A Sure Fire Winner with Mike Madden

17th MARCH 2023 MEETING – “A Sure Fire Winner?” with Mike Madden

We all have hobbies, and accept that they’ll cost us if we get a bit obsessive about them. But the best advice to anyone starting out is: “Find what you enjoy doing – and then figure out how to make money at it.”

Our March speaker Mike Madden has done that twice. He is a well-known figure in Whaley Bridge and can often be found on the cricket field with his wife Sally. Mike told us he left St Augustine’s school with O levels aged 16 and found a job for £28 pw at Robinson’s brewery in Stockport, where he became their IT man – “I was the IT department – with a computer the size of the room.” Robinson’s staff outings to the races which they frequently sponsored also caught his imagination, and he started taking an interest in horses, racing and betting.

After 11 years at the brewery he was senior analyst programmer at J D Williams, then with the N Brown Group for several years, before finally in 2012 setting up his own business. Legacy IT Consultants Ltd specialises in application modernization and migration, independently and with multiple global partners including BT, Freddie Mac, Google.

Once the business was established Mike and Sally (a former NHS manager) were able to indulge their interest in racing, and for some years dabbled in various syndicates (there was a time when even the Tesco ClubCard had a scheme whereby you could buy a share in a racehorse  – now it’s only tickets to the races). Ultimately however they wanted their own horse, with all the responsibilities and opportunities that entails. They decided on buying a two-year-old filly, not least because a filly bred in England from an English sire gets a £20,000 bonus on winning a race in Great Britain. So the numbers looked good, and there’d be the option of breeding if she was successful.

Beverley racing Star of Lady M
And so to the Tattersalls Book 3 Sales in October 2021. Ready to bid on the first day, with a modest budget of £20,000, they were reminded of the first rule of auctions: that hammer prices will be higher at the start, and lower towards the tail end when most bidders have finished and gone home. So they were frustrated till the last hour of the sales, as the final four horses came up. Soon a grey filly they named Star of Lady M (for Sally) was theirs for the modest sum of 15,000 guineas. One of the other four was bought in by the breeder and also recommended to them, so a syndicate was established for her too, named Emerald Duchess. To avoid misunderstandings, syndicate payments are made up front into an account at Wetherby’s; that helps to give a clear idea of what it should cost for the year ahead. And that’s when I got involved – I own her left fetlock (well, sort of).

A helter-skelter of new knowledge had to be rapidly acquired, like choosing and registering names, the silks (colours worn by jockeys), arranging training (Star with David O’Meara, Duchess with Tim Easterby, both in Yorkshire), insurance, VAT.. The whole story is to be found in Mike’s book “From Tattersalls to Triumphs” sold in aid of racing charities including the Injured Jockeys Fund.

For the first three months of 2022 both horses were trained and it was judged that Star of Lady M was ready to race, in a sprint on 4th April at Redcar. Mike showed us the video.. and suddenly a grey nose with a green-silked jockey up was in front, and then she was the winner! On that day Mike had to be told he was in the wrong place, and to head to the Winners’ Enclosure. Even in the staid surroundings of Chapel Golf Club, hearts fluttered and cheers rang out. Her second outing was at Ripon 10 days later, another thrilling nailbiter which Mike and Sally had to watch from Paris airport as the same thing happened again. Two wins in two races so early on was quite a pleasant surprise for Star of Lady M’s connections, and hinted that they had a special horse on their hands. Chester she did not like (and may have been in season) so came last of six runners, but on 28th May at Beverley she won again, this time in the Hilary Needler Stakes against strong opposition. At that point, Mike was advised to sell her as she’d fetch a 6 figure sum at auction, but they decided to continue as owners.

And so to Royal Ascot, with the whole family dressed to the nines and flying to the course by helicopter, facing free champagne and free beer as they waited for the sixth race; but on a sweltering hot day the filly was 22nd out of 24 starters. That’s how racing works. By season’s end she had won four of her nine outings, plus coming a respectable third in the Alice Keppel at Goodwood where the winner (The Platinum Queen) has since been sold for 1.2million guineas. With earnings of over £80,000 including those bonuses and an overall rating of 88, she is now insured for many multiples of her original purchase price. You could say, the Maddens bought the equivalent of a second-hand Skoda, and now own a Lamborghini.

Emerald Duchess had a much less happy year, showing (amongst other matters) that’s she’s no sprinter; her best result was second in a miler at Leicester on 11 October. Horses develop at different speeds – some are babies for longer than others. However soon after her final race at Redcar in November, she was injured while in the paddock (a broken bone in her knee) and has been recuperating in a restricted stall ever since. When we visited her recently she looked fed up and bored, as any invalid does. As it takes months to recover fitness, it’ll be summer at least before she sees a racecourse; and it’s possible she may never race again.

The two horses’ different trajectories demonstrate the attractions and pitfalls of ownership. As Mike put it, there are various options: the worst is if the horse is injured so badly that it has to be put down, in which case the insurance will pay. If it breaks down and can’t race, or proves to be infertile, then it can go for retraining; many fine horses started life like these two, but are now eventers or dressage champions or hunters. But if she becomes a brood mare, then a highly rated horse like Star of Lady M could charge £50,000 per foal over at least a decade.

The British Horseracing Authority, the industry’s regulatory body, is keen to encourage more lower-level races to help spread ownership and participation. In our part of the world that’s happening; the atmosphere at local racecourses is buzzing and friendly with big efforts to keep costs down and participation high. Nine Yorkshire courses work with Go Racing In Yorkshire which has offered a prize of £100,000 to any horse winning a race at all nine between March 2022 and December 2023 – what a celebration that would be! The courses ensure they don’t hold races on the same days, and staff move from one track to the other, so they get to know regular racegoers, owners and trainers. The enthusiasm makes for a great day out, even if your horse (or your fetlock) is not in the frame that day.

Hope springs eternal. At the beginning of this year Mike and Sally (and friends) created a new syndicate with a new horse; again a 2-year-old filly with a strong pedigree, this one is a bay called Lady Dandylion. All the shares in her are gone, but Mike will be creating a new syndicate towards the end of the summer with a view to owning another filly for 2024. For those who would like a little flutter and fancy being ushered into the Owners’ dining room, or even the Owners’ Enclosure some wonderful day, please contact Mike direct at:   mikemadden1@gmail.com

So is it all down to luck, really? Mike smiled. “It is luck, but you can improve your chances by doing the right thing.” That includes doing your homework thoroughly, taking advice from the best people and following it, not letting your heart rule your head. At least, at most of the time.

And that’s a lesson for all business.