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The Ashforth Profile: From private person to public figure; Michael Tabor, bookmaker turned top owner, has always sought a low profile.

Michael Tabor looks like a man with another side to him. The dark, stubbled shadow, the still stare, the controlled softness of his voice; a hint of menace in a mackintosh. Perhaps not.

Facts stick up like needles in Tabor's life, where the rest is private. You wouldn't know. That is the way he likes it. A public life, lived in private. That is the way rich men and gamblers sometimes are.

He came from nothing, he was banned from every racecourse in Britain-now he stands next to Sheikh Mohammed in the winner's circle, next to Satish Sanan in the sales ring. He carries his money lightly, without arrogance; standing quietly on the centre of the stage.

Tabor, 58, was an East End boy, the grandson of a Russian migr called Taborosky. His father worked with glass. Michael didn't know what he wanted to do. He enrolled at the Morris School of Hairdressing in Piccadilly, then started doing jobs for commission agents, putting money on, taking his cut.

In the late 1960s, the owner of two Arthur Prince betting shops went bankrupt and, armed with a loan, Tabor bought them. He was betting on the racecourse, too. Not making much of a splash, in the days when John Banks was the man.

Then, in June 1970, Tabor was summoned to appear before the Jockey Club. It was alleged that, during the 1968/69 jumps season, Tabor had paid two jockeys-Duncan Hughes and Tom Jennings-for tips, and promised to reward a third jockey, Clive Chapman, for the same service.

The stewards found the allegations proved, and "ordered that Michael Barry Tabor be henceforth excluded from all racecourses licensed by the Jockey Club".

In April 1971 Tabor applied for "withdrawal of disabilities", but the Jockey Club ruled that "the stewards were not prepared to withdraw them. He was informed that, on June 2, 1973, he might ask for reconsideration".

The ban forced Tabor to concentrate on his off-course business. That flourished to the extent that, when the ban was lifted, in 1973, Tabor bought his first racehorse, a 3,000gns yearling whose name-Tornado Prince-linked nicely with his growing chain of betting


In the world of commission agents, Chummy Gaventa was king. Gaventa had horses with several trainers, including Neville Callaghan, and one of Gaventa's associates was an associate of Tabor. Callaghan's was the right sort of yard for Tabor-a gambling yard.

One day at Haydock in 1975, Tornado Prince, backed from 4-1 to 11-4 favourite, carried Tabor's colours to their first victory, in a seller. Callaghan's colours were on Power Girl at Kempton in August 1976, successfully hammered in to 13-2 from 20-1. Power Girl followed up, at Chester, 9-2 from 8-1.

In 1978, the big money followed Fashion Club, 10-11 from 7-4 at Kempton, 10-11 from 5-4 at Folkestone, and then a very important day, in the George Smith Memorial Handicap at Newbury, with Chris Leonard on a featherweight of 7st, backed from 5-1 to 3-1 favourite. That was a good day for Tabor, and so was Fashion Club's follow-up at Newmarket, 5-4 from 13-8.

A punter, and a bookmaker, Tabor was the best gatherer and assessor of information in the ring, a man who believed in himself, but knew the value of others. In the late 1970s and 1980s, Tabor employed one of the best form men in the business. It was a pointer to a philosophy that has served Tabor well-don't look at the deal, look at the men.

In the early 1990s, Royal Derbi's hurdling successes edged Tabor's low profile a fraction higher. By 1994, the ageing jumper was still his best-known horse, although Balawhar, at Edward O'Grady's, was a promising novice hurdler.

Later that year, Tabor asked Demi O'Byrne, vet and adviser to the Coolmore Stud, to find a horse to race in the US. For $475,000, O'Byrne found him a two-year-old called Thunder Gulch. It was the making of Tabor as an owner, and of O'Byrne. Don't look at the deal, look at the men around it.

Tabor had found his men.

John Magnier, Dermot

Desmond, JP McManus, and another East End boy made good, Joe Lewis, a man with a Midas touch.

1995 was a year of years for Tabor. Prince Arthur won the Group 1 Premio Parioli, then Thunder Gulch won the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont Stakes and the Travers. Tabor had known nothing like Kentucky Derby day. "The atmosphere was so electric, it was beyond belief," he said.

In July, he returned to Kentucky, to visit the Keeneland Sales for the first time. With O'Byrne at his side, Tabor bought the sale topper, a $1.25 million (about pounds 860,000) daughter of Mr Prospector, and four other lots. Some would race in partnership with Magnier.

In August, part of the cost was recovered in a gamble on Danehill Dancer in the Group 1 Heinz 57 Phoenix Stakes at Leopardstown. All of it, and much more, was gathered in from the sale of 114 Arthur Prince shops to Coral for a reported pounds 27 million.

Suddenly, Tabor was playing at the top table. "I don't really call myself anything any more," he said. His business was investing money to make money. Lewis made money on the foreign exchange markets, a lot of money. Over a few years, Lewis's syndicate was rumoured to have made pounds 2 billion. It was said to have taken on the dollar, and knocked three cents off it. Tabor was in the team.

Lewis acquired a company called ENIC, and ENIC would later buy in to Victor Chandler International, in which Tabor is a substantial shareholder.

The money rolled in, and some of it rolled out, in a sudden, dazzling array of talent. Entrepreneur and Desert King, Saratoga Springs, Marlin and Among Men, Stravinsky, King Of Kings and Fasliyev, High Yield. Montjeu and Giant's Causeway, Minardi.

Tabor was still a punter, when he could get on. There was Danetime in the 1997 Stewards' Cup, Among Men in the 1998 Sussex Stakes, Fasliyev in the 1999 Coventry Stakes, Giant's Causeway in this year's St James's Palace Stakes. But Tabor is a man who, more than most, has not been changed by money.

He still stands quietly on the stage and racing is still a hobby, now a professional one, but it's become difficult for Michael Tabor not to be noticed.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Ashforth, David
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Aug 30, 2000
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