Sep 24 2013

Tom Morley – Trainer Insights And The Claiming Game

Tom Morley and Rosie Napravnik at Saratoga

Tom Morley and Rosie Napravnik

In this third installment of our interview with Tom Morley, he describes his approach to preparing horses to run on different surfaces and distances.  He also discusses in greater detail his involvement in Claiming horses.  Click here to read the second part of our interview with Tom., him dealing with the challenges and emotions of the sport.

When preparing a horse for turf (rather than dirt), do you have a different regimen of preparation?

I try to get turf horses to relax early.  They’re going to have to work on the dirt anyway, but I like to see them pick it up towards the end of a work.  The dirt horses I like to see more of an even pace from pole to pole.  Apart from that they train very much the same way.  You try and tailor your training a little bit over what sort of distances they’re going to run.  But an awful lot of it in America is trying to keep the horse sound and happy.  It’s very easy to make a horse sore out here.  Dirt is very tough surface on horses to train on day in and day out.  At home (England), horses work twice a week, you know a fast work twice a week.  But everyone here works them once a week, and that’s enough.  They can take more at home than they can here.

When you get a new horse, do you try to target them as a sprinter, or a router, or a turf horse?

I pay attention to pedigrees.  There are always exceptions, but pedigree is normally a good guide, and the physical specimen in front of you as to distance and surface preferences.  Also the mental side of a horse as well.  Some suit sprinting more because that is their mentality.  It’s very hard to get those horses to relax and run long distances.  It’s one of my favorite things; the first week you get to work with a new horse.

Maggie Wolfendale in a Morning Workout

Maggie Wolfendale in a Morning Workout

I just bought a horse privately.  He came in, he’s light, and he doesn’t look the way I want a horse to look.  But, he’ll look a hell of a lot better in a month’s time.  And he’s got bad manners, but he’ll learn about those because he’s mentally very forward.  He wants to do things the whole time, but he hasn’t learned to relax in his training … enjoy his training.

The first day he went on to the track and tried to set up at a million miles an hour.  We do a lot of pony work with horses like that.  Take them to the track.  Stand them there.  Let them take a deep breath.  Relax.  Enjoy it.  You try and get them to worry as little as possible.  We’re lucky we have the right people here, in Maggie and Sarah, and the pony who can teach horses to relax and enjoy their morning work.

Somebody said to me, every time a horse goes to the races it’s like a near death experience for them; if you look at it from a horse’s perspective.  You better hope they’re enjoying the rest of their time because racing is hard on horses mentally and physically.  And you want them to want to go over and do it; to get in a street fight with another horse in the lane and battle all the way to the line.  So, you need a horse who is happy and healthy to do that.  So, the morning regimen is key to get them in that mental state, where they want to run for you.

Do you go to the track even if you don’t have something running that day?

Oh yea, absolutely.  It’s important to get over, not only to meet the owners but if you’re going to be involved in the claiming side of horses you try and keep your eye on other people’s horses.  So, if time allows I go back over there and I come back here in the afternoons at 3:00 or 3:30 and we feed and clean the stalls out, fresh water and hay.  Normally I try and get back over to the races after feed time.

As far as the claiming game, is that something that you initiate, the owner initiates, or do you somehow work together on it?

It completely depends on the owner who is putting up the money. A lot of them like to do a lot of the work themselves.  Others don’t like to do any of it at all.  I have owners who ring me and say, “What do you think of this horse? I like this horse on paper.”  I’m in a position where I get to watch a lot of them train in the morning, and I get to look at them before they get into the paddock.  That way I can make a decision if I like the horse, or if I can see any faults.  The final judgment is mine whether we claim the horse or not, because that’s part of my job.  I’m the trainer, and if I can see something in the horse that I don’t like then I don’t want to train it.  I may be wrong.  The horse may win and carry on winning, but if there’s something that I don’t like then I won’t claim the horse.

Often I ring up an owner and say, “this horse is in and I think he’s worth the money.  I think we should try and claim him.”  But, then it’s down to them.  If they don’t like the horse on paper, or they don’t like his replays, then I don’t have a leg to stand on.  They’re the one paying for him.

I have wondered if these decisions are made last minute.  Is that the case?

Ithastobegeorge - Tom Morley Horse

Ithastobegeorge – A Horse Claimed by Tom

I tend to look at the form twice before the days racing.  First when the races are made and the form comes out I’ll look.  Then the night before the races I’ll look again.  I’ve circled a few horses if there are any.  A lot of days there are none entered.  But, from the time they’re entered I’ve got a few days to watch repays and do as much homework on the horse as I can before I actually get to see him in the flesh, and see if I like what I circled.

I tend to make the phone call (to the owner) as soon as the horse jumps off the paper to give the owner the chance to do the homework they want to do.  They might just say, “Yea yea, if you like the horse then get on with it.”  But a lot of them are really involved in the claiming game.  It’s very much a team effort that goes on with them.

(As a new stable) it’s very different for us.  I don’t want to name names, but a lot of these guys can claim four or five horses in a day.  The money is available to them to claim a lot of horses.  But, every time we claim one it has to count.  We’re a small stable just starting out.  It’s got to be a good claim.  You’ve got to try and get it right.

So far we’ve done ok.  We’ve had one disaster, but two or three of the other horses have been good claims.

How much does Maggie help you out as far as Claims?

We have to be extremely professional at this because, at the end of the day this is my business and what Maggie does in the afternoon is her job (NYRA Paddock Analyst).  I’m very lucky she gets to work with me in the morning, but we have to be very professional about me claiming horses.  It’s not something that Maggie can get too heavily involved in.  Because other trainers will wonder, and I suppose there will be a trainer who will try and void a claim because they suspect Maggie has been giving me advice on the horse based upon what she’s seen of the horse in the paddock.   So we keep it as far apart as we possibly can.  It’s a tough one, you’ve got to draw a line somewhere, but my business over here is my business.  She’s massively involved in training, but that side of it (claiming) we have to be very careful about.

For more information about Tom and his racing stable; including Bios, a Photo Gallery, and a Blog, visit his website at

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