Opinion

TAGS:

On Saturday at Cheltenham, I had my final ride on our stable star and my best mate Sire De Grugy. We had discussed in depth with his owners that if he didn’t perform at Cheltenham in the Junior Jumpers Chase, we would retire him.

He’d been in good form at home leading up to the meeting and we were hopeful of him running a big race.

Cantering down to the start he felt great. However, during the race I felt he lacked scope over some of the jumps — which is not like him — and we finished at the back of the field.

The decision to call it a day was confirmed afterwards — we wanted to retire him in one piece; after all he owes us nothing. As he’s now 11, we didn’t want him to be forced into retirement through injury.

He’s been with us at Cisswood Stables for a long time. When he first arrived, he was a typical French horse — I think he’d been eating too many baguettes because he was keen and had to learn to relax.

His character has changed over the years. Initially he was a bit mad and tricky to deal with — he hated the vet and couldn’t stand the clippers anywhere near him.

However, with the ponies and my kids he has always been so quiet. The kids could have camped in his stable and he wouldn’t have harmed them. You know it if he likes you and you certainly know it if he doesn’t!

He’s a very special horse to me; he’s like my pet at home and I ride him out each day. He loves a trip down to the beach every now and again too. I won races with him that I grew up watching on TV and wishing one day that would be me, including two Tingle Creeks at Sandown in 2013 and 2015, and the 2014 Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. He won very impressively at Ascot in the Grade One Clarence House Chase in 2014 too.

‘He’d die for you’

He won at so many different racecourses; he always battled it out for you — he’d die for you.

I’ve sat on a few horses with similar ability to him — most memorably the former Martin Pipe-trained Well Chief — however, I built a special partnership with Sire De Grugy.

I first sat on him as a three-year-old in Senonnes, France. I had tried probably seven horses and he was the last one — all the others were much more expensive!

I galloped and jumped him over about 16 furlongs; I wanted to see how long he could keep it up. Well, we had two other horses in front of us and by the end we’d got past both of them.

Afterwards he didn’t trot up very well but I rang Dad [Sire De Grugy’s trainer, Gary] and said I had to bring him home, I couldn’t believe the engine he had on him.

Keeping him sound has always been an issue and he suffers from arthritis. Back then I thought we might not have much time with him but he’ll win some races. So I was surprised when he gave us eight seasons.

Sire De Grugy was a 50th birthday present for his joint-owner Steve Preston. His owners have been brilliant — they’ve had total trust in us and allowed us to do what we think best. I’m grateful they’re allowing us to keep him at Cisswood in his retirement because it’s always been home to him and he loves his routine.

He’ll go out with the kids on their ponies, and one day will teach them how to ride a racehorse.

Ref Horse & Hound; 21 December 2017