Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The gift horse that keeps on giving

The post below was originally made after John won the Town Plate on Kadouchski last summer. For the growing legion of Kadouchski fans, his story's worth reading if you don't already know it. It also needs updating following his win on Monday as the outsider of the field with John's apprentice Hannah in the saddle.

Bruce Jackson hit the nail on the head in his Racing Post report when he said: "Kadouchski is only a lowly-rated performer, which some would have banished from the top table, but after the eight-year-old evened up his wins between the hurdles and the Flat the pleasure of winning owner-trainer John Berry and winning apprentice Hannah Nunn confirmed romance still has a part to play in the sport."

Well said, Bruce. Kadouchski has won six of his 47 races (seven of 48 if you count the historic Town Plate) and has been placed on a further 15 occasions. For those efforts he has won £27,308 (and eight boxes of Powter's sausages), which tells you plenty about the level at which he competes, not to mention the woeful state of prize-money in British racing.

But what he has given to us all is worth much, much more than money, as his story below shows. Whether we call it the racing game or the racing industry, it's a business to us and to many people, but if there's not room for the odd Kadouchski here and there then it's not a business in which I wish to be involved.  

Originally published on 9 September 2011

What seems now to have been a very long time ago, John and I drove to Hasse Fen to pick up Kadouchski at the request of his owner/breeders Claude Charlet and Danny Charlesworth.

He was a four-year-old and not much to look at. Being ridiculously sentimental about all horses, he reminded me instantly of Panto (even though I know Panto better than any living creature I still look out of the window at the two of them in the field and take a few seconds to work out which one is which) so of course he got a big thumbs-up from me. He loaded quietly and sensibly into our trailer parked on the edge of the road and, on arrival back at Beverley House Stables he quickly worked his way into all of our hearts. It’s impossible not to love a horse like Kadouchski, even though at the time he was a four-year-old maiden and already on his fourth trainer. His fourth and last, as it turns out.

He ran twice for Claude and Danny from our stable, but they both have interests in a number of horses, most of them with more obvious ability than Kadouchski, so they decided the time was right to move him on. He was offered to us, and with John warming to him every day, we decided we’d take a chance and race him ourselves, even though financially that is just about the worst decision for a trainer to make.

His first run in John’s colours became his first win, at Leicester, in a selling hurdle. John bought him in and he ran next time at Sandown, the trainer having decided that right-handed tracks were a must for him. Despite looking like he had it all to do before the final bend, the little horse gave us the first glimpse of that quality that makes him a racehorse: his ability to keep trying and keep finding something more to give. He outlasted his rivals to score his second win and gave us plenty of reason to hope he’d keep improving. It’s fair to say that he has done so but not without almost the whole of his six-year-old season off the track through minor injury.

In the meantime, his half-sister Douchkette arrived from France, followed by another sister She Is A Cracker and finally by his then two-year-old half-brother Douchkirk, otherwise known as ‘Frankie’. Douchkette won a hurdle race before being retired from racing to a life as a budding eventer. Cracker was also retired and is now a multiple-winning point-to-pointer while Frankie, also given to us by his breeders, won a bumper first time out and (hopefully) has a promising jumps career ahead of him.

In 2010, Kadouchski didn’t race between 20 January and 1 December. While being prepared for his return to the track, he was involved in the most tragic episode this small stable has had to face, when Chris Watson took what would turn out to be a fatal fall from him during a routine exercise. Nearly ten months on, we still await the inquest into Chris’s death.

He was a proper racing man who was never happier than when riding a thoroughbred – especially Kadouchski – and had he been still with us, it’s safe to say that nobody would have enjoyed the season this horse has had more than Chris.

Kadoucshki’s return from injury came on the flat at Kempton where he gave John’s 16-year-old apprentice Hannah Nunn her first ever race ride. Over an unsuitably short mile, Kadou flew home to finish fourth, beaten only a length. Reverting to hurdles, his third NH run of the season was back at Sandown where he defeated the hot favourite Qalinas by three-quarters of a length with another never-say-die charge up that hill for home.

Deep down the trainer always believed he has what it takes to win on the flat and he was finally proved right on 24 March when Kadouchski won a two-mile handicap in the hands of Rab Havlin.

He ran consistently good races after that, building up to a very special day indeed when Hannah, just a few days after her 17th birthday, would ride him for the fourth time to record her first ever win, by three and a half lengths over two miles at Folkestone. Since returning from injury in December last year, Kadouchski has raced 14 times to finish in the first three on nine occasions.

Despite the fact that he’s not a very big horse, he jumps like a cat and our regular jump jockey Will Kennedy has been itching to ride him in a novice chase. He’s schooled him at home over the big fences and the horse is foot-perfect but, with a lengthy dry spring and summer, John’s been holding off running him in steeplechases until he gets his preferred soft ground.

So…what to do in the meantime? Riding back from the heath one day recently I was having my leg pulled about the idea of me riding Panto in the Town Plate when I turned to John on Kadouchski and said, ‘He’s the one that should be running in the Town Plate.'

Seeing as the trainer never listens to a word I say I thought I’d get away with it but as time wore on it transpired that he had indeed given thought to my half-hearted suggestion and, 24 years since his last ride, John was contemplating a return to the saddle. As the big day drew near he became uncharacteristically nervous until, with hours to go before the big comeback he was properly worked up and walking his box.

For the uninitiated, Newmarket’s Town Plate is a race for amateur riders but certainly not for the faint-hearted. The oldest documented race in history, it is a gruelling 3m6f, starting on National Stud land and finishing on the July Course.

He may have had an amateur on his back but Kadouchski was every bit the professional, settling straight away into a nice rhythm halfway down the field and showing none of the keenness he sometimes displays early in his races.

With the Town Plate being such a long race over an unorthodox course, there are a good few minutes when the runners and riders are out of view. By the time they swung round the corner from the National Stud and into view via the big screens on the racecourse, I could see John had the perfect position, vying for the lead on the inside rail but still going at an easy pace. We’d walked the course the night before with the dogs and decided that the best ground was right along the stands’ rail. This was where they came, gradually inching further and further clear of the chasing pack, until they hit the line 25 lengths to the good.

Cheered back into the winner’s enclosure by so many local people who had turned out for this special race, the grin on John’s face told its own story, and dear old Kadou was hardly blowing. The Town Plate was duly collected, along with the extra prizes, including a big box of Powter’s sausages, prompting a celebratory bangers and mash party back at Beverley House Stables later that night.

To me the day summed up everything that is wonderful about our sport: a genuine little battler of a horse, a retired amateur hoop attempting one last hurrah in the saddle before the midlife crisis well and truly sets in, and most of all the genuine warmth of all those people who wished John well and know just what it means to have one’s name etched on the roll of honour for the oldest race in this most special of racing towns. It was also an historic day for baby Beau Waterhouse, the daughter of our great friends Gemma and Simon, who spent her first ever day at the races at only four days old.

As our friend Gail tucked into her sausages later that night she said she felt like she was eating history. I’ll drink to that.

The pictures running through this post were all taken on Town Plate day and show (from the top): Hugh Fraser leading Kadouchski in the parade ring; John arriving in the parade ring wearing his own historic racing colours (not to be confused with Godolphin's); John and Kadouchski cantering to post alongside Judgethemoment and vet Brian Abbott; 25 lengths clear in the final furlong; celebrating with fellow trainer and ex-jockey Rae Guest; walking in with last year's winners Cape Secret and Derek Jackson, who finished third; John, Gemma and little Beau.

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