Racing veteran pushes syndicates from $500

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Gary Preston is hot to trot – and wants to spread the word.

The Queenstown taxi driver has spent a quarter of a century in the harness racing game – buying, selling, training and racing them. He’s also been on the committee of a trotting club.

And, in a region without a racecourse and without a lot of horsetalk going on, Preston is putting out a call for racing folk to band together in a syndicate to race horses.

“There’s lots of opportunities for as little as $500 each start-up – a group of mates in the pub, a sports team, even to promote your business,” he says from his Goldfield Heights home.

“For a small fee you can rename the horse, you can race it in corpor­ate or sports colours – that type of thing.”

In Christchurch, as an example, the Green Machine syndicate – all members of the Marist Rugby Club – raced talented horses such as All Most and Kay N Kayes in the rugby club’s colours of green and white stripes.

Preston, 51, is happy to manage the syndicates himself or simply be the contact between Queens­town’s keen trotting folk and Greg Payne, who’ll train the horses.

Canterbury-based Payne bought a dozen or so horses at the National Yearling Sales in February that he’s selling off and syndicating.

Preston’s confident the trainer can spot talent – Payne bought million-dollar earner Sly Flyin, New Age Man (14 wins in a row) and One Way Traffic, who won more than $100,000 before being sold to Australia, as yearlings.

Payne will retain a share in some syndicates if need be, Preston says.

The trainer’s purchases range from $6000-$30,000 for colts and fillies by smart young sires Elsu, Western Terror and Bettor’s Delight as well as those by tried-and-trusted stallions In The Pocket and Courage Under Fire.

Although Payne trains deep in the harness racing heartland of West Melton on the outskirts of Christchurch, he’s happy to race them down this way so local owners won’t have to travel far to see them race, Preston says.

Monthly running costs to train each horse are routinely expected to be $1000-$1200 – the more syndicate members, the cheaper it’ll be for each individual.

Owners need to sort out what sort of one-off start-up payment they’d be happy with and that’ll dictate which horse they’ll be assigned, Preston says.

Payne will assess the yearlings by July-August on whether they’re likely to make two-year-olds and race later in the year – or whether to put them out in the paddock and let them strengthen.

Preston cautions wannabe owners: “You do have to be a little bit patient.”