From Stratford Ponds to Starchitect


The mid October meeting at Kempton was always my starting point of the jump season. The 1991 edition of the Captain Quist Hurdle was a contest that will always live in the memory for all the wrong reasons. As a young impressionable racing fan, it was the first time that a personal hero had been lost on the track. Stratford Ponds will not be a household name, nor a horse who many will remember but he was a bold jumping strong traveller on the southern circuit. When he dived at the third last that day an already chilly autumn day became positively freezing.

That same deep chill descended across Prestbury Park this afternoon as Starchitect went from bolting up in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup to the most tragic of lows in one mis-step. The crown silenced, Ryan Day on the winner looking almost embarrassed to be interviewed afterwards but eloquent in his summing up of the contest just the same. Starchitect had been runner-up in the BetVictor Gold Cup in desperate conditions in November, a winner over two miles and placed over three. He was as versatile a gelding as there was in training and one who David Pipe and his team were yet to get to the bottom of.

It is a dangerous sport for all participants, that is a fact that we live with on a daily basis. Harry Cobden was lucky to walk away without more serious injury when a horse stood on his throat after a fall from Mondello on Thursday at Taunton. Sam Twiston-Davies had his first ride back today just a month after breaking his elbow, it is a sport that can on occasion takes more than a fair share of what those involved offer it. It is a fear as a past and current owner of both horses and greyhounds that will never be lessened, winning becomes secondary to coming back safe and sound. Something often forgotten from the outside looking in.

Social media can be a difficult beast, some days an endless tirade of negativity sees sad head shaking as scrolling becomes almost laborious. In the main on Saturday afternoon however, the horse racing section of Twitter came together in solidarity, an outpouring of grief for the loss of a horse who at the age of six could have progressed beyond the handicap ranks this season. It has always been the most difficult aspect of the sport, the danger levels that can see the star participants cruelly taken from us. A visit to a racing stable, a discussion to any member of staff shows the unfathomable depths of love that they have for their pride and joy, a love that doesn’t differentiate between an 80 rated horse running in a seller at Plumpton and a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner.

In more than thirty-five years of going racing, it doesn’t get any easier to see a horse pay the ultimate sacrifice and nor should it. While money makes the world go round and certainly in the case of racing it talks, the second we lose the human empathy for the equine form carried out on their shield, simply because we have lost a tenner on them or because they are ‘just an animal’, it’s time to quit this sport for good. There are more stories woven into racing than there is time to tell them and while we may not remember a Stratford Ponds or a Starchitect in twenty years time, they played their part in the grand tapestry of this sport. Their very existence to those close to them is all that matters, they are their very world. Our deepest condolences to connections.

By Matt Newman

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