IT’S not an everyday property deal, and being entrusted with the sale of the 400 acres that make up the former racing horse training and breeding stables of Walter Swinburn and Peter Harris – at a guide price of £9.4 million – is a feather in the cap of long-established agents Cole Flatt & Partners.
Church Farm and Pendley Farm sit on the outskirts of Aldbury and take up the land on most of the run from Tring’s railway station to the sought-after, most of which lies in a designated area of outstanding natural beauty.
Cole Flatt & Partners agent Josie Brown says that it’s rare to have such a huge chunk of land come on to the market at once.
In the late 1970s entrepreneur and trainer Mr Harris bought up the estates to live out his racing passions.
Pendley Farm, which he bought in in 1977, had been a sheep farm and before that parkland for Pendley Manor.
He took on the larger Church Farm Estate in 1979 and in the late 1980s successfully pioneered the all inclusive partnership plan where people could own part of a racehorse.
For years the estates were home to many trophy winning racehorses as well as a substantial staff who worked as stable lads and grooms.
In 2004 Peter handed over the training reins to his son-in-law Walter Swinburn, famed for his Grand National win on Shergar in 1981.
Sitting in the Church Farm owners reception area over a coffee Peter said: “At our peak we had 120 race horses in training, many owned by partnerships of up to 12 people. This place was buzzing with owners because it was open for them to visit whenever they wanted.
“They would meet here, usually to watch the horses being trained.
“Some brought their family or came on their own depending on whether they had told their spouses they had bought a share in a racehorse!”
Church Farm was home to more than 1,000 winners. Peter’s most memorable was Primo Valentino, bred and trained to win the 1999 Middle Park Stakes. A framed painting of the horse and jockey hang over the fireplace in the reception salon.
It is the grandest of spaces, with impressive medieval arched beams on the ceiling.
This was where guests came to socialise, so it is decorated with soft carpets, racing memorabilia and upholstered chairs.
Church Farm covers 300 acres and as well as the plush reception suite, it includes a three-bedroom cottage, a four-bedroom house, another reception area, a building split into seven self-contained one-to-three bedroom apartments, a common room, 63 stables, tacking rooms, office block and a variety of other outbuildings.
Just off Station Road on the way to Pendley Farm, Westlands Farm sits overlooking the sprawling countryside. It has a bungalow, five stables and a barn and has a stipulation that its new owner must keep horses.
Pendley Farm totals 133 acres and has a Georgian-style farmhouse, indoor riding school, racing track, 66 stables, granny annexe and outbuildings.
Money would have to be spent on redecorating some areas but the sort of person who has £9.4 million in the first place will probably be happy to take on the cost of refreshing where needed.
There’s no denying that it’s a perfect base for breeding and training racehorses – but the racing industry is going through tough times due to the economic downturn.
“Prize money is decreasing and expenses are increasing,” Peter explained.
He remembers two recessions during his racing career and says he couldn’t remember either being as long as the current crunch.
“It’s impossible to say what the estates could be used for,” he said.
“The problem is this is commuter land, which makes accommodation too expensive for stable lads to afford so the trainer has to provide homes for them, which comes at an expense.
“Most trainers need a fair bit of capital to finance the yard and Aldbury is a particularly expensive area – that’s the difference between here and Newmarket.”
One of the advantages of setting up in Aldbury is that there aren’t a lot of trainers nearby to compete with.
He said: “We have bred numerous Group One winners here and they are not easy to breed.
“The land here is ideal for breeding as well as for training. I think the estates could suit someone who wants to train and has some big contacts in the City – we had owners who would come to watch horses train at 7am and be at their desks by 9am.
“I would say we have the ideal set-up, proved by a successful record – and tough economic times don’t last forever, do they?”
When the racing estates went on the market last week, agent Josie said she was expecting to see a lot of interest from potential buyers.
She said: “Peter and Walter are big names, and let’s not forget the estates can be sold as a whole or in lots.
“It could go to a developer. I could see a few executive homes here.”