Q&A with Elite Racing Club Manager Dan Downie

Members of the Elite Racing Club celebrate after a win at the Curragh in Ireland. (Courtesy of Elite Racing Club)

At approximately 3:37pm ET on Saturday, Nov. 4, some of the best turf sprinters in the world will break from the gate at Del Mar in the $1 million, Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. The five furlong dash will also feature the renewal of a leading international rivalry between U.S.-bred super-filly Lady Aurelia and Irish-bred multiple Group 1 winner Marsha

While U.S. racing fans are likely familiar with the exploits of Lady Aurelia, they may not be aware of the fact that the ownership team behind Marsha is one of the great modern success stories on the European racing scene. The 3-year-old daughter of Acclamation is campaigned by the Elite Racing Club, which is comprised of more than 10,000 people who invest the equivalent of roughly $235 a year to have an “ownership experience.”

Trained by Sir Mark Prescott and ridden by Luke Morris, Marsha defeated Lady Aurelia by a nose in their most recent showdown at York’s Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes. In their prior meeting, it was Lady Aurelia who got the better of Marsha in the King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot. Marsha followed up her Nunthorpe score with a runner-up finish in the Qatar Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp at Chantilly in October, a race she won in 2016. 

As Marsha prepares to travel to the U.S. for the rubber match with Lady Aurelia, we spoke with Elite Racing Club’s manager Dan Downie. 

Dan Tordjman: First off, what does it feel like as you’re watching the clock tick down to the Breeders’ Cup, and Elite Racing Club having its first ever Breeders’ Cup starter with Marsha?

Dan Downie: It is unbelievably exciting crossing the days off the calendar before the Breeders’ Cup, and it’s unreal to think that Elite Racing Club is actually going to have a runner in our 25th anniversary year. The fact that Marsha is a homebred makes it all the more special.

Dan Tordjman: Before we get to the sheer size of the ownership team behind Marsha – it’s a massive group – let’s talk about how you ended up here. Marsha won the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes in a race that was especially memorable for Frankie Dettori’s celebration aboard Lady Aurelia (after the finish, when he thought he had won). What did you think watching that race live, and how did you react when the result of the photo was posted with Marsha prevailing?

Dan Downie: I was at York and I have to admit that I was convinced we had finished second. A few people around me were confident Marsha had just prevailed, but I am an eternal pessimist so I didn’t allow myself to dream until the result was announced!

Dan Tordjman: How about the rivalry that has developed with Lady Aurelia? You’ve split results with her thus far – what would it mean to take this final showdown with her in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint?

Dan Downie: It’s terrific that two super-fast fillies – separated by the Atlantic Ocean – will be coming together once more for a final showdown in Del Mar. We have huge respect for Lady Aurelia, and as long as both fillies arrive in Del Mar on 4 November in their best form, let the best horse win.

Dan Tordjman: The Nunthorpe was a “Win and You’re In” race but you didn’t immediately announce you’d make the trip with Marsha. Why did you ultimately decide to go for it?

Dan Downie: We took our time before making the final decision about making the trip to Del Mar as we wanted to think about everything before committing ourselves. We were determined to go to Chantilly to try to defend the Prix de l’Abbaye crown, as that had been the plan all year. We then wanted to see how she had come out of that race before deciding if we could also go for the Breeders’ Cup. I went to see Marsha at Heath House (Sir Mark Prescott’s stables) a week after her exploits in France and she looked so well we thought that we should give it a go.

Dan Tordjman: Let’s talk about the club. Are there really 10,500 owners? How do you even manage that?

Dan Downie: Yes, there are 10,500 members. They don’t own the horses, but as we say in our marketing, Elite Racing Club is ‘The Next Best Thing to Owning Your Own Racehorse.” The Club owns the horses, and our members join the Club to enjoy some of the benefits of racehorse ownership and to enjoy a real sense of involvement with our horses.

Dan Tordjman: How many of the 10,500 members will be traveling in for the race? Have you considered how difficult it will be to get a restaurant reservation around Del Mar for a group that large? 

Dan Downie: We have a few American members, or members that live in America, so I am sure that some will make the trip to Del Mar. We have also had a number of inquiries from members based in the U.K. about traveling to the Breeders’ Cup.

Marsha (Courtesy of Elite Racing Club)

Dan Tordjman: The story behind Marsha’s name is also a good one. Please tell us about it, and I assume her namesake will be in attendance at the Breeders’ Cup?

Dan Downie: Every autumn, we invite our members to suggest names for our homebred yearlings that are about to enter training. Back in 2014, Marsha Holliman suggested ‘Marsha.’ We thought it fitted well, and so Marsha it was! Marsha, the human, lives in Newmarket, and so is often spotted around and about keeping a close eye on her namesake! I don’t think that MH will be at Del Mar but she will undoubtedly be cheering Marsha on from afar.

Dan Tordjman: It’s interesting that the name of the club is “Elite”, which may suggest some degree of exclusivity, in terms of participation. But, in fact, it’s clearly very simple to become part of the club. If you would, briefly tell us how the club is structured and what partners get to experience, aside from racing, when they join.

Dan Downie: So the Club was formed in 1992 and is a fairly simple concept. The Club owns all the horses and members buy into the Club for a year. A year’s subscription is £200. As well as the 15 horses in training, the Club has eight broodmares and various young stock that members can enjoy following from birth to the track. Marsha is a homebred, as was Soviet Song and Ribbons, our other two Group 1 winners. Members can enjoy various hospitality functions and stables and stud visits at some of the most famous stables in the country. Of course, going to the races is a huge part of the Club, and members can apply for owners’ badges whenever the Club has a runner.

Dan Tordjman: While a U.S.-based audience may not be as familiar with Elite Racing Club, you’ve been around for quite a while and you’ve had a lot of success – most notably with horses like Dandino, Soviet Song, and Ribbons. Take us back to how the club was formed – seemingly as a steeplechase club to begin with – and how it has evolved over time.

Dan Downie: The Club began as a predominantly jumps-based group and we hit the headlines in the early years for paying a record price for a National Hunt horse in training in 1994, when we bought Mysilv. Mysilv was a star for us and really got the ball rolling and sparked a real interest in the racing public. She was a real trier, like all of our fillies and mares seem to be, and ran in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival a couple of times and finished second in the Stayers’ Hurdle too.

Dan Tordjman: Apart from the actual race, what are you most looking forward to as you and the team travel to California for the Breeders’ Cup?

Dan Downie: I think that we are all conscious that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we are determined to enjoy the whole experience. It is telling that Marsha’s trainer, Sir Mark Prescott, has never had a Breeders’ Cup runner in 47 years of training so it really is a very special occasion for all of us.

Dan Tordjman: What are a few of the more interesting questions some of the owners are asking about the trip? This clearly must seem like a surreal experience for many of them. 

Dan Downie: As well as the obvious practical questions, such as flight options and transfers, most members seen more interested and fascinated with Marsha’s travel plans! I think that they are keen to follow her progress a soon as she steps on to the airplane at Stansted Airport a week before the big day.

Dan Tordjman: Have you even had an opportunity to look at some of the other Breeders’ Cup races? I’d be interested to hear if you had an opinion on our Classic division with the looming showdown between Arrogate, Gun Runner, and the upstart West Coast

Dan Downie: I am really interested in all of the Breeders’ Cup races, and I must admit that I would love to see Arrogate go out on a high!

Dan Tordjman: Lastly, do you have any predictions for the Turf Sprint? What would you like to see and what do you expect to see?

Dan Downie: A far as the Turf Sprint is concerned, I would just like to see all horses turn up in good form, for Marsha to avoid any trouble in running and of course get her head in front when it matters – not asking much am I?

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