Bradley breaks from convention with blinding results
The group now has 62 horses with 15 different trainers
Confidence is crucial when taking the plunge into racehorse ownership. When handing over significant sums of money, whether that be to an agent, a trainer or a syndicate, you need to be sure the person the money is going to knows what they are doing with it.
There can be little better security than an individual’s track record, and in terms of track record few can match what Nick Bradley has achieved. He now has 62 syndicated horses in training spread across 15 trainers in three different countries, England, Ireland and France.
He has quickly become established as one of the shrewdest judges of bloodstock around, but his expertise stems from treading a different path to many others involved in the industry.
“I was a professional gambler in my late teens and early 20s,” says Bradley, who was speaking from Meydan while overseeing UAE Oaks runners Rajar and Melesina. “I started following the Grand National as a child and it developed from there. I first got involved in buying horses for Middleham Park before I set up on my own around 12 months ago.
“My punting background is my edge. I’ve studied racetracks, I’ve studied statistics, I’m good with numbers, and I’ve taken that to the sales ring and I’ve applied that knowledge to the horses I buy, particularly from horses-in-training sales.”
Treading the less travelled path is a modus operandi that has served Bradley well. It may have only been a year ago that he branched out under his own name, but a sizeable roll of honour has already been compiled.
In 2016 Bradley’s colours were carried to success by Melesina in a Deauville Group 3, Vona in the Listed Marygate Fillies’ Stakes at York, while Commissioned landed the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot.
“We’ve already had a serious amount of success,” he says. “I’m trying to give the guy on the street the chance to compete at the highest level in some of the biggest races against people that have spent millions on the game. We operate on a shoestring, and our focus is very much on investment, return and enjoyment.”
Commissioned is a textbook example of one of Bradley’s plans coming together. Although the son of Authorized went on to win at the biggest Flat meeting in the world, he was in fact sourced from a sale of jumping prospects at Cheltenham.
“With horses in training you have to have races in mind for them before you buy them,” he says. “With Commissioned the plan was to win the Ascot Stakes. For me he had at least a stone in hand on his Flat mark and I knew he’d be better on fast ground and a turning track. Unfortunately the ground turned soft for the Ascot Stakes, so we waited and went for the Queen Alexandra instead, but when the hammer went down I knew where I was going with the horse.
“Unfortunately he’s been injured since. If he hadn’t met with a setback I think he’d have had a massive chance in the Melbourne Cup. It would have been some achievement to buy him from a National Hunt sale and then run him in that race, but we’ll keep dreaming.”
Bradley says the methodology behind his approach to sourcing horses in training involves a number of factors, and is far from a one-man show.
“Video analysis is a lot of the legwork,” he says. “For me not enough people do that when selecting horses. I use sectionals too, the tipster Hugh Taylor helps me, he’s very good with the all-weather form. We have a team of three or four people that once a sales catalogue is published analyse every horse in there and we try and use those methods to help us repeatedly identify the right horses.”
Other examples of Bradley’s horse-in-training buys going on to flourish on the course include G Force, who was bought for just 25,000gns before winning the Group 1 Haydock Sprint Cup, and Junior, who won the 2010 renewal of the Ascot Stakes having been bought for just £35,000 less than a month earlier, and after winning a Taunton novices’ chase. On both occasions Bradley was the only bidder.
His eye is no less sharp when it comes to spotting talent and value at the yearling sales, as evidenced by black-type performers Vona and Dainty Dandy, who costs just €15,000 and €16,000 respectively, with the latter later being sold at the Goffs London Sale for £200,000.
“You have to take each sale as it comes,” he says. “The best judges of a yearling are the ones who go out there and see as many as they can. I try to do that. I was at every yearling sale last year and saw 150 horses a day which has helped build up my knowledge.
"I’ve learned from people like Robin O’Ryan, Richard Fahey and David O’Meara. The yearling sales are a bit of a lottery so I try and keep the odds as much in our favour by buying a larger number of horses but at a lower average price.
“I focus on fillies and target the black-type races. I think we’ve had six fillies achieve black type out of a pool of 16 horses. That’s almost 40 per cent. Those stats are better than Dubawi and Galileo!"
Last year’s yearling sales also gave an insight into Bradley’s creative thinking. While stocking up on Flat recruits he made the unexpected move of buying a number of lot to be put into training as two-year-olds with leading jumps handler Gordon Elliott.
“I used to own Backstage with Gordon,” Bradley explains. “He was favourite for the Grand National a few years back but got brought down. We won lots of point-to-points with Backstage and had some good craic, Gordon’s a great guy to work with. I was at the sales and he was at the sales with Mouse O’Ryan, and we both had the idea on the same day that we should buy some yearlings together. We bought seven or eight over in Ireland.
“The horses went to the Curragh last week for a strong canter, Pat Smullen and Declan McDonogh rode them and they couldn’t have been happier with them as a group.”
Bradley’s work is not done once the horse has been purchased however, as his influence is also felt when it comes to placing his runners.
“The trainers I work with just let me get on with it as far as race planning goes, so we’re slightly different to your typical owner,” he says. “We have two fillies out in Meydan at the moment and I don’t think Richard Fahey has ever had a filly out there before. That’s why it works, I believe I can add an edge to the normal set up based on my knowledge of races and the race programme. The race planning process and the tactics we employ can add significant increases to the horse’s value.”
Bradley may have had more than his share of success on the racecourse thanks to putting in plenty of groundwork into the purchasing of horses and planning of their subsequent racing careers. But he says that the amount of time, money and effort that is required to run a large-scale syndicate is not entirely helpful when trying to run an efficient business.
“Every horse we have runs under a different ownership name and a different ownership bank account, so the paperwork and the administrative work is colossal,” he says. “The charges we incur for opening an account and making changes to an account are a huge.
"We try and absorb those costs ourselves and take the hassle out of ownership, but the set up doesn’t make syndicate life easy. We have horses trained in Britain, Ireland and France and there’s three different systems. It’s a logistical nightmare.”
But for the all headaches that come with running a syndicate, Bradley and his owners have enjoyed more than enough success to make it all worthwhile, and his hunger to secure the next big winner is palpable.
“The whole purpose of Nick Bradley Racing is to provide my owners with a profit on their investment,” he says. “Obviously prize-money levels are low which is why we try and sell horses when there’s significant interest in them and that’s why we think outside of the box. Plenty of my investors have made significant profits from the game.
“I bought 50 horses last year, and I’ve shares left in two of them, so there’s plenty of people out there that are keen to get involved. A lot of the guys that I’ve got that have invested could own a horse themselves, but they’d rather spread the risk between a few horses, and in turn that spreads the enjoyment.
“It’d be great to see the man on the street take on the likes of Aidan O’Brien and the Coolmore gang and have success against their bluebloods.”