Author: Duane Fonseca

HORSE SYNDICATION in the UAE has grown leaps and bounds over the last few years with numerous conglomerates being set up within the Emirati shores with an eye on both Thoroughbred and Purebred Arabian racing. And with racing growing exponentially across the region and the expectancy of stronger intra-Gulf bonds being forged in the future, a number of international syndicates are starting to look into markets like the UAE that have a ‘cultured and passionate’ take on equines and their racing. Singapore-based Ultima Bloodstock Management Ltd are among the latest to set up base in the UAE, with a three horse line-up that is currently in training at Zabeel Stables.

Since being incorporated in Singapore in 2018, Ultima has made its mark in the Asia Pacific region and according to its website offers ‘an unparalleled experience in the world of horse racing through the amalgamation of professional expertise and horse ownership involving Pinhooking, Racing and Breeding’. As they prepare to start their racing career in the UAE as Ultima Thoroughbreds Holding Ltd, Al Adiyat spoke with Ultima chairman and CEO, Dato’ Dr Nicholas Ho to find out about their journey so far and what lies ahead...

Tell us more about your background in the industry and how it all started for Ultima?

When I first started the company we were looking at pinhooking. I am a developer, so I was looking at investing and I saw that pinhooking is something that can be very lucrative especially when you do well. So we did pinhooking in Australia and New Zealand and after that we tool owners onboard for pinhooking and racing as well. We started our operations in Singapore in 2018 and before that I was just part of the ownership of horses: Japanese horses in particular.

We have a special interest in Japanese horses. When we first started, I went to the Japan sales and was impressed with the auction scene down there. Of course, I saw a lot more after that. Our goal was to get more owners involved and educate them about the opportunities in horse racing. We went into markets like Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan and Indonesia to let people know more about horse racing and to promote racing in the non-racing jurisdictions.

A lot of syndications and trainers in Australia, buy Australian horses and race there and sell to Australians, people who already know about racing. I’m not a believer of selling ice to the eskimos, I want to educate the public about horse racing and that’s why we got into this kind of a set up and got into the Chinese and the Middle Eastern markets.

A lot of people think they know about racing, but don’t really know about the sport and how they can get into owning horses. If you follow the Australian model, syndication is very good to reach out to people that know about racing but are not involved in it. We are looking at racing from a global perspective.

What is Ultima’s membership strength like?

Right now, we have a presence in Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, China and the UAE and based on our model in Singapore the total number we have is 70. We don’t pool money first and then buy. We buy the horses and then syndicate them and sell shares in them. That’s the way we want to get people to be part of the game.

So, it’s a very steep climb. When we go to a market, we try to get people to understand things. The education part of it takes a lot of work.

What made you choose to come to Dubai?

One of the reasons we opted to come here was because Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is one of the biggest racehorse owners in the world and because this city is geographically perfect for us to expand in the southern and northern hemispheres. We want to expand to the United States, Ireland and the United Kingdom and that is why we chose Dubai.

Right now we race in Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and in partnership in Japan. We have three horses in the UAE right now as we’ve just started here. Hopefully everything goes well because we do have some plans in place. Our total holding in horses across the northern and southern hemispheres is about 70. There’s quite a number from among that which we ourselves own. Some horses we bought are broodmares for our stallions. We have shares in stallions as well.

What do you think of the racing scenein the UAE?

What I really like about being here is the respect they give to horses and horse racing. People love horse racing here, they’re passionate about it and it is in their culture. It’s not something you really see in Singapore or in Malaysia. Here there is a lot of potential for growth and it is profitable. Because of the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are also getting in on the racing. I think in the long run it will be good for people to have horses here to race. The market needs more education for more owners to get involved and of course we hope we get more support from the area to make this a prominent market for us.

What made you seek the services of ZabeelStables as training base for your horses?

Our office is in DIFC and so when we get our owners here it’s easy to show them the facility. Zabeel have a lovely facility and when we first them, I liked their way of thinking and belief of ‘horse first, owner second’. They said before your horse comes, you are No.1 for me, but once your horse comes, your horse is priority. I believe in that. We are just owners of the horse and their welfare is very important.

Do you travel to sales internationally to pick stock for Ultima?

Physically, we did not go to Newmarket (in April), but over the phone we spoke to the agents and bought from the breeze up sales at Tattersalls. We bought three horses there: Fusion Gold, Happify and Almastar and all are in training with Satish.

What’s been Ultima’s prized possession over the past few years it has been operational?

We were part owners of Tagaloa who has been retired to stud duties and is now standing at Yulong Stud in Australia. We bought into him for A$300,000 in January 2019 and within 13 months he won the Group 1 Blue Diamond Stakes and the Group 3 CS Hayes Stakes and after he retired we sold him to the Yulong Stud for a good amount of money. He is now standing at Yulong Stud for A$33,000 service fee. So if you do the math… I mean we were lucky and if we get more success like that we can get more owners involved.

What is Ultima’s vision for the future?

We’ve been involved in all of the major jurisdictions in the southern hemisphere and now we’re here in Dubai, so the natural progression would be to get into the northern hemisphere and UK, Ireland and America. All syndications want to try and win Group One races and we want to do that as well, but what we also want to do is get more owners involved in the breeding side of things because breeding is a very lucrative market and it is a business that has longevity.

We want to go downstream and in due course we would like to acquire stallion prospects after they’ve won Group One and Group Two races. We will try and buy them and get connections involved and we will then either sell them or retain them for breeding. We want to make it a win-win situation for us and the owners and the sky’s the limit.