Braqueur d'Or's Journey

Braq made his debut for the Paul Nicholls yard at Warwick in May 2017.

That he went off favourite had more to do with his new trainer than any form he had shown. He went on to run a further 10 times that year, showing remarkable consistency despite the weight piling on. Between May and December 2017 he never finished out of the frame and rose 27lbs in the handicap.

He had three wins, four seconds, two thirds plus a fourth. The latter was in the Hennessy Gold Cup, which, irritatingly, had just been re-named the Ladbrokes Trophy. It was some record and testimony to his trainer’s ability to choose the right race.

Two weeks later he was struck into by another runner at Doncaster, gashing his leg and causing a lay off. Braq doesn’t enjoy being cooped up in a stable and neither does he run well fresh. His next start, in a £100,000 contest at Ayr, was consequently disappointing. Sam Twiston-Davies, his regular pilot, reported a ‘roaring noise’ and the decision was made to perform a wind op.

The first race of the following season, at Cheltenham, was too big an ask, but Braq found his form a few weeks later, trouncing a small but competitive Taunton field.

Haydock was the next stop. The Merseyside track had recently rebuilt their steeplechase fences, returning them to the stiffness of old.

Jockeys complained that the fences had no ‘belly’, that they were unfair, that they teased the horse too close and then tipped them up. When Harry Cobden came to the paddock pre-race, he pointed out that there was disquiet in the weighing room. He would just try to stay on, he said.

It was a day when one in three runners on the chase course fell.

Braq hit a fence hard early on and Harry, having done well to stay aboard, dropped the horse back. Rhythm was regained and, four from home, Braq was one of three vying for the lead.

He pecked not so much on landing as two or three strides later. He planted his face into the turf, using it rather as a fifth leg. Harry had no chance.

The fences have been since re-redesigned.

Braq was taken down to Ditcheat that evening and declared sound the next morning. It was a fortnight before it was confirmed that he had a tear in the tendon.

Paul Nicholls explained that the tear was tiny and that he just needed some rest. Given that Braq was generally viewed as a top of the ground horse, having him off racing for a few months over Christmas didn’t seem like the end of the world.

But he hasn’t been back on a racecourse since.

The following Spring Braq went suddenly lame. An x-ray showed he had contrived to break his pedal bone (sometimes known as the coffin bone), either whilst on the walker or in his box. At Newmarket Equine Hospital surgeon Ian Wright wound and threaded a screw through the hoof, to encourage the bone to bond.

By November Braq looked fabulous. By January a return was being anticipated. Then, twice, as he approached full racing fitness, he again pulled up lame. Xrays showed the operation had been a success but that he was now bleeding into the joint.

His condition appeared career-ending. The horse spent lockdown at the bottom of a Warwickshire garden.

Since then Braq has experienced astonishing care in the quest to return him to the track. He has had specially designed remedial shoes made by Ben Benson, master farrier to the British Olympic Equestrian team, and manipulation by the godfather of equine chiropractors, Anthony Webber. Physiotherapy by leading practitioner Annabelle Galt and remedial pre-training by Sally Taylor. Revolutionary and redesigned saddlery and tack was provided by Fairfax Saddles.

Throughout he has been attended to by world famous vet Buffy Shirley-Beaven.

It may not be the fairytale ending we all hope for. But he loves his racing and is in his element in a racing yard.  Paul Webber reports that it is a joy to train a horse that enjoys his work so much. Lara, his work rider, loves him. To finish a race and return sound will be a cause for real celebration. Anything else will be astounding.