Tom McGreevy talks horses

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ST caught up with bloodstock agent Tom McGreevy for an article about Fox Hill Farm’s Havre de Grace (who he picked out) in next month’s Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred. It was one of those conversations that wound up being 45 minutes long and over 2,500 words. We thought you might enjoy part of it. 

ST: Do you remember the moment you saw Havre de Grace?
McGreevy: Mill Ridge. I think the only other horse I bought from Mill Ridge was Round Pond. Those good horses, I can remember the barn, the stall she was in . . . you don’t know how good they are, but you know they’re good if everything falls into place.

ST: What did she have?
McGreevy: Everybody will tell you, there are certain things you have to look for and there are some intangibles. I think the really good horses carry themselves a little differently, they know they’re good, I think they have confidence in themselves. There are horses who move very correctly and there are horses who move very athletically. There are horses that move correctly but they’re not exactly the Michael Jordan of horse racing. She had everything, if you want to see what a racehorse looks like, go look at her. When Rick (Porter) and I critique her, there is not a negative side. She has all the parts. They’ll make liars out of you, I don’t have it all figured out, but you have to say this is what I see, it may not turn out that way, but she definitely has everything we’re looking for.

ST: What kind of approach do you take?
McGreevy: At Keeneland, that sale will eat you up. I do it myself. I don’t have anybody doing a short list. I see every horse in book 1 and probably see every horse in book 2. After that, I do what I call a stall search, I’ll do a profile on the back wall, I’ll have a card, in three seconds, I’ll say, ‘yes, no, yes, no.’ I’ll pull out about 10 percent of the horses. You have to have a system or it will eat you up. This works really well. Some people were scoffing at it, but it works for me. I was doing it one day and about halfway through, this guy says, ‘Are you looking for a certain color?’ Just the basic stuff, balance is the number one thing, there are a lot of intangibles. It’s the first time in the big city for most of those horses, I’ll give them one chance, most of them will get wound up for a day, most of the good horses figure it out pretty quick.

ST: What’s it like to work exclusively for Rick Porter?
McGreevy: Rick has a lot of confidence in me, he lets me do my job. He knows what a good horse looks like too. If I say, ‘Rick this is a horse we really need to take home.’ He really doesn’t question me. Over the years, I’ve obviously bought a lot of horses who haven’t worked out, he knows that, he knows that’s how it goes. We’ve been lucky, we’ve gotten a good horse every year. I have no pressures. Most of these horses don’t work out, that’s the reality of it.

ST: How did you get started?
McGreevy: I was in the Army for three years, in Vietnam for a year. I was 18 when I went in, when I got out, it put a lot more focus in what I needed to do and wanted to do in life. I went to Penn State and then I trained horses for a while at Penn National.

ST: How did you go from training horses at Penn National to a bloodstock agent in Florida?
McGreevy: I’ve always thought I had a knack for it. About 1985, ’86, I sold everything I had up there, which wasn’t a whole lot, I moved to south Florida and didn’t have any clients. I went to all the 2-year-old sales and made up my top 10, I didn’t have any money. I took out an ad in the Blood Horse or Thoroughbred Times in the classifieds, I just wanted it documented. I just put, ‘These are Tom McGreevy’s top 10 hips.’ Hoping they would hit. They turned out really well. The next year, I sent out a letter to people who bought 2-year-olds the previous year, saying who I picked and my background and I got a couple of clients that way. I didn’t have any money and didn’t know anybody, I had to do something. It grew from there.

ST: What’s it like to pick out the Horse of the Year?
McGreevy: It’s humbling, I’m very proud of it, but it’s very humbling. Everybody in this business knows how difficult it is to go out there and find a horse like her, and have it work out. I’ve worked hard at it, most everybody in this business does work hard at it. Rick gave me the opportunity to go out and buy these kind of horses. You need to find somebody who’s willing to trust you and willing to spend the money. Rick definitely fits that category. Rick has a lot of confidence in me, I make plenty mistakes. I go in there, I don’t want to know who’s bidding, you can’t look over your shoulder, you have to have enough confidence, ‘this is what I saw.’ We bought Round Pond for less than the stud fee, people kept saying, ‘Something’s wrong with her. Something’s wrong with her.’ I said, ‘All I know is, we did our homework, we liked her, so we bought her.’

ST: Are you constantly learning?
McGreevy: I’m always trying to keep learning in this business. Nobody has this thing figured out, it’s such a great business and I hope nobody does figure it out. I go to Gulfstream any time a good horse is running, you have to know what the end product looks like to be able to find it. I always say the good fillies come in a lot of different shapes and sizes, but the good colts have a pretty good pattern to them. I don’t know why. You look at Awesome Feather, at best, she’s a medium sized filly, then you look at Zenyatta and Rachel.

ST: Describe your process of looking at a horse.
McGreevy: There’s a difference between looking at them and studying them, I try to go over every part of them, look at different muscling, how they walk, demeanor. All the physical aspects. I could never figure out a horse like Favorite Trick, I saw him as a yearling, a 2-year-old, a 3-year-old, he never fit the pattern to me, he puzzled me. There are exceptions to every rule.

ST: Do have a specific way in evaluating horses?
McGreevy: My catalogue is divided into nine categories and I rate them. I can pick that catalogue up 10 years from now and picture that horse without writing anything done. When you look at all those horses, you have to have a system. This system has worked really well for me. It looks like Greek to anybody else. I save my catalogues, I look back and see what I scored them, to see what I missed.

ST: How did Havre de Grace score?
McGreevy: They’re all relative scores, she is about as high as you get. I didn’t put any weakness down, I just didn’t see any. I pay a lot of attention to their ankle and quality of their joint. It’s hard to define, but the way I describe it, as some of those ankles look like your eighth grader drew it and you hung on your refrigerator and the other one looks like the best painter in the world drew it. The quality of the joints run throughout the horse. Like I say, everybody has their own way of looking at things.

ST: What’s the most difficult thing to find?
McGreevy: That walk. The horses that have that great walk, they have to have all the other stuff or they couldn’t walk like that. It’s the only way they can walk that way. That’s the single most difficult thing, and I’m so critical on that. Obviously, that translates to how they move on the racetrack, how efficient they are.

ST: What conformation defects can you excuse?
McGreevy: I think people criticize too quickly, how horses turn in or turn out or are offset. That’s not as big a deal as people make it out to be, it’s all how they move through it. People are so critical of that because even a novice can see that. You can’t get everything. You have to forgive some stuff. I won’t forgive a lot of stuff and then you’ve got to get pass the vet. There are some things we can live with that pinhookers can’t. Nobody has all the answers. A lot of times, you’ve got to go with your gut feeling. That’s one of the best things about it.

ST: What’s next?
McGreevy: We have other worlds to conquer. We want to win the Derby, the Dubai World Cup . . .