Horses for courses at Highclere Stud and Thoroughbred Racing

PUBLISHED: 17:01 11 November 2013 | UPDATED: 17:01 11 November 2013

Carolyn, Harry and John check out one of the horses with stud manager Brian O’Rourke

Carolyn, Harry and John check out one of the horses with stud manager Brian O’Rourke

MAUREEN MCLEAN

As the Highclere Stud and Thoroughbred Racing teams prepare for a busy month, Jan Raycroft visits, and photographer Maureen McLean wants her own racehorse

On the face of it, this sounds like a recipe for family fall outs. A brother and sister, a husband and wife, a brother-in-law with his own stake in it all – and they work together in high profile businesses where reputations can soar or crash in public.

We’re actually talking here about three people – John Warren and his wife Lady Carolyn Warren, plus her brother the Hon Harry Herbert (they are both children of the 7th Earl of Carnavon, HM the Queen’s late racing manager).

But spend time with this trio in the beautiful Highclere Stud and you soon realise it is the differences of character and temperament and individual skills that each brings to the party that is a cornerstone of their success. Indeed, it’s apparent that they recognise the others’ abilities, are even sometimes a little in awe of each other, whether it’s working together or going about their own bit of the business.

There’s the stud where John, who represents the Queen’s racing interests as her Bloodstock and Racing advisor, and Carolyn are based. They are assisted there by son Jake.

Pride of place here goes to stallion Paco Boy. The first UK sale of yearlings sired by him saw Angus Gold pay £130,000 for a colt at Doncaster Sales in August for Shadwell, the racing operation of Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai.

Carolyn oversees what she calls their ‘five star equine hotel’, preparing their yearlings for the October Tattersalls Sale when the eyes of the racing world are on the potential group race winners of the future.

“The horses have been lazing and grazing in the paddocks and it’s a bit like a nursery school with a matron in charge who has to get them into shape and fit to view,” says Carolyn. “The potential buyers are going to be looking at a lot of horses. You have perhaps a minute or a minute and a half to make or break that sale. You need to show the horses to their best advantage, well behaved and in perfect condition to tempt the buyer.”

John and Harry see Carolyn as something of a magician in all this – her yearlings are always sought after and she has an amazing rapport with potential buyers.

Meanwhile, John, who says he’s “definitely not the matronly type” and Harry are going about their own business for Highclere Thoroughbred Racing (HTR). Harry is managing director of this incredibly successful racing syndicate which allows small groups of people, from perhaps 10 to 20, to own a ‘share’ in a racehorse during its career as a two and three-years-old.

John chooses the horses and admits much of this is an instinctive feel built upon 35 years of working with and knowing thousands of horses, their breeding lines and their ways. “It’s a bit like an X Factor judge,” he laughs. “You’re seeing maybe 100 horses pass in front of you during a day. And you’re looking for a horse to do a particular job – if you want one to go the distance, like Mo Farah, you don’t need a sprinter built like a bulldog.”

He’s quirky, becomes introspective, seeing and sensing nothing but the horses paraded in front of him… constantly moving on in his hunt for the special one, sniffing out that hidden, winning formula.

“I’m watching with sweaty palms for that moment when John gets excited,” says Harry, who holds the purse-strings in all this. “He has a gift that is very hard to put your finger on, but it’s there.”

But Harry has another role to play as well, and it’s one that John readily acknowledges: “I’m not always right and Harry is capable of tickling my conscience. He knows just how to get me to take a second look at something I’ve walked away from which might be right for Highclere Thoroughbred Racing.”

Harry calls this “the mental management”. He is the ‘people person’, not only following in John’s footsteps (or carefully guiding him back when needed) but in dealing with the clients who will become syndicate members.

His career in the thoroughbred world started in the US with Bloodstock Research, the world’s leading equine computer company researching pedigrees. He then joined The Matchmaker Group, a bloodstock sales, finance and promotion company, before returning to the UK to represent them here. He set up HTR some 20 years ago and is also racing consultant for Cartier, a director at Newbury Racecourse and non-executive chairman of British Bloodstock Marketing.

Indeed, his pitch is so good that during our visit to Highclere Stud, photographer Maureen McLean became so enthused that she suddenly announced: “Oh, I’m so tempted to invest in a racehorse.”

Both the Warrens and Harry gently laugh and Harry says: “Well, this is not an investment and shouldn’t be thought of as such. You are buying into a wonderful adventure in horseracing, but it’s never about making money. You get to see ‘your’ horse run and can visit them during training.”

So how much does it cost? Depending on the potential value of the horses and number of shares, you can expect to pay between £10,000 and £30,000 in the first year, with a considerably smaller sum in the second year.

This covers all expenses. The horses are placed with leading trainers such as Sir Michael Stoute and Richard Hannon. At the end of the syndicate the horses are sold and any surplus income is distributed to shareholders.

While John might say he is not always right, there is plenty of evidence in recent history that he is ‘on the money’, more often that not. HTR horses have won or been placed in all five of the English Classics. John bought Motivator for HTR’s Royal Ascot Racing Club and he won the 2005 Vodaphone Derby before being sold to stand at stud for £6 million. And there are more Highclere ‘horsey millionaires’ in the form of Tamarisk (£3.5m), Lake Coniston (£2.5m) and Highest (£1.7m).Among his other purchases as yearlings have been world champion Harbinger, St Leger winner Sixties Icon, Irish Oaks winner Petrushka and Hong Kong Derby winner Collection.

October is an important month for HTR syndicate members as they get to see their latest horses in a parade at Highclere Stud.

This has of course, also been a particularly exciting year for John in his role for HM the Queen. Her filly Estimate, romped home to win the coveted Gold Cup at Royal Ascot, making her the first reigning monarch to win the race in its 207 year history.

The Queen’s beaming face as she sat beside John (Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie were jumping up and down in excitement) was one of racing’s great moments this year.

Her Majesty had been set to present the winning trophy, but she was all smiles as her son, the Duke of York, stepped in to instead hand it to her. Her delight with John, jockey Ryan Moore and trainer Sir Michael Stoute was clear for all to see.

John says: “You know, I think there was a little tear in her eye. This was a win that was so greatly deserved, as well. The Queen has done so much for racing and breeding over the years.”

***

To find out more about Highclere Thoroughbred Racing see www.highclereracing.co.uk.

Latest from the Berkshire Life