Pinhooking schemes offer business and pleasure for budding owners
In the latest in our series Zoe Vicarage looks at two groups operating in the pinhooking field
While racehorse syndicates offer the chance to experience the thrill of owning a thoroughbred throughout its racing career, there is also the option of becoming involved in ownership before a horse hits the track, namely through a pinhooking syndicate.
Pinhooking is the art of buying a foal with the aim of turning a profit once it is resold as a yearling, a practice which is commonplace in the bloodstock market. The yearling sales each year feature a large of number of lots who have been bought in the hope of making a return on the investment put into them just shy of a year before.
Notable pinhooks in recent years include dual Group 1 winner Shalaa, who was bought by Liam Norris and Huntingdon Bloodstock for 100,000gns as foal before being sold to Charlie Gordon-Watson on behalf of Al Shaqab Racing for 170,000gns as a yearling.
Piermill Bloodstock, a stud farm based in Cambridge that has been operating since 1993, is one of those to offer a pinhooking syndicate. Four years ago Amber Dash decided to create a syndicate that was open to the public, and despite initially being for friends and family the success generated led to more outside investment.
Since its inception Piermill Bloodstock's has enjoyed several notable sales, with one of its biggest returns on investment coming when it sold a Showcasing filly at Book 3 of the Tattersalls October Yearling Sale for 30,000gns having bought her for just 800gns.
Dash believes that the big draw for people getting involved in a pinhooking syndicate is the untapped potential that the foal has and says: “The excitement of it all is the belief that you might have the next Frankel. I definitely think it acts as a doorway into the racing industry without having to commit to a racehorse, and I've found some of our members thought they'd never be able to get into ownership because it's known as the Sport of Kings. By getting into pinhooking they've learnt so much about bloodstock and pedigrees.”
Around September each year Piermill will begin the process of gathering funds for the syndicates. This involves building an overrule pot, with the going rate for two shares set at £2,000.
The purchase of the foal, its care, boarding and vets bills are all covered by the sum of money gathered, meaning members don't have to worry about any monthly payments that some types of ownership require.
Dash adds: “In many ways it's a one-off payment. Once it's in the pot, myself and bloodstock agent Troy Steve assess the budget and work out how much we will need depending on how many horses we plan to buy.
“The overrule pot definitely determines how many foals we buy for the year. This year we have seven horses who we'll be selling as yearlings.”
Mick Buckley, a former Darley Flying Start graduate who set up Buckley Bloodstock, is another who operates using pinhooking syndicates and in terms of sourcing funds, states that he and his syndicate members came to an agreement on an average price for each to contribute.
His biggest success to date was having sold a Dark Angel filly out of Salt Rose for 78,000gns at Book 2 of the Tattersalls October Yearling Sale in 2014 who had been bought for 15,000gns as a foal.
He says: “We look at the market price and try to buy the best calibre of horses we can within our budget. If we've got a figure at the start we try to figure out a sort of average price.”
It may seem that with pinhooking success is a little more assured than it is with a horse in training, but a lot depends on market fluctuations, a point that both Buckley and Dash are keen to emphasise.
Buckley says: “At the moment the market has got very selective at the lower level and we prefer to have a few good foals than several lower quality ones. There's just a very small market for selling them. It can be very difficult and we're just trying to look for quality.
“We've found every year that we've probably got money left over but we just can't find enough horses to fill the orders usually.”
“If there has been overbreeding and we've got the peak when there's a lot of quantity about then we'll buy quality”, adds Dash. “Vice versa when the breeders have to cut back a little and there's less numbers, we'll buy quantity.
“We just try to follow the market and also pre-empt the market two years ahead. When you're buying to resell you've got to look at what other people want and what will be in demand. This year we've been able to buy both, which is very good. Even if we're buying quantity and they might not have as good a page, the horse still needs to be correct.”
Buckley's approach to selecting stock involves picking foals who look like they could be early two-year-old types who could hit the headlines at Royal Ascot. Speedy sires who are sources of early juveniles such as Acclamation, Kodiac and Dark Angel are preferred.
He says: “We're looking for stock we can get out and run at two. That's the goal. We look at most of the foals and we're looking to sell the dream of Royal Ascot, if we can see the potential that they can run early and have the athleticism we can let the owners have those dreams.
“We have foals by Dark Angel and Acclamation at the moment and they're by sires who achieve the goal of getting horses on the track quickly.”
While the market may determine the outcome of a syndicate’s financial success when the resultant yearling is offered for sale, the social side to it also offers plenty of benefits. Piermill organise a number of events throughout the year including an end of year party to celebrate success and introduce new members to the syndicate, an open day to see the yearlings and a chance to attend the sales when a lot goes through the ring.
Members are also kept in the loop with monthly emails about how stock progress, even the chance to give the stock pet names, and get to follow the horse on the racetrack once it has been sold on with the knowledge they have been involved in its upbringing.
Buckley's syndicate members are equally as enthusiastic, and he says: “With a foal you can see their development and see them out in the pastures. Some of the members are really active, while a lot of them entrust me with decisions.
"There's a great buzz at the sales because people are coming around to look at your horses. The morning of the sale, hopefully you're getting attention from vets and having second or third viewings.
“You put it through the ring and hopefully you'll sell it. One good touch inspires members to keep going and it's great for everyone involved when that happens.”
It is clear that pinhooking represents a stepping stone into the horseracing game for those who don't feel ready to take the leap of owning a horse in training themselves, but can still provide much the same buzz as seeing a horse carry their colours to victory.
Dash and Buckley echo this throughout and Buckley concludes: “It's an accessible way to get into racing without making that big leap but it can sometimes be beneficial for people to have a small share in a foal to let them catch the bug and learn at their own pace. Rather than get into a syndicate that may have a lot of costs, they can come in at an affordable rate and get into it.