Multiple winner THISTLECRACK is out of next month’s blue riband of jump racing - the Cheltenham Gold Cup. These were the headlines of sports pages last Wednesday 22nd February. What a gutting blow for all his connections. With the brilliant, flamboyant jumper favourite to win, his Jockey Tom Scudamore described it as ‘the biggest sickener I have ever suffered in racing.’
How familiar this must sound to anyone involved with jump racing. Owner, trainer, jockey, breeder or groom. Reading the reports, we nod sagely remembering our own experiences with that beautiful beast, the thoroughbred racehorse. The Cheltenham Festival like the Grand National attracts the elite, the champions, the most famous equine athletes; but those who have waited months to see their special horse run at its’ first point to point, will understand Scudamore’s bitter disappointment too.
Mister Tiger is a horse I bred, still own and is currently being re-trained to go eventing. I say re-trained because he began his competitive career as a race horse. His mother Thamesdown Tootsie is still with me - she is 32 years old! Tiger went into training with jockey/trainer Sam Allwood at his yard near Whitchurch. Sam had been champion amateur twice in the West Country while based with Robert Alner. I wanted the best jockey I could find for my horse, and with that in his CV, I reckoned Sam was the one. Racing in point-to-points was my preference for Tiger. You can watch your horse without travelling to the other end of the country and meet like minded friends. Winning at a point-to-point is however fiercely fought, with several top class horses.
But what is Mister Tiger up to now? Like Thistlecrack, Tiger strained a tendon. We had had some life enhancing experiences on the race course with him, and now I decided his legs may be less vulnerable eventing. My vet was sceptical so I could be right or wrong, time will tell. Tiger was given platelet rich plasma by Centrifugation. He was sedated, his leg clipped of hair for sterile reasons, and blood was taken from his neck and injected into the site of injury. He behaved well and stood still. This was vital as Campbell Thompson at Nantwich vets, explained that injecting into exactly the right spot was intricate and crucial. He came home to me from Sam’s, and as recommended by Campbell, he spent a month in a fenced off level space of approximately three by eight yards, with access to his stable. Every day I picked grass for him, and he had plenty of carrots. He was a horse still racing fit and full of protein. I wanted to make sure this was flushed out of his system. Gradually his pen was enlarged into his paddock, little by little as the weeks passed. The object was not to give him space to gallop or canter, but enough to walk about and exercise himself. We used electric fencing which he knew about, and every week this was dismantled and re-erected on a fresh patch of grass. I kept him on his own away from his mother Tootsie - in the other paddock, so he looked to me as his companion and was easier to handle on my own. He was as good as gold and soon settled into a routine. Two light feeds - non-heating cubes and bran am and pm, in at night, in his pen during the day, and whinnying to Gary Hanmers pointers as they passed along the lane on exercise. This picture shows him about 3 weeks after his last race, so just beginning to ‘let down’ and become rounder. He has naturally well sprung ribs and a deep girth for a smallish horse.
Tiger had nearly 12 months off. He has now been in work for 12 months with eventer Katy Ayres and point-to-point jockey Rob Jarrett, who have a mixed yard of breakers, pointers, hunters and eventers. Katy started hacking at walk, building up to trot and short, steady canters on good ground. When he was ready for work in the school we used ground poles spaced for trotting with one stride in between to start with, and then no strides. He learnt very quickly, and soon began to drop his head and stretch down over the poles. We took him to a dressage competition early on, the test was simple - just walk and trot. He collected a third rosette. Tiger has three good paces, particularly in canter which is so important for jumping. He did however find canter on the left rein difficult to start with, falling out onto his right shoulder. We practised many turns on the forehand, leg yielding, and half halts. Tiger really enjoys his work, and we have been careful not to pressurise him and to keep him relaxed. His jump has always been good, but of course he was used to jumping out of gallop and flat. Out came the poles once more and grids. Again he has learnt quickly and does not like to touch them - making an audible grunt when he does, and jumps high next time if he knocks one. Sam hunted him and took him on cross country rides as a young horse, so cross country schooling has come easily, he has jumped ditches, corners, banks and trotted into water with relish.
I understand writing a blog is meant to be in the form of a diary of current happenings, so going into detail of Tiger’s past golden glories and heart stopping scares on the race course, are recorded in my book ‘Top Hats and Silks’ to be published later this year. These are unique and memorable experiences which many people will associate with, whatever their equestrian involvement.
Katy is doing a marvellous job with Tiger, helped by Rob. The eventing season has started. I must register him and get planning. He has completed two BE 90 Arena competitions - just one fence down in each. Will I experience the thrill of watching my lovely horse galloping and jumping once again? Dare I hope he may be at Weston Park in early April?