James Owen speaks to the success of horses in shared ownership
He has snared three British champion PA trainer titles in the 2017-2019 period. However, James Owen has also achieved success as the instigator of owning PA horses on a shared basis. Here, the Englishman opens up regarding his horses and his ambitions for the 2020 season.
After riding Arabian horses for his parents, he went on to become the champion point-to-point rider. Following a three year stint in which the handler acted as assistant to John Ferguson, he then set up a pre-training operation. His client base includes David Simcock, Wiliam Haggas, Hugo Palmer, James Fanshawe and the Gredley family. He was also entrusted with the task of breaking-in a couple of PA horses on behalf of the Shadwell operation, and the breed now forms a significant part of his business. He struck gold with his very first runner after Bon Baiser de Faust (Madjani) immediately hit the jackpot in 2015. After securing three UK Arabian Racing Organisation (ARO) training championships, he’s hungry for a fourth title. He trains half of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s UK Arabian string, which means that he handles 23 horses on behalf of the ARO patron, although he does train for other owners too. He launched the James Owen Racing Club in 2018, and that concern’s flagship runner, Tijaary (Al Saoudi), was the leading PA Arabian in terms of races won on the UK circuit in 2019.
Overseas ambitions. Owen enjoyed a season to remember in 2019 after securing his first Dubai International Arabian Races (DIAR) and pattern race successes. The two milestones were recorded within a few weeks of each other. He also tasted victory in Belgium and Holland and is keen to expand his horizons. He said: "We had a really good year and enjoy going abroad as it gives us more options. We’ve been to Mons, where we enjoyed our first overseas winner via Farhaa (Al Saoudi), and Waregem. We also raided Duindigt and had a few winners there too. They’re very accessible places and it’s not a long drive to get to them, and so we plan to return again this year. I’d love to race in France although the standard is much higher in comparison. A couple of 3-year-olds owned by Hamdan Al Maktoum were forward enough to have racecourse gallops in March under professional jockeys. They, in common with all my other horses, were then given a break at the start of the Covid-19 crisis. They’ve mostly improved for the rest and are now back in work. I don’t want to go abroad just for the sake of it, but, if a good opportunity arises, then we will be going to France. Wanassa (No Risk Al Maury), a half-sister to Sheikh Hamdan’s Al Azeeza (Munjiz), is one who performed well during a Lingfield gallop. A nice filly, she looks stronger than Al Azeeza but has a similar action and so quick ground will be called for."
Newbury Success. For any UK trainer, but particularly one training for Sheikh Hamdan, a win on ‘Dubai Day’ card is an annual goal. Last year Al Azeeza captured the opener on the card, the Emirates Premier Handicap, over 1,600m (1m). Owen cleaned up by also saddling the second and third, Naishaan (No Risk Al Maury) and Farhaa. He recalled: "It’s taken a while so it was great to finally have a DIAR winner. Al Azeeza came to us from Francois Rohaut, along with Jaahez (No Risk Al Maury). Both have won for us here and Jaahez later won a nice race in Holland."
Returning to Newbury, Awzaan (Al Saoudi) gave Owen his first pattern win in the Royal Cavalry of Oman Clarendon Stakes (Gr3, PA) over 1,000m (5f). He also provided his sire, the now UK-based Al Saoudi (Nuits St Georges), with his first black type winner. Awzaan is the oldest resident of Green Ridge Stables, and he was formerly with Gill Duffield, having scoring a debut victory for the latter. She also trained his half-brother Jiyush (Manganate) to win the 2002 editions of the Dubai International Stakes and the Emirates Championship (Gr1s PA).
He added: "Awzaan is not exactly fragile but he’s just taken a long time to mature. As a 5-year-old, he ran third to Sir Bani Yas (Amer) in the Zayed Cup (Gr1 PA) over a mile at Sandown, but became hard to place after that. He shows plenty of speed at home but is slow out of the gates. I had always wanted to race him in headgear, but didn’t think that he was mature enough. In the Clarendon, he was slowly away, but, within half a furlong, the horse was back on the bridle. He could be called the winner from a long way out and the visor worked well for him. I think that a mile suits him but this depends on the course and the opposition. He likes easier ground so an autumn campaign should be fine for him."
Arqana Goals. From the outset Owen was keen to buy into French bloodlines, and he travelled to Saint-Cloud in 2016 where he intended to purchase an unraced 2-year-old. Owen recalled: "There were a lot of horses I liked, but they were outside my price range. Regarding the horses-in-training section, we thought that Dolfina D’Ibos (Mahabb) was quite a nice neat, athletic type. She hadn’t shown much in two runs [editor's note: ninth on her debut at Dax, behind three subsequent Gr1 PA winners with several more placed at that level], but I felt that she had the ability to win in the UK. She won three times for us and was the UK’s leading PA Arabian in 2017. She was one of our first ‘Racing Club’ runners. The plan was to eventually breed from her so as to generate more horses for the club. She’s delivered two fillies so far, and the first, Mayfair (Al Tair), like a lot of first foals, wasn’t very big although she’s done well. She produced another filly, Picadilly (RB Burn), last year. Because we have liked what she’s produced, we felt confident to spend a bit more and so she was bred to Al Mourtajez (Amer) via the insemination process. Arabian stallions aren’t expensive, even the good ones, and we want to do it right."
Last autumn, Owen returned to Arqana, hoping to buy two unraced horses and he added: "On our first trip to Arqana, my wife Jenny, a vet, accompanied me, which was great although neither of us speak French well. This time I took along a good friend of mine, Nat Barnett, a bloodstock agent and a frequently buyer in France. I felt that this sale was more accessible, as there were plenty of horses on offer which were well within budget. I paid €9,000 for the 2-year-old Sahis (Al Tair). He’s done well since arriving here, has a good mind and is improving all the time. The other horse, Sattam (General), went through the ring unsold, which I wouldn’t have known if Nat hadn’t been with me, so we went back for another look. He was with Thomas Fourcy, who informed us that he was a bit slow, which is fine as he trains some of the best Purebred Arabians in the world! I also thought that he looked weak at the time, and, as he’s not a stallion prospect, we had him gelded him straight away. He has since been turned him and has thrived. He’s still very laid back, but he doesn’t have any issues and has a lovely stride. We would want to get two to three seasons racing out of him for the Racing Club and, for a purchase price of €3,000, we don’t expect to get black type, but he should prove good value for the level that he will be racing at in the UK."
Sattam’s purchase has served to provide the Owen Racing Club, which had over 30 members last season, with renewed impetus. It’s format that has been successful in the thoroughbred world where, for a low one-off fee, members acquire an interest in three horses for a year. He feels that although it caters for the lower end, both in terms of budget and race level, it can be viewed as a pathway to either individual ownership, or as a means of encouraging a small syndicate to get involved via a bigger form of investment. Granted that top flight PA racing takes part on the big international occasions for English thoroughbreds throughout the world, the financial commitment needed to have a PA runner on those occasions is considerably less than for their thoroughbred counterparts. That’s an angle Owen is keen to emphasise and he wouldn’t hesitate to return to Arqana to source a horse that could prove competitive in pattern company.
Summing up his Arqana experience to date he concluded: "It’s more relaxed than an English thoroughbred sale and the set-up is good. The second time round, I was more organised and the presence of an experienced bloodstock agent made a big difference. Arqana looked after us really well, so we’ll go over again, I’d like to keep buying in France. This year might be a bit more difficult because of Covid-19, but, hopefully, in the future we’d like to sell there as well. It’s a good marketplace."
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