Business And Sport Combine In Howden’s Passion For The Turf

One of the great joys of racing is its enduring ability to captivate and enthral people at any stage of their lives. A chance spark can alight, and burst into flame. It was that way with David Howden. It is only four years since he bought a lot at a charity event at the Dragon School in Oxford that consisted of a morning on the Newmarket gallops and a day’s racing at the 2000 Guineas.

“My wife Fiona and my daughters, Talitha, Jemima and Kitty, came with me,” Howden says. “We didn’t know who we were meeting, but it turned out to be David Redvers. He showed us horses working on the gallops and then took us to some of the trainers’ yards in Newmarket. We went racing, and had the huge excitement of watching Roaring Lion run in the 2000 Guineas.

“Having resisted getting involved in racing for many years, when talking to David Redvers I began to think that I would like to get into the sport. We came up with a plan concentrated around mares and fillies – to buy mares and breed from them, and to buy fillies, race them and then breed from them.

“Like all the best-laid plans, it hasn’t always turned out quite like that – one gets tempted into buying a colt or two – but that is the crux of what we do. I remember going to the Tattersalls Mares’ Sales that December for the first time, and we bought our first mares there, all in-foal – one of them to Frankel. We bred our first foals, and from there we have built up our mares and our racing fillies.

“A lot of the focus this year is on the fact that I have got quite a few of my own 2-year-olds, where I have decided and bought the mares, or raced the fillies before breeding from them, in action. My whole ethos is that yes, I am passionate about racing, but in the context of wanting to breed, not just buy. I have a real passion for horses, and for horse sport.”

The word “passion” comes up repeatedly when talking to – or about – Howden. Passion, and drive. His genuine enthusiasm is so obvious that it is infectious, and his ability to inspire people who work with him means that he is achieving some lofty ambitions. Horses are at the heart of it; he loves riding, as do his daughters – it is a family activity. It is for many, though few throw themselves into the sports that spring out of a hobby quite so energetically and on such a scale.

He now owns and co-owns several valuable mares, is racing their offspring, has shares in others, and his company Howden, the global insurance broker he founded in 1994, is an official partner at Ascot Racecourse and sponsored the Crown Prince’s Cup in Bahrain in January. Jemima and Kitty Howden are eventing competitively at under-18 level, and the horse trials he founded in 2020 at his home, Cornbury House in Oxfordshire, has quickly become a star attraction on the circuit. No toe-dipping here; This is a swallow dive into the ocean of the racing and equestrian worlds.

Howden’s broodmare band encompasses 11 mares that he either wholly owns or jointly owns with Nick Wheeler (Cornthrop Bloodstock) or with Sheikh Fahad Al Thani and David Redvers under the Tweenhills banner.

Redvers says, “Sheikh Fahad and I see him as a wonderful partner because of the shared enthusiasm and passion for racing. He and Sheikh Fahad get on very well – David is a man of serious integrity.”

After that first meeting in Newmarket in 2018, Redvers asked Howden a couple of weeks later if he fancied going halves on a horse at the Arqana May Breeze-up Sale. Together they bought Reponse Exacte (Fr) (Rajsaman {Fr}) for €85,000.

“Because of the sort of person he is, David said yes immediately. She won first time out two weeks later – his first ever runner!” says Redvers.

A gamble to run her in the Albany S. at Royal Ascot didn’t pay off, but the filly had done her job – Howden was hooked on owning racehorses.

The first mare he bought, for 325,000gns at Tattersalls that December of 2018, was Bella Nouf (GB) (Dansili {GB}). She was in foal to Frankel (GB), and the filly she was carrying was sold a year later for 350,000gns. Named Majestic Glory (GB), she won the Group 3 Sweet Solera S. at Newmarket’s July Meeting in 2021. Bella Nouf’s next foal, another filly, this time by Roaring Lion, is in training with John Gosden.

Listed winner Gorgeous Noora (Ire) (Raven’s Pass) has just had a smart Kameko filly foal. Castle Hill Cassie (Ire) (Casamento {Ire}) has a “lovely” Zustar (Aus) in training with Hugo Palmer. Run Wild (Ger) (Amaron {GB}), the Listed Pretty Polly S. winner in 2020 – in whom Howden purchased a share when she was racing, and as a broodmare is now owned by David and Nick Wheeler as Cornthrop – has a Siyouni (Fr) filly foal at foot, and has been covered this time by Night Of Thunder (Ire).

While it is clear that the concept of racing his own stock holds great appeal to Howden, who likes to develop a project “from the ground up” – at Cornbury House Horse Trials (8-11 September 2022) his focus is on the best of Young British talent, in the shape of horses and riders – he is determined to have fun and is prepared to invest in “form” horses along the way. Last year Howden and Redvers bought the Adrian Nicholls-trained sprinter Mo Celita (Ire) (Camacho {GB}), who then started favorite in the Palace of Holyroodhouse S. at Royal Ascot and finished fifth. She won a Listed race at Deauville under Hollie Doyle in August, however – a day that Howden names among his most enjoyable on the track so far.

“That was a fantastic day, and the other was watching Wilderness Girl (Ire) (No Nay Never) win at Glorious Goodwood with my mother, who’s 95,” says Howden. “It was just before Wilderness [the music festival hosted at Cornbury each summer]; my mother loved it and Charles [the Duke of Richmond] kindly took us up to his private box.”

Mo Celita is back in training this year. She ran disappointingly in the Cammidge Trophy at Doncaster on the opening day of the Flat season, but was discovered to be in season. She is is joined by the likes of a Zustar colt out of Bewitchment (GB) (Pivotal {GB}), also the dam of Listed winner Nymphadora (GB) (No Nay Never), who is in training with Andrew Balding. Karl Burke has charge of a Roaring Lion filly out of Roedean (Ire) (Oratorio {Ire}); Hugo Palmer has the Zostar 2-year-old out of Castle Hill Cassie, while 4-year-old Wren’s Breath (Ire) (Elzaam {Aus}), whom he owns with Peter Molony, is in Ireland with Henry de Bromhead.

While Howden’s bloodstock endeavors have the base of commercial soundness, his part in the racing world might appear a thorough extension of a personal interest, were it not for his company’s explosion on to the scene as one of Ascot’s three main partners (alongside QIPCO and Longines ). Racing is far more than a hobby. Howden’s keen brain means he sees a much bigger picture than that. It is an excellent way for his eponymous company, which already had a connection to the sport in that it arranges insurance for racecourses, trainers, owners and stud farms, as well as equestrian associations and riding schools, to gain visibility and brand recognition, in Britain and worldwide.

“You get a huge amount of bang for your buck in racing sponsorship if you place it wisely,” says Redvers. “For a global business like David’s, Ascot is a perfect fit, as it is for QIPCO.”

In June 2021 the Howden Group became an official partner of Ascot Racecourse in a five-year deal; As well as a significant presence at the Royal meeting and all of Ascot’s racedays, the two-day pre-Christmas National Hunt meeting is now the Howden Christmas Racing Weekend.

Howden says, “After our first year, we’ve really got some traction going and I’m very happy with our partnership with Ascot; Our partnership aims to promote the best of British, but both the Howden Group and Ascot are businesses which have a very strong international reach as well.

“A key thing was for Howden – which has a very large horse sport and bloodstock division – to be able to support the racing industry, and what better way to do that than at Ascot, which has achieved so much to create such a phenomenal experience for those who love its world-class racing. Last year we were still battling hard with the Covid pandemic, and it was important to us to support racing in difficult times. It was a great fit for us – a British company, now the leading UK-headquartered insurance broker in the market, which has been built up with employee ownership at its heart. We are delighted with the way the first year of our partnership is going, in terms of the brand recognition we have received, the entertainment we have been able to give our clients, partners and employees, and also the feedback we have had in terms of raising our profile, at home and globally. This year, of course, is the Queen’s platinum jubilee year, and we are very excited about being involved in Ascot’s plans around that.”

He continues, “We are very much a people-first business – nearly 3,000 of our staff are shareholders in our business – and the Howden Christmas Racing Weekend is really important for that, as it means we are able to invite our colleagues and their families , along with key clients, to come and enjoy a wonderful day’s racing and celebrate Christmas with us.”

In January Howden became the first international sponsor of the Crown Prince’s Cup in Bahrain, a venture that Howden approached with customary enthusiasm.

“As well as being a British company, we are also an international business, as is racing, and I was keen to help support a really up-and-coming racing nation,” Howden says.

In a racing landscape crying out for blue-chip sponsors, David Howden must seem like manna from heaven.

“He goes into everything like a whirlwind, and people end up working particularly hard for him as he has such energy, enthusiasm and passion,” says Redvers.

From zero to “hero” in four years; It will be fascinating to see where Howden’s clever intertwining of business, sport and family life takes him next.

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