Tom George started training in 1993 and, in two-and-a-half decades since, has saddled over 700 winners and transformed his traditional, family home at Down Farm in Slad, near Stroud, Gloucestershire into an up-to-the-minute training establishment. By his own admission, George prefers a patient approach, with an emphasis on quality rather than quantity. His philosophy appears to be paying dividends because, in 2016/17, he enjoyed his most successful season ever, financially, surpassing £1 million in prize money for the first time and, in 2017/18, fell only just short of that mark.
Indeed, of the ten Grade One winners that George has saddled during his 25-year career, three of them came in 2017/18. Of course, two of those wins were provided by the same horse, Summerville Boy, who beat Kalashnikov in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown, before confirming the form in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle to give George only his second winner at the Cheltenham Festival.
George deliberately avoided a clash between Summerville Boy and his other highly promising novice hurdler, Black Op, who also runs in the colours of high-profile owner Roger Brookhouse. Consequently, Black Op ran in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, rather than the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, and finished a highly creditable second, beaten just 2¾ lengths, behind odds-on favourite Samcro.
Black Op was, in fact, attempting to follow in the footsteps of the only previous Cheltenham Festival winner for the yard, Galileo, who won the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle – at the time, run as the Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle – in 2002. Galileo, a Polish-bred gelding – not to be confused with the 2001 Derby winner of the same name – failed to progress after promising start to his racing career but, with two Grade One-winning novice hurdlers in his yard, along with plenty more ammunition, it’s probably safe to say that George will be enjoying further success at the Festival before long.