More than half a century after he founded Chrysalis Records and almost 40 years after he bought his first racehorse, Chris Wright can see at least one parallel between the music industry and the sport of kings.
“There is one thing which is incredibly similar,” he said on Friday, “and it’s why I think racing is a reasonably natural fit for someone like me. In the music business, you go out of your way to sign artists you think have got the talent and ability to make it, and some of them are expensive to sign and some are not so expensive. You might see a group in a pub that no one else has seen, and you might sign them for less money.
“But whoever you sign, the reality is that some will make it and an awful lot won’t make it. And I think that eases the pain when you buy a yearling and it’s clearly turning out to be not very good. It keeps you going because you also know that you might have bought one or signed an artist for not much money that might turn out to be a superstar.”
Unearthing talent, in both musical and sporting terms, has been the story of Wright’s life ever since he signed Jethro Tull to the newly-formed Chrysalis Records in the late 1960s. Blondie, Spandau Ballet, Ultravox, Sinead O’Connor, Fun Lovin’ Criminals and the Specials are just a handful of the bands and performers who have been attached to Chrysalis over the decades since, while Wright’s business interests have also extended into television and radio, with hit series including Midsomer Murders and Doc Martin.
His interest in racing dates back to the early 1980s when the legendary music entrepreneur Tony Stratton-Smith persuaded him to buy a horse. “Tony stood next to me at my first ever Tattersalls’ sales,” Wright says, “and picked out a filly and said: ‘That’s the one for you.’ That was Crime Of Passion, who won the Cherry Hinton [at Newmarket in 1982] and was the foundation mare for my stud, so I’ve got a lot to thank him for.”
Wright’s major winners since have included Culture Vulture, the first British-trained filly to win the French equivalent of the 1,000 Guineas, Chriselliam, who took the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies’ Turf, and Dark Angel, who retired at the end of a Group One-winning juvenile season to become an exceptional sire of sprinters.
The latest star to carry his colours, meanwhile, is Wonderful Tonight, something of a “group in a pub” discovery having cost just €40,000 (£36,000) as a yearling and a Group One winner after just seven starts having landed the Prix de Royallieu at Longchamp a fortnight ago. That form will make her one of the favourites for the Fillies & Mares Stakes on Qipco British Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday afternoon.
Even now, having been tempered by decades in high-stress media businesses and sidelines in racing, rugby union, football and basketball, it will be an intense two-and-a-half minutes for her owner. “[In the 1990s] I was working full-time running a company with music and radio stations and TV productions,” he says, “we employed 700-800 people at the offices in London, and I owned Sheffield Sharks basketball team, Wasps and QPR and I was going to all of those games too. God knows how I did it, but it happened.
“As you get older, I don’t think you want quite so much stress in your life if you can avoid it. But when you’ve got a runner and it’s got a chance, whether it’s a Group One or a novice, you still get pretty stressed out about it.”
Her name alone is likely to ensure that Wonderful Tonight will attract plenty of support on Saturday, though Eric Clapton is one big name who has never been on the books at Chrysalis.
“I wish he had been,” Wright says. “He’s a fantastic artist and he’s been in the business as long as I have. It just happens to be a very nice song and I thought it would be a good name for a nice filly and that’s how it’s turned out. It’s a song that does mean a lot to a lot of people. There’s a lot of people who have been in that situation and said: ‘You look wonderful tonight.’”
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