Meet the ‘famous for being quirky’ racehorse: ‘Don’t count your chickens before he crosses the line’

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  • National Hunt trainer Ben Pauling describes eight-year-old gelding Harper’s Brook as something of an “enigma”, having dramatically pulled himself up to a near-walk in his previous three races – usually with victory in his sights.

    In fact, he hadn’t won a race since November 2022 and they’ve tried every tactic in the racing manual.

    But on Saturday (3 February), with some sympathetic cajoling from new jockey Ben Jones, the quirky gelding survived a drama-packed race and maintained his forward momentum just long enough to win Sandown Park’s Virgin Bet Every Saturday Money Back Handicap Chase, much to the delight – and relief – of the team.

    Groom Shannon Parker, who has looked after Harper’s Brook for the past two seasons, tells H&H she ended up in floods of tears after he finally crossed the line in front.

    “Sometimes it’s hard to keep the faith with him, but he’s finally done it,” she says. “I couldn’t help myself but I actually cried – I think it was relief really because you still love him, but there’s all the frustration when he keeps coming second.”

    Trainer Ben Pauling: “Harper’s Brook just says ‘I’m done!’”

    The trainer says The Megsons’ son of Ask has always been one of the most talented horses on the yard.

    “He showed that in his early career, but he’s becoming famous for being quite quirky,” says Ben Pauling.

    “Getting his head in front across the line hasn’t necessarily been easy, but at Sandown things came in our favour. It’s not from lack of ability or tiredness that he stops, he just decides he’s done enough and says, ‘I’m done’. As a trainer, it’s an extraordinary feeling because you can’t do much about it. As a jockey, you are just a passenger.

    The Ben Pauling-trained Harper's Brook jumps the last at Sandown.

    Harper’s Brook (Ben Jones) jumps the last en route to his first victory since November 2022.

    “He has an effortless way of going about life, he’s a brilliant jumper, he has a massive stride and at home he’s a superb workhorse,” continues the trainer, who also won the Sandown bumper with Sixmilebridge that day.

    “You don’t want a messy race, but ironically it might have kept him interested – the loose horse nearly knocked him for six at the Pond Fence, then he nearly fell at the second-last, but he travelled so well.

    “Shannon gets a bit of stick on the yard for him, but she always sticks up for him. Hopefully he’ll win plenty more races when it falls right. Just don’t count your chickens before he’s crossed the line.”

    “He’s a monkey and everyone gives me stick, but he’s a dream to ride”

    Shannon says Harper’s Brook keeps everyone on their toes.

    “He’s so big and beautiful but everyone knows when he’s around at home!” she says. “He jumps all over the shop when we’re riding out and sets everyone else off – it’s great fun for me! He’s a monkey and everyone gives me stick for him. But he’s a dream to ride, especially to canter, and he works so well, he doesn’t even need to try and I never carry a stick on him.

    “But as soon as you push him, he goes backwards and jockey Ben Jones said he had to tell himself not to push him – which is so hard when the horse underneath you is turning inside out to stop!”

    In his post-race analysis, Ben said, “I’ve never crossed the line so slowly in my life!

    “We went a good old gallop and that strung us out, which probably did me a favour because I didn’t have anyone breathing down my neck and I got in a lovely rhythm,” he says. “I thought we were a goner when the loose horse came across us. It was a bit of a crawl up the home straight – I just wanted to hold on as long as I could.”

    Shannon sums up: “He’s just such a character and you can’t not love him.”

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