Top eventer found via pub chat retires ‘owing us nothing’

Top event horse Chance Remark, who found his home thanks to an overheard pub conversation, has retired from competition after a distinguished career spanning 12 years.

The 17-year-old, by Actinum, jumped double clear around Burghley last year to finish eighth and also took a fifth place at Luhmühlen CCI4* (now CCI5*-L) with Willa Newton.

“We had really hoped to give him one more season but sadly it wasn’t meant to be,” said Willa.

“He had been in such good form and in great condition that it was gutting to have to withdraw him at the last minute before Badminton. He has done so much for me and, having had such a brilliant season last year, it is definitely the right decision.”

Chance Remark

Chance Remark and Willa Newton at the Burghley 2018 prize giving. Credit: Nico Morgan Media

Bought by Feena Machin from Ireland as a four-year-old, the Irish-bred gelding was started by Feena and did his first affiliated events with Nicky McDonnell. He was then campaigned by Feena’s daughter, Boogie, and Rebecca Crosbie-Starling prior to joining Willa’s string in 2013.

It was down to an overheard conversation in an Irish pub that Feena found the horse — and how he got his name.

“I was looking to buy two horses — I wanted an eight-year-old with showjumping form that wasn’t going to make the grade, but was safe, for Boogie, and I wanted a four-year-old four-star (now five-star) horse,” explained Feena. “And I found them both on the same trip to Ireland.”

The “two-star horse” was Blockbuster III, (“Ben”) who competed up to CCI2* (now CCI3*-L) with Boogie and also with Canada’s Waylon Roberts, finishing 10th at the London Olympic test event. Now aged 22, he is still enjoying an active life of hunting and showjumping.

Meanwhile the “four-star horse” was Chance Remark (“Austen”) — so called because someone overheard her “chance remark” that she was looking for a horse.

“I was in a pub in Ireland and was telling anybody who would listen that I wanted to buy a four-star horse,” she added.

“Somebody overheard me and tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘I don’t know where you can find a two-star horse, but I do know a four-year-old that would make four-star’.”

Feena added the person told her that the horse was not entered in a sale that was happening in the area at that time and told her to go and wait at a point where a blue van would pull up, which she should get in.

“I climbed in the back and pulled the door to behind me — I didn’t see or speak to the driver — we drove for about 15 miles and I thought ‘maybe this wasn’t such a good idea’,” she laughed. “We got to the yard and they showed me Austen, who was this beautiful, classy animal. But when we loose-jumped him, he had no class or style.

“That was until we put the fence up to a 4ft parallel and he came round the corner, lowered his head, got right underneath it, ballooned over it, kicked out his back end, and landed in trot. Then he turned and looked at me as if to say: ‘Satisfied? Can I go and have my dinner now?’

“The look on his face was so arrogant it reminded me of when the supermodel Linda Evangelista famously said ‘we don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day’. He was saying ‘if you don’t put the jumps up, then I won’t bother’.”

Feena always wanted Austen to fulfil his top-level potential and tried to sell him with that in mind several times, but he failed the vet, on X-rays for things that have “never caused him problems”.

“He also had zero tolerance of people that didn’t sit lightly and ask him nicely,” she said.

“I am eternally grateful to Willa as she has made him shine.”

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The horse, who is now co-owned by Feena, Peter Thomas, Jenny Leslie and Christina Thompson, finished 12th in the 2018 British Eventing (BE) rankings and retires with 520 BE points to his name.

“I feel incredibly lucky to have done what we have done together and I am so very grateful to him for giving me some amazing moments,” added Willa.

“I don’t think I will ever ride a horse that makes five-star feel that easy and I am just so grateful to the owners that I got to play a small part in this amazing horse’s career.

“Austen owes us nothing and, although it was a difficult decision to retire him, hopefully he can enjoy a happy retirement fit and well.”

A statement from Feena and Peter said it is “every owner’s dream to achieve five-star success”.

“We are immensely proud of Willa and her team for establishing such a great relationship with Chance Remark (aka Austen) and taking us on a fantastic journey to the top,” they added.

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