Gamble takes Dascombe to a glittering career
The address seemed painfully apposite: Folly Road, Lambourn. But Tom Dascombe had finally found a home for his horses. He had eight of them: six yearlings, a jumper, and a lead horse. At least that last one was paid for, having been worth little more on four legs than on a butcher's hook. A couple of pals had helped out with one or two of the others, but otherwise they represented a vertiginous leap of faith: the house he had sold, and the very last coin of his credit with the sales companies.
"And of course how could I sell anyone a horse, when I didn't have a yard, didn't even have a licence?" he asked yesterday. "For three months I'd been kipping on a mate's floor. But then I found this place, and we moved them in at nine o'clock at night. It was pitch dark, we had been working all day, we were absolutely knackered. And I asked myself what the bloody hell I was doing ... I'll never forget getting into the bath that night, and just bursting into tears."
That was the winter of 2005. Many young trainers have sown their ambitions in similarly thin soil, perhaps sensing that the gods who govern the Turf will only be provoked by the sort of thing – rashness, caprice, indifference to consequences – that imitates their own apathy. Now, halfway through his third season, they seem to be anointing Dascombe as one whose example might launch a thousand new follies.
Last Thursday, at Newmarket, Classic Blade won Dascombe his first Group race; the very next afternoon, at the same course, Firth Of Fifth won him another. The pair cost around £20,000 between them. Yesterday, Firth Of Fifth stood in the gloom of his stall, narrow and meek, his head bowed. Even now you would not give him a second look, never mind when Dascombe found him at the sales, with a grotesquely swollen hock. The size of his heart, however, should ensure that Dascombe will never again have to scrape the barrel.
If he seems to be building rapidly – 11 winners in his first year, 26 in his second, 21 already in his third – then the foundations are certainly deep enough. Though still only 35, he has gathered experience at every point of the compass since leaving school at 16 to earn "less than the dole" with Martin Pipe. He rode a handful of winners in five years at Pond House, before joining Ron Hodges and mustering another 90. Like many good trainers, however, he was taught plenty by bad horses. They ended his first career, and for a long time discouraged him from his second. But then Ralph Beckett asked him to supervise a couple of horses in Dubai, where Dascombe soon ran into Mike De Kock.
They played golf together, drank together, and the following year De Kock asked him to tend Victory Moon in Britain. "Just work him as hard as you can and feed him as much as he can eat," said De Kock. He would learn rather more about the South African's methods back in Dubai the following winter, as assistant trainer.
"It's not just one thing," he said. "He gets his horses fit, of course, but then everyone tries to do that. He's never afraid to try things. But perhaps his most important ability is to spot a problem before it becomes one. Most people react to problems. He'll react to stop one. That's something I've very much taken on board. Every week my vet sees every one of my horses trot, and if there is any difference in their movement since the previous week, we'll ask why."
Armed with such insights, Dascombe sensed that it was now or never – and so it was he found himself sobbing into the bathwater. But the jumper gave him hope. He could gallop. Dascombe rang the most affluent people he knew, told them to back Political Intrigue at Ludlow, and to use the proceeds to buy the remaining shares in the horse. "It was a brave shout," Dascombe said. "But if there was one thing I knew, it was that I could have confidence in that horse. He was so genuine, there was no way he would let me down. And he didn't."
Much the same seems true of his parents, who supported him even in what must have seemed the adolescent fantasy of a racing career. His father, Bill, is a retired accountant who now helps with the stable's administration. And, after last week, Dascombe hopes that balancing the books will prove rather less precarious after the next round of yearling sales. This time, he wants to be seeking horses for patrons, not the other way round.
"But you always have to remember how many really good trainers appear to have made it, only for the wheels to come off," he said. "It's not about last week at Newmarket. It's about tonight at Wolverhampton, or Wednesday at Lingfield. It's never about the last one, always about the next one."
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