TO LUCINDA and Peter Atkinson, Irish Roe is more than a racehorse.
To them, and their young family, she’s the family pet who has already provided them with unexpected successes on the racecourse.
And now this £2,000 purchase, who has already won nearly £54,000 from 12 starts, finds herself lining up for today’s Grade Two Scottish Champion Hurdle at Ayr.
Though the £105,000 race has attracted some expensive equine purchases, few have the star quality of Irish Roe who already has seven wins to her name for Atkinson, an international equestrian rider, and her husband, a Northallerton pig farmer.
Two wins at Doncaster were followed by a brave second when she just failed to chase down Grade One contender Maria’s Benefit on Town Moor.
Subsequently pulled up by Middleham jockey Henry Brooke in Newbury’s Betfair Hurdle because of the heavy going, Irish Roe missed engagements at Cheltenham and Aintree due to the unsuitably testing conditions.
However drying conditions on the west coast of Scotland should play to the strengths of the seven-year-old who is emblematic of National Hunt racing’s roots in farming and the countryside.
The couple train just two racehorses and Atkinson’s enthusiasm is infectious as she talks about Irish Roe – and what the mare means to the family.
“She was very cheap and we never thought she would do what she’s done,” she told The Yorkshire Post.
“My five-year-old girl does stuff with her. She cleans her feet and leads her up. She does all sorts with her. She’s better for her than the farrier. She’s a lovely horse. She has a lovely temperament. Not all racehorses are like her.”
Though Atkinson rues the Newbury run when the overnight trip – and torrential downpour on the day – went against Irish Roe, they now know the horse needs ‘good’ in the going description and she likes her home comforts.
It’s why she did not run at Cheltenham and Aintree. And it’s why she’s not heading to Punchestown next week – the horse likes the familiarity of her North Yorkshire stable. “She’s a bit of a princess,” says Atkinson who is unsure whether Irish Roe will go steeplechasing next season.
“Henry is desperate to get her over fences. She’s like a cat. She’s electric and very quick with her jumping, but she’s not the biggest.
“Henry is trying to sweet talk me all the time. He used to ride for us point-to-pointing and he’s still working on me.
“Whatever she does, she owes us nothing. She has black type so if she retires to the paddock for breeding, it doesn’t matter.
“We’re not greedy people. She’s given us so much pleasure. How many horses like her come along every day?
“Everything up to now has been a bonus and hopefully there’s more to come.”
Meanwhile the drying weather should also play to the strengths of Vicente who is bidding to become the first horse to win three successive Scottish Grand Nationals since Couvrefeu II who was dominant from 1911-13.
The Paul Nicholls-trained runner is owned by Trevor Hemmings whose colours will also be carried by Sue Smith’s progressive Welsh National fourth and Cheltenham Festival third, Vintage Clouds.
The race favourite will be ridden by Danny Cook while he High Eldwick trainer is also represented by Straidnahana, the mount of the aforementioned Brooke.