Captain Christy - a stalwart of the 70s

23rd December 2017

If there was ever a horse in the 1970s who polarised opinions, it was Captain Christy.

He featured in an era which regularly had three top class chasers going head to head,captain-christie-rex-coleman in Pendil, Captain Christy and The Dikler but the one that shined brightest was Captain Christy. Often described as the “enfant terrible” of chasing, he was like the proverbial spotty teenager, in that he would infuriate you with his insolence but every so often he would just blow you away with a sudden injection of genius and leave you just saying 'wow'!

Foaled in 1967, he was by Mon Capitane out of Christy’s Bow, for breeding experts the one shining light in his pedigree would be Blue Peter – his great-grand sire on his dam’s side.
The one man best equipped to harness his genius had to be Pat Taaffe who had hands of silk and a voice to match. The Captain made his debut in July 1971 at Limerick in two-mile one-furlong amateur maiden plate, where he finished fourth, a week later he broke his duck at Galway in a similar race. They must have thought something of him though, as only three­­­­­­­ months later he ran in Prix Gladiateur at Longchamp, which was also the first time that he was ridden by a professional. He had been purchased by Major Joe Piddock for £10,000, (this was later transfer into the ownership of Mrs Jane Samuel for an identical sum, in whose colours he would make his name).
 
As the Captain was making his name known, he had his first meeting with Bobby Coonan, who features heavily later on, they finished second in Naas’s Saggart Hurdle. His next outing was in the Irish Cesarewitch, where he was unplaced. This though was only  a precursor to what was to come, a run of eight consecutive races, of which seven were wins, the only defeat was a third in the 1973 Champion Hurdle behind Comedy of Errors. Victories included the Scalp Hurdle, Irish Sweeps Hurdle and Scottish Champion Hurdle, all of those wins involved the one jockey above all others linked with him – in Harry (Bobby) Beasley.
Beasley led a very full life, so much so that more than one biography could have been written about him – indeed two were. Having won the 1959 Cheltenham Gold Cup on Roddy Owen, he won the National two years later on Nicolaus Silver. He then found his life in complete turmoil as he fought his addiction to alcohol and Pat Taaffe amongst others saw his value and gave him a “Second Chance” the title of his autobiography.
The 1973-74 season The Captain kicked off with two straight victories at odds of 1-2. His next outing resulted in his jockey Bobby Beasley being unceremoniously dumped on the turf. After a run of four losses including two unseated riders, he regained the winning thread with a win in a novice chase at Punchestown at odds of 1-2, he replicated those odds when winning the P Z Mower Chase.
As Cheltenham beckoned, the Captain faced his greatest challenge of his already topsy-turvy career. Only two weeks after his last success, he lined up against both the winner – The Dikler and the moral victor - Pendil of the previous year’s Gold Cup. Unbeaten since, Pendil started an 8-11 favourite and many expected that all he had to do was turn up to win it. For the bookmakers divine intervention came about in the form of High Ken who fell three out and brought down Pendil. By the time of the final fence there was only the reigning champ – The Dikler and Captain Christy in with a chance of landing the spoils. In a matter of half a furlong the fortunes of the race edged backwards and forwards and even now when you watch the race over forty years on, you are still left rubbing your eyes in disbelief at the outcome of the race. As they came to the last, the Captain for whatever reason totally miss-judged it and just made it to the other side without falling, in the words of the owner Mrs Samuel:- “Very few jockeys in the world, would have sat on him”. Such is the genius of Bobby Beasley. As The Dikler went three lengths clear and looked assured of adding to last year’s success, Bobby Beasley somehow gathered together his mount and sped up the hill after him and still caught him with consummate ease to win by five lengths. Would Captain Christy have won if Pendil had stood up, the argument raged – but we would know the answer before end of the year.
In the meantime, the Captain’s darker side decided to put in an appearance, carrying top-weight in the Irish National, he fell after a mile and a half but only the following day Dr Jekyll rather than Mr Hyde turned up, as he won the Power Gold Cup to accusations by some sections of the crowd that Beasley had pulled the horse – this more than anything caused him to sever his links with the sport.
His first two outings of the 1974-75 season both resulted in being unplaced, the second of those was the Massey-Fergusson Gold over 2½ miles at Cheltenham’s December meeting, carrying the welter burden of 12st 7lbs; both of those runs resulted in the Captain being re-united with Bobby Coonan.
One of the infuriating but wonderful things of horse racing is would horse A have beaten horse B if x, y or z hadn’t happened and the argument from the 1974 Cheltenham Gold Cup had raged for months, with many labelling Captain Christy a very lucky winner. Come Boxing Day at Kempton, the argument would be well and truly laid to rest. Pendil was duly backed to add to his last two successes in the race and started a 7/4 on favourite, whilst the Captain was a very generous 5-1. From the moment the tapes went up, the Captain was sent to the front and made every post a winning post, as he won by an easy eight lengths.
By mid-March the ground had totally turned against him and Bobby Coonan had no option but to pull him up.
Of his remaining runs that season, the standouts were a second in the Whitbread Gold Cup, Sandown’s end of season finale when he carried 12st and only just failed to give April the Seventh 29lbs. He then travelled over to France and got caught in the shadow of the post in the Grand Steeplechase de Paris over the twists and turns of Auteuil’s 4-mile course.
Come the 1975-76 season he was starting to show signs of infirmity but he still put in a performance that left anyone who witnessed it totally dumbfounded.
The Captain’s season kicked off with a heroic failure in the Colonial Cup, where he finished fourth in the States. Run in the middle of November over a course that may well have suited a speedy mile and a half horse better than a three-mile chaser. A month later he was back in his homeland and beat two Gold Cup winners in Ten Up and Davy Lad by six lengths but it could have easily been double that. The best though was still yet to come, no one knew it at the time but it would be his last race and what a Swansong it would be..... It was hoped that Pendil would be at Kempton on Boxing Day for a re-match, however an injury prevented that, so his stablemate, the dual Champion Hurdler Bula, represented the Fred Winter stable and started joint 11-10 favourite with the Captain. In the race itself though there was only one horse in it,  his rider Gerry Newman (covering for the injured Coonan) wisely decided he had no option but to let the Captain do what he does best and just simply run from the front. Peter Willet described it as “one of the great performances of steeplechasing history.”
 
Above all else Captain Christy will be remembered for two successes his 1974 Cheltenham Gold Cup win and the magnitude of the victory can be measured by the fact, as it would be over forty years before a novice would win the Gold Cup again. Whilst his 1975 King George win had to be seen to be believed.
Blog by Grenville Davies