HORSE AND HOUND – 27-01-2011
Can we ever protect young men from their dreams? Tom Symonds is 25 years old. He is intelligent, energetic, well connected and apparently quite sane. But later this year he is setting up as a racehorse trainer, the only profession that beats farming in being more certain of its own doom.
This gets worse. At present Tom has just about the best job in the whole horse world. In the build up to Cheltenham he is assistant to Nicky Henderson the Festival’s current leading trainer and a stable whose astonishing recent run was crowned by five winners at Kempton including that famous King George VI triumph by Long Run on whom Tom Symonds rides out every morning.
He was riding him again last Friday as he seamlessly smoothed the way for Henderson to take the myriad decisions that push up as potential roadblocks on a trainer’s morning. Tom has been five years at the famous Seven Barrows yard which broke through the £2million barrier for the first time two seasons ago and posted a record 136 winners last term. Being part of the Henderson team is proof that racing still works at the very top. It’s rather different at the bottom.
As the growingly militant “Horseman’s Group” ratchets up the invective in its dispute over the prize money “Tariffs” which it is demanding from racecourses the predominant drum beat is that unless new funds are provided immediately all but the elite side of British Racing is going down the river. By their account the whole business is about to be hit by a “Perfect Storm” of increased costs, falling revenue, and plummeting confidence in a business that crucially depends on a cheerful start to the daily battle of hope against expectation. Hardly sounds like a great time to launch your boat, but into the stream goes Tom in September.
“Of course everyone tells me I am raving mad,” he said on Friday, “but honestly it’s all I have ever wanted to do.” It’s spoken with a smile but the words are what they all say. If he wasn’t so jolly, you would want to weep. For the path to penury is littered with ruined racing dreams however bright, hard working and apparently well backed the individual, the fates of Henderson’s two previous assistants being cases in point. For while, after five seasons Charlie Longsdon is, with 16 winners and £130,000 in prizes, clocking his best term yet albeit only 27th in the table, Jamie Snowden has so far logged only three successes in this his third season and desperately needs a piece of good fortune to float him away from the rocks.
But if we only listened to gloomy forecasts we would never leave the house. Tom Symonds may be young but he is neither uninformed nor unsupported and there are several reasons for thinking that the tall, engaging, farmer’s son from Hereford who started Pony Club with The Golden Valley might be one of the few that beat the odds.
First that he has always wanted to train rather than ride, a first fence fall in a Hunt Race being his only venture between the flags. For many assistants, including myself some 50 years ago, the search is more for rides than animals’ fitness. Second, with Henderson and earlier with James Fanshawe, he has dealt with the highest level of horses and people. And a vital third, his parents Peter and Jane Symonds have for more than ten years owned the yard near Ross on Wye from which John Edwards sent out a string of Cheltenham winners and from where Yahoo so nearly ruined Desert Orchid’s Gold Cup glory day in 1988.
So at least Tom will start off unburdened with a massive mortage around his neck and in his Herefordshire heartland he will not lack from initial local investment. What no one knows is whether his energetic self belief can carry him up the ladder to where solvency as well as happiness lies.
It will not be easy. Why should it ever be? But racing is no stranger to the truth that progress is most frequently made when young people come up with fresh solutions to old problems. Which gives three words of advice for Tom Symonds. Go for it.