Harry Herbert, Managing Director of Europe's leading syndicator Highclere Racing, was hosting an event in the Jockey Club rooms at Newmarket recently when he noticed a new face sitting at one of the tables.
He made his way over to the lady and introduced himself.
"She was lovely, a good, tough, hard working woman from the north of England," he said. "I'd been speaking to her at length over the phone about a particular horse she was interested in. "I started gently teasing her that it had taken me five half an hour phone calls to get her across the line with the horse and that I considered myself better than that.
"She said it was her first horse and that she was being careful, her husband had died and she had been keen to find a new hobby and meet some new people. Next thing you know she's standing on the Newmarket gallops with Sir Michael Stoute and John Gosden talking to them like she'd known them forever."
And so began what Herbert hopes will be a thrilling ride for his new client, and one that may just change her life. "The emotion and the passion and what a horse can do for you, it’s a game changer and there are so many people that don’t know about it," Herbert said.
"Highclere is very much a luxury goods brand but the racehorse is the glue that keeps it all together."
In the context of the European syndication market, Highclere is without peer. Seven European Champions the likes of Derby winner Motivator, Oaks winner Petrushka, and World Champion Harbinger, and top three results in 35 G1 races, the track record cannot be questioned. It was inevitable that the European leader would look to expand its interests abroad and for Highclere, the syndication happy Australian market was an obvious pick.
"I wouldn’t ever presume to come into the Australian market and show another syndicator how to do their business because as far as racehorse syndication goes, Australian companies do it very well," said Herbert.
"But we do see an opportunity here to do it our way and bring something new and complimentary into the market and in our experience that can only be good for racing."
Doing it the Highclere way means creating a luxury brand that opens as many doors off the track as it does on it. Think champagne tasting events at Taittinger in France, private cocktail parties at Asprey or Cartier in London, and access to some of the most famous racing properties in the world. "There’s nothing gimmicky about what we do," said Herbert.
"We always ask ourselves the question what would we want out of this experience, whether it's a day at the races or an event.
"As we all know, the horses don't always run as fast as we hope, but if we can give people a lot of fun and some special experiences along the way then we hope it’s money well spent."
This week, Herbert and the Highclere team are spending their money at the Inglis Easter Yearling Sale, searching for the latest additions to its growing Australian shelf; two syndicates, The Exceed and The Highclere Ladies with fillies by Exceed And Excel and Smart Missile, make up the current stock list.
How the Highclere brand evolves in an off-track sense in the Australian market is a great unknown, but early experiences so far through horses like Saturday's G1 Sydney Cup contender Libran have set a very high bar.
"When we started sending horses like Opinion and Libran to Australia we were able to welcome in new Australian owners and a number of those people have come up to the UK for events and race days with us which is fantastic, that's really what we want to encourage," said Herbert.
"Chris Waller did a fantastic job with Opinion out here, to run second in a Sydney Cup and then come back and win The Metropolitan was a real thrill and hopefully Libran can enjoy similar success." Six-year-old Libran ran a brave second in the 2016 Sydney Cup behind Gallante and arrives on Saturday ready to peak at 3200m with Hugh Bowman to ride.
"The horse doesn't appreciate heavy ground so we're hoping for a bit of sun before the race," said Herbert. "I promise you, this is not an easy game but if you have a runner in a big race then you have a chance of winning it and for anyone in this sport, that is always exciting."