Thursday 1st December 2011

TRAINER FILES – TOM LACEY

 

Tom Lacey talks to Andrew Norman at Pointing South Midlands about his business, being a jockey, breaking-in and pre-training, the sale ring, and his prospects for the season.

 

With the first South Midlands Area meeting at Barbury just around the corner, our trainer files series opens with a visit to Tom Lacey’s Cottagefield Stables, near Chipping Norton.

Five years ago Lacey established his business predominantly to break-in and pre-train horses. Putting syndicates together to buy national hunt stores, he proves them in the point to point field ready for selling on to progress under rules.

Most yards with runners between the flags train their horses for a career in points or take on those returning from under rules. Lacey, however, uniquely uses the point to point field to advance his newly broken in young horses.

Affiliation with the pointing circuit didn’t begin with his Cottagefield yard though, as Lacey had ridden 27 winners in his career as a jockey despite claiming he “never rode a good horse!”

Like his young apprentice James Seivwright will do on Sunday, Lacey had his first ride at the age of 17. Although modest about his ability, he had clearly showed promise. “I remember Mackenzie and Selby were very complimentary about me one year, they tipped me and Jamie [Dickin] for the top but it certainly didn’t come to fruition!” he reminisces, adding, “They were fantastic years. I remember all the pub crawls home after racing. It was just brilliant fun. There was a huge amount of camaraderie in the changing tent with the likes of Julian Pritchard, Damien Duggan, Jim Culloty – we were a hell of a team”, Lacey admits that pointing became an ‘obsession’ for him. He cites this as the main reason he hasn’t travelled. “One of my biggest regrets in life is that I didn’t go off to Australia or New Zealand for six months – I think if I had gone I’d have never come back!”

Lacey, struggling to maintain the weight, called time on his career as a jockey at the age of 28. “The dieting was so hard. I’d start dieting on a Wednesday and not eat anything until I’d finished riding on a Saturday. I used to run about 8 miles a day in sweat suits, bobble hats and gloves - one plastic suit I wore made you shed a pound a mile in fluid.”

His last competitive ride was when fifth on Royal Speedmaster in the since discontinued Marlborough Cup (an all-timber race run under jockey club rules) at Barbury in the late 1990s and, shortly afterwards, he spent a couple of years as head lad for leading flat trainer Brian Meehan.

Although Lacey looks after a few older horses for local owners, what he enjoys most is producing young horses. This stems from serving his apprenticeship, as a school leaver, with legendary trainer Captain Charles Radclyffe, who broke in the Queen Mother’s national hunt stores as well as flat racing horses for the Aga Khan. He remembers, “We could ride 10 to 15 horses and jump 100 fences a day and could ride them all bare back – he was just the most incredible teacher. I knew when I left him I left with a skill for life. I loved it and continue to get a huge amount of reward and satisfaction out of producing young horses and seeing them grow in confidence.”

Clearly Lacey is extremely patient with his horses, putting them through a series of carefully planned stages to build their confidence and ensure they are panic free.  He observes, “You’re setting them up for the rest of their life – the reason so many horses are having wind operations now is because they come in from the sale, are broken in and pointed straight up a gallop. They don’t have a chance to control their larynx or soft palette, everyone wants instant gratification”. “In the old days you had three months to break in a horse, these days you’re lucky if the owners give you three weeks.” Refusing to rush what he considers to be the most important part of a horse’s development is what stands him apart from many others in his profession. With some variance, he prefers to spend around 6 weeks on this process.

Lacey bemoans the lack of regard in the sale ring for horses who have won a maiden in Britain, in comparison to Ireland, saying they are frequently forced to compete in a bumper to raise the sale price. “At the Brightwells sale last April, the British pointers were all lead out unsold but people were willing to pay £80-100,000 for Irish ones – it’s ridiculous,” he said. “Buyers still don’t take British pointing seriously enough. It’s changed so much since I was riding, there’s a brilliant crop of riders now.”  A notable exception was his sale of Loose Preformer for £80,000 in 2010 soon after winning a maiden – an indication of how highly regarded his growing business has become.

Disagreeing with the way the market currently operates for the sale of young pointers, Lacey strongly believes maiden point to point races in Britain are a better introduction to racing than the equivalent in Ireland. “The Irish points are so competitive and it’s so commercial over there that it can be their Gold Cup,” he opines. “The horses are primed over there and we probably don’t have to train them as hard as the Irish boys have to so it’s a better introduction in my book. There’s plenty of hard evidence to prove that – just look at the number of pointers that come out of Ireland and don’t do any good. There are masses of them yet plenty have come out of the British circuit over the years to become Grade 1 horses.”

The theory behind the 2m4f Maidens that Brightwell have introduced with each winner granted entry to their sales is to Lacey’s liking. He took full advantage of this last season by selling Whitfield winner Jacalou for £20,000 to Kim Bailey, although he suggests he will run the majority of his maidens over three miles this season, noting, “It can all happen a bit quick for the young horses.”

Lacey considers the best horse he has produced to date to be Malt Master, a four year old now trained by Nicky Henderson under the ownership of JP McManus. The winner of a very competitive bumper at Doncaster in February, he was sold for £155,000 at Newbury sales shortly afterwards. Having watched Tony McCoy ride him to victory at Newcastle last Saturday, he reflects proudly “we had him from the May sales in 2010 and broke him and did all his pre-training so to see him win his first hurdle at Newcastle was very rewarding. It gives you a real sense of achievement.”

Lacey has 12 horses in training that will appear in the point to point field this season, the majority to be ridden by Sam Drinkwater, Tom Weston and Sam Waley-Cohen.

Kiss Me Twice, a five year old by Generous, was 4th in a Ludlow bumper before unseating when a beaten 4th at Chaddesley Corbett. After undergoing a successful wind operation, he obliged impressively in a quick time at Barbury in April and will progress by running in the restricted on Saturday.

Custers Last Stand, an eight year old by Little Bighorn, will run in the first division of Sunday’s maiden for horses and geldings. A sound jumper, he should be a fantastic horse for young jockey James Seivwright’s first ride. Lacey commented “James is no idiot, he’s well able to ride and done lots of schooling. I won’t be sitting there thinking he’ll get unseated and he has valuable pony racing experience in Ireland.” Four year old Beckhani will run in the second division of the same event if the ground turns the soft side of good. Bought at Doncaster in May 2010, Lacey reported “he worked over a mile and a quarter on the grass last week and went extremely well.”

Lacey’s other four year old, Harris, will be ready to run in six weeks.

Cavite Alpha, a winner of his sole run last season, is back with Lacey after a short spell with Nicky Henderson. “After his maiden win, we put him in training with Nicky and he was going really well but then the ground went. He had a wind operation in the summer and he’ll be ready to rumble at the end of January, possibly in a restricted.”

Six year old Trouble Digger will start at Whitfield in the maiden in December. “He was in training with Kim Bailey and got a leg so had a year off. The owners have decided to give him a go pointing.”

A recent addition to the yard is Dance Floor King, a lovely horse by Generous owned by Ray Humphreys. “We’re still very much feeling our way with him but he’s forward enough to start in Point to Points. He’s not a sales horse so that will be a stepping stone for him.”

Lacey also has a crop of unnamed three year olds eligible to run in the New Year that he is very excited about. Two of them, by Midnight Legend and by Beneficial respectively, will hopefully run before the end of February while the others may have to wait a little longer for their racecourse debuts.

Tom Lacey’s website can be found at www.cottagefield.co.uk