Pete loves Sandown, he lights up at Pond fence!

Nick Townsend talks to trainer Char­lie Longs­den about golden oldies Pete The Feat and Loose Chips ahead of Sandown

The Racing Paper - - Feature -

He’s the horse that has shown ab­so­lutely no in­cli­na­tion to ac­cept re­tire­ment – even at an age when most of his con­tem­po­raries have long been despatched to a pen­sion of grassy con­tent­ment. There is some­thing about a valiant, fa­mil­iar, old-stager that en­dears him­self to race­go­ers, and on his favourite stage of Sandown, few are more pop­u­lar ‘chasers than Char­lie Longs­don’s Pete The Feat, who of­fi­cially turned 15 on New Year’s Day.

If he should mas­ter 16 ri­vals – in­clud­ing his sta­ble mate Loose Chips, two years his ju­nior and him­self the win­ner of ten of his 51 races – over three miles and 22 fences to claim to­day’s fi­nal of the Uni­bet Vet­er­ans’ Hand­i­cap Chase, con­fined to horses aged nine years-plus, at the course, you sus­pect the cho­rus of ven­er­a­tion will be heard all over Esher.

The son of the lead­ing Flat per­former King’s Theatre has won three races here, in­clud­ing this event two years ago, and 12 in all dur­ing a ca­reer span­ning no fewer than 12 sea­sons. He has fin­ished in the first three in nearly half his races.

“Pete loves Sandown,” en­thuses his trainer. “He sees the turn in to­wards the pond fence, and seems to light up and want to go. He’s a bat­tler. One thing he’ll do is put his best foot for­ward and go out on his shield, win, lose or draw.”

King’s Theatre has sired many lead­ing jumps horses – Cue Card and The New One come swiftly to mind. And though ‘Pete’ has never quite at­tained their level of class, he has no peers when it comes to sheer longevity.

Orig­i­nally with Anna New­ton-Smith, ‘Pete’ re­quired 20 races be­fore fi­nally win­ning one in 2010. With Longs­don since 2012, he has pro­ceeded to achieve such renown that he even had a race named af­ter him at Sandown in Novem­ber.

He par­tic­i­pated in his own event and though he was beaten, to­day he re­turns to con­test his 66th race in a bid for his 13th win. Jonathan Burke, who rode him on his last vic­tory, here, in March, will again part­ner him to­day – one of 21 jock­eys to ride the horse.

“‘Pete’ has been an ab­so­lute su­per­star for us, and so has Loose Chips,” says Longs­don “They’re grand old ser­vants, and to still be run­ning off a mid-130 mark (their of­fi­cial hand­i­cap rat­ing) says a lot about them.”

On the gal­lops at Longs­don’s base, near Chip­ping Nor­ton in Ox­ford­shire ,‘ Pete’ is, some­how ap­pro­pri­ately, rid­den out at home by Wilf Rayer, who is in his Seven­ties. “They love each other. They’re a great team, and unique in their own way.”

Fred Win­ter’s Sonny Somers was 18 when still ac­tive and won two ‘chases in 1980, but it’s highly un­likely that ‘Pete’ will chal­lenge that record. “You just don’t know,” says his trainer. “He’s quite a char­ac­ter and I don’t think he’d en­joy re­tire­ment if I’m bru­tally hon­est. He still loves the game – that’s a big rea­son for want­ing him to carry on. But we have to be sen­si­ble. While he’s en­joy­ing him­self, we’ll keep go­ing. But I’ve al­ways said, if there’s sud­denly a big down-turn in his form, or in his en­thu­si­asm, he’ll be re­tired on the spot.”

While Longs­don, be­low, rel­ishes train­ing such re­mark­able per­form­ers as ‘Pete’ and ‘Chips’, and in­deed his classy 11-yearold Ham­mer­sly Lake, like all suc­cess­ful train­ers, his pri­or­ity is a con­stant search for young horses blessed with big po­ten­tial.

“We’ve had well over 500 win­ners, and I’ve had a great ca­reer so far, but we’re lack­ing a su­per­star,” says the 43-year-old who has been train­ing since 2006. “It was very frus­trat­ing when poor old Ben­te­limar died back in the au­tumn. He was a horse who won at Ain­tree (a Grade 3 hand­i­cap) in the Spring and would have been at all the big fes­ti­vals his time around.” He adds: “Money doesn’t buy you ev­ery­thing, but hav­ing deep pock­ets does cer­tainly help. There are horses go­ing at 300,000 to 400,000 grand, but we’ve still got ba­si­cally the same bud­get as we did ten years ago, and we’re buy­ing the 30,000-40,000 grand horses. It doesn’t mean you can’t buy a su­per­star, but it does make life tougher.”

Of his cur­rent con­tin­gent, Longs­don de­scribes Diger Dau­diae, who fin­ished well for fourth in a com­pet­i­tive novices’ hur­dle at Ling­field yes­ter­day as a nice young­ster, and he also ex­pects progress from Wil­lie Boy, an eight-year-old who fell in the BetVic­tor Gold Cup at Chel­tenham in Novem­ber, but made amends with a facile vic­tory at Wetherby on Box­ing Day.

Longs­don, whose wife So­phie is the sis­ter of fel­low trainer Ben Paul­ing, launched his train­ing ca­reer some 13 years ago, armed with a gold-em­bossed CV. Hav­ing worked for Nigel Twis­ton-Davies, Oliver Sher­wood, Kim Bai­ley, he moved to Nicky Hen­der­son’s yard where, dur­ing his five years, he was closely in­volved with horses such as Fond­mort and Trabol­gan, the 2006 Ryanair Chase and 2005 Royal & SunAl­liance Chase vic­tors re­spec­tively. He also won a schol­ar­ship to Amer­ica and worked for the cham­pion Flat trainer there, Todd Pletcher.

We last spoke just over a decade ago when Longs­don had be­gan to cre­ate a dis­tinct im­pres­sion in the train­ing ranks with a rel­a­tively small team, then based near More­ton-in-Marsh. He moved to Hull Farm Sta­bles near Chip­ping Nor­ton in 2009. His best sea­son numer­i­cally was 2013-14 when he despatched 78 win­ners, at a 20% strike rate.

Longs­don, who cur­rently trains more than 65 horses, and has had 26 win­ners this sea­son, ad­mits that striv­ing for suc­cess is made no eas­ier by the in­tense level of com­pe­ti­tion which has in­creased since he started out. The BHA lists 695 train­ers of Na­tional Hunt horses and, while many of those are small op­er­a­tions, that list also in­cludes the likes of Dan Skel­ton, who al­ready has 138 win­ners to his name this sea­son, and Olly Mur­phy, with 60, who are young men in a hurry.

Longs­don, with three win­ners in the last fort­night and cur­rently 19th in the Jump train­ers cham­pi­onship (based on prize­money) has made a strate­gic de­ci­sion to tar­get races of­fer­ing the op­ti­mum in prize money.

On Tues­day, he sent Forth Bridge, one of three horses he trains for The Queen, on the 700-mile round-trip to Mus­sel­burgh. Forth Bridge was nar­rowly beaten, but Longs­don em­pha­sises that there was nearly £20,000 to the win­ner of that race, and when Forth Bridge won a Listed ju­ve­nile hur­dle at the Scot­tish course in Fe­bru­ary 2017, first prize­money was over £14,000 –more than the money on of­fer for sim­i­lar events even at cer­tain top cour­ses.

“We just used to just think about win­ners, and not prize­money. But now we’ve changed our strat­egy slightly,” he says. “We have fewer win­ners, but we’re tar­get­ing more valu­able races.”

Like to­day’s event, worth just un­der £62,000, though, on this oc­ca­sion, you sense that tri­umph for ei­ther of his rep­re­sen­ta­tives will mean much more than hard cash.

This tends to be a highly com­pet­i­tive event, but Longs­don main­tains that his pair, pro­jected to start around 12-1, “should be about 8-1 shots. I think they’ll run well. It’s only their age that makes them that price.”

They should be about 8-1 shots, not 12-1. I think they’ll run well. It’s only their age that makes them that price.”

15 years young: Pete the Feat

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