey Johnny Fisher which wasn’t predicted to sell for a big sum but the hammer went down on it at £100,000.

I hope he thought it was me that bought it.

I reminded Andy that he never misses an opportunity on social media to remind me that I’m “punching well above my weight” with my fiancee Harriet.

I wish I could do the same when it comes to racehorses, but there you go.

In the meantime I’m saving up to invest in one and I’ve found my perfect job to help boost my savings.

I’m applying to be the bloke who follows the horses around the auction ring with a brush and pan.

Have a great weekend.

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