Donn's Articles » Tom Hogan

Tom Hogan

The Prix de la Foret was the ideal target for Gordon Lord Byron in October 2012. Everybody was saying it, Tom Hogan knew it.

The horse had won a listed race at York over seven furlongs that August, and he had finished second to Society Rock in the Group 1 Sprint Cup At Haydock over six. The only problem was, he hadn’t been entered in the Foret and, the British prize money yet to hit his account, owner Morgan Cahalan did not have the €25,000 or so that he needed in order to get the horse into the race.

The Foret was on Arc de Triomphe day at Longchamp on Sunday, and supplementary entries had to be confirmed by Thursday. So trainer Tom Hogan got himself along to the Goffs Orby Sale on the Tuesday with the objective of finding an owner who would buy into the horse for the day, cover the expense and share the spoils.

“I tried just about every international owner who was at Goffs that day,” recalls Hogan. “We were all set to run, the horse was in great form and we knew he would have a great chance in the race. We even had William Buick booked to ride. But I couldn’t get anyone. That’s how life is at my end of the game.”

Eventually he happened upon Adolf Schneider, a Swiss owner whom he had never met before. Mr Schneider agreed to put up the funds to get Gordon Lord Byron into the Foret, Hogan confirmed the entry on Thursday, and Gordon duly went to Longchamp on Sunday and, sent off the 5/2 favourite and racing in Mr Schneider’s colours, won the Prix de la Foret, a Group 1 race and over €170,000 in prize money.

Tom Hogan pulls the rug off Gordon Lord Byron’s back to reveal a shiny coat, toned body, muscled quarters. The horse flicks his ears, enjoying the attention, used to the adulation.

“He’s taken us on some journey,” says the trainer. “Haven’t you? (Pats the horse’s neck.) It’s the stuff of dreams really.”

The dream started out fairly inauspiciously. It was owner Morgan Cahalan’s daughter Jessica, working as secretary for Hogan at the time, who bought Gordon Lord Byron for herself with the intention of selling him on.

“That was in the days when I thought I could afford a secretary.”

Jessica picked him up as a foal at the Goffs November Sale in 2008 for €2,000. The aim was to sell him as a yearling and turn a profit. She couldn’t sell, however, nobody wanted to buy him, so she got him broken with the objective of selling him as a two-year-old at the breeze-up sale at Goresbridge. But that sale was over-subscribed and the son of Byron did not make the cut. He was not considered good enough to get into it. He was the horse that nobody wanted.

“His sire Byron wouldn’t exactly have been flavour of the month,” says Hogan. “Just about every good horse I have ever had was by a bastard sire!”

The Cahalans took their horse to Hogan to see if he could make anything of him. One canter was all the trainer needed to conclude that he was a nice horse, that he could be good. They got him going and got him ready for his racecourse debut at Roscommon in July 2010. They quietly fancied him, they had a few quid on him at 20/1.

Then disaster. The horse jumped awkwardly from the stalls, and he had hardly gone a furlong when he lost his action and Ben Curtis had to pull him up sharply. The diagnosis was a fractured pelvis. He could have been euthanised there and then, but Hogan wouldn’t allow it. This fellow had too much potential. He got him home, put tyres down on the floor of his box so that he couldn’t lie down, fed him with calcium supplements and left him there for three months for the bone to knit back together.

It is a strange game. It’s a fine line between success and failure, between the salvation of a trainer’s career and the loss of it, between just another statistic and €1.5 million in prize money.

The Gordon Lord Byron journey has been some journey so far for Tom Hogan. The trainer is steeped in racing. It was here, at his base just outside Nenagh in County Tipperary, that his father bred 1972 Gold Cup winner Glencarrig Lady and 1985 Stayers’ Hurlde winner Rose Ravine. Tom himself has trained some highly-talented horses from here, Silver Jaro, Common World and Kalderon among them, but he had never had one as good as Gordon Lord Byron before.

The trainer thought that his horse was a certainty for the Wokingham Handicap at Royal Ascot in 2012 – insofar as there can be a certainty for a 28-runner handicap at Royal Ascot.

The week before the race, Morgan Cahalan arrived at the yard to tell the trainer that he had had a good offer for the horse: the sterling equivalent of around €200,000.

“What do you think?” asked the owner.

“Sure, if you need the money, you’d better take it,” said Hogan.

“No, I mean what do you think you can win with this horse?”

“I’d be very disappointed if I couldn’t win at least that much in prize money before the end of this season.”

The owner drove off to consider the offer. The following day, he arrived back into the yard.

“I have no money,” he told Hogan, “but I have no mortgage. So I’ve decided, there’s nobody else going to own this horse. I’ll never have another one like him.”

Indian owner Cyrus Poonawalla has since bought into the horse, but Morgan Cahalan’s name will be in the owner’s column for as long as Gordon Lord Byron races.

He did not win the Wokingham at Royal Ascot that year. He travelled well through the race but, a 28-runner handicap being a 28-runner handicap, he just couldn’t get the breaks. Hogan knew that he was far better than the bare form of his run suggested.

“Where are we going to cash in those chips?”

The answer was, just about everywhere. York, Longchamp, Dundalk, Leopardstown. In September last year, Gordon Lord Byron went to Haydock and won the Group 1 Sprint Cup, beating this year’s Diamond Jubilee and July Cup winner Slade Power by three lengths. In March this year, he went to Rosehill in Australia and won the Group 1 George Ryder Stakes, beating the Aussies in their own back yard at their own game and without a prep run. He has won in four different countries, two different continents and two different hemispheres.

Last Sunday, Gordon Lord Byron finished second in the Prix de la Foret. Next Saturday, he is set to line up in the Qipco British Champions Sprint at Ascot. After that, he could go to Hong Kong, then maybe back to Australia, perhaps on to Dubai. The journey continues.

 The Sunday Times, 12th October 2014