‘From herding cows to HOYS’: versatile ‘legend’ crowned retrained racehorse of the year

  • The “versatile” First Fandango, who has tasted success at every discipline he has tried, has been crowned The Jockey Club Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) horse of the year by broadcaster Clare Balding.

    The 16-year-old, formerly trained by Tim Vaughan, ran 50 times including at four consecutive Cheltenham Festivals before joining Hannah Chisman to start his new life in 2017. The pair have hunted, team-chased, evented, showjumped and tasted success in the show ring.

    “He can be winning showjumping Saturday, at a top-class show Sunday, and teaching my little boy on Monday. There is nothing he can’t do,” said Hannah, whose days start around 4.30/5am before she heads off to work full-time as travelling head girl for trainer John Spearing.

    “I actually had his full brother. I hunted him down and asked his trainer, Tim, very nicely if I could have him when he had finished.”

    She added that “Freddie’s” “attitude to life” is what makes him so special.

    “There’s nothing he will say no to,” she said. “He’s so loving. When you walk into the barn, he is the first to talk to you.

    “He’s always given me his all in everything we do – from herding cows to showing off at the Horse of the Year Show.”

    She said “words will never explain how amazing he is”, thanking her friends for their support “whether I need a pram pushing or tack cleaning – it means so much”.

    “That horse is an absolute legend. One thing is I wish my mum was still around to witness all of what I’ve done with my horses. She was the main woman in my life who got me going,” she said.

    “He is part of the family and has given me some of the best days of my life. Just doing what I do every day with him is already a win for me and we all love him.”

    Clare urged owners to showcase the “love and reward that goes both ways” and the “incredible versatility, bravery, willingness and intelligence” of retrained racehorses to help change misconceptions.

    “They have brought so much to the lives of those that ride them now, that own them now, and you have done so much for them. It’s just a really lovely virtuous circle,” she said.

    “I would urge you to keep filming stuff, putting them on social media, talking about them. Because together we are reinventing the way people think racehorses are and what they’re capable of.”

    She also encouraged racing to speak to the wider equestrian world more.

    “Racing can often exist in a bit of a vacuum,” said Clare. “I think this is a hugely important way in which we reach across different equestrian disciplines. I’ve always tried to say to racing ‘You need to be talking to eventing, you need to be talking to showjumping, to dressage, and to endurance worlds and the showing worlds and the hunting worlds’, because we don’t work as one in this country.

    “We all love horses, we all have partnerships with them that mean different things, when actually we very rarely get to be together. And this is a very important opportunity for that.”

    RoR chairman Philip Freedman echoed similar thoughts in his opening address.

    “Never has it been more important for racing, and indeed for all equestrian activities, to showcase what they do for their former equine athletes once their first career is completed,” he said.

    The horse of the year runners-up were William Grant’s “lovable character” Skipper Robin, 17, and 2014 Grand National winner Pineau De Re, owned by Richard Newland and John Provan. Pineau’s rider Lizzie Brunt credited the 20-year-old with helping her re-find her love for eventing.

    Elite champion awards were presented across disciplines. In showing, Time Down Under – who never beat a single horse on the track – claimed series champion with owner-rider Justine Armstrong-Small, with Morean Hamilton’s Rich Man Poor Man, ridden by Kirstine Douglas, crowned supreme.

    Finch Fancy, co-owned by rider Ben Liles with Phil and Charlie May Ainsworth, won the eventing prize, while Vicky Heal’s Tribunel, who has done more than 200 days with 15 packs, won the hunting award. Judith Barker’s My Diss Sire took the dressage title, Hazel Jackson-Gaona’s Far Song the polo award, and Sam Tomlinson’s Lilbourne Prince the endurance accolade.

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