I recall the strapline from an advertising campaign of yesteryear, even if not the product it descibed. It went thus: "there's a company from over here doing rather well over there", over there referring to the USA. Whilst the company is probably long gone, that descriptor amply describes one son of Gloucestershire who is making his mark in east coast US steeplechasing.
Tom Garner hails from Barnsley; that's a small village near Cirencester, not the northern market town in the West Riding. But riding and horses have been Tom's life since the word Go. As a teenager, he cut his teeth on the Point-to-Point circuit and as an amateur for Alan King. Four winning rides in Points between March 2010 and the following twelve months included a couple of open maidens, one for Karen Hobbs.
When the conditional lure came calling, the red hair atop the young Garner wasn't quite enough to get him far enough up the rankings to reach a regular first jockey slot. However, Tom is nothing if not a trier. The lure of international races came calling, and that special kind of horsemanship that comes with jockeys out pof their comfort zone is amply illustrated in this film of a steeplechase from Bratislava nearly 7 years ago.
Encouraged by his guv'nor Oliver Sherwood, next stop was the USA, often a destination for fast ground horses who can't cope with the deep mid winter ground of the UK or Ireland. A successful 2019 season included a first Grade I success in Saratoga's A P Smithwick Memorial Steeplechase (confusingly a hurdle), one of seven winners from 55 rides.
As the US scene closes in early November, he returned to pick up a ride in the Velka Pardubice, finishing second, thus becoming the most successful British rider since Charlie Mann with It's A Snip.
In 2020, racing was constrained all over the world, but whilst his contemporaries were sampling the delights of Cartmel, Newton Abbot and Stratford, Garner focused on the US market, forging partnerships with leading trainers, and gleaning 8 winners from just 55 mounts and a third place position in the Jockeys' standings. It wasn't all plain sailing however. A nasty fall at Callaway Gardens damaged knee ligaments which required expertise from over here and rehab at Oaksey House that shorted the recovery time to 14 weeks.
This season's US calendar is drawing to a close, with this weekend's three fixtures followed by the closing Steeplechase of Charleston in South Carolina. However, it's been another year of consolidating his position as a leading US rider, for trainers Leslie Young and Keri Brion. Keri, you may recall, brought a small team across to stable over the winter in Ireland with a view to runners at the Festival. That idea hasn't yet born fruit, but with more and more links between the two territories, it seems probable someone will achieve some success afore too long.
Meantime, the globe-trotting Garner achieved his own breakthrough moment riding a treble at Great Meadow's International fixture last weekend, including Tomgarrow for Leslie Young in the International, a $75,000 timber race.
What the US lacks in quantity, it surely makes up for in the scale of the prize funds. Whilst maiden hurdlers over here compete for prizes in the range of £5-10,000, last Saturday's maiden hurdle was worth $25,000, of which the winner took $15,000. It begs the question why more British and Irish aren't trying their hand over there. Purely on winning percentages, there's a better quality of life than driving a 300 mile round trip for a single ride at a modest midweek country fixture.
All power to Garner's elbow. But expect him back here again later this month, with a southern drawl and a wistful eye on next Spring's opening fixtures in the USA around the time we're running the National, and of course, the annual jamboree that is Andoversford.
Fixture 2021 Cancelled
Look out for 2022 dates later in the summer
6m SE Cheltenham, nr junction of A40 and A436 (Exit 11A, M5)