Tom Morley is no stranger to success. In only his fifth year of training his own barn, he’s amassed over $5 million in earnings, with the New York circuit as his home base. In 2016, he earned his first Grade 1 victory with Haveyougoneaway. Tom was generous enough to grant us an interview where he takes us through his upbringing, his days as an assistant and the struggles of starting on his own, to his current operation and its strengths.
5MTP: You grew up in a racing family. Your father was a breeder and trainer, you had cousins who have won Grade 1s, and one of your cousins is a bloodstock agent. Did you ever consider a different career path than training?
TM: No, I’m one of five boys and they’re always telling me I’m the lucky one because, since the age of twelve, I’ve known what I’ve wanted to do in life. My uncle David had a very successful jumps career training in Southern England before moving to flats and training for Shadwell. Summer visits to his yard were literally the things I looked forward to most. So ever since those days I’ve known what I’ve wanted to do in life.
5MTP: You had the honor of participating in the (Godolphin) Darley Flying Start Program, which is almost every young person’s goal in racing to take part in and gain that experience. What was your biggest takeaway from the program itself?
TM: The global exposure you get from the program is astronomical. Anybody who participates in the program owes Sheikh Mohammed an enormous depth of gratitude because it truly is ten years of experience in two. You realize the influence this course is having, when we just had a ten-year alumni re-conference in Lexington and you’re humbled by the incredible young people standing in the room who have taken part in the course. It’s an amazing source of close community as well as contacts going forward professionally. Not only the connections of those who have done the course and are doing the course with you, but the people you meet and the people you are lucky enough to check out their farms.
5MTP: Jeremy Noseda and Eddie Kenneally are just two of the trainers that you worked for as an assistant. How did working under those two and training their great horses prepare you to train your own?
TM: Jeremy was my first job after the Flying Start Program. Four and a half years with Jeremy was just exceptional- he had a phenomenal stable of horses when I was there. I was lucky to be with him during some extremely successful years. I believe we won fourteen Grade 1s while I was there with horses like Fleeting Spirit, a champion sprinter, Simply Perfect, the list goes on and on. (There was) Sixties Icon, who won the St. Leger among other graded stakes. I was there with some great horses and a great staff. Jeremy himself is a very knowledgeable man- he trained in California himself before moving to Godolphin and he was kind of the backbone of Godolphin as an assistant there and he ran the show. They had a huge amount of success during that time. He’s also the reason I came to America. He told me to come over here and gain some more experience before I went back home to train. He felt it would be very valuable, and while I was there I was lucky enough to work with horses like Wilko, who won the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile, and Awesome Act, who won the Gotham and went on to run in the Derby. Jeremy wasn’t afraid to put his horses on a plane and come to America with them and be successful. He had already opened my eyes to that and exposed me to even more aspects of racing. Steve Hillen was very kind and put me together with Eddie Kenneally at Palm Meadows. I got the opportunity to work closely under Brendan Walsh as well as Eddie himself very closely. I was basically Brendan’s foreman through Florida and Kentucky and up to Saratoga. When we were finished in Saratoga, Eddie was just opening his New York division and allowed me to stay there and run that division. It was a great opportunity- with Eddie being a Kentucky trainer it was his first time having a division in New York. He was very much a hands on trainer, but he let me do a lot of the decision making. This, along with Eddie himself, gave me the confidence to take the chance of going out on my own.
5MTP: It sounds like you had a plethora of experiences before stepping out on your own. What was the biggest obstacle you faced when starting your own barn?
TM: I took a bit of time between finishing up with Eddie and deciding whether to train back home in England or remain in America. I came to the realization that there was more of an opportunity for a young guy in America as opposed to England. It’s not anything I hold against the racing industry in England, it’s just tough for a young guy to get started there- there’s a large amount of overheads. From that point of view I felt possibly I would have a better opportunity in America. The hardest part in starting was to get some horses! I went to Aqueduct one afternoon and I set up on the third floor. I had my pen, a paper, and my phone and I rang everyone in my telephone that I knew and I had met that had horses training in America to see if they would be interested in sending me a horse. At the time one person agreed to send me one horse. So we truly started with one horse- his name was Teblemaker- and I was his groom and his hotwalker. My now-wife Maggie (Wolfendale) Morley was his exercise rider. He won a maiden in his second start at Aqueduct. Then Lincoln Collins and Len Riggio were very kind and sent me four yearlings that year. One was Canal Six and she was a filly that got some eyes on us with a stakes start and an allowance win.
5MTP: You started in 2013 and have already amassed over five million in earnings. You’ve come a long way since that first horse and have started over eight hundred runners. How did you achieve success so quickly?
TM: It’s a very tough industry to be involved in, but it’s also a very lucky one with a lot of the people you get to deal with. While at the end of the day owning a racehorse is a business, it’s also the entertainment industry that we work in. I believe a lot of it is in proving your ability to train horses, and New York is especially tough going against these bigger operations. My biggest pet peeve about America is people’s constant looking at percentages, like win percentages, etc. We never have more than forty horses in the barn, so it’s a bit difficult for us to train at twenty percent when these other operations have 300 horses. People need to be a little more realistic in that aspect, but those who work with us know that we leave no stone unturned for these horses and we also focus on communication. My wife will tell you that my telephone is stuck to my ear nearly the entire day, but as I always say to owners, “These aren’t my horses, they’re your horses.” They own them and deserve every right to know what’s going on with them and that’s why they get a bill from me at the end of the month to train them. I’m an employee of theirs and that’s why communication is so important. We’ve been lucky in that we’ve made pretty steady progress, and last year we were extremely fortunate when Becky Thomas sent us Haveyougoneaway. She was subsequently good enough to be a Grade 1 winner for the barn and gave us a lot of exposure. The Ballerina is a very, very special race no matter where you are in the world. I’m not just saying this because we won one, but there are certain Grade 1’s that have an enormous amount of importance and the Ballerina is one of them. To win one in my fourth year of training is extremely gratifying and honestly Maggie and I will say the same thing in that it almost meant more to us than our wedding day. It was at Saratoga- one of the hardest tracks to win at- but it was also our home where we are year-round. We are a New York operation, and to win the Ballerina is something we’ll never forget.
5MTP: Having a horse like Haveyougoneaway, who punched her ticket to a Breeders’ Cup, does the preparation change for a race like the Ballerina or a similar high profile race?
TM: No. She was a filly who just got better and better when she came to us. I take nothing away from her previous connections. They did a tremendous job with her. She just seemed to absolutely thrive in New York and that can happen with horses. There’s something very special about Saratoga and some horses just bloom there. She blossomed there. We got her ready for the Honorable Miss at Belmont because she had just run in a stake. And we were debating the Union Avenue for New York breds, but we landed on the Honorable Miss after looking at it on paper. But the preparation for a horse like that, you know every horse is different and you have to treat each horse as different individuals. Being a smaller barn, we have the luxury to do that, and a lot of these larger operations could be system training and horses can get lost in that. She was a filly who really seemed to thrive on the program and was a credit to us and my team who worked incredibly hard with her. She was a very straightforward filly, but she had her issues and my team did a tremendous job with her.
5MTP: When you have a horse like that, is it challenging to balance the focus on every client’s horse? Do you ever feel like you need to show more attention to a horse of that caliber?
TM: Not at all. You see, the really good ones make your life quite easy. They are sound horses with good appetites and they tend to do everything the right way- which is why they are great horses. It’s the filly who doesn’t eat properly or worries if she doesn’t train before seven in the morning, etc. etc. They are the ones who require the most attention. She was a filly who took everything in stride. She didn’t mind traveling and was just a great horse. I definitely believe she got unlucky in California. I was actually on a flight and when I landed and saw that we drew the two hole, I knew our chances were severely weakened. She was a filly who greatly relished seeing the speed unfold in front of her, and being drawn to the inside she never really was as good down inside getting dirty, and that was something I knew about her pretty quickly. So I knew we were in big trouble. But you’re there, you’re a Ballerina winner, you’re probably the favorite or second favorite, and you have to take your chances. It was her last race, and we rolled the dice and it didn’t work out. To me, it was particularly tough to take as a smaller operation, to see fillies Paulassilverlining and By The Moon- horses we were consistently beating- winning all the Grade 1’s this year. I think possibly if she stayed in training and stayed sound we could’ve had another crack at the Breeders’ Cup.
5MTP: You’ve mentioned your wife a few times. She holds many titles: NYRA Paddock analyst, assistant trainer, exercise rider. What is it like to have a wife who shares the same passions as you, works in the same industry, and is by your side throughout the operation?
TM: My wife is the most remarkable woman I’ve ever met and likely to meet. She is revered across America for the job she does in the afternoons in the paddock. And rightly so- she has the most tremendous eye for a horse and her judgment of horses in a short amount of time- remember she only has about six to seven minutes to assess an entire field of horses. So for her to relay the information and the accuracy that she manages is astonishing. She obviously has another string to her bow when she was seen a little bit in the Fox shows and on MSG this summer. She’s also just finished hosting a few of those shows. Maggie can literally do anything in front of a camera if it involves a horse. She was born and bred in this industry and was the first person to gallop for me. You know you live the highs together, and there’s been no bigger high in our lives after the birth of (our daughter) Grace, followed by the Ballerina. And we live the lows together as well. It’s been a bit of a quiet year at times, and we both wear our hearts on our sleeves, and it can be tough on both of us. Especially with Maggie working in New York on that circuit so when things aren’t going as well, she has to face the brunt of that. Thank God it’s really picked up in the last month and we are finishing the year strong. But she’s a remarkable woman and she’s an even better wife and an unbelievable mother. How she packs in all that in a day I have no idea. But she comes home everyday with a smile on her face and a hug and a kiss for Grace and I. We are a very tight knit unit and I’m an extremely lucky man.
5MTP: Your barn is tightly knit as well, you’re a smaller operation and it seems you put in a lot of care and concern into each and every horse that comes into your barn.
TM: It’s something we’ve done very well in being sent horses from other trainers, and I don’t want to say we’re improving them, but we’re lucky enough in that we have the right number of horses so that I can give detailed attention to each and every one of them. I have a tremendous crew with me, some that have been with me since the beginning and I really hope they stay with me. That’s very important because they know how I like things done and that things will get done, and in the way Tom wants it done. Now Maggie is obviously very involved, but she isn’t there day after day because she has to be a mom to Grace. However, when I need her, it’s a very helpful thing to walk down my barn with my wife and she can point out each and every thing wrong with the horses. Like “that one’s too light,” or “that one’s coat looked better a month ago,” is an amazing addition to our operation. Describing us as a family operation wouldn’t be an incorrect thing- it’s our business, obviously my name is on it, but it truly is OUR business.
5MTP: Is there a preference that you have in how you get started training a horse, whether it’s from getting them at the auctions, as a yearling, or claiming them? Is there an ideal starting spot for you personally?
TM: In an ideal situation you want to train for the very big owner-breeders because those horses have the best bloodlines and have been in the best hands every step of their lives. I’m not a huge fan of the claiming game- it is the backbone of American racing- but I was very much raised in a starting a horse from birth mold. Now I’m not saying we haven’t had success with the claim- we’ve had some good claims as well as some not-so-good claims. We’ve done well with older horses with back class being sent to us from other people- that might be our finest suit. Those five- or six-year-old horses that lose their way seem to come back to form with us, which is great. I would love to just buy yearlings, but those horses are being pressed on very hard and a lot of have been through a lot of different horses. With the owner-breeders you know the entire history of the horse, whether they were light at some point or they really blossomed during a certain stage. The history is there, and that’s very important for a trainer.
5MTP: Obviously, with Haveyougoneaway winning the Ballerina, is she your favorite horse you’ve worked with? Or is there another horse that you trained or assisted with that stood out to you as your favorite?
TM: I’ve been very lucky to work with some great horses. Fleeting Spirit is very near and dear to my heart. She was a type of pocket rocket filly who would never ever lay down. She would fight tooth and nail and was deservingly champion sprinter as a four-year-old. She was just a wonderful horse to be around. So was Soldier’s Tale, who went through two extensive colic surgeries and had a screw put in her leg, but she was good enough to come back and beat Takeover Target as a five-year-old in the Golden Jubilee at Royal Ascot. And then with Eddie, Heavenly Landing was coming toward the end of her career, but she was a great filly. I don’t think you ever forget your first Grade 1 winner. I mean most people out there don’t get the opportunity to train a Grade 1 winner and I’ve gotten to do so by the age of thirty-three. There’s really no doubt in my mind that she (Haveyougoneaway) will be a very special horse to me and it’ll take something very special to knock her off the number one spot.
5MTP: You have direct experience with racing in America and Europe. One of the major differences is the use of race-day medication. What are your thoughts on that?
TM: Something that I try to offer my clients is the opportunity to race their two-year-olds with or without Lasix. Unless I say your horse needs Lasix, then I give you the opportunity to decide whether or not they get Lasix. This year has been interesting. I think we’ve started six or seven two-year-olds without Lasix. I have a filly named La Moneda who is four- she’s won her last two starts, and she doesn’t run with Lasix. The race-day medication is a very difficult situation; I believe that dirt is a hard enough surface and that’s probably why we see more horses suffer from exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging and we see this trend of bleeding. I would love to see Grade 1’s run Lasix-free. I believe that stallions, the backbone of the breeding industry, should be medication-free. I bred some of my client’s mares to Runhappy, not only because he was a tremendous racehorse, but because he was Lasix-free.
5MTP: What can we expect from Tom Morley Racing in the future?
TM: I just want to make sure that I do the best job by my horses. If you do that, I think the success follows. I genuinely believe that it’s a very, very humbling game. The highs are the most extraordinary highs and the lows can get you very low. You have to remember we do this for the love of the horse and that should always come first. It’s something I hope I never, ever waiver from, and getting the opportunity to train for those owners who share that ideal- that’s what I want my future to hold. Hopefully many more Grade 1’s and great horses come our way, but you have to earn that, and I believe the best way to earn that is to do the best thing you possibly can for your horses. Making sure they are happy, healthy, and sound, and making sure they have every fighting chance of being very competitive in the races you run them in.