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Tuesday, 22 January, 2019

Dealing with pressure, point-to-pointers and big-money purchases

The leading National Hunt agent takes his turn in the hot seat

Tom Malone secures Izzy Bizu, the top lot at €290,000, at the Goffs Champions Sale at Leopardstown
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Having sourced a huge number of big race winners, as well as having proved a spending force to be reckoned with, Tom Malone has rapidly made up into one of the most recognisable bloodstock agents around. 

Fresh from securing Trevelyn's Corn, the top lot at Friday's Tattersalls Ireland Cheltenham December Sale for £400,000, Malone gives us his perspective on life as an agent and some wider industry issues in our latest interview.

You have made a number of big-money purchases in recent times such as Madison To Monroe, the ill-fated Flemenshill and Trevelyn's Corn on Friday evening. Do you feel increased pressure with the more expensive buys?

To be fair there is always pressure whether you are buying a £30,000 horse or a £300,000 horse. What makes life easier is that the £300,000 horse has done something special and you hope that they keep improving to be a Grade 1 performer.

I will only spend that money if I have extreme confidence in the animal, although even that doesn't guarantee the result. Flemenshill could have been anything as his point-to-point form has worked out so well. It is such a shame that Alan and Ann Potts are also no longer with us. We could have enjoyed so many good days ahead with the animals we purchased together.

The market for point-to-point horses is very strong at the moment. Why do you think this market is so popular?

The market is very strong across the board. The point-to-pointers are in high demand as they are winning so many races from top Saturday events to mid-week races. The sales are mainly made up of pointers so they are bound to have more winners day-in day-out.

Are there particular point-to-point courses you think produce strong form or do you follow certain trainers particularly closely?

I follow the trainers as a good horse can win anywhere. Sometimes it is the timing before an upcoming sale that decides where the animal might run. I love following the point-to-point form and it is like everything, if you follow certain trainers you tend to decide for yourself how they rate the horses, especially when there are two or three meetings on one day.

The ground, track and jockey are all important too. 

Do you feel that your background as a jockey gives you an edge when it comes to selecting horses at sales? Have you ever ridden potential purchases before making an offer?

When I first started back in 2008 I used to ride so many of the horses who were for sale. Back then there were only four or five select sales though. Now they are every two weeks and wildcards are taken right up to the time of the sale.

You can't sit on every horse you want to buy and sometimes it makes it difficult to make a real judgement. It was a great way to get started as it was something different and certainly got tongues wagging, which is never a bad thing! To be fair most of the best horses I bought I didn't have a chance to sit on. It was a case of buy it now or someone else will.

You are responsible for purchasing a whole host of big-race winners, which one gave you the most satisfaction?

I would have to say Grand National winner One For Arthur. He won a race so famous and so hard to win. He wasn't an expensive horse - £60,000 - and if I never buy the winner of it again they cannot take this one away from me. 

Aintree was unbelievable, two Grade 1s [The Worlds End and Finian's Oscar], a Grade 2 bumper winner with Lalor and, of course, the Grand National, it was a special week.

Which of your recent purchases that have not been seen out yet are you particularly excited about?

I have a lot of very good animals running for me at present and winning nice races. The team to come out in the spring are the best bunch of horses I've ever been able to buy so I cannot wait for them. That will bring its own pressure though. Two I'm excited to see are Beakstown and Danny Kirwan. 

Beakstown is a huge son of Stowaway who won his point-to-point on debut and had a massive reputation before he'd even run. Danny Kirwan could not have been more impressive with the way he destroyed his rivals in a [Lisronagh] point-to-point and he never came out of third gear.

You are best known as a jumps agent but have also enjoyed Group 1 success on the Flat with My Dream Boat. Would you like to get more involved in Flat racing? Are the same skills required for both disciplines?

I enjoy buying yearlings as it is more or less the same qualities you are looking for. I'm a firm believer in first impressions with a horse, then everything else starts to unfold; attitude, movement, pedigree and so on.

Earlier in the year you and Megan Nicholls signed for a number of yearlings, can you give us an update on how the horses are progressing?

Megan has them in great order. They are cantering upsides and canter through the field with a lot of good handling. It is too early to tell if they are any good, but they like a Battle Of Marengo we bought from the Tattersalls Ireland Yearling Sale a lot.

What is the single most important factor you look for when buying a horse?

I don't think there is just one thing but first impressions are a great start and then the movement of the horse next.

How do you spot value in a horse at each level of the market?

I love finding that horse that didn't win a point-to-point or on the Flat. I recently bought a horse that I think could be black type over jumps and he could not win a point-to-point. For me, he wasn't getting the trip in a point and his pedigree says the same. Time will tell if I was right but I would not swap him now we have him.

Do you see there being any serious implications for the bloodstock industry resulting from Brexit?

The main players in the game are not overly affected by the decision. With the money being spent on bloodstock across the industry from foals to form horses I don't think anyone else is too worried either at the minute.

Maybe the middle of the market might be a little more affected but only time will tell. I don't tend to think so hard on it, whatever happens I will adapt and deal with it as always. There are far more intelligent people than me speculating and even they are not sure how it will turn out, so what hope has a little Irishman got?!

If you had to entrust another agent to buy you a horse, who would it be?

Mags O'Toole - a very good friend of mine and a super judge of a racehorse.

What is the funniest thing you have seen in your time around the sales ring?

At Doncaster one afternoon a filly would not approach the back ring. Scobie Fitzgerald was interested in buying her and everyone could see she was half-mad. The person at her head had a pair of black leather gloves on and the more he tried to get her in the ring the worse she got.

The vendor kept telling all of us to stop trying to help him and with that the filly took off through the yard. The vendor would not let go of the rope and she dragged him on his stomach for at least a hundred yards.

She finally got to the ring and Scobie stepped up and bought her for £2,000. I got the whole thing on video!

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There are far more intelligent people than me speculating and even they are not sure how it will turn out, so what hope has a little Irishman got?
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