What got me into racing?

I’ve always been a sports fan from the day I could walk. From Football to Rugby to Cricket and everything in between. But as a child, horse racing never caught my eye. I’d hate it when Grandstand would interrupt something to broadcast a race from Haydock or Sandown, it all looked the same to me at a young age. I had no appreciation for what I was watching and so would wander off outside with a football or a tennis racquet. My friend used to run https://www.radracquets.com/ – and was an avid tennis fan, so the glass-half full side was that I had someone to play with. The only member of my family to have been keen on it was my Grandfather who passed away many years before I was born. Without that influence it was football and cricket that became the sporting passions of my youth.

In the past few years however, horse racing has eclipsed them both. Not immediately at first. I’d watch the ‘big’ races; the Grand National and the Derby, then the odd handicap at a big race meeting, but before long I found myself watching maidens and sellers at Wolverhampton with almost the same zeal. Football isn’t the sport it once was, players are now celebrities rather than sportsmen and, in my opinion, care more about appearing on the front of a newspaper than the back of it. And as a purist there isn’t enough Test matches to keep me interested in cricket for any length of time. Racing however, never stops. The National Hunt season ends, the Flat season begins, old favourites return and a new crop emerges.  It’s impossible to get bored!

Obviously the interest skipped a generation from my Grandfather but has now manifested itself in me and I’m completely converted. Maybe I just didn’t understand it in my early years? It’s not the easiest sport to comprehend after all.  With so many horses, trainers, distances and venues, all over the world,  it can seem overwhelming to someone just finding the sport with no-one around to guide their hand.  This is an area I feel the BHA and even Racing For Change need to address.  Information needs to be more accessible to newcomers. Especially to those wanting to actively participate in the sport, even if that only amounts to having a flutter at the weekend.

But with this I’ve found horse racing rewards patience.  It rewards those who buy their copies of the Racing Post and watch The Morning Line religiously as I now do. And when those small sacrifices are made the ‘Sport of Kings’ gives back much more than it demands.  Nowadays, I wouldn’t dream of choosing a football terrace over standing by a parade ring, looking through a race programme for my selection as the  horses are led past,  (not always with the greatest success) and at the breeding of an animal that combines such grace with incredible power.

For me it’s these two things that make it so easy, too easy, to become attached to the chief protagonists. They don’t always have to be the best ones either. I quickly fell for Lough Derg with his front running style and red blinkers. His all out win when off the bridle a long way from home in the Long Walk Hurdle was arresting to someone new to the game and even in defeat he would always give his all.  Exotic Dancer was another I instantly took to heart. Always clearly visible in any race due to his gorgeous bay coat.  And  It was the demise of Sir Robert Ogden’s French import that taught me how painful it can be too, learning of his death after the Aintree Totesport Bowl in 2009 was a bitter pill.

But for each low point there is an equally meaningful high. Watching Sea The Stars weave his way to the win the Arc from an unlikely position 5 furlongs from home with Jim McGrath describing him aptly as, ‘perfection in equine form’, on crossing the line, will live long in the memory. As well as following Cinders and Ashes all of last season knowing he was the Supreme Novice in waiting and to have my opinion vindicated is a feeling that only racing can give.

These are the ups and downs I’ve had to learn to endure for the love of a sport steeped in history. It’s impossible to watch a horse like Frankel destroying Group 1 fields without wanting to know how he came into being. What makes him so much better than the rest?  And where does he rank in comparison with those who came before him? Impossible questions to answer with any great certainty and nothing could be more subjective, but it’s this that’s grabbed my imagination now.

I’d love to sit down with my Grandfather and debate Frankel against Sea Bird II or Kauto Star taking on Arkle over the Gold Cup fences at Cheltenham . The two stand out horses of his era in both codes. Or even the jockeys, a titan like Lester Piggott against the greatest jockey of my era in Frankie Dettori.

Sadly this wasn’t to be. Maybe in years to come I’ll be able to have that debate with a grandchild of my own. Being told about a two year old winning the Royal Lodge Stakes in fine fashion and putting them in their place by showing a recording of Prince Abdullah’s wonder horse doing the very same thing all those years before.

This year saw my first visit’s to the Cheltenham Festival, seeing Sprinter Sacre make the Arkle Chase look like a racecourse gallop, Big Bucks claim a fourth World Hurdle, and Synchronised power up the hill to win the Gold Cup before his ill-fated attempt at the National.  Followed by a trip to Royal Ascot to see Black Caviar, not quite win in the manner I was hoping but a thrilling finish and an ‘I was there’ moment none the less.

It’s said that trainers find it so difficult to retire incase the next superstar is in their juvenile ranks. I guess it’s the same for me? I couldn’t turn my back on racing now, for the threat of not seeing another finish like Pour Moi’s Derby or Wichita Lineman coming from out of the clouds to win the William Hill Handicap Chase is unthinkable. No other sport can promise me so much drama all year round.


[information_box]This article was written by Mark Butcher
Sadly for some this wasn’t written by the former International Test Batsman but nevertheless it is a cracking read, and gives you an idea of how the ‘Sport Of Kings’ can really draw you into its beautiful majesty.

Follow Mark on Twitter @TheGr8WhiteHope[/information_box]
What got you into racing? Let us know how via the comment box below!

Giant’s Causeway – The Iron Horse

I was asked earlier in conversation by a friend what my favourite racehorse of all-time was, and without hesitation I relayed to him that it was a horse called Giant’s Causeway.

For those of you who don’t remember Giant’s Causeway (and I am almost certain there are those reading this now who it applies to) you need to look up the YouTube videos of ‘The Iron Horse’ I have provided throughout this story.

As a two-year-old Giant’s Causeway; a Kentucky-bred son of Storm Cat raced three times, winning his maiden at the first time of asking by seven lengths, before dispatching future Group 1 winner Brahms on the snaff in the Group 3 Futurity Stakes at the Curragh. His next and final run in an unbeaten juvenile campaign came at Longchamp, in the Group 1 Prix de la Salamandre over seven furlongs; where he readily dispatched future dual Guineas winner Bachir amongst three other rivals with consummate ease.

He returned to the track for his classic campaign with a workmanlike victory in the Gladness Stakes (Group 3) at the Curragh before finishing runner-up in both the English and Irish 2000 Guineas. His next run came at Royal Ascot in the St James Palace Stakes (Group 1) where he atoned for his defeat in the Irish 2000 Guineas putting Bachir back in his place with an all-the-way success to out-battle Valentino in a tight finish.

Giant’s Causeway returned to the track in the Eclipse (Group 1) at Sandown, trying ten furlongs for the first time in his career, ‘The Iron Horse’ faced formidable opposition, and encountered older horses for the first time; this was to be a true test of his ability. Lining up against him from the older generation was Kalanisi; his ultimate opponent, and horse which went on to win the Champion Stakes defeating the classy Montjeu, before winning the Breeders Cup Turf later in the season. Shiva; a group one winning racemare and winner of the Tattersall’s Gold Cup that very season defeating globetrotter Daylami. Fantastic Light; a future multiple Group 1 winning globetrotter. Aside from that he also had hot competition from his own generation in the form of Sakhee; a horse that would go on as a four-year-old to win the Juddmonte International (Group 1) by seven lengths, and the Prix L’Arc de Triomphe (Group 1) by six lengths after being beaten into fourth in this race just shows the sort of opposition Giant’s Causeway was up against. Without the assistance of Mick Kinane for what would be the only time in his career, he was partnered with an able deputy in the fifty-three year old George Duffield, who sent ‘The Iron Horse’ to the front from the outset, not only did he fight off the challenge of Sakhee at the two-furlong pole, he then re-rallied as older horse Kalanisi charged down on his outside, to win by a head.

That race really makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, and I recommend you watch the replay of that on YouTube by visiting this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzJZpPdfsss

It wasn’t long before Giant’s Causeway rocked up on the racecourse once more, this time dropping back to a mile in the Sussex Stakes (Group 1). He would be taking on three-time Group 1 winning miler Aljabr, Valentino a horse he was all out to beat at Royal Ascot in the St James Palace, and the highly touted group winning Dansili (who has since become a sire sensation at stud). Giant’s Causeway once again ridden to the fore, he first broke the heart of pace-setter Aljabr, before fighting off Dansili in what would be his third consecutive Group 1 victory of the season.

Just twenty days later, Giant’s Causeway would turn up on the Knavesmire at York Racecourse for the Juddmonte International (Group 1) where he would once again lock horns with Kalanisi, the older horse who ran him so close at Sandown two starts ago. It was a small select field which revolved around the front two in the market, and it was once again a race to savour. Settled in second in the early stages Giant’s Causeway took up the running three furlongs out, and look beat as his rival Kalanisi swooped down his outside, away from Giant’s Causeway thus not drawing into a battle with his battle hardened foe. It was a tactic that seemed to work as he hit the front just over a furlong from home; however under a right-hand drive Kalanisi began to hang in-towards Giant’s Causeway who was reignited by the presence of his rival coming close and under Mick Kinane was galvanized to secure yet another hard fought and gritty success, in another epic battle which I guarantee will give you goose-bumps. You can watch that race here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDPyQA-WWGo

It wasn’t long before Giant’s Causeway was next seen on a racecourse, nineteen days to be precise as he re-appeared in the Irish Champion Stakes (Group 1) bidding to make this the fifth straight Group 1 success of the season, he wouldn’t face Kalanisi this time but once again ‘The Iron Horse’ battled on with the heart of a lion, breaking Best Of The Bests (future Group 1 winner) in just under two furlongs, before holding off the late challenge of Greek Dance; who had won a Group 1 in Germany on his previous start.

Another fortnight passed and Giant’s Causeway was back on the racecourse again, dropped back to a mile for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Group 1) at Ascot, in what would prove to be his final start on UK soil. Once again Giant’s Causeway out-battled everything around him, but a smart tactical approach from John Gosden (possibly devised from replaying the York run) saw Observatory challenge wide, so that Giant’s Causeway didn’t have time to react and fight back like he had done with Kalanisi in the Juddmonte, this tactical proved successful and ‘The Iron Horse’ was beaten for the first time in six starts, finishing second by half a length.

His final start of his career would come at Churchill Downs in November (Breeders Cup Classic, Group 1), trying dirt for the first time he was stuck out wide for majority of the race, and gave away valuable ground throughout to the hardened Tiznow, turning for home Giant’s Causeway was around two lengths down on the lead, but in true fighting spirit negated that deficit with a thundering run down the outside. He drew alongside Tiznow and for a split second it looked like ‘The Iron Horse’ would do it, but just yards from the line Mick Kinane muddled up his reins handing valuable momentum back to Tiznow on his inside, gathering them in just strides before the line Giant’s Causeway was given one final crack of the whip by Kinane, and closed again as they hit the line, unfortunately it proved not enough to topple Tiznow on this occasion, but the mighty horse went out on his shield and lost absolutely nothing in defeat.

That proved to be the final outing on the racetrack for Giant’s Causeway who was shortly after retired to stud. In his first season he sired Shamardal; who earned the title of Champion European Two-Year-Old Colt in a lucrative juvenile campaign culminating in success in the Dewhurst Stakes, before returning the following year to claim the Poule d’Essai des Poulains, the Prix du Jockey Club and the St. James’s Palace Stakes, in the gritty no-nonsense style of his father before him. Shamardal has since gone on to do very well at stud, and continues to produce top quality offspring.

Giant’s Causeway finished his racing career with 13 starts, 9 wins and 4 seconds – amassing £2,031,426 in prize money and leaving memories that will live long in the minds of racing fans.

Giant’s Causeway has proven adept at producing horses to win over an array of distances, and some of his best offspring include Eskendereya, Ghanaati, Footstepsinthesand, First Samurai, Aragorn, and more recently Await The Dawn, some pretty illustrious names I’m sure you’ll agree.

During his classic season, Giant’s Causeway raced an incredible ten times; something which is almost unthinkable for a horse of his calibre these days, and during that golden year he was awarded European Horse of the Year honours.

This was the first time I became gripped by Horse Racing, as a twelve-year-old boy, watching that great chestnut in full flight has made me a lifelong fan. I don’t think I’ll ever see another racehorse like Giant’s Causeway, sure we have horses that may have achieved more (Sea The Stars) and done it in exciting style (Frankel) but I will never forget the feeling I got from watching Giant’s Causeway do what he did eleven years ago, and he will forever remain close in my heart for that very reason.

I hope my little story on Giant’s Causeway has given you an insight into this wonderful racehorse, and I would encourage you to reply with your favourite racehorse and the reasons behind why you have formed that decision.

I hope one day I get to meet Giant’s Causeway in the flesh.

On that note I’ll leave you with a YouTube video taken of Giant’s Causeway in 2011, he still looks powerful and in great shape at the ripe age of 14, and clearly has a great character and still loving life. Who’d have thought such a warrior in the heat of battle could be so soft and cheeky in later life?

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZ7Xne4zDsw

Thank you for reading.