Dynamite year for racehorse who’s on the rise

Yorkshire-owned and trained Top Notch Tonto has come from nowhere to win a top racing honour. Charlotte Richardson reports.

Top Notch Tonto

With initials spelling TNT it’s easy to see why Top Notch Tonto is explosive on the track, but now the Yorkshire based middle-distance runner has been honoured with a top industry award for his spectacular year.

“A fairytale, a dream come true, an amazing year” that’s how Keith Brown describes the racing season that Tonto has had in 2013.

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Fellow racehorse owners obviously agree as the flashy Yorkshire-based gelding has now scooped a top award.

The chestnut three-year-old has won the 2013 Special Achievement Award from the Racehorse Owners Association (ROA).

The nationally body invites its members to vote on twelve awards each year and six finalists are chosen.

After a remarkable year, which has seen him rise from relatively small handicap races to coming second in a group one race at Ascot, Tonto, and his owner have been riding high.

Keith said: “This year has been amazing. He is such a phenomenal animal and he has done so well.

“In forty years of owning racehorses I have never had one like this and it’s been like a dream come true.

“It’s always great to get awards and I feel proud and pleased to have won this, but when it is voted for by other racehorse owners it is even sweeter.

“It just goes to show what an impact this horse has made. A year ago he was unheard of and now he is shooting up the rankings and people know who he is.”

Some people said he was mad, others that he was taking a huge gamble but when Keith subsidised Tonto £70,000 to enter his first group one race he called it a “calculated risk.”

“I knew I would get my money back” said the East Yorkshire businessman “He is such a phenomenal horse that I was quietly confident that he would get placed. I never worried that I would lose my money.”

Keith’s faith in the horse was proved correct when he came in second in the Queen Elizabeth II stakes, his first group one race, on October 19.

Keith bought Tonto in 2010 at a sale in Ireland.

“I liked him straight away” he said “He was always so distinctive looking with his big white socks and white on his face. He had big honest eyes and good knees.”

Keith added: “We chose the name Tonto as he is so dramatically marked, just like the horse in the Lone Ranger.

“The Top Notch bit fits him perfectly, as he is a truly remarkable animal.”

Tonto was bought along with other yearlings and it was only when he began racing that Keith began to see how talented he was.

Keith said: “He did really well in his group three race at Haydock in September, winning that easy so we put him in a listed race at Redcar, which he won as well, so I talked to the trainer and we decided to go for the group one race.

“He is such a spectacular horse I knew he would do well.”

Tonto came second, winning nearly £230,000, Keith’s biggest win to date, not bad for a horse which cost him only 3,000 Euros.

Keith said: “I have turned down a lot of big offers for him but I don’t want to sell him at the moment I am just enjoying owning him and racing him too much.”

Horse races are split into two major groups, handicaps and condition races, with condition races being further divided into listed races, groups three, two and one with group one being the highest category.

There are 33 group one races in England, these are the most prestigious races in the flat racing calendar and include the Gold Cup.

The race Tonto came second in, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, has been previously won by household names, including the great Frankel.

Tonto is trained by Brian Ellison at his yard in Malton and ridden by local jockey Dale Swift.

Now he has been placed in a major race and won an industry award Tonto is gathering quite a fan base, he now has two Facebook pages and fans across the world.

Currently on his winter holiday, he is resting up, being turned out each day and stabled at night, with no training. Keith said: “He works hard, so I think it is important that he gets a break too, and just spends time with his friends in the field, being a horse.”

Keith is not the stereotypical racehorse owner, he likes to be hands-on and when the horses are on holiday he keeps them at home, mucking them out himself at weekends.

He said: “Tonto can be susceptible to mud fever, due to his white socks, so when he’s with me I go out twice a day and treat them with Johnsons baby powder.”

Tonto will go back into training in February ready for the new season.

In 2014 he is expected to race in more high profile races, including another group one race, the Lockinge at Newbury in May. He will also travel for his first races abroad in Germany and Ireland before returning to Ascot for the Champion Stakes in October.

So what are Keith’s hopes for Tonto’s future?

“I hope he keeps well, fit and healthy and continues to race. He is a pleasure to be around and a real joy to own. We are living the dream and loving every minute.”

Jessica Bell, assistant trainer at Brian Ellison’s yard said: “You couldn’t ask for a better horse to work with – he’s a legend.”