TOM GEORGE ON HIS FESTIVAL HOPEFULS AND WHY RAIN MIGHT SCUPPER DOUBLE SHUFFLE’S BID TO WIN THIS WEEKEND
by Mark Souster
Tom George is standing in the rain in the heart of Cider with Rosie country, a place he is fortunate enough to call home and has done since childhood.
He is not alone in wondering when the biblical downpours that have so disrupted racing will finally relent and the sport can return to something like normality.
That is in the lap of the Gods and the soothsayers, but probably not in time to bolster the chances of Double Shuffle who is entered for the 888Sport Handicap Chase at Kempton Park this weekend.
It is a track the 10-year-old relishes and one where he usually puts his best foot forward. But even Kempton’s ability to drain well and fast is being tested to the limit.
“He is not getting any younger, but he loves the track and everyone knows he was second in the King George (in 2017),” George said. “My one concern is he loves good ground and whether we are going to get it, I doubt with all the rain. That is my worry. He is in as good a form as he ever was though.”
Like many in the sport George’s season has been affected by the elements and the impact it has had on the ground at racecourses.
Even so, George has his fair share of good Festival hopefuls. Summerville Boy, The Worlds End and Black Op are among the standard bearers at the 400 acre Down Farm, 10 miles from Cheltenham.
One of the leading lights of recent seasons, God’s Own, won three Grade 1 races at the top level and was retired in December.
“We have won some big races this year, with the big names who have kept the flag flying, so to speak”, George continued.
“A lot of horses I haven’t been able to run. Clondaw Castle is a fine example. He ran twice (in November and December) and was beaten. Then the only week we don’t have rain he wins a £50,000 race (the Handicap Chase at Warwick).”
Summerville Boy, who won the Supreme Novices Hurdle two years ago, is returning to the Festival in the Stayers’ Hurdle, a race also earmarked for The Worlds End.
George is still undecided on his other Festival hopefuls, however. “Of the others we won’t make any decisions on until nearer the time, we will see what the weather does. Black Op is pencilled in for either the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase or the Marsh Novices’ Chase.”
George has trained at what was the family farm since 1995 and from where he has saddled more than 700 winners, including 10 at Grade 1 level.
It is an idyllic spot where he has invested considerable time and money transforming it into a state of the art and, as far as possible, ‘green’ complex.
“We are active farmers as well as trainers. It is a great position to be, to be on my own patch. The stable is self-sufficient on the energy front, thanks to a new biomass boiler using wood from the farm.
“A 900m pipe under the ground is part of the infrastructure which supplies heat and hot water for the estate, including the drying rooms and holiday lets. We use own chippings off the farm to fuel it.”
The equine pedigree runs deep in the family. His great uncle on his mother’s side was Tim Vigors, a former fighter pilot who established, among others things, Coolmore and who was in the vanguard of the development of the bloodstock industry.
A relative of his, Vigors’s first cousin, was Stephen Ward, the osteopath who found himself at the centre of the Profumo Affair in the early 1960s.
He ended up committing suicide after being abandoned by his society friends. The story was recently dramatised in a BBC television series.
“He (Ward) was pretty unlucky,” George continued. “I watched the programme and I felt quite upset about what happened to him. I rang my mother straight away and asked her ‘what was that all about?’ It was very sad.”