BL16 - Page 75

Starters Orders
Colin Cameron meets the financier Erik Penser, whose success as a racehorse owner
and breeder has made him a pillar of the British racing establishment
ike pigs finding an acorn, we
occasionally beat the bookies.
But how do you make a
million? Start with two and
invest in thoroughbreds! This
old joke raises a smile from Erik Penser
– racehorse owner, breeder, and master
of the 16th century, 2000-acre Compton
Beauchamp estate in Berkshire, where
he established Churn Stables.
A generation ago, Penser, 76, accepted
the challenge of losing a fortune, but
sensibly founded a bank in his native
Sweden first. Even with what must have
been agreeable overdraft terms, he never
expected a financial return from horses.
And the training ground he built over
two decades in Berkshire? He describes
it now as a “white elephant” but less of
a gamble than the equine nursery he also
founded. As to providing bed and board
for 20 thoroughbreds in training, he
shrugs, “My horses are like family.”
Rather than consider expense, Penser
reflects on what loyal companions horses
are. Success in the Eclipse Stakes at
Sandown in 1999 found a triumphant
Penser all alone with Compton Admiral,
his hero of the hour. At Doncaster for
Beauchamp King’s success in the 1995
Racing Post Trophy – like the Group One
Eclipse, a race of the highest calibre – the
colt’s trainer, the late John Dunlop, had
low expectations and was absent.
Today, one of Penser’s three children
or nine grandchildren might keep him
company at the races. Or a fellow director
of Newbury racecourse, where he sits on
the board; or a fellow member of the
Jockey Club. Certainly no tipsters.
Like his horses, Penser is excellent
company, with a great sense of humour.
Over lunch at Boisdale of Belgravia,
– where he orders the dry-aged steak – he
reflects on a lifetime of racing success. At
13, his father took him on a rare family
outing to Jägersro for some trotting,
which is popular in Sweden. Racing
captured his attention by offering what
he thought was a chance to get rich quick,
he laughs. Today, he considers racing and
betting as a puzzle. “A jigsaw, crossword,
Sudoku; I like to solve problems, and
racing – picking winners, planning
matings – is the most challenging of all.”
Racehorse ownership also began in
Sweden, when Penser was 22. Parental
approval was scarce. “I was useless at
school,” he recalls. “I then studied law
at college but never passed an exam and
have no degree. But I began working as
a stockbroker and did have a feel, or
intuition, for the job. My father wasn’t
pleased that I decided to buy a racehorse.
My view was that I would at least break
even.” And so he did, with two winners.
Ownership in Britain was a natural
progression, as was a move into breeding.
“When they are born, you have no hopes
for them; they are like pets,” he sighs. He
names all his homebreds “Beauchamp”
and stock bought at the sales or privately,
“Compton”. As to creating winners, “You
just hope that they might one day race.”
Beauchamp King did far more than
that. Penser-selected his mother – Afariya,
who was barren before coming in foal for
Penser – and father – a stallion called
Nishapour. He makes all matches himself,
so no success, or blame, is shared.
Penser recalls Doncaster in 1995. “I
cannot bring myself to sell horses I have
bred, so Beauchamp King went into
training with John Dunlop. He didn’t
want him to run in the Racing Post
Trophy, but the field was small and the
prize-money was worth taking a chance.
I paid a £15,000 supplementary fee to
take part – in the end, well worth it.”
Though down to single figures as an
owner, Penser’s commitment to racing
is firm. Since 1960, he has missed only
three days at Royal Ascot, two of them
while on compulsory National Service.
He is only marginally down on any
betting over his lifetime. As you might
expect of a former banker, every wager
has been meticulously documented.
Keeping a record of your betting is a
prerequisite for success, he says. Too easy
to remember the winnings and forget any
damage. Beyond this, he warns against
chasing losses, following tipsters and the
importance of any staking plan. “Be
careful,” he counsels. “The value of a
good night’s sleep exceeds everything.”
He suggests studying past races – he
owns every Raceform Form Book going
back to 1934 – and seeing the horses at
the track to back your own judgment. He
is no fan of ante-post betting days, weeks
and even months ahead of a race: “I have
to have seen the horse.” Always visit the
paddock to look at the field ahead of any
race; appearance gives very good insight
into a horse’s wellbeing, he reasons.
aughing, Penser tells me how the
lowest financial return of all his
racing investments has also given
him the greatest pleasure. “It was the
early Eighties. I had a phone call from the
late Lord Carnarvon, the Queen’s racing
manager and chairman at Newbury.
Someone owed more than 30% of the
course, which was against the corporate
governance rules of the day, so they
needed an investor to take a 5% stake.
The call was less than a minute, followed
by a letter with the address for where to
send the cheque. Then nothing for five
years. Not even a free admission badge!
Finally a lunch invitation came.”
Many more have followed, and the
chance to make a difference at a leading
British race course is why Penser values
his involvement so highly. Likewise, his
membership of the Jockey Club – a great
honour for a Swede, he stresses – and his
Small Breeder Thoroughbred Breeders’
Association Award in 1995. The cost?
Penser won’t put a price on even one day
at the races. A rarity indeed – a banker
who has long ceased counting.

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