A galaxy of stars and former Festival favourites feature in the line-up for this year’s Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) Parade, held on Champion Day, the opening day of The Festival at Cheltenham (Tuesday 14 March).
The parade, which showcases the various activities open to racehorses when they have finished their racing careers, has become an increasingly popular attraction in the build-up to racing on the first day of the meeting.
This year the RoR Parade is sponsored by the Peter O’Sullevan Trust and among the line up are two former Gold Cup winners together with past winners of the Champion Hurdle, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the Stayers’ Hurdle, the Arkle and the Triumph Hurdle.
Joining National Hunt legends such as Denman and Big Buck’s and making their debuts in a RoR Parade are two recently retired chasers, The Giant Bolster and Balthazar King.
The Giant Bolster made the frame in three consecutive runnings of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Retired at the end of 2016, he only started his retraining three months ago but under the tutelage of Lucy Bridgwater, wife of The Giant Bolster’s former trainer David, he is already showing considerable promise and Lucy expects him to thrive in a variety of activities, including dressage and showing.
Lucy, who herself has competed at the Horse of the Year Show, has enjoyed the challenge of retraining The Giant Bolster, aka Sammy, and said: “The prospect of being in the RoR Parade at the Festival is both exciting and a little nerve wracking. As is often the way when retraining a racehorse, there are good days and bad days. One day I was so thrilled with Sammy, he was really listening and was consistently cantering 20-metre circles on each rein and I thought “wow, we have really cracked it”, but the next day he spent the whole time squealing and bucking and not listening.
“I decided to ask his previous trainer (my husband!) for advice. “Take him for a gallop,” he said. Well, it was good advice, although I hate to admit it. Having unleashed his inner racing beast, the following day we were back on track.
“Recently, we did our first RoR dressage clinic and he was really good, he tried so hard. On the way home, I have to admit, I felt quite choked-up. Sammy gave so much to all of us during his racing career and he is still being a star now — he really is the horse that keeps on giving. I think he knows how loved he is.”
Balthazar King won the Cross Country Chase twice, in 2012 and again at the 2014 Festival, however, a year later he incurred a potentially life-threatening injury when he fractured four ribs and punctured a lung following a fall at Aintree. He made a wonderful recovery to race again but was retired last year. After a summer break he started his life after racing based with Izzi Beckett, wife of trainer Ralph, who has hunted him regularly this season.
Izzi says: “Balthazar King has adapted really well to his new life and new routine. He has hunted mainly with the Tedworth Hunt, as well as neighbouring packs and he has taken to it like a natural. He loves watching hounds work and he has impeccable manners. Needless to say his jumping is outstanding!
“Hunting will be his number one job from now on, however, the plan is to try our hand at some RoR show classes this spring and summer.”
Di Arbuthnot, Chief Executive of RoR, added: “It’s wonderful how popular the RoR Parades have become and our sincere thanks to Cheltenham for providing the stage and amphitheatre so that these fabulous horses can really show off, which they undoubtedly enjoy doing.
“To have the likes of Long Run and Denman in the parade alongside the reigning RoR Supreme Champion in the show-ring, Beware Chalk Pit, encapsulates what we as a charity are trying to do. Special thanks also to the Peter O’Sullevan Trust for their generous support as sponsors of the RoR Parades and Musical Ride for 2017.”
Photo: The Giant Bolster and Lucy Bridgwater preparing for their appearance in the RoR Parade at Cheltenham on the opening day of The Festival