Swapping hunting country for Aintree: Meet the RoR Racing to Hunting Challenge finalists

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  • Five former racehorses will take to the hallowed turf at Aintree on Sunday (29 October), however, it won’t be a case of who can get their head in front this time — they will, instead, be showing off their skills and versatility developed on the hunting field.

    The retrained thoroughbreds and their riders will be taking part in the final of the Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) “Racing to Hunting Challenge”. Launched in January this year, it promotes ex-racehorses who have adapted particularly well in their second career of hunting.

    The finalists — from a list of 30 — will face a series of challenges, including jumping obstacles that they might come across on a day’s hunting. They will also parade with the Holcombe Harriers hounds, with their behaviour and performance being monitored by the knowledgeable judging panel.

    Commentator Mike Tucker heads the panel, which also includes H&H racing correspondent Marcus Armytage, the Hon Lucinda Cavendish and Rupert Nuttall, who visited each horse in action on the hunting field.

    The winning rider will be the recipient of the Meriel Tufnell Trophy and £2,500 prize-money, while their hunt will receive £1,000.

    Ahead of the big occasion on Countryside Day — which features the Grade Two Old Roan Chase, plus a charity race in aid of the Countryside Alliance — H&H found out more about the five finalists:

    AccordintoLawrence ridden by Hannah Lloyd (Cattistock)

    An 11-year-old by Accordion who was formally trained by Charlie Longsdon and was leased to run in the name of the TV show Soccer AM. Hannah was asked by Charlie to take him hunting and she quickly realised “Lawrence” preferred hunting to racing — she’s now had him for five seasons.

    “He’s a dream to have in the yard and I’m very lucky to have been given him by my old boss,” says Hannah. “I’ve put many of my friends up on him for a day’s hunting as I know he is safe, but fun. His love for the hounds and hunting is extraordinary.”

    Brumous ridden by Melanie Duff (VWH)

    The 17-year-old gelding was gifted by his former trainer Oliver Sherwood to Melanie in 2009. He has since not missed a season — regularly hunting two-and-a-half days a week.

    “He is a true legend on the hunting field, he has mastered, whipped in and been a part of the field,” says Melanie. “He stands at the meet, will wait quietly in line before a fence and potter around happily on the more quiet days.

    “Come to the big days, he is in his element — brave as a lion and as reliable as a Labrador.”

    Prince Car (below, right) ridden by Lauren Poulton (Radnor & West Hereford)

    Described by Lauren as her “horse of a lifetime”, the 14-year-old had a successful career point-to-pointing before switching to hunting, which they have done regularly for the past seven seasons.
    Alongside taking part in both showing and showjumping, the pair also completed the famous Golden Button hunt race.

    Seaniethesmuggler (main picture, top) ridden by Stephanie Finlay (Ludlow)

    The former point-to-point schoolmaster, who is now 19, enjoys his “retirement” on the hunting field with Saturday master Stephanie.

    “Seanie was immediately pitched straight in at the deep end to fieldmaster on Saturdays, such was my trust of this horse,” she says. “He did not only have impeccable manners, but also the raw ability to cross the trappy Ludlow country with ease.”

    Sound Of Cheers ridden by Isabel Barker (Yorkshire Farmers Bloodhounds)

    A son of world champion miler Zilzal, the 20-year-old started his racing career in Hong Kong before returning to the UK — in total he ran 76 times, wining over fences and a hurdle race.

    “He is never strong but will always keep up and stay with hounds taking hedges, timber, dykes and ditches in his stride,” says Isabel. “He will go first being the jumping fieldmaster or hang at the back and shut gates. He is great with hounds and has proved himself ‘whipping in’ for the bloodhounds on a few occasions.”

    For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday.

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