A much-anticipated Royal debut

8 min read
A new formula is making racing accessible to hundreds of new owners. We sat down with CEO Steve Brown to find out what that formula is and to hear about 500 new owners' journey to the Magic Millions.

Over 500 owners, many of whom have never owned a horse before, will embark on what miRunners CEO Steve Brown hopes will be the journey of a lifetime when Not a Royal Doubt (Not A Single Doubt) debuts in Saturday's Magic Millions Clockwise Classic at Ballarat.

miRunners' unique model breaks horse ownership down into 1000 units, with buyers able to purchase as little as one unit for a small initial outlay and an ongoing monthly fee.

In the case of Not A Royal Doubt, it has given a wealth of small-time owners the opportunity to have a share in a $250,000 (ex-gst) filly, trained by the legendary Gai Waterhouse and her co-trainer Adrian Bott.

Not A Royal Doubt is co-trained by Gai Waterhouse

"We are buying expensive horses, but it is made affordable by the 1000-unit offering. We’ve addressed the number one barrier for people, which is the upfront cost and ongoing cost, which has traditionally been prohibitive for the next generation," Brown told TDN AusNZ.

"We’ve addressed the number one barrier for people, which is the upfront cost and ongoing cost." -Steve Brown

"Ownership is such a wonderful thing that this industry has. That thrill of ownership is what miRunners is all about. It's an asset that the industry has got that no other sport has."

A winner of a recent trial at Randwick over subsequent winner Kiamichi (Sidestep), Not A Royal Doubt's debut at Ballarat is much anticipated.

"If we as founders are excited, you can imagine how excited the 500 or so owners are." - Steve Brown

"If we as founders are excited, you can imagine how excited the 500 or so owners are. These are people who predominantly haven’t owned before," Brown said.

With plans to progress towards the Magic Millions 2YO Classic should the filly win on Saturday, Brown admits it’s hard to keep the lid on expectations of those owners.

Not A Royal Doubt with co-trainer, Adrian Bott

"As we know with 2-year-olds, there's big wraps on a couple there and she's drawn out. But she's in it, and she's favourite, we are in great hands and somewhat hopeful," he said.

"(The Magic Millions) is absolutely the target. That's what Gai and Adrian are trying to do, get her qualified. This is quickest way to do that. If she wins, she will be able to have a bit of a let up and go straight in to the Magic Millions fresh."

Finding a new owners hip base

The make-up of Not a Royal Doubt's ownership fits into a broader profile of first-time owners for miRunners.

"We've actually polled our owners and 67 per cent of them have never owned a racehorse before and 87 percent of them didn’t own at the time they bought in," he said.

"We are cracking into that elusive but critical next generation of owners. And what an opening for them. They are pretty excited." - Steve Brown

Brown said of the 67 percent who had never previously owned shares, 29.3% of them went on to buy additional shares in miRunners or other syndicates.

miRunners are able to employ trainers such as David Hayes and jockeys like Kerrin McEvoy

"We see ourselves as acting as a nursery for larger future owners, whether it's with traditional syndication companies or directly with trainers. It is our responsibility to give those new to the sport a great experience first up. We take that responsibility quite seriously," he said.

"These are people that if racing's objective is to engage with a new audience, and a more mainstream audience, that is exactly what it is doing."

Brown said that one third of miRunners owners are female and 30 percent of them are aged 35-44.

"We are cracking into that elusive but critical next generation of owners. And what an opening for them. They are pretty excited."

Making a splash

It was on the Gold Coast last January where miRunners made a significant first splash at the major yearling sales, spending $1.18m on four fillies and one colt.

The colt, Zoushack (Zoustar), trained by Lindsay Park, was the first to make his debut when fourth in the Victory Vein S. at Randwick last month, while Not a Royal Doubt is the next cab off the rank.

"We have a team which buys for some of the biggest buyers in the country and they spend a lot of money for some really wealthy guys. We are still spending a lot of money on quality horse flesh but for mainstream Australians," Brown said.

Shezawitness (Star Witness) is with Caulfield trainer Mick Price, while the Your Song x Sheeznodoubt filly is with Tony Gollan in Brisbane and the Rubick x Sliante filly is in training with Bjorn Baker in Sydney.

While the first three are fully sold, Brown said there are still units left in the Your Song and Rubick fillies, as well as the Not A Single Doubt filly out of Countess Dehere that they paid $180,000 for at the Inglis Classic Sale.

Tapping into the tribal

It is the marketing of that filly which gives the sense of the innovation miRunners have brought to the market.

In connection with the Geelong Racing Club, she is being pitched as the Team Geelong horse, with a focus on involving owners with a strong connection to the regional Victorian city.

"These are the things that drive every sport on the planet. If you can bring communities together with a horse that races in their own colours, it just brings with it that power of tribalism," Brown said.

"I can imagine 500-plus owners in that horse, running in Geelong colours, it would be really great for race day atmosphere."

Engaging through technology

Speaking to Brown, that notion of connection is a theme that runs through everything. Built off the success of miStable, which provides digital solutions for trainers and owners, miRunners is all about utilising technology to connect.

"If this industry is to connect to the next generation, they need to do so digitally," he said.

"If this industry is to connect to the next generation, they need to do so digitally." - Steve Brown

"By making it digital, we are then connecting with people. For anything to flourish, it has to be digital."

"Owners get a weekly video on their mobile. It takes you two minutes to buy the unit on your mobile, they build new friendships with their other owners on their mobile, so it is a digital experience and that is going to be key to its growth going forward."

And it has extended beyond the miRunners platform as well, with a community of over 2000 people connected through an owners' Facebook group.

"If you see the conversations going on there, you can sense how much they love this. They absolutely love it. If you've got a racehorse, it can take over your life in terms of your mindspace and it’s doing that for a lot of people regardless of the size they can afford to own," Brown said.

Connecting owner and horse

But what Brown also says is crucial is the connection between the owner and the horse. He sees that as a powerful tool which can be used to shape outside perceptions of the thoroughbred industry.

"If people understood how much love and care goes into that animal then any discussion at all of horse racing being anything but a loving industry would just get thrown out," he said.

"If you see it and participate in it and understand it, they love these animals. We are finding that is going to be a really powerful outcome with what miRunners is doing."

"That's what this industry has that no other does, is that animal. The bond between human and horse, it's been around for 1000s of years. It's so powerful and no other sport has it. We just need to make it accessible to people."

Changing the raceday vibe

After a spring where big syndicates of owners in horses like Redzel (Snitzel), Extra Brut (Domesday) and Aristia (Lonhro) celebrated successes in major races, the sight of a jam-packed and jubilant mounting yard is something that excites Brown and his team.

Aristia has quite the group of owners, here celebrating her win in the G1 Oaks

He sees large scale ownership involvement as important to the revival of the on-track experience.

"From an industry point of view, it takes engagement to new levels. Our first horse when he made his debut, the club CEO told me that having a miRunners horse in the race was like an additional ten horses in the field in terms of food and beverage and wagering," he said.

"We've seen wagering numbers which indicated up to 50 per cent of the wagering pool was on that horse in the race."

"For the industry, that's an example of an outcome of having significant numbers of people involved in that horse."