A Decade of Defining Moments – ( @NiamhTownsend ) - IrishRacing7 A Decade of Defining Moments – ( @NiamhTownsend )

A Decade of Defining Moments – ( @NiamhTownsend )

A Decade of Defining Moments – ( @NiamhTownsend )

I attended my final race meeting of the decade on Saturday at Newbury, and it was only as I was leaving the racecourse that I appreciated just how significant this decade has really been. This time ten years ago, I was 8 years old and had never watched a horse race; approaching this next decade, horse racing has become a staple of my life and it is now unusual when a day goes by when racing is not at least mentioned.

The first race I watched was the Cheltenham Gold Cup of 2010, watching a feature beforehand about Imperial Commander where he was shown flying over a fence is what drew me to pick him as my winner. When he stormed up the Cheltenham hill and passed the winning line in front, I had no idea just how big my love of this great sport would grow in the following years. That day, my dad promised me that one day we would go to Cheltenham on Gold Cup day and in 2020 that will finally happen – I can’t wait!

There has been plenty of reflection in the last few weeks about the very best horses we have seen this decade and I wanted to take the opportunity to look back on some of my personal favourites, the horses that have been the most significant to me in the last ten years. 

10. Special Tiara –

I really wanted to give this very talented boy a mention because he filled the Champion Chaser role between two of the greatest we have ever seen in Sprinter Sacre and Altior. What drew me to Special Tiara is what makes these two-mile chasers so very special, the speed at which he traveled at the front of a pack and the heart-in-mouth way he attacked his fences. His electric leaps around Kempton when winning the Desert Orchid Chase were simply unforgettable, he turned up on all of the big stages and was such a consistent horse. Special Tiara surely deserved to have his moment in the spotlight when he finally won the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2017 for Henry de Bromhead and Noel Fehily. He was such a popular horse and you could say he was unfortunate to have landed his career overlapping both Sprinter Sacre and Altior, but he too deserves to be remembered as the champion that he was. To me, he is up there in the standout two-mile chasers of the decade.

9. Big Orange –

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This horse must be one of the most popular flat racers this decade, and his tussle in the Gold Cup at Ascot is possibly the best finish of the century. Big Orange never knew when he was beaten, and on paper, he never should have been able to beat Order Of St George that Thursday at Royal Ascot, and yet he still managed it. Where flat racing often differs to the National Hunt is the lack of a ‘people’s champion’, but in Big Orange, we were treated to the most determined of horses and the rapturous celebrations at Ascot when he finally won his first Group 1 in the closest of finishes were proof that he was very much the ‘people’s horse’. A few months following his success at Ascot, Big Orange was one of the key attractions at the Newmarket Open Weekend, and I wanted to make sure that I had time to pay him a visit. He knew he was the star of the show; posing for every photo, accepting every carrot he was offered and just generally loving life in the limelight. I felt very lucky to meet this incredibly brave horse and hope he has the loveliest retirement.

8. Many Clouds –

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In hindsight, what Many Clouds achieved in his all too brief career was simply incredible and deserves an awful lot of recognition. To win the Grand National alone is an immense achievement, but to add the Cotswold Chase and the Hennessy in the same season had never been done before, and it is unlikely it will ever happen again. This is yet another example of a horse who just didn’t know when he was beaten and captured the hearts of the nation in doing so. He was the horse of a lifetime for his connections, and at a time when Thistlecrack looked unstoppable, Many Clouds showed all of tenacity and courage to deny the horse dubbed to be the next superstar when he fought back up the Cheltenham hill for a famous victory. The memories of this great race were darkened following the devastating news of the great horse’s demise, but I feel that nearly three years on his incredible victory and career as a whole are celebrated and adored. He was one of a kind and was just about the most loveable horse of the last ten years.

7. Rake’s Progress –

This next inclusion is entirely personal, and for a very good reason. Everyone who has worked in racing remembers the thrill of when they first led up a winner, and when I took Rake’s Progress up to Nottingham I too got to experience that thrill. He is strong around the paddock, keen to get on with the job, but once he gets out onto the track his game face is on. I remember the nerves, watching on as he got caught behind horses, Angus Villiers switching his run, and then the joy as he swept through to go clear and register an easy success. He may not be Group 1 quality like the other horses on this list, but I know how much he is loved by his connections, and he provided me with an unforgettable day.

6. Kauto Star –

I was too young to really appreciate Kauto Star when he was at his brilliant best, but even I remember that historic day when he regained his King George crown in 2011. He was an exceptional racehorse, and I made a habit of watching back his previous races, it’s no wonder why people loved him so much. It’s simply incredible that he had the speed to be at the very highest level over two miles as well as climbing to the very top of the staying chaser’s ladder. I think what makes a horse truly memorable is when they face adversity and then show the bravery to fight their way back; Kauto Star was written off, a shadow of his former glory, and yet he still came back to prove himself to be the very best chaser of the century. He was truly a star.

5. Toronado –

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In 2012 my dad and I made the journey up to Doncaster for the St Leger when Camelot was on the Triple Crown trail. While we were hoping to see a piece of history created that day, I was not left entirely disappointed as a young colt called Toronado burst onto the scene in the Champagne Stakes with a very easy victory. In the twilight days of Frankel’s career, the question on everyone’s minds was who the next superstar would be. I sincerely hoped that I had seen the next great horse that day in Toronado, and while he would not turn out to scale the heights, I had hoped he would he was still a standout racehorse. I retained the faith in him, despite two defeats to Dawn Approach as a three-year-old, but his win in the Sussex Stakes was absolutely brilliant, textbook Richard Hughes as he waited until the very last moment to sweep by the field and win comfortably. The following year we went to Goodwood to see if he could repeat the feat, and although I didn’t get to see my favourite register another Group 1 success, I was treated to an exceptional race (and of course the opportunity to see the great Kingman and Highland Reel on the same day)! It must be said, if you are considering a trip to Glorious Goodwood in 2020 I would definitely recommend it, it is a truly unique and stunning course. I cannot quite put my finger on what it was that drew me to Toronado so much, and yet I still found myself willing him on to win every time he ran. He must be one of my favourite flat racers, and I really hope that his offspring can do him proud on the track in the next decade.

4. Frankel –

I couldn’t exactly put together a list of my favourite horses from the last decade without mentioning this legend. Frankel was truly one in a million, with just remarkable and unbelievable amounts of ability and talent. The way he was able to simply breeze past multiple group one winners such as Faarh and St Nicholas Abbey will live long in the memory. His career as a racehorse was unforgettable, and although some believe him to be a disappointing sire so far, his record speaks for itself and I am definitely impressed. Frankel would not have been as great as he was without his legendary trainer, Sir Henry Cecil. This horse was his greatest triumph, an absolute masterpiece. When I went to Champions Day for the first time, I could not have been luckier to see the great Frankel win for one last time on the racecourse. For all racing fans, that is one of the ultimate ‘I was there’ moments. If one thing is for certain when it comes to Frankel it is that it doesn’t matter when you are watching back his races, whether it was while they were happening or years later, he really was the best.

3. Sprinter Sacre –

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I challenge anyone reading this to think of a more stunning or graceful racehorse than Sprinter Sacre. In his prime, he was unstoppable, absolutely devastating to anyone who dared oppose him. He made the likes of Cue Card and Sizing Europe look ordinary, but his incredible younger days do not even tell half of his story. Calls were made for Sprinter Sacre to be retired following a few below-par runs following his return from a lengthy absence enforced by a fibrillating heart. His brilliant connections knew better, though, as Nicky Henderson masterminded one of the great racing comebacks. The reception after Sprinter showed his old zest in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham was rapturous, but it was only going to get better from there. As he attempted to regain his crown in the Queen Mother Champion Chase in March, Sprinter Sacre faced a host of young pretenders, including the exuberant Un De Sceaux, but the crowd lifted the old champion home to an unforgettable success. The next week, on my 15th birthday, I was lucky enough to get up close to this heroic horse. He knew he was the star of the show, one of the greatest ever.

2. Frodon –

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When I saw that Paul Nicholls had entered a four-year-old in the Betvictor Gold Cup I thought this horse must be something special, but when I first saw this little lion cross my television screen I had no idea just how good he would be. It wasn’t long after he won the first of his Caspian Caviar Gold Cups that I saw him when I visited Paul Nicholl’s Ditcheat yard, although the visit was tailored for me to meet my hero, Silviniaco Conti, I wanted to make time to visit Frodon as well. While he had a quiet season the following year, barring another brilliant win at his beloved Cheltenham and a promising run in the Ascot Chase, I never lost the faith. Last season was simply unbelievable, Frodon only got better and better. A wind operation and newfound partnership with Bryony Frost seem to have been the making of him on a racecourse, his front running tactics and the way he attacks his fences just show that he is a horse in love with the game. Now everyone knows Frodon’s name following his fairytale success in the Ryanair Chase earlier this year, it’s definitely a day that I won’t forget. It’s always tricky to fill the void when your favourite horse retires, but Frodon has done a superb job.

1. Silviniaco Conti –

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I’ve mentioned many times before how special this horse is to me, and if you know me well you will hardly be surprised to see that he is my favourite racehorse of the decade. He was, of course, the horse who really established a connection between me and racing. Silviniaco Conti was one of a kind, the neatest and accurate jumper of a fence I have ever seen and I won’t ever forget the best days he had running around a racecourse, winning 7 grade 1’s in an illustrious career. His best win was undoubtedly when he captured a second King George VI Chase in 2014, but I made the trip up to Aintree in 2015 to see my favourite horse in person when he took part in the Betfred Bowl. That day ranks up there with the best of my life, and I will never forget watching him hang on to a brave win. But I had no idea that our paths would cross one last time at the end of 2016 when I was lucky enough to meet him in Ditcheat. I will never ever forget this horse and have no doubt that the depth of my love for racing stems greatly from the simply incredible Silviniaco Conti.

I guess all there is left to say is wherever you are, I wish you a very happy new year and all the best in 2020. I hope that the next decade will be as memorable as the last one.
Happy New Year!