THE Highflyer team are like a top band that has played together for many years. A family feel, plenty of banter, a wealth of experience and a quiet knowledge that they have not made it to the top by accident. Apart from the age difference, there is something of a Lennon and McCartney aspect to the front men David Minton and Anthony Bromley, both highly contributory as individuals, but all the more impressive when their achievements are combined.

Like many top bands, Highflyer is also a ‘four piece’ with Tessa Greatrex the third member of the purchasing team and Bernice Emanuel, who has worked with Minton for 25 years, running the office in Newmarket, which seems to be located an average of two hours away from where the other three actually live.

Scouts

Football managers rely heavily on trusted scouts to find the talent to keep their teams replenished, and racehorse trainers operate in exactly the same way. There are a dozen or so top level scouts in the National Hunt world and all would agree that David Minton is the senior member of their profession. His ability to sniff out a winner has been to the advantage of an incalculable number of buyers, ranging from champion trainers to rookies, from City bankers with big budgets for point-to-pointers to Shropshire farmers seeking a schoolmaster for a teenage amateur.

Appetite

Despite now being in his 70th year, his appetite for the business was never more evident than at the 2019 Goffs Land Rover Sale, where Henry Beeby’s post-sale statement read: “For the third year in a row Highflyer proved to be the leading buyer and we extend our thanks to David Minton, Anthony Bromley, Tessa Greatrex and their huge band of clients. At this juncture I know that Anthony and Tessa will not mind me making special mention of Minty who is in his 50th year as an agent and did not leave his usual spot in the sales ring for the entire 11 hours yesterday; a simply amazing feat as he strives to find the next Altior!”

Altior, a winner at each of the last four Cheltenham Festivals, is undoubtedly the best horse bought at Goffs by Minton and Henderson, who secured him for €60,000 at the 2013 Land Rover Sale. Minton recalls seeing him for the first time: “He had that wonderful ‘look of eagles’ as Tom Cooper always taught me. He always said that about Nijinsky, him and Vincent O’Brien. He also had this wonderful outlook - he just stood there as if he owned the place.”

Association

Minty, as he is generally known to his wide circle of friends, clients (and plenty of hopeful vendors) has an association with the Cheltenham Festival that goes back to 1973, before any of the current jump jockeys were born, let alone many of the owners and trainers as well. The year 1973 was the first Cheltenham Festival held after Britain had joined the EEC and the 2020 renewal will be the first after they have left. To give further context, it took place three weeks before the World Trade Centre opened in New York, and it was also during the week itself of the 1973 Festival that Liam Cosgrave became Taoiseach in Ireland.

From a Shropshire farming background, Minton’s first experience of a sale ring came in 1968 at the Ascot sales when he led up a three-year-old for his grandfather that sold for 1,500gns.

“Tim Molony trained him; he won a race at Catterick and was fourth in one of the big novice hurdles at Doncaster. His owner Mr McDonald came short of money and the horse came back to Ascot a year later and Fred Winter bought him for 3,600. The horse was called Pendil. He duly won the Black and White Hurdle at Ascot then got a leg, and was fired. He came back as novice chaser and the rest is history.

His grandfather died before Pendil’s racing career, but Minton’s very first ‘sales horse’ would become one of the most talented horses of his generation, an Arkle and dual King George winner.

Office boy

From Shropshire, Minton headed to Newmarket where jobs included a year with trainer Ryan Jarvis until he learnt that the Curragh Bloodstock Agency (CBA) were looking for a pedigree office boy in their Newmarket Office.

“£7.50 a week I earned, £5.00 digs. I was interviewed at the Rowley Mile during the 1970 October sales by Peter McKeever. It took two minutes and he asked: “When can you start?” Major Johnny Lewis was the office manager at Crossways, 23 The Avenue, which was opposite the sale ring. Lester Piggott lived next door and I use to watch Tracy and Maureen dragged out of the house every morning to go to school which they hated, and they screamed and shouted.”

The CBA was run from Ireland by Peter McKeever and Col Dick Warden and on the team also was Johnny Harrington who, along with his wife Jessica, was to become a lifelong friend.

“My first trip to Ireland was in the spring of 1971. I went over on a horse flight because CBA was big in horse flights in those days. I stayed at Lumville House Hotel on the Curragh. Ger Kelly picked me up; it was a Sunday night and he took me down to Johnny Harrington’s who I had never met before. He was then living at Ballylea, near Rathsallagh – a staunch bachelor and he had Harry Beeby staying there. I was given a gin and tonic, Irish measure, in a great big glass. I was eventually dropped back at Lumville – thereupon I went to bed, got the complete spins and ended up on the floor and I have never touched gin from that day to this.”

Soon afterwards, a family friend, Tony Jarvis, asked Minton to sell a promising horse which he offered it to Fulke Walwyn, Fred Winter, and Harry Thomson Jones who all said that he was not bred to stay two miles. Fortunately Fred Rimell was looking for a nice horse at the time so it was duly bought for £12,000 and Minton had earned his first commission. The horse was called Comedy Of Errors.

Minty had become friends with young Newmarket trainer Gavin Pritchard-Gordon and his wife Coral, (whose father Paddy Harbord had founded the CBA with his brother-in-law Aubrey Brabazon). In 1972 they bought a three-year-old together, King Pele, for 2,250gns and syndicated him into 24 shares, mainly amongst friends.

Connections

In March 1973, just 10 days before Cheltenham, King Pele won first time out at Windsor, ridden by David “the Duke” Nicholson. He advised connections to make an entry in the Gloucester Hurdle (now the Supreme Novices’), which was then the last race on the first day. It was good advice and King Pele won by a short head, enabling Minton, with his debut runner, to make the first of many visits to the Cheltenham winners’ enclosure.

The very next day there was further success when Comedy Of Errors won the Champion Hurdle and, on Thursday, Minton took his grandmother Marjorie Bebb to watch Pendil, bred by her late husband, get beaten a short head by The Dikler in the Gold Cup.

“It was unbelievable and another really important thing happened as well that year. Gavin, Coral and I were asked to stay at Condicote for the week with David Nicholson and his wife Dinah. I have not missed a single day’s racing at the Cheltenham Festival ever since, and I have also stayed with the Nicholsons every night since then as well. Since the Duke’s death, we still stay with Dinah, who turned 80 last year. There have been three different houses (Condicote, Jackdaws Castle and now at Nether Westcote) but I think that I have always been in the same bed! We have a good routine, a restaurant on Tuesday, in on Wednesday night. In the morning, always a good breakfast; Mother, as I call her (Dinah) does the breakfast – then after the Opening Show on the television, it’s straight into the car and off we go.”

Minton was also racecourse auctioneer at various Midlands racecourses. At Warwick on the August Bank Holiday meeting in 1977, he spotted, as any good agent should, a blue Rolls Royce Corniche Convertible. This belonged to Jim McCaughey who bought the winner of that day’s seller.

Hurdler

Minton then learned that McGaughey was actually looking for a hurdler and McGaughey quickly learned that his new acquaintance was actually a bloodstock agent and not an auctioneer. Later that year, he bought Connaught Ranger on behalf of McGaughey from Lord Derby and Charlie Millbank.

Trained by Fred Rimell, Connaught Ranger won the 1978 Triumph Hurdle, the first of an incredible 14 winners in that race purchased by Minton and his Highflyer partner Anthony Bromley. Jim McGaughey would go on to be an important client for a while.

Another important moment in 1978 was that Nicky Henderson started training and, from the outset, he engaged the services of Minton as his talent scout. It took seven years for the first Henderson Cheltenham Festival winner but three of them came in 1985 including a Minton purchase First Bout, winner of the Triumph Hurdle.

Cheveley Park

In 1985, Minton left the CBA to set up his own agency, largely encouraged by Michael Stoute and David Thompson of Cheveley Park for whom he was bloodstock and racing advisor. Indeed it was Minton who recruited Chris Richardson to return from the USA to manage the growing Cheveley Park operation, who themselves tasted Cheltenham success in 2019.

In 1995 David Minton Bloodstock merged with the BBA. This lasted until a difference of opinion with shareholders Stan Clarke and Robert Ogden forced Minton’s hand and, in 2001, he set up Highflyer with Anthony Bromley and Bernice Emanuel.

Bromley, a grandson of Minty’s initial employers in Shropshire and a former schoolboy sprint champion, had first asked Minty for a job as a 12-year-old, though he had to wait a few more years before he got his way. Since 1987 he has contributed an equal share of legendary horses to the Highflyer role of honour, some of which are listed below.

Tessa Greatrex, a former leading point-to-point rider, has made her own mark too, most notably with Cole Harden in the 2015 World Hurdle for her husband Warren, as well as the ill-fated Willoughby Court, which won the 2017 Neptune Management Novices’ Hurdle for local trainer Ben Pauling.

Favourite

With so much success, is it possible to pinpoint a favourite moment?

“That’s really hard, but Mysilv in the 1994 Triumph Hurdle was perhaps my real favourite. She was ridden by Adrian Maguire, trained by the Duke, and owned by Million in Mind which consisted of an awful lot of my relations and friends. The party was mighty… unbelievable. It was in The Plough at Ford, at the bottom of the Jackdaws Castle gallops. When we drove into the village there were sheets draped from the village windows, saying ‘Well Done Mysilv’. It was a very special day.”

Nobody seems sure of the exact number but the Highflyer team have over 125 Cheltenham Festival wins between them, roughly the same as Nicky Henderson and Willie Mullins combined. They will be hoping to maintain their average of five wins over the four days, having made it to as many as 10 in 2009 and 2010.

Away from Cheltenham, Minton has purchased four winners of the world’s most famous steeplechase, the Grand National – Party Politics for the Thompsons and Ballabriggs, Hedgehunter and Many Clouds for Trevor Hemmings.

It is well documented that his greatest unfulfilled ambition is to see Nicky Henderson break his duck in that race with a Highflyer purchase.

Nevertheless, prospects for Cheltenham are a more immediate focus and, while Minton sees no need to discuss Altior, he muses on the following:

“Mister Fisher looks good - he was €65,000 at the Land Rover Sale and runs in the two and a half- mile Marsh Chase. Shishkin is a lovely horse - we bought him for the Donnellys after winning his point-to-point and he has an entry in both the Supreme Novices’ and the Ballymore. Floressa ran well behind Lady Buttons at Doncaster and she goes for the mares’ novices’ hurdle on the Thursday.

“It looks an open enough Champion Hurdle and I think that last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner Pentland Hills, which Ant bought, and Verdana Blue both have each-way chances, especially if the ground is good.”

With such an appetite for success an expanded five-day Cheltenham Festival must surely appeal. Minty is quick to refute the suggestion:

“I’m very anti it because I don’t think my stamina will last. I’m always knackered on the Saturday, so thinking about five days fills me with horror.

“I can’t believe Nicky thinks it’s a good idea either because he’ll be completely wrecked too. Four days is perfect and it seems a pity to dilute the meeting. If it is really that important to have racing on a Saturday, why not start just start on a Wednesday?”

Despite his 50 years in the business and 47 Cheltenhams under his belt, that is the only sign of a check on the enthusiasm that is the hallmark of Minton’s work.

He has a quite unbelievable recollection of both horses and people and, perhaps most importantly, has always paid plenty of attention to those in the industry many years younger than himself.

As a result, there is very little, if any, begrudgery of his continued success, and only the very shortest of odds can be available about his finding another champion or two before he is ready to call it a day.

Highflyer’s highest flyers

In addition to Comedy Of Errors, Altior and Mysilv, the following Cheltenham Festival greats have to get a mention.

David Minton

Bobs Worth (Albert Bartlett 2011, RSA Chase 2012, Gold Cup 2013) – the first horse to win three different races at three consecutive Cheltenham Festivals since Flyingbolt: “We bought him completely on spec at Doncaster for £20,000 from Barry Geraghty”

Long Run (Gold Cup 2011): “Robert Waley-Cohen and I bought him in France on a very hot day in May off his three-year-old career. Robert is possibly my longest client, 1975 I think we bought our first horse - very, very loyal people.”

Sprinter Sacre (Arkle Challenge Trophy 2012, Queen Mother Champion Chase 2013, 2016): “The greatest reception I’ve ever seen when he won in 2016. We bought him privately in France as part of a job lot of 22 horses on behalf of Raymond and Caroline Mould.”

Remittance Man (Arkle Challenge Trophy 1991, Queen Mother Champion Chase 1992) “I bought him at Ballsbridge for 18,000gns from Jerry Rohan.”

Kribensis (1988 Triumph Hurdle, 1990 Champion Hurdle): “I bought him as a foal for Sheikh Mohammed, and I can honestly say that he was not bought to win the Champion Hurdle!”

Albertas Run (Sun Alliance Chase 2008, Ryanair Cup 2010, 2011) “Trevor Hemmings is my other longest serving client and he was bought for 20,000 as a yearling.”

Anthony Bromley

Anthony has bought some magnificent Cheltenham champions too, and the best of these are probably:

Big Buck’s (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 World Hurdle)

Kauto Star (Gold Cup 2007, 2009)

Master Minded (Queen Mother Champion Chase 2008, 2009)

Azertyuiop (Arkle Challenge Trophy 2003, Queen Mother Champion Chase 2004)