Race­horses who hunt The cur­rent stars in train­ing who rel­ish a day out hunt­ing

It’s not just exrac­ers that en­joy the hunt­ing field, dozens of cur­rent stars rel­ish a ‘day off ’ fol­low­ing hounds, says Cather­ine Austen

Horse & Hound - - News -

LOOK around any hunt­ing field in the Bri­tish Isles — and the USA — and you will find an ex-race­horse en­joy­ing a sec­ond ca­reer. They will range from Chel­tenham Gold Cup and Group One win­ners to horses that never made it any­where near the win­ner’s en­clo­sure. This au­tumn, a pic­ture of cham­pion Na­tional Hunt jockey Richard John­son hunt­ing the re­cently re­tired Meno­rah, a win­ner at both the Chel­tenham and Ain­tree Fes­ti­vals, with his young son Cas­par on the lead rein, went down a storm on so­cial me­dia.

But what about race­horses in train­ing? Do mod­ern train­ers still use hunt­ing as an ed­u­ca­tional tool — or a “sweet­ener” — in the way their pre­de­ces­sors did, or are their el­e­gant charges just too valu­able to risk?

“We send quite a few of our horses, par­tic­u­larly the older ones, hunt­ing,” says 10-time cham­pion trainer Paul Ni­cholls. “Peo­ple say it sweet­ens them up, but I also find it is good for fit­ness — it does them the world of good.”

Paul’s Ditcheat sta­bles is in the heart of the Black­more and Spark­ford Vale coun­try,

and horses from his yard hunt when hounds meet lo­cally.

“Last sea­son Silviniaco Conti stayed out un­til 3pm five days be­fore he ran in the King Ge­orge VI Chase at Kemp­ton — he loved it. And Rocky Creek’s only good run of last win­ter, when he won at Sandown, was five days af­ter he’d been hunt­ing,” says Paul. “Pacha Du Polder [who won the Fox­hunter at the Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val in March] went out quite a lot. Just A Par [who ran in the Grand Na­tional] went as well, as did Won­der­ful Charm.

“You’ve got to be sen­si­ble with them, and you want to take the ones with the right tem­per­a­ment, but ours jump out hunt­ing and do proper days. It’s great fun for them, and it is nice for peo­ple to see them, as well.”

Paul’s Flat jockey daugh­ter Megan usu­ally rides one of the group that go, and young jock­eys Harry Cob­den, Jack Sher­wood and Bry­ony Frost are keen to hunt as well. Even Paul makes an ap­pear­ance when he can — he is plan­ning to take novice chaser Emerg­ing Tal­ent out him­self soon.

LIL ROCK­ER­FELLER so nearly gave his trainer Neil King a first Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val win­ner when run­ner-up by three-quar­ters of a length in the Stay­ers’ Hur­dle in March. A week be­fore the race, he was hunt­ing with the VWH.

“Count­ess Goess-Sau­rau, who is a VWH joint-master, said that if he was sec­ond af­ter hav­ing one day, he would have won if he’d had two days that week!” says Neil. “I’m a great be­liever in the good hunt­ing does horses. Young horses learn so much from it and it gives older horses a great change of rou­tine.”

Lil Rock­er­feller, who is owned by some keen hunt­ing peo­ple from Ex­moor, is “a lazy, stuffy sort of horse” at home Neil says.

“Get­ting his blood up and his adrenalin run­ning does him a power of good, and he loves it — he loves be­ing up with hounds,” says Neil, whose wife Clare has hunted the horse sev­eral times with the VWH and with the

Vine and Craven. “He’s al­ready had a few days’ au­tumn hunt­ing this sea­son and was ac­tu­ally quite a hand­ful.”

Re­cently, Neil and Clare had “six or seven” horses out when hounds met lo­cally.

“They love see­ing hounds. The staff en­joy it too, and it is good for their rid­ing,” he says.

THE ob­sta­cles might be dif­fer­ent in Ire­land, but the ob­ject is the same. Emily MacMa­hon, who runs a pre-train­ing and school­ing yard at Lam­bert­stown, Co. Meath, hunted two real stars for trainer Gor­don El­liott last win­ter — Labaik and Don Poli.

“Labaik was well known as a com­plete rogue who wouldn’t do any­thing he was asked,” ex­plains Emily. “I was at Gor­don’s one day and sug­gested that I took him au­tumn hunt­ing when the Meath hounds were meet­ing at home a few days later. He was bril­liant — so he stayed with me for a few weeks. I took him au­tumn hunt­ing and then ‘proper’ hunt­ing, and then he went back to Gor­don’s a cou­ple of weeks be­fore he was due to race. He had seven days’ hunt­ing — and won first time out.

“It was about giv­ing him some­thing new to think about all the time. I took him showjump­ing as well, so that he didn’t think, ev­ery time he went in a lorry, that he was go­ing rac­ing.”

His “quirks” still ap­peared from time to time, but Labaik went on to win the Supreme Novices’ Hur­dle at the Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val this year.

“I told [for­mer jockey] Nor­man Wil­liamson, who is a master of the Meath, that he’d win at 50-1 be­fore Christ­mas,” says Emily. “I think the hunt staff backed him [he started at 25-1], so we were all cel­e­brat­ing.”

Don Poli, win­ner of three Grade Ones in­clud­ing the RSA Chase, was quite dif­fer­ent.

“He just needed to love life again,” says Emily. “We have a Hick­stead-style Derby arena at home and so I jumped both horses over banks and schooled them over ditches and walls be­fore tak­ing them hunt­ing so they knew where to put their feet.

“Don Poli did six days with the Tara

Har­ri­ers and the Meath. For a big horse, he was like a cat over ditches and loved jump­ing them, whereas Labaik pre­ferred ‘fly’ fences. Don just blos­somed — you could feel him smile,” says Emily. “He be­came a bit of a celebrity on the hunt­ing field, and peo­ple then went rac­ing to watch him.

“There is an el­e­ment of risk, but there is with any horse. They don’t know how much they are worth, af­ter all. And Don Poli is owned by Michael and Ed­die O’Leary’s Gig­gin­stown Stud — Ed­die’s wife Wendy is a master of the West­meath, so they un­der­stand about hunt­ing. I was very lucky to be trusted with them both.”

There are lots of other ex­am­ples — even­ter Phoebe Buck­ley took An­na­cotty, one of

Martin Keigh­ley’s sta­ble stal­warts, hunt­ing sev­eral times with packs such as the Heythrop and the Old Berks. So keep your eyes peeled: that el­e­gant thor­ough­bred on the hunt­ing field with his ears pricked might just be one of the rac­ing world’s he­roes.

‘Get­ting his blood up and his adrenalin run­ning does him a power of good, and he loves it — he loves be­ing up with hounds’ neil king on the ben­e­fits of hunt­ing lil rock­er­feller

Chel­tenham Fox­hunter win­ner Pacha Du

Polder also en­joys a day’s hunt­ing with

Paul Ni­choll’s daugh­ter Megan, who hunts him with the Black­more and Spark­ford Vale (see pic­ture be­low)

‘You can feel him smile’: Don Poli, win­ner of three Grade Ones, en­joy­ing a day’s hunt­ing in Ire­land un­der Emily MacMa­hon

L-R: Clare King and Lil Rock­er­feller, Frankie Barrett on Herdswick Hol­loa and Rosie Bird and Lit­tle Wind­mill out with the VWH

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