yes­ter­day’s hero

Graham Bud­dry re­calls Celtic Ryde, the hur­dler who would surely have scored at Chel­tenham but for break­ing a leg

Racing Ahead - - CONTENTS -

Graham Bud­dry looks back at the tragic ca­reer of Celtic Ryde

For those lucky enough to have seen him in the flesh, or even on tele­vi­sion, Celtic Ryde was a very pop­u­lar horse.He had a big following but not win­ning the only race that re­ally lends it­self to pos­ter­ity means he is sadly lost to all ex­cept those who thrilled to his ex­ploits at the time.

In his first sea­son as a ju­ve­nile hur­dler in 1978/79, the Peter Cun­dell trained Celtic Ryde passed the post first on five oc­ca­sions. Along with vic­to­ries at Wolverhampton, Worces­ter, Towces­ter and New­bury, it is in­ter­est­ing to note that Celtic Ryde also won at Kemp­ton Park be­fore be­ing de­moted to sec­ond place by the stew­ards.

The cul­mi­na­tion of this first sea­son was the Tri­umph Hur­dle at Chel­tenham.Here Pol­lard­stown was al­ways rac­ing near the front and had a clear run while Celtic Ryde had to weave through other run­ners from fur­ther back. Pol­lard­stown took up the run­ning two out with a later chas­ing leg­end in Badsworth Boy go­ing clear with him. Celtic Ryde made huge gains from a long way back to draw level at the last and take the lead on the run for home only for Pol­lard­stown to prove the stronger and re­gain the lead late on. Need­less to say these were the two high­est rated ju­ve­nile hur­dlers of the sea­son.

His de­but the following sea­son saw Celtic Ryde pit­ted against older horses for the first time and over 2½ miles at Chep­stow in mid Novem­ber ’79 the smart Lu­men went off the 4/7 favourite. Rac­ing close to the pace, jockey Martin O’Hal­lo­ran only had to shake up his mount af­ter the last to win far eas­ier than the half length mar­gin looks as Lu­men had no chance against the tal­ented young­ster.

Only eight days later the com­bi­na­tion re­verted to two miles back at New­bury and a clash with the ’78 Tri­umph Hur­dle win­ner, Con­naught Ranger, in the Berk­shire Hur­dle. Re­ceiv­ing a use­ful eight pounds, Celtic Ryde was heav­ily backed into favouritism and, com­ing from off the pace as usual, he again scored by a cosy half length.

Next stop was the pres­ti­gious Bula Hur­dle at Chel­tenham where Con­naught Ranger was one pound bet­ter off, but still fin­ished half a length adrift of Celtic Ryde. Three quar­ters of a length fur­ther back in third that day was the mer­cu­rial Birds Nest, the odds-on favourite who led two out be­fore Celtic Ryde chal­lenged at the last to go clear. Con­naught Ranger fin­ished fast af­ter look­ing held early in the straight and Birds Nest hung badly left handed on the run in, but Celtic Ryde was clearly the bet­ter horse on the day.

Af­ter the Cham­pion Hur­dle the most im­por­tant two mile hur­dle race in the cal­en­dar is the Christ­mas Hur­dle at Kemp­ton which pro­duced one of the best races of the en­tire sea­son. In what was be­ing billed as a two-horse race the fouryear-old Celtic Ryde was backed into 5/6 while the nine-year-old Birds Nest went off at 6/4. Birds Nest of­ten raced promi­nently while Celtic Ryde liked to track his op­po­nents be­fore de­liv­er­ing a dev­as­tat­ing late burst of speed and that was how this seemed to be play­ing out. Birds Nest led three out and main­tained a telling gal­lop all the way to the last flight where Celtic Ryde went past look­ing all over the win­ner, only for Birds Nest to rally and run on again strongly as the win­ning post loomed.

The two horses, giv­ing their all, came close and bumped but to all who saw this won­der­ful race the best horse won as Celtic Ryde passed the post a bare short head in front.

De­cent Fel­low was a very good hur­dler in his own right but as he passed the post in third place, around 40 lengths be­hind the front pair, a stew­ard’s en­quiry was an­nounced over the tan­noy. The clos­ing stages were no bet­ter or worse that seen many times be­fore and al­most to a man the re­sult was ex­pected to stand but the stew­ards some­how thought oth­er­wise. Even the form­books stated that Celtic Ryde was “un­lucky to lose the race in the stew­ards room”.

On Fe­bru­ary 11 1980 Celtic Ryde and

Birds Nest lined up atWolver­hamp­ton for a Cham­pion Hur­dle Trial on heavy ground.Con­naught Ranger fin­ished third again that day, con­firm­ing that no mat­ter how good he was, he wasn’t in the same class. In yet another thriller Celtic Ryde came from be­hind to lead at the last flight only for Birds Nest to again fight back for all he was worth, getting up in the last strides to score by a short head, con­firm­ing that at their best there was hardly any­thing be­tween the pair.

Celtic Ryde then missed the rest of the sea­son with a nig­gling leg in­jury while Birds Nest, Pol­lard­stown and Con­naught Ranger fin­ished third, fifth and sixth to Sea Pi­geon and Monks­field in the Cham­pion Hur­dle in March.

Sandown Park was the venue on Novem­ber 1 when Sea Pi­geon and Celtic Ryde made their sea­sonal de­buts. Half a length was the bare re­sult at the line but although Celtic Ryde led at the last, Sea Pi­geon was clearly the bet­ter and had far too much speed for his ri­val on the good ground.

The Bula Hur­dle of 1980 saw the most re­cent Tri­umph Hur­dle win­ner, Heigh­lin, and Con­naught Ranger take third and fourth place re­spec­tively in the race – both within strik­ing dis­tance yet com­fort­ably held by the main pro­tag­o­nists. These were Celtic Ryde, de­fend­ing the ti­tle he won the pre­vi­ous year, and old ad­ver­sary Birds Nest.

In yet another pul­sat­ing race from this pair Birds Nest led or dis­puted the lead all the way round, tracked as usual by Celtic Ryde who took up the run­ning at the last ob­sta­cle and set sail for home only for Birds Nest to bat­tle back as he had al­ways done. At the line there was a whole neck in it this time as Birds Nest won the race for a record break­ing third time be­fore the doughty ten-year-old and the quick­sil­ver five year old re­newed ri­valry back at Kemp­ton Park.

Sur­pris­ingly Heigh­lin was sent off the favourite hav­ing re­cently won well at As­cot. Celtic Ryde was heav­ily backed as well.Turn­ing in with two to jump, Birds Nest took the lead with Celtic Ryde cruis­ing be­hind him on the rails while Heigh­lin also looked to be go­ing well wider out un­til find­ing no more on the run to the last. Another thriller looked on the cards as they bore down on the last flight locked to­gether as of old, Birds Nest un­der pres­sure and a bare nos­tril ahead of Celtic Ryde, John Fran­come giv­ing Celtic Ryde a peach of a ride.

Birds Nest tried to shorten, met the hur­dle wrong and ploughed through it, lucky not to fall. Try as he might on the short run in he had handed the race to Celtic Ryde who fi­nally got his name on the roll of hon­our af­ter his dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion 12 months ear­lier.

Facile vic­to­ries in good events at Wind­sor and Sandown then led to Chel­tenham where Celtic Ryde ran an in­ex­pli­ca­bly bad race for the first and only time in his en­tire ca­reer. His sixth place to Sea Pi­geon was summed up in the form­book com­ment;“dis­ap­point­ing – can do much bet­ter”.

The 1981/82 sea­son got un­der way with Celtic Ryde com­fort­ably win­ning at Sandown be­fore yet another crack­ing en­counter with Birds Nest. At level weights around Le­ices­ter at the end of

Novem­ber, Birds Nest led af­ter the last flight only for Celtic Ryde to claw past him on the run to the line and score by a head, again con­firm­ing how closely the pair were matched.

The Mecca Book­mak­ers hand­i­cap hur­dle at Kemp­ton was a tempt­ing prize and Celtic Ryde was a well backed favourite de­spite top weight and turned the race into lit­tle more than a pro­ces­sion. Last of 15 in the early stages he made some progress down the back straight then switched wide round the home turn af­ter jump­ing the third last. Once into the straight Fran­come moved his mount smoothly into con­tention, tak­ing fourth place ap­proach­ing two out on the stands side. A flick of the reins and Celtic Ryde cruised into the lead ap­proach­ing the last and was never in dan­ger of de­feat.

In the form of his life the only thing ca­pa­ble of beat­ing him was the weather and the loss of Kemp­ton on Box­ing Day surely cost Celtic Ryde another big win at his favourite course.

For the sec­ond year run­ning Celtic Ryde took the New Years Day Hur­dle at Wind­sor be­fore head­ing to Haydock for their Cham­pion Hur­dle Trial and then a re­al­is­tic chance of land­ing the big one. Mak­ing smooth progress and clearly all over the win­ner, Celtic Ryde fell for the only time in his ca­reer and sud­denly the dreams of Chel­tenham glory were gone as this shin­ing star of the win­ter game sadly broke a leg and had to be put down.

The Cham­pion Hur­dle that sea­son was strangely bereft of the class of pre­vi­ous sea­sons and many feel the even­tual 40/1 win­ner For Auc­tion would have been a gal­lant run­ner up if Celtic Ryde had only been able to ful­fil his des­tiny.

Four­teen vic­to­ries, twice dis­qual­i­fied from first place and sec­ond in vir­tu­ally ev­ery other race, this was one hel­luva horse. So closely matched with Birds Nest, widely con­sid­ered the best hur­dler never to have won the Cham­pion,his soli­tary Christ­mas Hur­dle does scant jus­tice to a pop­u­lar and bril­liant hur­dler yet in what he still achieved, Celtic Ryde fully de­serves a place in the pan­theon of great hur­dlers.

Celtic Ryde wins 1980 Christ­mas Hur­dle ahead of Bird’s Nest

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.