Codie, the long-necked big black horse whom Graham Smiths tucks in behind the leader in the all-conquering Forge Flyers team-chasing squad, tends to be overshadowed by his flashy front-running 19-year-old stablemate, Junior, ridden Graham’s partner, Debbie Topping.
But the giraffe-like 17-year-old has a place in team chasing history all of his own, with 33 open victories to his name, including two national titles, and more than £18,000 in prize-money won.
In 1996, Graham and his father, John Smith, were looking for a horse to replace their top team chaser TC.
“I thought I’d never find another TC, but it was extraordinary: Dad and I had always admired Codie, and then suddenly, there he was for sale in Horse & Hound that week.
Codie (registered as Northern Code) – by Funny Man, sire of the top chaser Riverside Boy and a number of good eventers had been bought off the racetrack by Brian Lees, who rode him in the Chasing Chiefs. The horse always ran superbly, but was hampered by his jockey’s terrible eyesight they invariably jumped the wrong fence.
When Graham tried Codie, he popped him over an overgrown tiger-trap with a huge thistle in front.
“He pinged it and I said: ‘that’ll do me.’”
The next hurdle was the vetting, which he failed miserably, the vet highlighting two bowed tendons and navicular syndrome, but gut instinct prevailed and the Smiths went ahead with the purchase.
Two days later, Codie ran at the Cottesmore team chase, where the Forge Flyers won, and Graham has never had a horse vetted since.
The pair made a brief and disastrous foray into point-to-pointing: Graham spent an alarming circuit of Marks Tey hauling on the reins with his feet up around Codie’s ears as the horse locked his jaw before he fell through the second last fence, leaving Graham with a dislocated shoulder. After another similar incident, Graham realised that team chasing was more enjoyable.
“Codie is deceptively fast, but he is a real ‘slitherer’ over fences; neither his galloping nor his jumping are impressive, he doesn’t give the fences any air, and when he comes to a big drop, he just slithers.
“You certainly couldn’t show jump him, and he’s be too hollow-backed and stiff for eventing. Team chasing has been a great sport for him: it’s given him a lease of life that he might not have otherwise had.
“I ride him in a rubber snaffle and it’s like being in a car. If you’re right it’s wonderful, if you’re not, you think ‘Oh God’ and sit there.
“But you could sit a blow-up doll on him and Codie would take it round safely!”
The horse is also placid in the stable, although every season he traditionally gets so excited on the way to the first team chase that he kicks the lorry to pieces before settling for the rest of the outings.
He and Junior adore each other; they follow each other in the school and Codie’s favourite place in a team chase is right behind the older horse.
“They must be two of the greatest team chase horses ever,” says Graham. “For a long time, we couldn’t find any horses to keep up with them, and it wasn’t until Yvonne [Goss] and Perry came along that we were really successful.”
In 1999 Codie suffered a dreadful accident in the field when he got caught in barbed wire and nearly sawed his hind leg off. The vet suggested that there was an infection in the joint and that he should be shot. With the huntsman on his way to do the awful job, Graham took his horse for a last pick of grass.
John Smith, who was looking on, suddenly said: “Hang on, he ought to be more lame than that. I am going to get a second opinion.”
A second vet diagnosed the infection to be lower than the joint and Codie was saved, literally at the eleventh hour. Four months later, he was part of the winning Forge Flyers team at Badsworth.
Graham cites his best ride as the national championships last year.
“He was brilliant that day. He was carrying 4 ½st more than anyone else, the ground was like concrete and he still kept up with Junior. He was tired afterwards, but he bounced back. He’s been a wonderful horse to me.”