On Monday afternoon, I started my week off perfectly with a short car journey to West Jesmond, and the offices of Vertem Asset Management. I was visiting local businessman and racehorse owner John Dance, who has enjoyed an unforgettable year thanks to the wonder filly that is Laurens.

We shook hands in the car park of Vertem and walked through the company’s doors and up the first flight of stairs, where we entered upon a room congested with computers and desks.

After securing a couple of hot beverages, we took another short walk up to a private room on the second floor of the building. I whipped my sports jacket off and slung my Dictaphone out, whilst John casually placed himself at the opposite end of the room, wearing a cheque shirt, blue chinos and suede shoes.

John has quite a wealth of experience in finance, but his connection to and how he got so involved in the sport of horseracing was a puzzle I was keen to solve: “I suppose I got properly into it in the late 90’s. I had just moved to London from up here. I started working for a few investment banks and on massive trading floors. They were the size of football pitches, with desks just everywhere.”

“The market makers I was working with, there was a gambling nature to them. They’d have a flutter on any sport going, and racing would be on most afternoons. I was kind of exposed to it more than I had been previously. Almost instantly I became fascinated with form analysis.”

“There wasn’t a lot of science to what they were doing. You could argue there was more science to their non-horseracing bets. The one I remember most was a spread bet, half of Merill Lynch must have been on. The bet was how many yards Lawrence Dallaglio would carry the rugby ball in the 2000 Rugby World Cup. The amount of analysis they had done on how much he would carry the ball in a match for England and his club team was pretty impressive.”

The white with purple and blue sleeves are the colours of silks well associated with horses owned by John and his wife Jess. However, the North-Shields based entrepreneur admits ownership was something he considered for some time, before finally dipping his toe in the water: “Back then it probably wasn’t something I would have ever considered. When we set up the business here, we started sponsoring races in 2012.”

“We did it for a few years, just a few races to start off with, and we would sponsor the fixture at Newcastle on Grand National day. We did that for about two and a half, three years.”

“A lot of the owners you were giving prizes to, you could see it just meant the world to them. At that point, I was appreciative of the different class of race and it didn’t matter whether it was a class 6 or a class 3. For some owners, it didn’t matter if they’d had their horse for a couple of years before it finally broke it’s maiden, it was very infectious the joy most owners would get out of having a horse win.”

“I thought ‘that’s pretty cool, I wouldn’t mind being on the other side of the prize-giving’. I kind of thought about it for a while and to be fair, I was looking for something I could use as a mental distraction.”

“Work-wise I would go to bed and start thinking of investment theories, how we could improve and think about companies we might invest in. My brain would just start whirling and next thing you know it’s four in the morning, you’re shattered. That’s not good for your health, so I wanted something I could switch off to and maybe dream about.”

“Our first foray, in my head I thought we’ll go to a yard, have a look at some horses, maybe join a syndicate or have a small share in one. To a certain extent, the figure of five-per-cent was pretty firm in my head and we came back from our first trip with 75% of a horse. Six weeks later, the breeze-ups had been and gone and we brought another five home.”

“From five per-cent, within six weeks, suddenly we had the best part of six horses which was massively off-plan. There was a deal offered that if you bought a horse at the breeze-ups, you would get a discount with training fees. Being a natural investor, I thought ‘we can spread our risk and one of these might be decent’.”

It wasn’t as though further encouragement was needed to confirm John had made the correct decision with his new venture. Numbers and results satisfy him though, and they were produced from day one, as a third of his initial six horses won on debut: “We were quite lucky early doors. That first horse, which we had a 75% share in was called Arcossi. I can’t dress it up any nicer, she was absolutely useless. Of the six we bought that year, two won on debut and one came second on debut.”

John’s preferred code of racing is the flat, and 12 months ago who would have thought he would be where he is today: “My favourite races are on the flat, my favourite trip is a mile. I always feel like it’s the perfect blend of speed and endurance. You’ve got to be able to go at a sprint pace and quicken but sustain it for a whole mile.”

Without doubt, Dance achieved the impossible dream when buying his beloved Laurens at the Doncaster sales in 2016. Now a five-time Group 1 winner, the big, butch filly has gifted him with some of the fondest days he will ever experience and taken him to incredible destinations.

Perhaps I was being unfair when asking which of those five Group One’s has given him the greatest satisfaction. Nevertheless, his response was fascinating: “That is so hard. It really is so hard. I think though, it would have to be the Fillies Mile.”

“The photo-finish, oh my god. It was just nerve-wracking, but PJ’s (McDonald) wife was with us. She was in tears saying ‘thank you, you don’t know what this means to us’. I was thinking ‘oh my god, you could be really disappointed in two minutes time when they announce the result’.”

“It’s starting to feel more and more important now. I was just stood there in a trance and (Matt) Chapman came over, wanting me to do the robot. I snuck away from the party, I just wanted to find my own space for a moment as I was thinking ‘what the hell has just happened?’.”

“I wasn’t convinced, I really wasn’t convinced whether we’d held on or not. It was our first Group One, and I didn’t think we would ever win one. You’ve got to have realistic expectations and you can dream about it, but you never really think you will.”

“To be part of the process of us winning a Group One and PJ (McDonald) riding his first ever Group One winner. Having worked with him from the very start and go on this journey of development together, as both friends and as a working relationship. One of my proudest moments would be being the people who helped PJ get it (first Group One winner).”

The Guineas is John’s favourite race, and his opinion on this year’s renewal, which is where Laurens began her rollercoaster season, was utterly captivating: “It’s a bit gutting to have come so close and not quite got there. My dream was always to win the 1000 Guineas but you don’t really think it’s going to happen, then we came second in it.”

“If you’d have offered me that five years ago I would have bitten your hand off, anyone would. She’d won a Group Three (Billesdon Brook) and was a filly that we all would have dreamed of having even ignoring the 1000 Guineas. She was by no means a bad filly, but she was 66-1 and had never run at that level before.”

Dance continued: “I’ve developed a bit of fame or infamy for saying Laurens has never really got the credit she deserves. In fairness, I don’t think Billesdon Brook will for how mighty her performance was. She ran an enormous race. Because it was Billesdon Brook, the ratings specialists won’t give her the credit she deserves, which shows there no better than ice skating judges.”

“If you watched that race, and you didn’t know what the odds were, you would never have thought she was a 66-1 shot. Maybe the stars were all aligned and everything she needed for her perfect race was there, but they went a good tempo and somehow she quickened off it.”

“We lengthened, a few others lengthened a little bit. She came from nowhere, quickened like a proper horse, handled the dip like it didn’t existence and kept going back up the hill. In isolation the performance she put in that day was mammoth, and she hasn’t got the credit she deserves.”

An outstanding 2018 has left connections salivating at the prospect of another successful year in 2019, where Laurens will then be a four-year-old: “She’s at Karl’s still. She stayed at Karl’s last winter, getting out in the paddock for a couple of hours every couple of days.”

Dance added: “He’s quite keen to keep an eye on her and make sure she doesn’t get too out of shape. It was a routine that worked last winter so we’ll stick with the same thing. She’s great, she looks amazing.”

“We’ll certainly have a crack at defending the Matron and the Sun Chariot. We’ll look at the Lockinge, the Queen Anne. The Lockinge is at the back-end of May, as opposed to the Guineas which is at the start which might extend our season a bit longer than it did this year.”

To have such a distinct energy for this sport you must crave the adrenaline involved, and it is the glorious uncertainty of this great game which is what it is all about for John: “You just never know. A combination of that, and the fact you can live your sporting dream without being talented in any way yourself, but still feel a major part of the success.”

Vertem have recently became the new sponsors of what was the Racing Post trophy, now the Vertem Futurity Trophy, where John switched back to prize-giver: “It’s a great race to be involved in, and the type of horse which goes for that race is the ideal horse for me. They are juveniles which typically go on to be three-year-olds.”

“The weirdest bit about it was this year we’ve won two races sponsored by Coolmore. It kind of felt quite apt they won our race. I must admit Coolmore and their representatives have been so gracious.”

“What surprised me the most was how astonishingly humble Aidan O’Brien was that day. He was so humble and grateful receiving the prize. I don’t know how many Group One’s he has won but to him, everyone must feel as special as the last.”

As we head into the dreary winter months, it is only natural that dreams will be forged in John’s mind. Those ambitions may become more extravagant as his withdrawal symptoms become more intense, but at the moment they remain prudent: “I’d love to find another horse that could win Listed or Group races. If we could find another horse around that level it would be amazing.”

“I love winning races that have historic significance, like when we won the Woodcote Stakes with Cosmic Law. If we could breed our first winner that would be awesome too.”

Read some of my other horse racing related interviews below:

An interview with Nick Lightfoot:

An interview with Gareth Topham

Talking to Dave Armstrong – the ardent National Hunt racing owner

An interview with Horse Racing journalist Rishi Persad

An interview with National Hunt Jockey Harry Cobden