Balancing Act: John Dance

September 1, 2018

John Dance is CEO at Vertem, the boutique Defaqto five star rated stockbroker based in Newcastle. In his spare time he co-owns 35 race horses, one of which, Laurens, recently won the prestigious Prix de Diane, France’s equivalent to the Oaks. Here, John reflects on how his passion for horse racing developed and sees him applying his analytical approach to the sport

I first became interested in horse racing over 20 years ago, when I worked at an investment bank in London. It seemed the whole desk were self-proclaimed experts.

My colleagues would love a flutter, but their biggest bets were based on tips from ‘this bloke in the pub’. That didn’t sound very scientific and it certainly wasn’t successful for them. Form reading and performance analysis seemed far more sensible and struck a chord with my analytical mind. Since then I’ve been fascinated by assessing performances and relative abilities based on weight carried and distances beaten etc.

Vertem sponsored numerous races and race days at Newcastle for a number of years, the pride and thrill that most owners got when their horses had won was quite seductive. Being a fan of the sport, I really fancied being on the other end of a prize giving one day.

I intended to buy a five per cent in a horse but instead bought six horses outright. We were offered a pretty good deal on training fees for buying particular types of horses, I twigged fairly quickly that using that to increase numbers increased the chances of us finding a nice one that could carry the cost of the others.

We now have around 35 in training at the minute, a good proportion of those are youngsters that haven’t yet ran though.

All bar one of our horses are trained in the North, some in Malton, some near Sedgefield and the majority at a couple of yards near Leyburn. My main involvement is working with the trainers trying to keep our horses apart and not run in the same races. Watching them work and train on the gallops is probably the best bit, it’s where dreams are made.

We operate the racing string much like an investment portfolio. You never buy a horse thinking it will be a bad one, but having a good number diversifies your risk and the really good ones hopefully more than offset those that let you down. The similarity in philosophies applied to both work and racing is quite close.

Laurens, a 3-year-old filly, won three of four starts last year, including the Fillies Mile at Newmarket – the biggest race for two-year-olds that often provides pointers for the following year’s classics. She came second in the 1000 Guineas this year, then went to France and won two Group 1s (the highest level of race) including the Prix De Diane, the French Oaks. She is a fabulous specimen physically, big, beautiful and powerful, but she also has a fantastic attitude, she has a presence about her as if she knows she’s special but has an incredible will to win and is often described as being tough or gutsy.

Seeing Laurens cross the finish line in Prix De Diane was possibly the most surreal feeling of my life. Europe’s richest Classic won by a horse owned by a regular couple from Newcastle, with a horse that already accomplished so much. It was all a bit of a daze after the initial wild celebrations and even now it hasn’t really sunk in properly.


Scroll to next article
Go to

Supporting role: Phil Kite and Dominic Bowser