Racehorse investor on winning streak
Accountant says bloodlines key to breeding success
Many investments can bring you a windfall but few offer the emotional bond that comes with a racehorse.
As Apollo Ng Shung approaches his prize-winning horse Amo in its Sha Tin stable, the 534kg gelding recognises him immediately and approaches gently.
Mr Ng, a 45-year-old former certified public accountant, has many roles in Hong Kong's racing industry. He is a commentator for the Jockey Club, publisher of the monthly magazine Racing World, and a racehorse owner, tipster and bloodstock trader.
Hong Kong has roughly 1,200 racehorses and about 600 owners. While most people own them for pleasure, Mr Ng is an investor seeking a return from his 17 horses, which are for racing and breeding in Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand.
Some investments, like Amo, have paid him back 150-fold. Bought for about HK$40,000 in 2000, Amo has won HK$6 million in prize money. But Mr Ng believes investing in a racehorse for breeding purposes brings a higher return than relying on prize money.
You were an accountant, so why did you become a commentator, owner and breeder?
I loved horses when I was a teenager. I lived very close to Happy Valley and saw all the horses running at the races. When I studied accountancy at university in Australia in the 1980s, I started to write for the daily newspaper's racing pages as a freelancer.
After graduation, I worked at an accounting firm and then set up my own firm in Australia to offer taxation and consultancy services. At the same time, I wrote for the racing sections in Hong Kong newspapers and was a radio commentator for horse racing programmes.
About 12 years ago, I let my partners take care of the accounting business to allow better focus on my multiple roles in horse racing.
How do investors make money trading or buying a racehorse?
There are several ways to earn money. The most typical is to buy a racehorse through the Jockey Club or through agents around the world, say in Australia, New Zealand or Ireland. The cost would depend on the quality and bloodline of the horses, and range from a few hundred thousand dollars to a few million.
The price of a horse has gone up 30 per cent or more in recent years because many Middle Eastern investors are interested in buying horses for investment or pleasure.
In Hong Kong, there are five classes of racehorses, each with different prize levels. A newly imported horse will be put in class three and its race record for the season will be evaluated to determine if it can move to another class.
For a class-three racehorse, winning a race offers the owner net prize money of about HK$310,000, after sharing about 29 per cent of the total prize with the trainer and jockey. Second place offers a net prize of HK$131,100 and third about HK$68,600.
At the bottom, class five, the net winning prize money is about HK$190,000, second is HK$78,250 and third HK$40,000.
But the top, gross prize money for some special championship events, such as the Hong Kong Cup, can go up to HK$20 million.
The racehorse with the highest prize winnings in Hong Kong is the newly retired Vengeance of Rain, which earned HK$75.41 million for its owner before it quit in February because of heart problems.
What are the costs, such as food and medical treatment?
Keeping a horse costs about HK$420,000 a year. As a result, a class-three horse needs to win about twice a season for the owner to break even, not to mention recouping the purchase price. It is very difficult to make money by relying on prizes.
If you really want to make a racehorse an investment, it is better to buy a horse with breeding prospects.
Have you made a good profit from
investing in horses for breeding?
I have teamed up with some farms in Australia and New Zealand to invest in racehorse breeding. What I do is to buy some fillies at a young age, let them run for one or two years and then retire them to the farm for breeding.
I have a filly named Bon Martin. She won two races and has given birth to six horses already. Four out of five runners are winners. Overall, I have earned a good return from her.
The best breeding horse I have ever imported to Hong Kong was Nitrogen, which I bought for HK$750,000. The horse earned HK$1.8 million for me.
Some racehorses may give you a double windfall in both prizes and breeding. A retired Hong Kong champion horse, Lucky Owners, was bought at A$350,000 (HK$2.59 million) and won HK$27 million in prize money, but it was estimated to have a stud value of HK$75 million for producing at least 150 foals a year.
What are the major risks in investing in racehorses?
Some horses may suffer from disease or injuries. If you buy colts for racing and then for breeding, many need to be gelded to control their temper and therefore lose their future breeding opportunities. Should you buy a filly, it may suffer miscarriages.
What tips can you offer to potential investors?
Look at the pedigree of the horse. Trace its sire and dam. In racehorses it is success that breeds success. Also, get some good advice from professional people like trainers or bloodstock consultants.
How big is your racehorse portfolio and can they all earn good money for you?
I have a total of 17 horses in Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong. The collection includes colts, geldings, weanlings, fillies and broodmares. Some of them are wholly owned while some are syndicated with friends.
Which racehorse do you consider your best investment decision?
It is Amo, which I bought at the 2000 Magic Millions sale on the Gold Coast - the annual racehorse sale in Australia. His sire is a European champion but few Australians learned about the excellent bloodlines, so I could purchase it at a low price of about A$10,000, or about HK$40,000 at that time. Amo has won HK$6 million for me after winning six races, with nine seconds and 16 thirds.
What was your worst racehorse investment and how did you get out of it?
My friends and I jointly invested almost HK$3 million to buy a mare for the purpose of breeding in Australia. We had to pay about a A$200,000 service fee for a champion stallion. But the mare had a miscarriage. Luckily we had insurance to cover the cost.
Besides racehorses, do you have other investments and how are they going?
I used to invest in derivative warrants when I had time to watch the market. Once I won enough to buy a new car. But now I do not have time to be a day trader, so I invest mainly in blue chips such as MTR and Citic Pacific for long-term investment.
Which profession brings you more money - being a racehorse investor or an accountant?
I would not be too badly off if I had continued to be an accountant. As a racehorse owner, sometimes I will have a windfall if I buy a horse which can win the top event and became a champion. But in terms of lifestyle and happiness, I am happier as a racehorse investor. It is a less serious job. Even if my tips go wrong, the audience does not complain too much.
Do you think you are rich or poor?
I am satisfied with my life. I am poorer than Li Ka-shing or Cheng Yu-tung, but I can support my family and afford to donate to charity.