Darren Yates - A Magnificent Journey Continues

Date IconLast Updated: 28 Sep 2022
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Darren Yates - A Magnificent Journey Continues

What would life be like for successful businessman and eminent race horse owner Darren Yates now if he hadn't won a massive £550,000 betting on Frankie Dettori to win seven races on one day at the Ascot Races in September 1996?

It's 23 years since the “magnificent seven” delivered a huge stroke of luck for the Lancashire man and now he's hitting the headlines for spending outrageous sums on horses to win for him - recently breaking the spending record to acquire a relation of the brilliant Sprinter Sacre for a whopping £620,000.

From the outside looking in, Yates might have lost the plot, and that is indeed the problem, but as we find out it's not the plot you're thinking of.

Making It Pay with Gambling

"I used to buy a lot of cheap horses," says Yates. "I've been doing that for 15 years. I didn't have money to buy nice horses, so I made it pay by gambling."

Being a successful businessman, Yates had enough disposable income to own racehorses, but the same mentality that got him there, also insisted that the horses somehow pay for themselves.

Cheap horses generally win cheap prize money, so the deal was that they won races in which Yates could have a sizeable bet on them, every now and again to make it viable.

"The best one we had was Kingscroft. We bought him at the sales, an ex-Mark Johnston horse, and he had an injury - a problem with a suspensory ligament that wasn't totally gone.

"We took our time getting him back with trainer Michael Herrington, and his handicap rating came down to around 72, from 84, just because we were getting him fit.

"When he was ready, we ran him at Haydock and backed him from 25-1 down to 4-1. We won £300,000 that day."

Before that had come the infamous Dazakhee coup, backed from 6-1 into 11/4 joint-favourite at Southwell, with every midweek punter getting a slice on the Sakhee filly as she romped to victory in a 1m handicap for shrewd trainer Paul Midgley.

Her legacy lives on in Yates's one dip into breeding as daughter Dazacam has already racked up four wins, landing her own gamble when winning a two-year-old 5f handicap at Newcastle, unsurprisingly as the well-backed 6/4 favourite.

It doesn’t end there, the half-sister Dazeekha is also proving profitable for Yates, winning two in a row last season, and we can't forget the standout Sophisticated Heir gamble.

Coming one week before the 20th anniversary of the Frankie Dettori bet that obviously made Yates famous, the six-year-old gelding was backed from early prices of 16/1 into 4/1 for a run of the mill Class 5, 6f handicap at Wolverhampton.

He duly obliged by four lengths for jockey Joe Fanning, and the show kept rolling on for Yates's racing hobby. Until that is, the bookies gave up.

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The Battle with the Bookies

Yates and his trainers got so good at plotting that now the owner has only one bookmaker willing to lay his bets.

"One of the big firms opened me a VIP account nine months ago," Yates explains. "I think they opened it on the Friday, and I won £150,000 over the weekend, so they closed it on the Monday.

"Now I've only got one account left; Paddy Power."

The days of landing six-figure gambles would appear to be over, so Yates has had to make changes. He's moved into jump racing and is trying to improve his quality of horse on the Flat, but if it wasn't for a big sale of his own last year, Yates might not be a racehorse owner today.

How Yates Landed the Super Heinz Bet

Having debunked the myth that Yates was about to go out of business before Dettori did the business, it also seems a good time to expand on why he placed the Super Heinz (and that sneaky £1 e/w accumulator) bet in the first place.

There was method in his madness - it wasn't just a love of the little Italian.

"I do love Frankie Dettori," he says. "I think he’s great, one of the best, but at the time - the early days of Godolphin wintering horses in Dubai - I was quickly realising they were quite a long way in front of the British horses because they’d had the sun on their backs over there (during the winter)."

That Saturday in question, Dettori was on four Godolphin horses, Wall Street II, Diffident, Mark Of Esteem and Fatefully - all trained by Saeed Bin Suroor. When his other three rides on the card didn't look like absolute no-hopers, Yates figured why not add them in too?

"It was literally just like that," he says. I fancied the Godolphin ones, but the others, like Fujiyama Crest? I couldn’t really say I fancied them."

Where Did the Winnings Go?

Way back in 1996, when Yates bet £62 that all seven of Frankie Dettori's rides at Ascot would win the word was it saved his business from ruin.

In reality, it was just the seed that grew into the sale of his company last Christmas, for £35million – albeit 23 years later.

"The papers love to exaggerate," Yates says. "Basically, I'd lost a contract that week and most of the guys that were working for me we had to move on to another company.

"If I hadn't won that day, I wouldn't be destitute. I was a builder anyway and had a couple of plots of land, but it wouldn't have been as quick as this."

A self-employed joiner at the time, Yates was able to use the £550,823.54 he won from William Hill that day to grow his property businesses into what is now The DY Group; property development and management firm.

He also fulfilled two dreams: buying his first racehorses, a couple of two-year-olds trained by Dandy Nicholls and Martyn Wane, the first aptly-named Seventh Heaven - though neither ever actually won a race.

Yates has Classic Ambitions

It was a dream then that Frankie Dettori would one day ride in his silks, now sporting a fetching silver D on black thanks to recent changes to colour regulations (and technology) at the British Horseracing Authority.

They cost £5,000 to register for life, but are one of Yates's prouder investments, and they may yet be worn on the racecourse by Dettori.

Jockey Frankie Dettori

"I will be using another trainer soon for some high-class Flat horses in Newmarket," Yates revealed. "I won't say who yet, but I'll be buying some. We’re going to have a budget of maybe £300,000 for a few horses, and £200,000 for another. This is the dream of hopefully getting a Guineas horse - to try to get a horse good enough to run in a Classic."

He finally landed his two-year-old at Arqana in early May, going to €700,000 for the Lope De Vega colt, now named Carlos Felix. While he spearheads the Flat team, his jumps' stable grows more eclectic. Buying his first racehorse was the first dream and, much later, buying a new business focussed on childcare fulfilled the second.

Sandcastle Care

"I just think you make your own luck in life," he says. "This business I sold, I paid £1.3million for it three years ago. I didn’t have the money really. I probably had half of it, borrowed the rest.

"Even my wife said, ‘wow, we’re just getting back on our feet really’. We probably had a million quid in the world in the bank, so we used all that, and phwoar, for the first year we were just haemorrhaging money, but it was just the way it had to be set up."

Sandcastle Care repurposed Yates's property expertise to sourcing, building and maintaining specialised homes to provide long-term residential therapeutic care for children in need.

"It was something I’ve always wanted to do," Yates explains. "We look after children that have been abused, or had problems in the past, or maybe their mum and dad have died, all sorts of things. The state of that in our country at the moment is just unbelievable. We are getting so many referrals every week.

"When I bought it, we spend a lot of money on it, but I’m a believer in just doing everything right, so all our homes are detached houses, with beautiful interiors.

"If you compared us with others, we probably wouldn’t be making as much as other companies doing what we do, but it’s just the level of quality that made us attractive."

Racehorse owner Darren Yates

European investment firm Waterland Private Equity stumped up £35million to acquire Sandcastle Care in December last year, as part of its expansion into the UK, which began in 2017.

To highlight the sort of business it values; the only other UK-based companies the Holland-based outfit has invested in are gas safety technology business Gas Tag, and Textile Recycling International - the holding company for Bag It Up, which works with charities, local authorities and waste reclamation companies.

South Seas Still One to Watch

Last October, Yates splashed out on two highly-rated Flat horses, Magellan and South Seas. The four-year-olds were bought for 58,000 and 150,000 Guineas from Tattersalls in Newmarket, and have accidentally ended up on the same path.

"We didn’t really get told the truth about South Seas," reveals Yates. "It’s one thing we'll never really know; what had happened with that horse.

"We paid 150,000 and ran him in the Lincoln - the ground was rock solid [so did not suit]. But [jockey] Jamie Spencer told me, ‘do you not know how bad this horse is in the stalls?’"

Before moving to Yates's trainer Philip Kirby, South Seas had been trained by Andrew Balding and owned by powerhouse Qatar Racing. He won his first three starts, culminating in a Group 3 victory at Sandown and went on to be second in the Group 1 Criterium International at Saint-Cloud in France that same season.

But then the tide turned. Two runs into 2017, the horse from 2016 had floated away. In a bid to remedy the form dive, he was gelded (castrated) and given a year off. When he returned it was as a 105-rated handicapper, as opposed to a Group horse, and he still did not win another race.

"He’d never taken a ticket," says Yates, meaning a race starter had never ordered him to take a stalls test before presenting for a race again. It was suspected that he had always been loaded into the stalls by specialist horse trainers Gary or Craig Witheford, a service which can cost as much as £830 for one race.

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Having been disappointed by his run in the prestigious Lincoln, his first outing in Yates's silks, he decided to hire the Withefords for his next race at Newbury.

"They didn’t even get him in," says a resigned Yates, "so because he is a really nice horse, he’ll have to have a stalls test now, but I always had in the back of my mind that he was a real chance of me possibly having a top-class hurdler.

"He’s been schooling really well and will run soon, if he does take to it, he could be anything. So that might be a blessing in disguise."

He adds: "It’s just the stalls. He’s a very relaxed horse, if you were going to do anything, you’d go up in trip. The only catch is that he only goes on soft ground, so everything’s made for him to go hurdling."

Was Yates Mad To Try To Buy Grand National Win?

"People can say that," he says. "But, when I bought Blaklion, and this is true - I bought him for £300,000 - two days later I got offered £425,000. Because people are that desperate to have a chance in the Grand National."

Blaklion was all part of a grand plan to land the Spring Double: the Lincoln handicap on the Flat, and a week later, the Grand National at Aintree. He wanted to win both races, and land a gamble on them too, having bet on both horses in what would have been a famous double.


So he spent £450,000 on South Seas and Blaklion to try to achieve that, but we heard about South Seas above, and Blaklion? The 10-year-old went lame before the race and could not recover in time to run.

"Now he had a real chance," regrets Yates. "We thought he had winning chance. I know the National is a bit of a lottery, but we genuinely thought he could win. Unluckily he got injured. But he’s on his way back now and we think we’ll have a nice horse to run next year."

Actually, Yates might have two: days after Blaklion was ruled out, fellow National entry Don Poli was put up for auction by owners Gigginstown House Stud. Yates landed the winning bid of £170,000.

"Obviously they put them in that sale to get more money because people want a runner in the National," Yates concedes. "People think that’s the reason for me, but it wasn’t. I looked at Don Poli’s form and he’d been off for two years with a tendon. I knew he was going to the National not 100% ready,

"[Jockey] Patrick Mullins just gave him a fantastic ride around. I mean, he was right there probably halfway round, if you remember. He just got really tired, but he came home in his own time.

"But he wasn’t a horse I bought for that National, he’s mainly for next year and the races in between. All these people that are laughing, let’s see if the dream comes true next year."

Sales Record Falls To Yates

Since October, Yates had spent £678,000 on four horses-in-training, while also trying to secure that elusive unraced two-year-old who might prove a Classic horse next season.

He has said he's happy to invest £300,000 on one promising juvenile, and a further £400,000 on two or three others in order to try to fulfill that dream, but on Thursday, May 23 he blew all that out of the water.

In a unique situation where high-profile owners the Grech and Parkin partnership were selling up at Goffs UK Spring Horses In Training Sale, talented novice hurdler Interconnected was widely touted to be the best on show.

He had been sold for £220,000 as a winning point-to-pointer 14 months earlier, since finishing second in a novice hurdle to Emitom, who went on to be second in a Grade 1 at Aintree's Grand National Festival. Having shown more of his potential, he was clearly now worth more, but how much could never have been predicted.

Knocked down for £620,000, Interconnected became the highest-priced jumps horse ever sold at public auction, bettering the £556,500 paid for subsequent two-time Cheltenham Festival winner Garde Champetre in 2004.

"We were bidding on the two mares earlier [Kupatana, £210,000 and Lust For Glory, £235,000], and when we didn't get them it left a little bit more in the tank," Yates told the Racing Post. "You never know who's in against you or if there's an end to where the price is going, but I think I said £600,000 to Phil beforehand and we ended up at £620,000.

"Phil [Kirby, trainer] actually rang me this week and said that this was the best horse in the catalogue, and by a long way, so told me to watch his last race/ I would hope this horse is going to end up being a Gold Cup horse of the future."