The one-eyed team-chasing former racehorse who ‘never says no’

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  • A racehorse who was aiming for the Grand National when his career was ended by a freak stable accident has found a new career team chasing.

    Back In Focus, who was owned by Andrea and Graham Wylie and in training with Willie Mullins, already had a grade 1 victory on his card when he fractured his jaw and cheekbone and ended up losing an eye.

    The now 13-year-old gelding was initially turned away after his accident in spring 2015, but in December 2016 he was taken on by Northamptonshire rider Clare Burrows to begin his new life.

    “One of my best friends, Katharine Charlton, is based just up the road from Willie Mullins’ yard and she told me there might be an opportunity to take on an ex-racehorse whose career had ended but would be OK for team chasing,” she explained.

    “She called me to say she’d found one but he’d only got one eye. I thought maybe I was a bit mad to try a one-eyed horse team chasing but it doesn’t seem to hinder him at all.

    “The fact he’d been turned away and given a year to adapt and work out his bearings after losing an eye probably helped him.”

    Focus has adapted brilliantly to his new job and can regularly be seen competing with the Why Nots intermediate team chasing, as well as hunting with the Fitzwilliam and the Cambridge University Drag Hounds.


    Pictures by Mike Freeman

    “He’d never been hunting before but he’s very quiet and really easy — he’s just a bold, confident horse and if you tell him to go he does. He never says no. He was a really lucky find,” Clare said. “He’s really straightforward — one of those who has always got his ears pricked and likes being out and about. He’s always happy and always puts a smile on your face.”

    While losing an eye can sometimes affect horse’s judgment of fences, or make them a little spooky on their blind side, Focus has coped well with the transition.

    “He doesn’t mind horses coming up on his blind side, which is fortunate team chasing!” Clare said.

    “He’s always been a really good jumper and although I’ve always felt more comfortable jumping a hedge than rails when I’m on an ex-racehorse, he’s pretty tidy over everything. In fact it took a while to get used to his jump because its enormous.”

    The only thing that can sometimes disrupt Focus’s rhythm is changes in surface and water.

    “If there is a prepared take-off with woodchip he can take off in front of the woodchip,” Clare said. “Jumping into water I think sometimes his missing eye can mean he doesn’t judge depth and texture quite as well.”

    Focus’s unusual story has meant he has been selected to feature in the Retraining of Racehorses parade at Cheltenham this year.

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    The horse previously won at the track ridden by Willie’s son, and Clare hopes their appearance will give Focus the chance to catch up with his former connections in Ireland.

    “I’ve kept in contact with Virginie Bascop who was his lass and she is very excited about seeing him at Cheltenham. She still works for Willie and says that of all the horses she’s worked with, he’s the one she’s always still talking about,” said Clare.

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