The horse racing hobby that turned into a business - and how it is coping with the Covid-19 sporting shutdown

If you’ve been a regular at racecourses in West Sussex over the past quarter of a century, you’ll have likely seen the dark green and blue diamond silks of Heart Of The South Racing. Nicholas O’Leary caught up with Eloise Adamski to find out how business is faring during the UK industry shutdown and discover more about a how hobby turned into a successful small business.

Friday, 17th April 2020, 9:30 am
Updated Friday, 17th April 2020, 5:24 pm
Fruity O'Rooney and Jamie Moore on their way to a win

Everybody is facing similar issues during the coronavirus lockdown and horse racing is no exception. And Eloise Adamski is forthright about the challenges affecting the industry, and Heart Of The South in particular.

“To start with, we were in shock when we heard racing was going to be postponed, initially until the end of April. Our main focus was just looking after our owners and making sure they knew what was going on. We’ve kept them fully informed.

“We are supporting and working with our trainers as much as we can. A couple of our National-Hunt horses, ones that would have no chance of running in May, had already gone on an early holiday – they’ll finish early but start back earlier.

Waikiki Waves, also partnered by Jamie Moore

“We don’t want to let any of our trainers down because obviously they need horses to keep themselves afloat. The four trainers we use, we have such a good working relationship with them, and we want to do what we can to support them. So, although the National-Hunt horses have gone on breaks early, they will be coming back early to make up for that.

“We have two other National-Hunt horses with Gary [Moore] and luckily(ish) they will both act on good ground – so the plan, at the moment, is to keep them in training and hopefully get a race soon.

“And then all of our flat horses, who had just literally stepped up into fast work now – have just come back into conditioning work again and we’re taking every day as it comes – but hopefully we’ll get the nod and it’ll be good news before too long and they’ll step back up to fast work ready for racing then.

“It is a really scary time, and I think Gary and the team are quite lucky there in that it’s just their yard – it’s very spacious – and there’s no-one else really around.

Heart of the South members on a get-together

“Whereas, I know for my Newmarket trainers it’s slightly different. They’re in close proximity. They are being understandably very cautious.”

* Heart of the South are one of the longest standing syndicates in racing – but they started small.

Eloise said: “My dad, John Penny, ran a telecoms company and sold that around 25 years ago – then retired, wanted a hobby, loved horses and I’d been involved in riding since I was five, and used to do pairs cross-country with Jamie Goldstein.

“We both had really fast ponies and we used to just go out and go for it – I certainly haven’t got that bottle anymore! So, my parents were good friends with Jamie’s parents and that’s how my dad’s love for racing really was cemented.

“So once he retired, he was looking to get involved with syndicates and ownership, and there was nothing really available at that time – so he just thought ‘I’m going to set up my own little company’ and that’s how Heart Of The South started. Pretty much as a hobby for a number of years, for my dad, a couple of his friends and old work associates.

“He put a little syndicate together with the late Roger Curtis – and had a few horses there – then a couple with Gary. We’ve been with Gary for about 20 years.

“But dad found it was becoming unmanageable for him as just a hobby, and I was in events – working at Brighton and Fontwell Racecourse – and then he decided we could turn it into a small business, and I’ve been doing it for about 12 years now. We now have about 16 syndicates.

“Each syndicate has between 10 and 20 owners. We also have a sole owner and we manage all his communications as he has four horses, so it keeps us busy.

“I have two children, so I work part-time, then I have a full-time employee who has been with us for seven years, Sam Bridle – she’s West Sussex-based. She came to us on a work placement that the government were offering, for people to come and do work experience for eight weeks – to add to their CV, and she was absolutely amazing.

“She is the best people person and my owners love everything about her. She’s always there for them to answer any queries, she’s a huge asset to the team.”

* The syndicates have been a huge success over the years, with horses taking them to the likes of Cheltenham and Ascot. Over the years, the way they source their horses has changed – but success continues.

“We used to have a couple of mares at home – so we’ve had a couple home-bred. And South Cape, who was one of our best flat horses – winning 11 races and over £100,000 prize-money in his career - was bred at home. Good Luck Charm, who is Gary’s oldest flat horse in training – at 11 - is home-bred too.

“Now, we tend to buy them in association with the trainers, as they have bloodstock agents they use. We’ve recently bought one in France, using Gary’s connection over there. Some we buy as foals – but the majority we buy with trainers, on advice of their bloodstock agents.”

* Both Fontwell and Goodwood play host to a number of syndicate horses throughout the season – both being popular tracks with Adamski and the team.

“We love having runners at both tracks, we’ve had plenty of success there. Fontwell particularly – we work with them a lot, from sponsorship to hospitality – and we’ll support them wherever we can,” Eloise said.

“We enjoy working with Phil (Hide, clerk of the course). It was a real blow when he stopped training – he was very much loved by a number of owners for his honesty and work-ethic, but it’s great we still get to see him. I’m often calling him up and asking is the ground going to be this or that – and he’s always happy to speak to us.”

* Heart Of The South is a great name for a business whose ethos is to work with the industry across the south as much as possible – although they do have horses based slightly further afield, to meet the needs of everybody. Local racing is at the heart of the operation.

“It’s really important to us,” said Elosie.. “We try to predominantly run our horses in the south of England. I’m Sussex born and bred, we’ve been here for so many years, so wherever possible we try to run our horses in the south-east and the local area. We can’t just have trainers in Sussex, purely because it reduces our catchment area, but we always have at least two or three in the area – then one in Lambourn and one in Newmarket – and that works really well for us, the business, and that’s how we intend it to stay.”

* Over the years, there have been plenty of horses carrying the syndicate’s colours, but I asked about a few favourites. And one of their most famous has strong links to Fontwell Park.

“Fruity O’Rooney was amazing – he actually came from Philip Hide. He was riding out for Peter Winkworth, and Peter was retiring and Philip gave us the nod and said there was a horse that he’d ridden and schooled – who had won once – and said, ‘in time – he could be a good syndicate horse for you’.

“He was the definition of the perfect syndicate horse – he was gutsy, tried hard and throughout his racing career he never had an injury.

“He had a touch of colic, which righted itself in the horsebox on the way to the vets. He did just start to go a little bit more to his right, and the moment that happened his regular work-rider Suzi Knapp – who has been with Gary for around 25 years - said she could feel him using himself differently, and that was it. We didn’t go any further, he was just too precious and such a legend.

“We knew then that was his body’s way of telling us it was time. He was phenomenal and I don’t think we’ll ever get another horse like him. He probably should have won the SkyBet Chase, but his saddle slipped, and he still carried on jumping with his saddle stuck behind.

“In typical Jamie Moore fashion, he didn’t let it faze him, and still finished third. He should have won at the Cheltenham Festival, but was just done on the line, and I still haven’t really got over that.

“Waikiki Waves is similar to Fruity in as much as he tries so hard, but not only is he a superstar who has won a number of races, he is one of those who just loves jumping. He is one of the gentlest horses I’ve ever come across – of any breed. He’s that relaxed and calm that I’ve had owners go in and lay down with him on the stable floor.

“If anybody brings their children or grandchildren up and they want to give a pat to a safe horse, I’ll always take them to Waikiki – he’s just something else. He enjoys the care and routine he gets at Cisswood. He has struggled in his last couple of races, and I think the handicapper has done him no favours.

“We thought we’d give it a go, targeting the juicer contests, but I don’t think he’s going to quite manage in that grade. Jamie, ourselves and Gary are all confident that when he returns to Fontwell – and we lower our sights a bit – he will be back winning.

“He’s quite versatile with regards to the ground, but it has been tricky when we do have horses which do want better ground and we’ve just had to be patient. And just as we started to see some relief in the weather, we now have to deal with the coronavirus – so it is a scary time for the whole industry.

“Ruby Yeats is actually similar to Waikiki Waves in as much as she has been leased to Heart Of The South, because the owners in the syndicate had their horse pick up a tendon injury - so most of the owners are also involved in Trafalgar Boy. Gary, being the man he is, felt really bad about it – despite having no need to - and wanted to keep those owners and give them some fun.

“He sourced Ruby Yeats for us on a lease basis. We’re leasing her from a lovely lady, who has bred with Yates, and she is fully involved with the whole experience. It is a relationship which is working for both parties.

“She’s been a revelation since returning to hurdles -it was just a confidence thing with her. she is one of the most stroppy, stubbornest, mares – but if everything goes right and she races with the other horses, I just don’t think there’s any stopping her. If she wants to do it, and she’s in the mood, she’ll do it. She’s a funny horse – but I like her for it.

“The plan with her will be to carry on another year, and although she’s actually won in slightly softer conditions, we do think she’ll be better on better ground – so she’s one of the ones who will carry on racing.

* You can keep up to date with all the latest news – and find more about how to get involved yourself - at www.hotsr.co.uk

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