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Less than a week left until the start of the Cheltenham Festival! That time of year comes around so fast with the entire jumps season seemingly geared around just this one week in Gloucestershire. Our Cheltenham Festival Tips are taking shape and more will be going live over the next few days as we countdown to horse racing’s Christmas! Myracing.com sat down with bloodstock agent, Tom Malone to discuss Cheltenham’s past, present and future.
In the late 1980’s, jump racing in the UK was taken by storm. New techniques used by Martin Pipe at his base in Nicholashayne in Devon in fitness and testing saw his horses dominate. Often setting off in front, they would use their superior fitness to run fields into the ground while regular scoping of horses saw vast improvements in the early detection of problems. It was in this hotbed of progression that a young conditional jockey learnt his trade, while he would not hit the same heights in the saddle as another young jockey in the stable at the time by the name of Tony McCoy, it was the best possible start in racing.
“It was brilliant” Malone tells us in his Irish lilt, “all different shapes and sizes of horse, it was a great education.” While time at both Pipe’s and Philip Hobbs saw Malone with a steady stream of rides, it was quickly apparent that a change in career would reap more rewards. “I was doing both in tandem” he recalls, starting his bloodstock empire whilst still race riding. “i was getting less rides so I just stuck my head down and got grafting. I was riding horses in Ireland before I purchased them, it was an added bonus.” The lessons he had learnt in the West Country were being put to good use, a road that has led him to buying both Gold Cup second favourite Native River as well as this year’s talking horse, Finian’s Oscar for connections.
“It’s the horse himself, an athlete” when asked for what he looks for. “I watch a lot of videos and am more open minded about France and Germany. We’re averaging 40 point to point purchases a year but now we are upgrading quality. The sales are a new system, there used to be 2 or 3 big ones in a year, now there are 12-14.”
One of the first purchases and the horse to make Malone his name in the business was the ill fated Brindisi Breeze. Not only the first Grade 1 winner Malone bought but also the first Cheltenham Festival winner. “I’d never done it before, I appreciate it more now, it just all happened so quickly.” The untimely death of not just the horse himself within months of the win but also the jockey Campbell Gillies has been one of the more tragic stories to hit racing in recent years. “He lacked an inch to be a Native River but he had an engine, he used to just travel and jump” the Malone name had come to the fore.
Dodging Bullets came from the flat in Ireland, “I hate being pigeonholed. I had three winners that Cheltenham (2015), one from a point to point, one from France and him off the flat.” The Champion Chase was already Malone’s favourite race of the season even before Dodging Bullets brought the prize home but this was the cherry on top of the cake.
Irving was another who came off the flat, from Germany this time. “He was a very lucky buy” Malone recalls “I bought his half brother Indirocco who is with Dan Skelton, he has a bright future” he continues. The flat has been a happy hunting ground with the likes of Gimcrack winner Caspar Netscher and Prince Of Wales’s Stakes victor My Dream Boat also sourced by Malone. It is still the jumps though and primarily Cheltenham (his favourite course “and Newton Abbot in the summer”) that are the main focus and in 2017, two of the biggest names running at the Festival have gone through his hands.
The change in Malone’s tone is evident. “The engine! He’s a monster…that’s a proper horse.” There is an extra edge to his voice, when asked who his best bet would be at this year’s Festival, one is left in no doubt, “Native River, there is not chance that we have seen the best of him.” It’s a story that could easily have had a different ending for owners Brocade Racing however. “When he arrived at my yard, I had the owners round to see him, ‘Tom, we don’t like chestnuts’ they said, 3 or 4 hours later they phoned back to say ‘we’ll take a chance.'”
What a decision that was, he is a horse that has progressed the handicap route yet many are not convinced that they have seen a potential Gold Cup winner. “It’s the workmanlike fashion he does it” Malone muses when asked why the public seem yet to really rate him “the way he turned for home 10 clear in the Welsh National, he can spreadeagle a field, he just gets a little lonely in front and allows them to close up on him.” “He has proven Cheltenham form and Dickie (Richard Johnson) has made a man out of him.” “The Gold Cup will see Thistlecrack truly tested, 3m2f up that hill will be something completely different, he is going to have a lot more against him than ever before.” Sadly Malone’s prediction was to come true before the Festival with Thistlecrack failing to cope with Many Clouds and that will have only served to increase confidence in Native River.
“To be quite honest, I had him bought the morning after the race” (his point to point win) “but the owner had accepted the sales so I backed off but I knew from that day that he was going to be mine.” Malone went to £250,000 to buy the horse who would join the Ann and Alan Potts team at Colin Tizzard’s yard. “You have to hand it to Colin the way he’s campaigned the horse, so many trainers would have run him in a bumper or two and then maybe a maiden hurdle next season.” Tizzard of course pitched the horse into the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown on just his second start over hurdles. Rewarded with a victory, he heads to the Neptune as the favourite. “They had gone a right good gallop” Malone recalls of the point to point, “A tearaway grey filly in the race made the pace. He was 11-12 seconds quicker than anything else on the card, 8 lengths clear on the bridle.” One has to imagine that anything he does over hurdles is going to be a bonus, he could be another in the long line of Tizzard’s top class staying chasers.
“Modus in the Coral Cup, he’s been crying out for a step up in trip, he got it in the Lanzerote and absolutely annihilated then. He’s learnt to settle now and could be a Stayers Hurdle horse of the future.” An interesting one is one that has yet to appear on a track in Ireland in the shape of Duca De Thaix. He was entered in this year’s triumph but connections have been unable to get a run into him. The ten length winner of a French bumper was sourced by Malone, purchased by Giggingstown and will be trained by Gordon Elliott. Givemeacopper is another mentioned in glowing terms. He is a staying chaser of the future who disappointed at Doncaster but is one to give another chance to when given more cut in the ground as he had when visually impressive at Exeter.
Whatever the outcome at this year’s Festival, one thing that is abundantly clear is that Malone knows his bloodstock. Since starting the business in 2006, he boasts more than 1000 winners through his hands including six at the Cheltenham Festival. “You try to buy the same horse with the same profile” he ends with, as close as we are allowed to get to the secret to his success.
Myracing.com provides free horse racing tips seven days a week and are currently in excess of £3,635 in profit for 2017 at the time of writing, after nearly £8,000 of profit in 2016.