Head Trainer Tom Morley
When we last visited with Tom, nearly two years ago, his stable consisted of himself, Maggie Wolfendale, one groom, one hot-walker, and about a dozen horses. Since that time, his stable has grown to around fifty horses, with 33 stabled on the grounds at Saratoga and Belmont, a dozen two-year olds in nearby training centers where Tom visits them on a regular basis, and about five older horses turned out at farms (having a mid-season break). His staff now consists of two full-time assistants, eight grooms, eight hot-walkers, and, of course, now lady of the castle – Maggie Wolfendale-Morley.
Tom Morley Stable remains a New York based operation, but will soon be expanding into other racing circuits. Tom told us “Fifty horses is a good competitive number to divide the stable”. After Saratoga, Tom plans on leaving some horses at Saratoga and moving the rest back to Belmont. In the fall, he intends to send some horses to Keeneland for the first time. Then over the winter he plans to ship a division to Florida and stable them at either Payson Park or Palm Meadows. In Florida, his two assistants, Pearl Hagadorn and Sarah O’Brien, will manage the operations while Tom runs the New York division. Tom added “In the future, when my staff has been with me longer, I wouldn’t be afraid to let the number of horses grow larger. At the end of the day, it’s not just a numbers game, but you need to have the numbers because there is always a level of attrition, when horses get hurt, sick, or taken away by an owner.”
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I recently sat down with Ian Wilkes, the trainer of 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned. Ian told me that “Fort Larned took me to places I’d dreamed of going.” But to get to those places, Ian Wilkes had to learn from some mistakes first. And during the course of our conversation, I discovered that Ian is very willing to share his mistakes and the lessons he learned along the way. He explained, “You’re never too proud to say that you screwed up. Successful people always make mistakes in life and learn from them. Just don’t keep making the same ones over again.”
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When he started training three years ago, Brendan Walsh bought enough equipment for a dozen horses. That wasn’t enough. It went to twenty and now it’s 32 horses in his stable. He expects to have between 40 and 45 horses over the summer. The day after we interviewed Brendan, he won his 3rd consecutive start at Gulfstream Park. In 2014, he cracked the $1 million mark for purses earned. So, the life of a horse trainer is a bed of roses, huh. Well, listen to Brendan’s story before you give up your day job to try it out.
Brendan Walsh grew up on a farm in County Cork, Ireland. That gave him plenty of exposure to animals, but not horses … until he got a pony. He had to teach himself how to ride, since no one in his family “had a clue.” Brendan described his relationship with the pony, “For about two years that pony would buck and kick and run off on me. My dad said anyone else would have just quit. But, I’d keep getting back on him, and eventually I got him going pretty good.”
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Continuing with our popular “Meet The People” series, I recently sat down with Julian Leparoux in the jockey’s room at Gulfstream Park. Julian emigrated from France to the USA in 2003 and began riding thoroughbred horses as a jockey in 2005. He made a big splash in 2006 by setting records for an apprentice in terms of wins and earnings. As a result of these feats, he was awarded the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Apprentice Jockey that year.
Over the years he has been labeled as an excellent “turf rider,” “polytrack rider,” “gate rider” … and a few more that he mentions below. But in the end, as I discovered with many of Julian’s responses … it really all depends on the horses he’s riding.
How did you get started riding horses?
My dad was an assistant trainer in France. I grew up around horses all my life. I started riding at eleven and I did show jumping. I started riding racehorses around eighteen. I galloped horses one year in France, and then I came to the States in 2003 and started riding in 2005. Then 2006 was an amazing year, I won 403 races and was top apprentice.
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Maggie Wolfendale at Aqueduct
I went on a spur of the moment trip to Aqueduct and I contacted Maggie Wolfendale to see if she’d be willing to meet my wife Deb, and spend some time with us in the paddock. She said, “Sure, no problem.” Maggie is the paddock analyst for NYRA, and we introduced her in a prior article. Click here to read more about my first visit with Maggie at Saratoga in August.
This meeting was more informal than my first time with Maggie at Saratoga. For the most part, we just conversed on whatever topic came to mind as we were watching the horses in the paddock. Deb was very intrigued by the whole experience, and asked most of the questions. As I mentioned in the prior article, she’s a big fan of Maggie. Here, in no particular order, is a list of some topics that came up.
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In a prior article about Christophe Clement, we noted his ability to attract talented and loyal staff. Over the past few months we’ve spent some time with one of his assistant trainers, Thomas Brandebourger. In doing so, we discovered a man working quietly, out of the limelight of the racing world, tending to a string of Clement’s horses, seven days a week.
Thomas is 29 years old, a native of France, speaks three languages … loves horses, soccer, and a good coffee. Since the age of three he has wanted to train horses. His father bred and sold horses in France, and Thomas grew up on a farm. But, as Thomas said to me, “The exciting thing for me was the racing. I just wanted to be as close to the racing as possible.”
As a teenager, during his school vacations, Thomas worked with several trainers learning how to train and ride horses. Then at eighteen, he stayed and worked with an accomplished trainer in France, Robert Collet, for five months. After that, he told his father that he wanted to go to America, to “see what is going on there.” So, at nineteen years old, Thomas picked up his tack and moved to America, for what was supposed to be a few months. He never went back to France.
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Miguel Clement and Gio Ponti
Miguel Clement is the 23-year old son of head trainer Christophe Clement, who trains Tonalist, the winner of the 2014 Belmont Stakes. During the summer meet at Saratoga I was lucky enough to spend some time with this engaging young man. To say Miguel is “beyond his years” would be an understatement. To say he was born with a “silver spoon in his mouth” would be a gross misjudgment. To say he is destined for great success would be equivalent to making an odds-on bet … one that I would rush to the window to lay down.
Lest we put the cart before the horse, let’s begin with a few bits of information about Miguel’s background. He was named after his grandfather, who was Basque, and a trainer in France. Miguel explains, “A lot of names in south of France and northern Spain are alike. You wouldn’t believe how many people think my native tongue is Spanish.” It happens to be English.
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Maggie Wolfendale on the job, in Saratoga.
On a hot summer day, Maggie Wolfendale was generous enough to grant me an interview while she was at work in the paddock in Saratoga. First, for those of you that don’t know her, Maggie is the Paddock Analyst for NYRA. Her job is to assess the physical attributes of each horse in a race, and then report to the betting public what she sees (both good and bad).
I suggested to Maggie that she has become a “rock star” to eager listeners in the crowd. My wife and daughter are both fans, and will hush people around them when Maggie comes on the air. I talk, and they roll their eyes. Maggie talks, and they listen.
From my perspective, Maggie brings a unique dimension to racing that is unmatched by any other racing circuit. Every track has public handicappers that read the Daily Racing Form and provide analysis and selections based upon the printed form, video race replays, etc. But what they are looking at is based on the past. Maggie sizes up the horses today … 15 minutes before they are going to run.
Another thing she does is compare how a horse looks today versus the last time she saw them in the flesh, and if there are any differences (again good or bad) she reports that to the crowd.
We had the following dialogue over the course of several races in the paddock at Saratoga.
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Photo courtesy of Bob Coglianese Photos
Tom Durkin will make his final race call on August 31, 2014 at Saratoga racetrack. For those of us who have followed him throughout his stellar career on the NYRA circuit, racing without Tom Durkin is going to take some getting used to. We have been privileged to witness a true master plying his craft with a unique style that is best described as theatrical. In a recent interview with Tom, he said “I get the best seat in the house for the greatest racing. And, there’s a new show every 25 minutes.”
Having always been impressed with his mastery of vocabulary and witty turn of phrase, I asked Tom if his race calls are spontaneous? He replied, “No, they are by no means entirely spontaneous. I do all sorts of preparation.” At this point, he handed me a medium sized notebook filled with handwritten notes, including countless words and phrases. He said, “This is about half of the things I’ve written down. My proper book, which I keep at home, is double that size and I try to read through it on a daily basis. So, some of the stuff is extemporaneous … but, the genesis of it comes from this notebook. And, I still add stuff to it. For example, I had never used the word ‘flagging’ before, so on May 17, 2014 I used the word ‘flagging.’ ” As he tells me this, he points to a recent entry in his notebook.
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Taylor Rice (Photo courtesy of Zilla Racing Stable)
On a recent visit to Belmont Park, I was able to sit down and have a nice talk with apprentice jockey Taylor Rice. To describe Taylor as exuberant might be an understatement. She is so full of energy and enthusiasm that I felt at any moment she might burst like a water filled balloon.
During our conversation she described her strong family bonds, indirect path to becoming a jockey, and the thrill of competing in a game where she feels that she is finally on a level playing field with her competitors. So enjoy reading about this exuberant young jockey.
How deep are your bloodlines in the horse racing business?
It started with my grandfather Clyde Rice. He’s been in the business since my dad was young. My dad and my uncle both were jockeys. I have a handful of aunts and uncles who were also jockeys. But in my generation, I’m the only one small enough. My couple cousins and two brothers are too big. Both my brothers and my dad train at Presque Isle Downs. Wayne, Kevin, and Adam Rice – that’s my dad and my two brothers.
My family moved to Florida about the time I was born and they were doing mostly the yearlings to two-year-olds and horse sales. So I didn’t know anything about the race track. So for me, it was graduate from high school and go to college. Racing wasn’t even a thought.
But I’ve ridden horses my whole life, me and both of my brothers. I’ve dabbled in the rodeo and junior rodeo, but I preferred playing high school sports. I played volleyball, basketball, and softball all through high school.
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