In a sport increasingly dominated by powerhouse owners, Kemboy bids to land a significant blow for the smaller man when he shoots for glory in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday.
A brief scan of the betting for the 28 Festival races this week will tell you that one of either JP McManus or Ryanair supremo Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud is highly likely to pick up the leading owner award once again, with each set to be represented in most if not quite every race.
McManus has a record 53 Festival wins in the bag already; Gigginstown are next on the all-time list on 24, and then comes the likes of Rich and Susannah Ricci and Andrea and Graham Wylie with 15 and 13 victories each.
Cheveley Park Stud have this season spent big in the National Hunt sphere in an attempt to join the party too and, given the vast amounts of money each of these owners invest, none can be begrudged the success they enjoy.
However, if Kemboy does come up the famous hill in front to claim the most prestigious prize in National Hunt racing, it will be evidence that anyone can do it, which can only be good for the Festival and racing as a whole.
The men responsible for giving Kemboy’s 14 owners the opportunity to dream are Steve Massey and Jim Balfry, who along with Willie Mullins, pictured, the most successful trainer in Festival history, launched the Supreme Horse Racing Club in 2011.
The syndication group has had huge success in the last eight years, with club members enjoying Grade One success through the prolific mare Airlie Beach, a Royal Ascot winner with Pique Sous and well over 100 winners in total, with Kemboy himself aptly bringing up the century when opening his account over fences in January of last year.
Massey said: “When we started off the club we had one horse with eight owners. Supreme Carolina won her racecourse debut in a bumper at the Listowel Festival, and the thing has just snowballed from there.
“We currently have around 30 horses, all with Willie, and over 500 members worldwide. I don’t think any of us expected to end up as big as we are now. It’s just been unbelievable, to be honest.
“Most of the credit has to go to Willie and his team. Nothing is guaranteed in racing, but when you’ve got Harold Kirk and Pierre Boulard sourcing the horses, Willie training them and the likes of Ruby Walsh, Paul Townend and Patrick [Mullins] riding them, you’re giving yourself the best possible chance. That’s the way we look at it.”
The undoubted star of the Supreme string is Kemboy, who has performed with credit at each of the last two Festivals, finishing fifth in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and fourth in the JLT Novices’ Chase, but has taken his game to a whole new level this season.
A comeback win in the Clonmel Oil Chase was solid, but his Savills Chase romp at Leopardstown in December was spectacular and it was that performance that saw him shoot towards the top of the Gold Cup betting.
Massey said: “We’ve always thought a lot of Kemboy, but his win at Leopardstown was unbelievable. David [Mullins] got a lot of praise for the ride he gave him, and rightly so but I think people are probably under-estimating the horse’s performance as a result. Willie decided straightaway he would go straight to Cheltenham and, all being well, he’s going there this week in great form.
“To be going to the Gold Cup with a horse who looks to have a serious chance is incredible. Most of the people involved in this syndicate could never dream of having runners at the Cheltenham Festival, never mind in the Gold Cup. That’s what the club is all about, giving the ordinary man off the street the chance to mix it at the top level. I think everyone involved is still pinching themselves and we’ll all enjoy our day win, lose or draw.”
Two of Kemboy’s lucky owners are Neil and Janet Iveson who first got involved with racehorse ownership shortly after the turn of the century.
A victory at Cheltenham has so far eluded the Ivesons and the club as a whole. Having a runner in the blue riband is something Kemboy’s owners are still coming to terms with.
Janet Iveson said: “We still can’t really believe we have a share in a horse running in the Gold Cup, to be honest. Obviously it looks like he’s got a chance but we can’t really get our heads round it. Just to have a runner in the race is beyond our wildest dreams and as long as he comes back safe and sound, that really is all that matters. If he wins, there’s going to be some party!”