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Graham Cunningham’s 15 Shades of Grey (part two)

11 Aug | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Graham Cunningham’s 15 Shades of Grey (part two)

To celebrate the Betway Grey Horse Handicap - which is live on Channel 4 on Saturday - the leading pundit names his greatest greys of all time

By Graham Cunningham

READ: Graham Cunningham’s 15 Shades of Grey (part one)

8: MONET’S GARDEN (Nicky Richards)

For One Man and Gordon Richards read Monet’s Garden and his son Nicky.

Like One Man, the near-white Monet’s Garden was a thrilling jumper capable of beating the very best yet prone to under-achieving when sent south to Cheltenham.

He never won in five attempts at the home of jumping – though I still maintain the weight of my 80-1 bet stopped him when he chased home Voy Por Ustedes in the 2006 Arkle – but at Aintree it was a very different story.

Five of his 17 career wins came at Liverpool. Sadly, there is no YouTube footage of his three Old Roan Chase wins – including a gallant success receiving a stone from Kauto Star in 2007 – but he recovered from serious illness to look in fine fettle on his return to Aintree last year.

Monet’s Garden Aintree

9: PETITE ETOILE (Noel Murless)

The modern age often demands video evidence to confirm greatness. But justice demands that those who made their name before the onset of the selfie era should also be recognised.

Petite Etoile was Indian Skimmer before Indian Skimmer came along.

Correction, she was Indian Skimmer and more besides, winning 14 of her 19 starts between 1958 and 1961 (she was second in the other five) including the 1000 Guineas, the Oaks, the Sussex Stakes, the Yorkshire Oaks, the Coronation Cup and the Coronation Stakes.

Lester Piggott felt Petite Etoile compared favourably with any horse he ever partnered, while Noel Murless described her as “unique in every way”.

Murless also felt that his stable star was only happy when exercising with other grey horses. And she ranks up with the very best Flat horses in this bunch of greys.

10: ROOSTER BOOSTER (Philip Hobbs)

I was sceptical when pressroom colleague Chris McGrath watched Rooster Booster win the 2002 County Hurdle and told me we had just seen the 2003 Champion Hurdle winner.

The scepticism seemed justified given we were discussing an eight-year-old who had won just one of 19 previous hurdle starts.

Cut to the same venue twelve months on and watch all the old frustrations melt away.

2003 Smurfit Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy

The image of the once-wild gelding still reefing at the bridle under Richard Johnson as he swaggered upsides Intersky Falcon is one of the most potent images of modern Champion Hurdle history.

Rooster Booster never scaled quite the same heights again and his heart gave out in a routine gallop just before Christmas (and just weeks after the death of Best Mate) in 2005.

Not for the first time, that man McGrath found the perfect phrase to sum up the story.

“Best Mate was trained as though he was made of glass, Rooster Booster as though he was hewn from concrete slabs.”

11: COASTAL BLUFF (David Barron)

A dead heat in a Group 1 sprint is rare enough. Throw in one of the combatants being ridden by the first female rider ever to taste success at the top level in Britain and the other drawing level despite a broken bridle and we are entering the realms of fantasy.

1997 York – Nunthorpe Stakes

Alex Greaves was the rider aboard Ya Malak in that 1997 Nunthorpe, while Kevin Darley was the man performing heroics aboard Coastal Bluff.

David Barron’s giant grey was hardly a typical sprinter in appearance, but he earned a huge following during his rise through the handicap ranks with emphatic wins in the Stewards’ Cup and Ayr Gold Cup under Jimmy Fortune.

It took the York judge around 20 minutes to announce that Nunthorpe dead heat. It took around 20 seconds to decide Coastal Bluff deserved a spot in this list.

12: SUNY BAY (Charlie Brooks)

One of the less heralded members of the GGC (Great Greys Club) but none the worse for that.

Suny Bay, handled with skill and patience by the colourful Charlie Brooks, recorded three major chases in the days when Haydock was a fearsome jumping track and also a runaway Hennessy Gold Cup defeat of Barton Bank off a BHA mark of 162 in 1997.

1997 Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup Handicap Chase

But his pinpoint jumping also carried him to two heroic second places under Graham Bradley in the Grand National, first when chasing home Lord Gyllene and then when attempting the impossible in trying to give Earth Summit 23lb in a gruelling 1998 renewal.

Old Etonian Brooks was sighted necking pints with the scousers in a local working man’s club during the 48-hour delay before Lord Gyllene’s National.

And in a way that summed Suny Bay up nicely in the end.

The runner-up spot will always be more best bitter than vintage champagne. But a pint of best does the job perfectly when the time is right. And Suny Bay’s two heroic National efforts make him fully deserving of a place in this list.

13: GREY ABBEY (Howard Johnson)

The Dessie of the north is the best way of summing up Grey Abbey in one line.

True, he lacked the brilliance and adaptability of the original, but Howard Johnson’s trailblazing gelding could let fly at fences in exactly the same way and his record on flat, left handed tracks was tremendous.

French Star First Gold couldn’t land a glove on him in the Betfair Bowl at Aintree in 2005, but Grey Abbey’s most memorable day came with a remorseless display of strong galloping and fearless jumping in Ayr’s Scottish National twelve months earlier.

2004 Gala Casinos Daily Record Scottish Grand National Handicap Chase

HoJo always resisted the temptation to try Grey Abbey over the big fences at Aintree. He would have made some sight there, while Graham Lee rated him ahead of his National winner Amberleigh House as the best chaser he ever rode.

14: GEORDIELAND (Jamie Osborne)

A little self-indulgence here, though I hope that’s excusable given the circumstances.

Back in 2008 I was penning the Friday tipping column in the Racing Post and led the piece on the Yorkshire Cup with a horse who was on a losing run of 15 with a startling ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Make no mistake, Geordieland was one of the biggest villains to ride into York since Dick Turpin. A talented villain, for sure, but capable of saying “after you Claude” including twice when trying to chase down Yeats in two of that superb stayer’s four Gold Cup wins.

But Geordieland, sent off at 13-2, chose Yorkshire Cup day to put his head down and led right on the line under an ultra-cool ride from Shane Kelly.

Osborne gave me a huge wink as he welcomed his mercurial pupil back to the winner’s enclosure. He knew a loveable rogue had had his day with one of the most talented but frustrating stayers of the last 20 years.

15: SIMONSIG (Nicky Henderson)

The clock is ticking after more than two years off the track with injury and time may tell that the best of Simonsig has come and gone.

But Simonsig was a formidable young hurdler, winning four from five including a thumping success in the Neptune at the Festival, and his chasing career was proceeding along similar lines until setbacks intervened.

Cheltenham Festival 2013 – Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase – Simonsig

Very few horses come back from a two-year break as good as they used to be. But Simonsig has time on his side aged nine. Let’s hope Henderson can work his magic and get him back on track in the next few months.

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