Masterful Mister McGoldrick retired with honour

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Yorkshire’s most popular racehorse has been officially retired and will be paraded at Wetherby on Boxing Day. Owner Richard Longley spoke exclusively to Tom Richmond about the decision.

It was a telephone call that Richard Longley, the man lucky enough to own the evergreen Mister McGoldrick, both expected and dreaded from the horse’s ever pragmatic trainer Sue Smith – the ‘pipe and slippers’ conversation.

“She said ‘what do you think about retiring McGoldrick, and what about Wetherby on Boxing Day being the ideal stage to make it official’?” explained Longley as he weighed up the decision earlier this week.

“We talked about the options, of which there were a few – options such as racing in an all age handicap off a mark of 133. I did a little bit of thinking; there would be horses, aged eight and nine, in their prime. By the time they were born, McGoldrick had already won two Castleford Chases.

“It would be an unfair ask of a horse that had given so much. It was then we decided to pull up stumps. When he raced, I was a bag of nerves. With this decision, we’re not going to get the ‘one race too many’ syndrome for me to live with, and to have on my conscience. He retires with honour.”

The bare statistics fail to do justice to the 14-year-old veteran – Mister McGoldrick will be 15 on New Year’s Day – who won 15 of his 91 career starts, including an unprecedented eight races at his beloved Wetherby where he parades on Boxing Day.

He was bought by Longley from a Knaresborough butcher during the former’s recuperation from major heart surgery that was performed at Leeds General Infirmary by the surgeon Joe McGoldrick, hence the horse’s name.

Yet, if Longley, from Leeds, expected some relaxing days at the races, he was mistaken as his horse’s exuberance – honed at High Eldwick by Smith and her husband Harvey, the legendary showjumper – took Mister McGoldrick to the pinnacle of steeplechasing. Watching this majestic jumper spreadeagle his fences was not for the faint-hearted.

Two Castleford Chase victories; third place in the 2006 Queen Mother Champion Chase (when one Kauto Star crashed out); an emotional 66-1 Cheltenham Festival victory under Guiseley-born jockey Dominic Elsworth – and then an unforgettable final triumph, at the age of 13, in a Huntingdon veterans’ race.

Every person connected with the horse has their favourite moment, including those lucky enough to see Mister McGoldrick roaming with nature each summer on Baildon Moor.

As for Longley, it was watching his horse turning for home in the 2008 Racing Post Plate at Cheltenham. The day had not begun well.

“My daughter rang me up at 8am to say her car exhaust was falling off. She got to our house and I drove her to work in Harrogate,” he recalled.

“I got home and said to my wife Joanne that I couldn’t be bothered to go. He’d got no chance, he was 100-1 in some papers. Joanne gave me a kiss and told me not to be so silly. I’d got friends going down, she said, and I’d be letting them down, and the horse.

“Driving down, I couldn’t see the point. But, as we got to Cheltenham, and the rain started, that was the key. If it hadn’t come up soft, we would have struggled.

“I watched the race in a marquee on my own. Watching him and Dominic clear the second last, I just thought ‘Good God’. They were pulling further clear. You stand many times by the winner’s enclosure at Cheltenham – you never think you will have a horse good enough to lead up. I’ll never forget it.”

Longley, who now runs the McGoldrick Partnership racing syndicates, credits both Sue and Harvey Smith with keeping the horse so “fit, well and happy”. Astonishingly for a yard steeped in National Hunt racing, it was the couple’s first Festival victory – and it still means a lot to them.

This correspondent had the privilege to be standing by Harvey Smith at Haydock last November when Mister McGoldrick won his final race – his wife was leading the horse up at Huntingdon. The crowd grew, quietly, around the televisions by the Tote booth as a motionless Smith watched his stable star – and Elsworth, who was on his own comeback from a serious injury – return victorious.

One could sense Smith’s pride. Behind the tough exterior was a sentimentalist at heart; indeed those congratulating him appeared more taken with McGoldrick’s race 150 miles away than Imperial Commander’s Betfair Chase victory.

There was the usual dig at the handicapper “Why don’t you recognise the horse’s age?” That’s Harvey – and the BHA expect it.

Yet Mister McGoldrick only stayed at the top for so long because he thrived at Sue and Harvey Smith’s no-frills stables. His like will not be seen again for a long time.

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