We look at some of the great racehorses who have plied their trade well into their golden years with great success.
Horses, like humans get older. And as they get older, their ability and love of love of racing can decline, and they can often exhibit signs that they’ve had enough and want to retire into a nice field to live out their remaining days.
However, not all horses are like that, and some elder equine statesmen positively thrive on the competition and continue racing well into their ‘teens’, often holding their own against horses many years their younger.
Here we take a look at some of the game’s stalwarts who were still – and in some cases still are - plying their trade on the course well into their golden years.
SONNY SOMERS (18 years old)
It is hard to think that an 18-year-old horse could still be competitive enough to win races, but in Sonny Somers that indeed was the case as Fred Winters’ charge equalled the record for the oldest horse to win a race in Britain. Indeed, only five horses including the bold Sonny Somers have achieved the feat.
Fred Winters’ charge did the feat twice in 1980, winning first at Southwell, and then travelling to win again at Lingfield on his final start.
Although he never scaled any real heights in his career, he did manage to finish runner-up in the 1971 Cathcart Chase at Cheltenham. He would be ridden in his career by the likes of Ben de Haan and John Francome, both of whom were barely older than the horse themselves.
VICTORY GUNNER (16 years old)
Richard Lee’s grand old campaigner first appeared on the racecourse as a precocious four-year old way back in December 2002 when contesting a bumper at Newbury under the care of Henry Oliver.
He finished eighth on that occasion, and ran five more times before getting off the mark at Taunton the following year when trained by Chris Roberts. That trainer would enjoy plenty of success with the Old Vic gelding until he joined Richard Lees’ yard in 2010.
He made a winning debut for his new yard when scoring at Towcester in February 2011 and has continued to pay his way since.
In fact, the grand campaigner is still racing, and recently finished second at Ffos Las behind Tarraco at the age of 16.
In all, Victory Gunner has raced 80 times under rules, winning on 14 occasions and finding the frame on a further 12 runs, amassing some £107,000 in win and place prize money.
Victory Gunner continues to ply his trade as a 16 year old, and recently was runner-up at Ffos Las. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/ Getty Images)
FIDDLERS PIKE (16 years old)
Owned and trained by galloping grandmother Rosemary Henderson, Fiddlers Pike was a late arrival to the racing game, making his first start under rules as a 10-year-old at Newton Abbot where he was runner-up.
A dour stayer, he campaigned originally in hunter chases until he finished fourth to Black Humour at Warwick, and then won the Warwick National next time, beating Into The Red and followed up at Chepstow in the John Hughes Grand National Trial, beating Bonanza Boy.
The Turnpike gelding would continue to take in the big marathon events, often running with the utmost credit; however, it is his exploits at Aintree in the 1994 Grand National that put him – and his rider – on the map as the duo finished fifth to Miinnehoma at odds of 100/1 to become only the second female-ridden horse to complete the course in the famous steeplechase.
He wouldn’t taste success again under rules, but continued to feature in all the top staying chases; his last outing came at Newton Abbot in 1997 where, as a 16-year-old he was sixth of eight runners, again ridden by Rosemary Henderson, and racing off a mark of 84. He had been rated as high as 157 in his pomp.
In 35 starts under rules, he won just four times, placing in nine others for total prize money of 49,890.
MAC VIDI (15 years old)
Not long after the exploits of Sonny Somers, Mac Vidi became the oldest horse to be placed in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, finishing third behind Master Smudge and Tied Cottage in the 1980 renewal of the big race, only to be later promoted to second.
It was the end of a fairytale for the horse who had an inauspicious breeding, being out of a mare that cost only £100 and that modest sum saw the horse largely perform only moderately for much of his career until he bloomed late on to win eight of his last eleven starts in handicaps before taking in the Gold Cup.
SPOTTHEDIFFERENCE (14 years old)
Making his debut as a five-year old in point-to-points, Spotthedifference would make his mark in hunter chases in the early part of his career, but contested plenty of high profile events including the 2002 Grand National where he unseated his rider behind eventual winner Bindaree.
He would compete in all spheres – hunter chases, point-to-points, hurdles and chases before finding his niche in the Cross-Country sphere, winning seven times around Cheltenham’s unique Cross-Country course, including at the Festival and he was placed in two other attempts at the feature event.
He, along with Garde Champetre, perhaps put Enda Bolger as ‘the man’ when it came to unravelling this unique race, and was last seen winning around the course in November 2007, aged 14 years, beating Casadei and Puntal.
Spotthedifference was a real Cheltenham Cross-country specialist. (Photo by Julian Herbert)
SEE MORE BUSINESS (13 years old)
The top-class See More Business took his first steps onto the racecourse as a five-year old back in November 1995, winning his debut run for Paul Nicholls and AP McCoy, and he very quickly developed into a smart performer, winning his first four races.
A glittering career would see him fail to complete the course on only five occasions from his 36 starts, and he struck up formidable partnerships with the likes of Timmy Murphy, Joe Tizzard and most notably Mick Fitzgerald with whom he won the 1999 Cheltenham Gold Cup, aged nine, beating a horse five years his senior in Go Ballistic.
The Seymour Hicks gelding boasted an illustrious CV with wins in addition to the Blue Riband in other big feature races such as the King George VI Chase, which he won twice; and the Charlie Hall Chase, in which he was also a dual-winner.
His last run came at Chepstow in 2003 in the Rehearsal Chase, where he was a well beaten fourth behind Sir Rembrandt. He was 13 at the time, so was still a nipper compared to some.
A winner of 18 of his 36 starts, with a further six placed efforts, Paul Nicholls’ stalwart amassed over £700,000 in win and place prize money; he passed away earlier in 2014, aged 24.