Tom Symonds’ diary: the story behind Scholastica

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  • In May 2010, I was having the annual trip with my then-boss Nicky Henderson to the Doncaster store sale in search of the next star – like Bobs Worth who, at £20,000, came reasonably priced.

    The sales are a great place to learn and it costs nothing to be there, sponging up information. I used to spend hours at Tattersalls in Newmarket with no other ambition but to learn from the hive of activity.

    Bloodstock agent David Minton, Nicky and I had been through and finalised our list of potential stars – remember these are store sales, so what I talked about in “what makes a racehorse” all applies, but this is all prediction and judgement about what are, so far, beasts of untapped potential. Buying into the unknown can be tremendously satisfying and also very aggravating. However, an unknown and potential star is cheaper than the already reputable Kauto Star!

    While Nicky did battle with Messrs Nicholls, King and McCain, I was out on the rails thinking how on earth I would have the means to come by a horse at this sale. My training career was not commencing for another year, but investing in this equine kindergarten might pay off in a year’s time. It was then that David Redvers approached me and told me to look at Lot 210 across the pre-sale ring. A swaggering three-year-old Old Vic filly strode by; she was a racey early type.

    Telepathically, David then suggested that I needed to think about stock for when I started training and that a filly of this type had helped another Herefordshire trainer early in her career (Lady Rebecca and Venetia Williams). You can only imagine how that made me feel!

    We discussed a plan and it ended up with me being the one to bid on lot 210. There was limited interest in her and we secured her for £6,500.

    She came to hand early and, after spending time at Seven Barrows, we moved her to Charlie Longsdon where she won her bumper at Uttoxeter in the spring.

    I named her Scholastica because both David and I were educated in Benedictine schools and actually attended the same prep school – he is another St Richard’s expat. Saint Scholastica is Saint Benedict’s twin sister so I thought it appropriate at the time – David and I being so pious, of course!

    It certainly helped on Saturday when she made her reappearance for me at Bangor. She confirmed my belief that she is tough and talented – which is always reassuring. After Duc De Regniere’s slightly disappointing effort, she gave me the boost I needed.

    A fairytale Hennessy result

    Carruthers winning the Hennessey was the result of the season. Owned and bred by Lord Oaksey, trained by his son-in-law and ridden by the jocular Mattie Batchelor. John Lawrence (Lord Oaksey) rode Taxidermist to win the second running in 1958 of this steeplechase.

    Although he famously had an ante-post wager on his then young horse Carruthers for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, something about this triumph, and Lord Oaksey’s lamented absence, had more resonance. He and his wife Chicky put so much into the backbone of horseracing and while they soldier on for the good of the sport and its supporters, the BHA choke on trying to solve “problems” like next years fixture list. This is of course a key factor in the creating of their famed Injured Jockey Fund calendars and diary.

    So many people rely on the jurisdiction of the powers that be in horse racing and at the moment so much of what they rashly or mistakenly do seems unjust to many. What happened on Saturday was an Aldaniti meets Dawn Run moment. Disbelief was suspended and reality blurred into the surreal – as my English teacher would say, “like any gothic novel!”

    What a monster Big Buck’s is

    Saturday also saw the return of the formidable Big Buck’s. What a monster of a horse he is. He dwarfed everything else around the paddock in stature and the on the racecourse in sheer ability. What is more incredible is that he looked like he would come on for his run a lot and he simply toyed with the opposition!

    The legacy of his sire, the now deceased Cadoudal, lives on through his sons, which also include none other than Long Run. These two outstanding physical specimens certainly live up to their looks. Racing fans have been spoilt in the staying hurdling division in recent years with the likes of Baracouda, Iris’s Gift and Inglis Drever, but Big Buck’s really does look like the real deal. He is doing what Limestone Lad did parochially in Ireland but also on the biggest stage.

    Equating form in time is difficult but the evergreen “Limestone” did floor reigning Champion Hurdler Istabraq in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle in 1999… Perhaps a match between Big Buck’s and Hurricane Fly in the Aintree Hurdle would suffice?

    This aside, Big Buck’s has now equalled Bula’s record of 13 unbeaten starts over hurdles and the sky is simply not even beginning to be the limit for this eight-year-old. His groom, Rose Loxton, must have “Ditch-eated” her alarm clock in order to dote on this horse and his now apparently ageing stable-mate – none other than Kauto Star.

    These horses seem to be timeless and although it is easy to take them for granted, we must not be guilty of doing so. Indeed, Paul Nicholls will tell you how hard it was to get Call Equiname to win one Queen Mother Champion Chase or even get Young Devereux to the track.

    Denman, Kauto and Big Buck’s have been standing dishes for so many years and the saddest thing about National Hunt racing is that we only begin to truly appreciate them when they aren’t there.

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