Malbas’ unlikely rise might be starting to catch the attention of the racing world – but one group of people will have more than one eye on his appearance at the Curragh this weekend, writes Peter White.
The five-year-old is owned by the Playground Syndicate, who came together to buy the unraced and untested bay gelding for just £2,500 on the recommendation of trainer Denis Hogan in early 2019.
Victory in the BetVictor Handicap at Bellewstown that August showcased Malbas’ burgeoning potential that had been previously masked by a series of niggling issues, and further success was indeed set to follow.
First place in the Visit Tipperary Handicap in Tipperary earlier this month took his prize money to nearly five times his purchase price, and syndicate agent Mark Granville is hoping there’s more to come in the Bord Na Mona Recycling Apprentice Derby.
“Friday is huge for us,” he said. “We’re excited whenever and wherever he’s running, but the Derby is such a big weekend and to be in the midst of some huge names on the racecard is massive.
“We’re realists so as long as he runs well and comes back safely we’ll be delighted. But it’s been an incredible journey so far and it is a great feeling when your £2,500 horse is mixing it with those that have cost a lot more.
“We’d given Denis a budget back in 2019 and he fancied him from the start. In his third race he mixed it with Sir Dragonet at Tipperary - who had gone off favourite for the Derby that year - so we knew then with some form we might have some luck down
“After he won at Bellewstown we got put up 13 pounds so it’s taken a bit of time to come down to the right mark, but the win at the start of June was a great feeling. Although we couldn’t be there it was a great day for us as owners, as it was for Denis.”
Granville credits much of Malbas’ success with Hogan’s effective talent spotting, which also resulted in the syndicate’s first purchase of Cheltenham runner Foxy Lass for a similarly low fee of £3,500.
And having enjoyed a strong working relationship with the trainer since posing the idea of forming the syndicate while at the racing in Limerick four years ago, Granville is excited for what lies in store going forward.
He said: “I was part of a syndicate that had a runner that day in Limerick, and that’s when I started to ask whether people would be interested. We all had the kids with us that day - hence why we’re called the Playground Syndicate!
“There’s eight of us involved and the majority of us are based in Kenmare in Kerry. I’d kept eyes on Denis for a while and I knew he was a real up-and-coming trainer, and so that’s proved to be the case.
“He has honest conversations with us about where we should race, and we’d love to get another win on the flat out of Malbas. But he’s also ran a couple of hurdles races and Denis is a really good dual-purpose trainer, so you never know.”
For now, the attention of Granville and the rest of the syndicate is focused on a special Derby outing, with four of the eight able to head north for the action in line with Covid-19 restrictions.
Granville added: “It’s a pity we can’t all be there for such a special occasion but we’ll decide between
ourselves who will go, and we’ll keep in contact throughout the day.
“Win, lose or draw we’ll catch up on Zoom afterwards and I’m sure there’ll be a beer or two to celebrate how far we and Malbas have come.”