2019/20 Season at a Glance
Our 27th season from Down Farm was sadly cut short due to the Covid-19 outbreak. The lockdown forced us to put the horses in the field and get the power washer and paintbrushes out much earlier than usual!
If last season had been given a theme tune it would surely have been ‘Rain Drops Keep Falling On My Head’, probably sung by Wet, Wet, Wet. I’ve never known weather like it. After a relatively dry summer and early autumn we were glad to see some rain in October so we could get on to the grass schooling grounds. Little did we know the downpours were going to continue all the way through until March. It played havoc with our running plans. Even the horses who have no problem with soft ground rarely want it bottomless. Every time I looked at the programme book the ground was heavy to unraceable all across the country. It certainly wasn’t easy for the staff either. They looked like North Sea trawlermen most days but never grumbled, well, not too much anyway. We were forced to save plenty of our horses for a spring campaign and just when it looked like we were going to get the decent weather and better ground that the owners had been patiently waiting for, yes, you guessed it, the coronavirus pandemic struck to wipe out the rest of the season. Despite such a frustrating season we still managed to rack up a healthy prize money haul of £611,000 including a Grade 1 winner and three Grade 2 victories. We also won a fantastic 47 ‘best turn out’ awards. It shows how well the horses are looked after by our staff and that they are sent to the races in tip-top condition.
One noticeable change this coming season is the warm welcome to our new sponsors HBA Media. We are thrilled to have secured a two-season agreement with Henry Birtles and his company – HBA Media. The sponsorship deal will see the international media rights agency’s brand sit proudly on the front of all owners’ silks, stable staff clothing and equine equipment for the 2020/21 and 2021/22 seasons. This development provides our yard with a significant commercial agreement, which enables us to continue to deliver outstanding value and performance for our owners.
We have an exciting season ahead; and are thrilled that our owners and HBA Media will be involved in what we hope will include many memorable moments!
As always we had a fairly productive spring at the start of the 2019/20 season with consistent performers Boyhood, Forgot to Ask and Sumkindofking all picking up good prizes in May. Boyhood won on his chase debut at Newton Abbot under a fine ride from Johnny Burke for his owners Stephen Smith & The Gabbertas Family.
It was great to see Forgot to Ask add a chase win to his CV having won both bumpers and hurdle races for owner Julie Hoskins, who has been a loyal supporter of mine for many years.
Sumkindofking also got the season off to a good start winning at Southwell before stepping up to marathon distances and picking up some decent placed prize money in both the North Yorkshire and Edinburgh National later in the season.
Our good summer run kept rolling on when Ballon Onabudget got his head in front to land a valuable handicap hurdle at Newton Abbot – a track I love to support at that time of year because of their good prize money and impeccable going.
Our most successful horse last season was The Worlds End. He showed what a great attitude he has when battling back to win the Grade 1 Marsh Hurdle at Ascot – his second victory at the highest level – over Christmas for his owners the McNeill Family. He had earlier kicked off his season in tremendous fashion when making all the running in the Grade 2 West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby. That comeback win helped make up our minds to keep Worldie over hurdles for the rest of the season rather than returning to fences, which obviously paid huge dividends. He had suffered with back problems when showing good novice chase form the previous season and he seems to love his trips to the spa facilities at our neighbour Jason Maguire’s Ivy Lodge Farm.
Bun Doran is a horse that has always improved from year to year and thankfully last season was no exception. He put in a career-best performance to win the Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton over the festive period when he jumped his rivals into submission and threw his name into the hat in what looked to be an open 2m chase division. I was really looking forward to him taking on Altior in the Game Spirit at Newbury but, unfortunately, he made an uncharacteristic mistake and came to grief. Whether it was to our advantage or not, Bun headed to Cheltenham as a fresh and forgotten horse for the Champion Chase. He ran an absolute cracker to finish third.
His owners the Crossed Fingers Partnership also enjoyed a successful season with Doctor Dex winning a valuable novice handicap at Ascot on his chasing debut. Along with lovely new recruit Oscar Robertson, who won a novice hurdle at Wetherby in November and was put away for a Spring campaign that unfortunately never happened. He is sure to be a lovely chaser this season.
Dual Grade 1 winner Summerville Boy started the season with an impressive winning debut over fences at Uttoxeter. However, a switch back to hurdles after coming to grief at Sandown in the Henry VII Novice Chase over Christmas reaped its rewards when he was a runaway winner of the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day. It was wonderful to see him back in the Cheltenham winners’ enclosure two years on from his biggest career win in the Supreme Novice Hurdle for owner Roger Brookhouse. He was sent off third favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and coming down the hill he looked to be travelling the best of the lot before finishing fifth. He should again be a force in top hurdle races.
Black Op too broke his maiden over fences in the same colours in good style at Stratford first time out, proving he had ironed out his jumping issues from the season before. Although he did not have a big race win this year he deserves a gallant mention for his seconds in the Berkshire Novices Chase (Grade 2) at Newbury behind Champ and the Kauto Star Novices Chase (Grade 1) at Kempton over Christmas. He was one we had saved to go to Aintree so it was particularly disappointing the Grand National Meeting didn’t go ahead.
Clondaw Castle didn’t make many appearances last season due to the under-foot conditions being too wet. However, when he did take his chance, he was very effective. He finished second in a valuable 2m chase around Ascot earlier on in the season before winning the £50,000 Warwick Castle Handicap Chase when stepped up in trip in February. It was great for him to win a nice race in part-owner John French’s colours. John previously had good staying chaser Toulouse Lautrec with the yard. Clondaw was a real sufferer of the season being cut short as he really comes into his own on the better ground but I am sure he will carry on his progression into next season.
One horse who really relished the testing conditions throughout the winter was the progressive Springfield Fox. Having started the season off over hurdles with limited success, it was evident that chasing could not come soon enough for the Fox. Once he had a handicap mark of 117 he made an emphatic debut over fences at Chepstow winning by 12 lengths. He then followed up that success with an easy win at Exeter by 17 lengths, putting him up to a mark of 142 in only 2 runs over fences. Although things didn’t go to plan for him in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham, I am sure there is a lot to come from him in extreme stamina tests on very soft ground. It is also very exciting to have impressive novice hurdle winner Hooligan in the yard for the same owners – Dermot O’Donohoe, John Cavanagh, Vicki Robinson and Sharon Nelson. Hooligan won well at Warwick just before the Cheltenham Festival, having reaped the rewards of having an easy previous season after being brought at the Goffs Land Rover Sale back in 2018.
Last season was not only poignant for all the success we experienced but we also took the decision to retire God’s Own. Basil was a three-time Grade 1-winning chaser and ended his racing career having earnt his owners the Crossed Fingers Partnership more than £625,000. His biggest victories were in 2016 when he took the Melling Chase at Aintree and Champion Chase at Punchestown. These successes came two years after his maiden Grade 1 success at Punchestown and the first of his two Haldon Gold Cup wins at Exeter. Basil was not only special for these big race wins but also for his endless enthusiasm and consistency at the top level – demonstrated by his 18 first three finishes in graded company over a span of 5 seasons. A lot of credit must go to Sherrie-Anne Derrick (Gonk), who has ridden him out every day since he joined us at the age of four and therefore I feel it was only right for him to enjoy the rest of his retirement with Gonk. Happy retirement Basil!
Basil is a fine example of our horses progressing from season to season. It always pleases me to see horses that win bumpers train on to win novice hurdles and novice chases as they progress through the ranks. Fingers crossed that Roger Brookhouse’s Rock on Rocco and Big Bresil, who both won novice hurdles well last season, should do the same and progress into lovely novice chasers.
Since racing came to a close unexpectedly early last season, we still have a lot of lovely young stock from the year before that were unable to make their racecourse debuts. This means that I am really looking forward to the season ahead, not only to unleash the old stalwarts again, but to also potentially unveil the next smart horse or hopefully horses. I wouldn’t want to give away any hints otherwise it wouldn’t be fair for everyone’s “Five to Follow” entries but I’m probably not worth listening too as I rarely feature in the end-of-season results anyway.
Over the lockdown period we took the opportunity to extend a loop on our flat woodchip gallop, meaning that we can now work horses over 1m 4f if desired. This is a real luxury as it enables the horses to slowly build up their work and will be a huge asset for young horses that have never cantered over those further distances.
As well as upgrading our facilities we’ve also welcomed some new key members of staff to Down Farm. Ex-jockey Darren O’Dwyer has joined as assistant and forms a strong team alongside John Cullinan. He has a wealth of experience having spent five years working for Aidan O’Brien at his world-famous Ballydoyle Flat stables and then two years as assistant trainer to his old boss Philip Hobbs. Darren’s wife Tiff is also riding out on a regular basis now that their three children have started school in Stroud.
As mentioned earlier, we also welcome HBA Media as new sponsors of Tom George Racing. HBA Media is the pre-eminent international horseracing media rights agency that distributes major events such as Royal Ascot, the Saudi Cup, the Breeders’ Cup, the Melbourne Cup and the Pegasus World Cup. The company also works with leading broadcasters and federations to ensure the world of horseracing is promoted and seen by both avid and new fans of the sport, through the co-ordination of bespoke programming and other activities. Over the summer with HBA Media’s support, we have invested in fresh branded clothing for the staff and our horses, and we very much look forward to giving our new sponsor an increased profile on track. Be sure to give us a wave when you spot our branded horseboxes on the road, and do remember to follow us both on social media. (Instagram: _hbamedia and tomgeorgeracing)
Finally, if you’re heading to Gloucestershire, then our holiday cottages are a very popular stay over. With a warm house to entertain from, owners old and new are always most welcome. And we are at your disposal to answer any queries you may have about your own horse or new horses for sale.