He's the Tipster You Can Bet on to Be a Winner; He Describes Himself as Competitive and Stubborn and Wishes He'd Become an Entrepreneur Years Ago. KAREN DENT Meets Keith Sobey, a Former Audit Commission Boss, Expert Gambler and Managing Director of Sports Investment and Education Company Centaur Holdings

Article excerpt

Byline: KAREN DENT

ISUPPOSE I was keeping the books, I'm now beating the books," muses Keith Sobey, an accountant who now uses his finely-honed analytical skills to study horseracing and help investors beat the odds. After a 35-year career in public sector finance, he and former Audit Commission colleague Andrew Cork came up with the cunning plan for what is now Centaur Holdings. Initially a tipping service, the business expanded into investment with private managed accounts and is now taking in education.

"Instead of stockbrokers analysing companies and commodities, to basically have a bet on whether the stock moves up or down, we have a team of analysts including myself - I still get involved in that, it's my passion - and we analyse human and equine athletes' performance," says Sobey.

"I'm sure there are plenty of tipsters giving horse racing advice but we provide our services for investors. There isn't anyone operating managed accounts like Centaur does."

The business runs funds based on horse racing that Sobey says provide an annual return of around 200%.

"I'm going to launch another in September and it will probably fill on the first day," he says. "We have some very good long-term funds that average 20-30%, much lower risk than horse racing, but people would rather wait six or nine months for another horse racing fund to open."

Centaur is investing the profits from the funds into launching its academy, which provides the world's first professional gambling and business management degree.

"We have a contract with Betfair, we're the only company in the world that has that. They send their database to us to train, so we're very proud of that," says Sobey.

"I'm trying to persuade the bookmakers, which employ thousands of people to let them train their management and professional staff."

But he sees the major growth market in those US states where gambling is legal. "We're trying to raise investment now to open an academy in Nevada and San Francisco as those states are already deregulated or will be deregulating. We're going for investment capital for that at the moment."

Headquartered in a "back office" in Seahouses, Centaur also has a central London office and employs 25 people.

The Seahouses base is purely by chance; Sobey's wife Hazel - a former head of payroll for C&A - has family in the village, who run a newsagent that also belongs to Sobey. In addition to a home in Seahouses, the couple also have a house in the Lake District, a flat in the Barbican in London and a villa in Tenerife. "Now we're like gypsies really, we have houses all over the place, so we wouldn't be in Seahouses for more than about two months in the year, tops.

"I love Seahouses, every day when I'm home I try to get on the beach; I love the leisure centre, I love to swim - which is about the only exercise I get now."

The initial plan was to winter in Tenerife, which Hazel does, but the demands of the business keep Sobey on the road. "I'm no spring chicken, so it is a very hectic lifestyle," he says. "I spent a lot of time commuting London to Seahouses, out to Gibraltar where we have interests. It's pretty busy."

There are also his eight racehorses to visit, spread between four trainers and the family's greyhounds, which are with three different trainers.

Sobey said: "We have a lot more greyhounds than we have horses and we do syndicate if people want to take shares in them. My wife is passionate about the greyhounds. She does the welfare - I'm really proud, over probably the last seven years we probably owned 200 to 300 greyhounds and every one of them we have found a home for once they have finished their career.

"And we found them personally, they haven't been given to institutions or anything like that. That's cost us a fair bit of money but that's the way we want to be."

The son of a Wallsend policeman, Sobey's original ambition was to become a gym teacher. …