On the day Un De Sceaux leaves the yard of Willie Mullins, the trainer with whom he has been based since 2013, we reflect on the time his talents were first recognised.
There’s something immensely satisfying about spotting something brilliant before others. It gives you some ammo – a reason to say ‘I told you so’ – and also that nostalgic glow when you’re given a reminder of whatever it was you first heard, read, did or saw.
In this case it was a young horse called Un De Sceaux, a five-year-old French import who was making his Irish racecourse debut for his new connections on February 20, 2013, in a 2m maiden hurdle at Punchestown.
This day I first saw him was unusual, at least for me. It was my first visit to Punchestown – part of an overdue Christmas present two months hence and one of my first visits to Ireland. It was so enjoyable I’ve been back many times since, particularly to the festival.
Punchestown itself is terrific. A vast, airy racetrack, with ample room to roam – not that we needed room, the place was bitterly cold and empty given it was a midweek meeting in winter – Punchestown has played host to countless great races down the years and has been the birthplace of many a star. Un De Sceaux was one.
It seemed obvious – Mullins, Walsh, favourite – beforehand, and in hindsight it was. In his early days Un De Sceaux demonstrated wild headstrong tendencies for which he became known. He became more chilled, but none less explosive, as his career went on, but on that first day at Punchestown he showed the raw power and child-like enthusiasm he possessed.
Sent off the 9-10 favourite, Un De Sceaux did what Un De Sceaux does. He set off in front and never saw another rival. Walsh, speaking in the days after the O’Connell family star was retired recently, admitted he struggled to hold the horse that day. Un De Sceaux and Walsh ran out six-length winners from the talented Sammy Black in that maiden hurdle, in the process giving us a glimpse of what was to come. Boy, were we lucky.
He retired the winner of 23 races, a ten-time Grade 1 star and a two-time Cheltenham Festival hero. I saw him first, and I’m sad to see him go.