By Simon Mapletoft
So how did you get into ownership, Tom?
I bought my first horse in 1999 when I attended the breeze-ups with the late Pip Payne. My father Norman, who later shared my passion for ownership but passed away six years ago, was dead against it at the time but Clopton Green was named after the family farm and started me on my journey. He was pretty useless with a rating of about 44, but a young apprentice called George Baker won on him at Southwell in 2001 and that was how it started.
What was the horse that really got you hooked?
I had a tough old sprinter with Pip called Taboor who went on to win 10 of his 124 races including a dead-heat with a horse of Robert Cowell’s called Roses Of Spring at Lingfield just before Christmas, 2002. The race was run in dwindling light and after seeing the photo I was convinced my horse had won, so I appealed. Needless to say, I lost but I did try to sell him to Robert, who wasn’t at all interested. So when Pip told me he was quitting, I thought I’d send Taboor to him, anyway.
So that was the start of a remarkable run of success.
It certainly was. By 2005 my mother (Julia) and father were showing a keen interest and we couldn’t have imagined how much success we’d enjoy in such a short period of time. Canadian Danehill did really well for us and earned his place out in Dubai. He won off 57 at Wolverhampton in January 2007 and a year later was racing around Nad Al Sheba off 96. He wasn’t quite good enough to make an impact but the experience opened our eyes.
Top level success was only a few years away though.
It was. Buying a third of Prohibit with Robert in 2010 was our defining moment. It didn’t happen quickly but he progressed from winning a conditions race on the All-Weather at Kempton to that amazing win in the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot the following summer. It was an amazing day.
The best was still to come, however.
Goldream, another horse we bought into, was similar to Prohibit. He’d been with Robert for over two years before he hit the big time, winning the King’s Stand at Royal Ascot in 2015 in my mother’s gold and black colours. Then, in the October, he did it again in the Prix de l'Abbaye at Longchamp. Thanks to Robert’s skill, he progressed from being a decent handicapper to the best sprinter in Europe on fast ground.
Royal Ascot had been good to you and a third success was on the cards.
We shared a horse called Outback Traveller with Lordship Stud. He came from Jeremy Noseda and duly won us the Wokingham at Royal Ascotin 2016. He was a funny horse who didn’t have the best limbs but showed how good he was that day when he beat Brando, who went on to be a Group 1 winner in his own right, of course. He hardly raised a gallop in his races after that but he produced the goods when it mattered.
Following those achievements you’ve expanded your team with further success.
We’ve had 30 winners between us this year. It’s by far our best year numerically but we have a lot more horses now - probably too many - including a strong team for the All-Weather. My highlight has to be my two-year-old Pocket Dynamo, who came within a whisker of winning the Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot. Robert bought him for me in America so it was ideal that when Phoenix Thoroughbreds bought him off me in July they kept him in the yard.
As well as Cowell, you’ve also enjoyed some great success with Stuart Williams.
Stuart is also a fantastic trainer who deserves some good horses from big owners. I first came across him in 2009 but really began to place horses with him properly in 2012 and we haven’t looked back. He’s trained us 20 winners this year and has done so well on the All-Weather with ROYAL BIRTH and PACTOLUS, in particular. Stuart is brilliant at assessing the form of his own horses and other people’s and has a great knack of getting more out of them, just when you think they’ve reached their peak.
Do you choose the horses you buy?
Yes, always. If I’m going to lose money I’d rather do it myself than pay someone to lose it for me. I’m lucky that I can buy most of the horses that I earmark at the sales. Buying horses is an addiction and I thrive on trying to find the next good one. My mother is happy to let me get on with it. I do prefer used horses, rather than yearlings. With older horses you can identify latent ability and figure out how to improve them. Buying yearlings is simply buying a dream, though I’ve let Robert buy me three yearlings from the US following the success of Pocket Dynamo.
It doesn’t always go to plan. Last year I bought a horse called Dichato out of John Gosden’s for 20,000 gns and although he was placed on the All-Weather, he didn’t win. I moved him on for just £7,000 at Ascot Sales and he went on to win the Kazakhstan Derby and, believe it or not, won a gold medal in the World Nomad Games!
Do you place your own horses, too?
I watch a lot of racing and do take an active interest in where we run, but I always discuss plans with my trainers. If a horse can win off its mark it’s crucial to put it in the right race. There’s no point winning a five grand handicap when you can win a 10 grand race the week after. HART STOPPER has been a prime example this year. I’ve won two of those valuable optional claimers with him.
Race replay: Hart Stopper defeats Raucous at Yarmouth in July.
Do you enjoy a bet?
I rarely back my own horses, to be honest. Betting isn’t the reason I’m involved with horses. I love studying form and the thrill of identifying and buying future winners. I invest a lot of money in bloodstock and it’s disappointing enough when things don’t go to plan without losing even more money betting on them.
You have a few interesting new recruits for the All-Weather.
I bought 10 or 11 at the Horses in Training Sales and a few of them will run with Good Friday in mind. Among them is VIA VIA, who came from James Tate. He’s very much a ‘now’ horse with a rating of 100 and will probably be aimed at the better 1m2f races. He ran well to be third in the Cambridgeshire and should stay a bit further on the sharper All-Weather tracks like Lingfield.
I could also see potential in GHAYADH, who was bought out of Hugo Palmer’s for 70,000 gns. He hasn’t been over-raced and strikes me as a gradual improver. His All-Weather runs have been respectable - he was outpaced around Chelmsford - but he’s won on stiff courses on turf so might be able to get rolling on that straight track at Newcastle.
Which other horses are you looking forward to campaigning on the sand?
RAUCOUS has had a few problems and didn’t progress as well as I’d hoped on turf. I had big handicaps like the Stewards’ Cup and Ayr Gold Cup in mind for him. I still believe he has some big days in him. He was a good second in a valuable handicap at Newcastle and, starting off a mark of 99, has the 6f Final as his target.
JUMIRA BRIDGE was one of my main buys last year but was disappointing. He’d under-achieved for Roger Varian and has done the same with Robert but has had legitimate excuses. He pulled muscles behind but will be back in January in time to qualify for the Sprint Final, assuming he handles Lingfield. I think that horses can often take a year with Robert to get into his particular rhythm. He works on individual programmes for every horse and likes to give them the chance to find themselves. Take Prohibit and Goldream for example. I’m hoping Jumira Bridge falls into that bracket!
Dubai didn’t suit sprinter ENCORE D’OR but he’s back in good form as he proved when finishing second in a Group 3 at Dundalk in October. He’s having a break but won’t be laid off for too long as he’s a huge horse who takes a lot of getting fit. Footballer Glen Johnson has an interest in him and we’re hoping to take him to Finals Day, too.
Do you have a favourite?
I try not to get attached to my horses as it makes it tougher to move them on. I don’t go racing that often so I don’t see much of them, which helps in that respect. However, PACTOLUS is the only one I have an emotional attachment to. He’s seven now but has never stopped surprising us and was probably unlucky to be fourth in last season’s Easter Classic. He’s tactically versatile, goes on any track and I’m looking forward to him coming back from a short break.
Race replay: Pactolus finishes fourth in the Easter Classic on Good Friday.
What is it about the All-Weather Championships that appeals to you as an owner?
I like the fact that it now has an end-date, a conclusion. The £1 million Finals Day on Good Friday gives owners like me something big to aim at. The prize money is so good that it encourages me to buy nice horses with the good races in mind. You also know what you’re going to get when it comes to planning races. You don’t have the same ground issues that you have on turf.
When you’re not watching racing, you enjoy supporting your local football team.
I’ve been a regular at Stowmarket Town for the past two seasons. I got involved after reading in the local paper that they would be denied their right to promotion if they didn’t install floodlights. I wanted to give something to the local community so I helped them out and have hardly missed a game since. We just missed out on promotion from the Thurlow Nunn Premier League last season despite reaching 100 points. Coggeshall Town, co-owned by singer Olly Murs, were promoted. This season we’re in the last 64 of the FA Vase so to get to Wembley and have a winner on Finals Day come next spring would be quite a double!