Sea Pigeon with Steven Muldoon, son of owner Pat Muldoon, 1983
Turf Account

Odds-on favourites

Picking a list of horses to remember

This article is taken from the August/September 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

Last month the Racing Post ran a poll among readers for the greatest race of all time. As far as I am concerned, four of the ten nominated were invalid, being flat races. While I am prepared to concede that the likes of Grundy v Bustino (regularly and ridiculously cited as the “greatest ever”) in 1975 and Dancing Brave’s Arc de Triomphe win in 1986 were both epic, that’s within the definitional constraint of them both being flat races, and thus ineligible for the ultimate accolade.

That’s not an insult. Something doesn’t have to be the greatest ever to be memorable, or even a favourite. Football fans, for example, have their own pantheon of favourite players: rarely are they simply a list of greats.

Something doesn’t have to be the greatest ever to be memorable, or even a favourite.

I have a similar list of horses: few of them were champions, but they had something about them that lives with me forever. In no particular order, here they are.

Wayward Lad. If push comes to shove, my favourite ever chaser. He was one of Michael Dickinson’s five horses that took the first five places in the 1983 Cheltenham Gold Cup (he finished third). But Cheltenham wasn’t his stomping ground. For the real Wayward Lad, you had to see him at Kempton on Boxing Day, when he won three King Georges. To me, he represented everything wonderful about steeplechasing.

I’m A Driver. A chaser who put his heart into every obstacle he jumped, I’m A Driver had the raw talent to be a champion, but never quite managed to put it all together. But so what? He was adorable — and thrilling to watch. (I only learned writing this that he was sold into the Tony Dickinson stable by legendary punter Barney Curley.)

Sea Pigeon. The greatest hurdler, ever. I refuse to countenance any debate about this. So slick and fast he could even win an Ebor carrying 10 stone on the flat, when he was ridden by Jonjo O’Neill, as well as two Chester Cups. (Lester Piggott won on him on his debut as a two-year-old at Ascot.)

His acceleration was something to behold, used to devastating effect when John Francome rode him to win the 1981 Champion Hurdle. If you want my vote for the greatest race — and the greatest ride — this is it. Francome sat and waited, waited, waited until … surely … it was too late — with Daring Run and Pollardstown battling it out. And then when it was far too late, he let Sea Pigeon go — and the race was all over, Sea Pigeon the winner.

French Holly. We’ll never know how good he would have been because he died in a training accident in his first season as a novice chaser. But everything pointed to stardom. As a novice hurdler in 1997/98, he was unbeaten in five races, culminating in the Sun Alliance at Cheltenham.

But he was built to jump fences and won his debut chase in October 1999 — before his accident a week later. He was not a natural jumper but used his huge size and ability to learn to improve.

For 13-year-old me, Remainder Man was the first flat horse I really loved

Remainder Man. If he is remembered at all, it is as the sire of champion chaser One Man. But for 13-year-old me, Remainder Man was the first flat horse I really loved.

There has hardly ever been a less fashionable but more skilled trainer than Reg Hollinshead, who in a 60-year career had over 1,500 winners. Remainder Man was averagely bred and had an OK-ish two-year-old season. But he so nearly won the 1978 2,000 Guineas, finishing second by just one and a half lengths.

This was universally dismissed as a fluke and he didn’t appear as a fancied runner in any of the Derby previews. But with three furlongs to go, Remainder Man was second behind Hawaiian Sound (ridden by US legend Bill Shoemaker) and looked to have every chance of winning.

It was only in the final furlong that his relative lack of stamina told and he faded to finish third. Again, the wiseacres sneered and if you Google him today, you’ll find next to nothing. But second in the Guineas and third in the Derby is pretty good in my book.

In truth, I could have listed another dozen horses, such as Barton, Wind And Wuthering, Sergeant Cecil, Kybo or even one of my own, Spring Dawn. But that’s another story…

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