THE Winning Ways syndicate are in Cheltenham today with a great chance with Raise The Beat. But the path has not always been straight. If pure, naked enthusiasm for horseracing was measured like the strength of a river then Oran Crean would be a cascading white-water rapid well on its way to the waterfall.
Crean, a mild-mannered accountant by day, transforms by night into the fearless manager of the Winning Ways Enigma syndicate, a menagerie of ten, who three years ago bought a baby horse and sent him to be trained by Colm Murphy in Wexford. The skinny youngster has grown up to be Raise The Beat and arguably represents Ireland’s best chance to capture today’s Weatherbys Champion Bumper.
For many of the lucky ten it’s a first visit to Cheltenham, which is exciting enough in itself, even without the added bonus of owning one of the favourites for what many feel is the week’s most intriguing race. Oran Crean however, has been here before. In his first foray into ownership several years ago he was talked into joining a syndicate that bought a cheap horse and sent him to Colm Murphy and then watched him finish close to last in his first four races. Then the magic of Murphy kicked in, the slow boat turned into Brave Inca and Crean was hooked — on ownership, syndication and some old superstitions.
“I’m skiing and just about to go out on the black slopes,” he explains, unable to take a call. “It’s something I used to do during the Inca years and I hope it’s a lucky omen. Anyway, you’d go mad if you stayed at home this week. Thinking about the race, people calling to talk about it all the time. You’d go mad.”
But when he does find time to talk, it’s clear he has given plenty of thought to the science of running syndicates. “Syndicate members can be grouped into four types,” he reckons. “There are those that know nothing about racing and never ask a question, those who don’t know much, but it’s their first horse and they want to learn so they never stop asking questions. Then there are the guys who know that horses take time and will leave it all up to the manager, and then there are those who know a lot and always have a lot of suggestions. All those groups need to be managed separately.”
Crean’s management skills were needed to keep his syndicate positive during the early career of Raise The Beat. Buying into a three-year-old NH bred horse requires deep patience and deeper pockets and when Raise the Beat finally made it to the course at Killarney he finished 85 lengths behind the winner in a moderate bumper.
“There were some seriously long faces on the way back up, because we really thought he had a genuine chance. But his muscles just weren’t developed enough to drive him forward,” Crean recalls.
Raise The Beat was given a year off but then came back to win a race at Down Royal. He then had another six months off before he reappeared to cruise home in a good class bumper at Naas last October. He hasn’t been out since, but ever since the happenings at Naas the syndicate has been dreaming the dream.
Conor Clune, Clareman and investment manager is one of the 10 dreamers. “I’ve known Oran since college and he’s been at me for years to buy a share in a horse with him. Eventually I took the plunge. To be honest we all made a complete embarrassment of ourselves when he won at Naas, but it was then that I really started looking forward to Cheltenham week. It’s like Christmas for adults.
“I feel sorry for Oran at times as we are ten very strongly opinionated individuals,” he muses, remembering the January puzzle which confronted the syndicate: should a promising young horse be risked in an arduous race when there could be years of rich pickings ahead if he was given time to mature?
“Colm and I weren’t that pushed to run as hopefully we have four or five racing years left in him and the Cheltenham bumper can be hard,” says Crean. “But then, some of the lads quite rightly asked what the point was in sitting at home when we’ve one good enough to run at the greatest show on earth.”
He laughs recounting one member’s impression of the previous year. “Jesus, Oran. First it’s a break, then a holiday, then it’s a take our time, then a build him back up, followed by another break, then a holiday.” Crean convened an electoral college where the second most important vote in Ireland this spring was taken. The decision to run was taken on the first count. The surplus was massive.
Another syndicate member, Arthur O’Malley, is an official at the European Commission in Brussels and understandably accepting of compromise. “I was in the ‘don’t run’ camp to be honest. Colm tends to look long into the future and he very fairly laid out the arguments on both sides of the decision so everybody was clear on the consequences. But once the decision was made we were all very happy with it.”
The doubts are rooted in the fact that Raise The Beat is a tall, gangly, horse who seems to develop another gear every six months as long as he’s left alone. But you can’t leave them alone forever and the day of reckoning comes today. Crean is hopeful. “Well I’m as hopeful as the other 23 sets of connections I suppose. But we have form in the book, his rating is high and he’ll like the trip and the ground.”
If he does manage to stick his head in front it could be the best Christmas party yet seen in March and the chat will flow like the Amazon.