As the jump season gets under way, this weekend brings one of the early season highlights at Aintree with the sixteenth running of the Virgin Bet Monet’s Garden Old Roan Chase, a Grade 2 handicap race run over 2 miles, 3 furlongs and 200 yards. Few horses have a race named after them but Monet’s Garden was honoured in this way after he made history by winning the Old Roan Chase a record three times (2007, 2009, 2010).
Roz Howling’s blog looks back at the career of Monet’s Garden and his Old Roan Chase hat trick.
The grey gelding was bred in Ireland in 1998 by William Delahunty. He was out of a Remainder Man mare, Royal Remainder, by Roselier, whose progeny also included the talented grey, Suny Bay. As a three-year-old, he was bought at the Derby sales by trainer Nicky Richards for owner David Wesley Yates, who decided he was the one the minute they saw him in the barn. Despite going over budget, David decided to have him - a mistake he wouldn’t regret.
Being a fan of art work, Monet’s Garden was almost named Artist’s Garden by owner David, save for his French breeding (Roselier), and the fact that David loved Monet’s paintings (source H&H). Perhaps this was fortuitous, given the popularity and illustrious career both horse and artist shared.
From an early age, it was clear that the gallant grey had talent. Jockey, Brian Harding, was involved in a lot of his early schooling work and, even then, he had a bold, quick and clever jump.
Tony Dobbin rode the gelding in his first 23 starts, winning 13 of them, including his first bumper race at Ayr in February 2003. The following season, Monet’s Garden easily won his first two races over timber before coming a respectable second to Garde Champetre at Aintree in a big novice hurdle.
The following season started with a win in the Ascot Hurdle and a win at Aintree in the long distance John Smith’s and Batleys Liverpool Hurdle. Not only was it a triumphant finish to his hurdling career but it paved the way to his success over birch.
In November 2005, Monet’s Garden went on to win his chasing debut at Ayr. Partnered by Dobbin, the pair went on to win a further two races that season and came a close second in the Arkle Chase, beaten barely a length by the subsequent champion chaser, Voy Por Ustedes.
His form continued into his second chasing season, winning his first race of the season at Carlisle by two and a half lengths to the French horse, Mid Dancer, who was brought over to contest Monet’s Garden. The grey had a brief blip at Kempton in the King George VI Chase before returning to form to win at Ascot and finishing fourth in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, a course he never won at. Their 2006/7 season finished with a win at Aintree in the Melling Chase, easily beating Taranis who’d taken the earlier Ryanair Chase title.
Dobbin and Monet’s Garden started their 2007/8 season in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree. Although the field was small, it included King George VI Chase and Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Kauto Star and runner up, Exotic Dancer. It was a close run race. A costly mistake by Exotic Dancer put him out of contention whilst Kauto Star met a fence badly, momentarily hampering his challenge. Close to home, the slightly out-classed Ashley Brook fell and Exotic Dancer was pulled up, leaving the race open to Monet’s Garden and Kauto Star. Knowing that his mount had more in the tank, Dobbin pushed Monet’s Garden on and the grey surged over the last to finish a length ahead of Kauto Star, a moment that his fans would never forget.
Over the course of the season, Monet’s Garden finished third and second behind a determined Kauto Star in the Tingle Creek and King George VI Chase, respectively. That season, the pair didn’t return to winning form and there was a growing suspicion that the gallant grey was beyond his best, especially when he faded badly three from home when leading the field in his 2008 season debut in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree.
There was a glimmer of hope when Monet’s Garden won the 2008 Totesport Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon, beating Snoopy Loopy by half a length. However, he went on to finish sixth at Cheltenham Festival in the Ryanair Chase.
Despite the strong possibility of retirement, Monet’s Garden, ridden this time by Barry Geraghty, returned to contest the 2009 Old Roan Chase at Aintree. Although the line- up wasn’t as illustrious as previous years, runners included Henessey Gold Cup runner up, Tidal Bay. Monet’s Garden ran a strong race, leading from the second fence. Only Tidal Bay came somewhat close to the great grey as he romped home, proving he still had it in him. The 11-year-old had a momentary blip when he was well beaten in the Amlin Chase by Albertas Run before returning to win the Betfair Chase at Ascot, this time defeating Albertas Run. However, Albertas Run took revenge in the Melling Chase at Aintree as the pair ran a close race, Monet’s Garden fading to finish third.
With nothing more to prove and with retirement beckoning, Nicky Richards knew that the 12-year-old would benefit from a good rest before contesting the Old Roan Chase one final time.
Once again, a number of big names lined up for the 2010 running of the race, including Albertas Run, Tartak and Poquelin. A large crowd attended on the day in support of the gallant grey and the crowd roared as the tapes went up. Monet’s Garden took an early lead, clearly enjoying himself and being chased by the other three. Mid race, Albertas Run made a costly mistake which cost him the win and led to him finishing in fourth place, whilst Tartak began to fade as Monet’s Garden stepped up the pace yet again. The race was now between Poquelin and Monet’s Garden. There was little between them at the final fence, yet Monet’s Garden pulled ahead of the younger Poquelin to win by half a length.
Returning to the winners enclosure, Monet’s Garden received a hero’s welcome. He had won for a fifth time at Aintree and a record three times in the Old Roan Chase, clocking up 17 wins from 32 races.
After winning the Old Roan Chase for a third and final time, Monet’s Garden picked up a foot abscess, which was further complicated when the navicular bone and flexor tendon became infected. Given a 50/50 chance of surviving, he underwent a series of operations under the specialist care of Paul Day and Caroline Blackiston and, despite the odds, pulled through. His owner, David, made sure that he was given every opportunity and it paid off.
In January 2011, the then 13-year-old was officially retired from racing and went on to be retained by Nicky’s daughter, Jo. Jo had worked with Monet’s Garden since he was a 5-year-old and retrained him for showing. The pair took part in numerous Retraining of Racehorse (RoR) showing classes and represented the ex-racehorse in parades up and down the country. In 2016, Monet’s Garden was crowned RoR Horse of the Year, reflecting all he achieved in his second career, showing the adaptability of thoroughbreds.
Monet’s Garden sadly passed away, last year, at the age of 20 years. He achieved so much in both careers and proved the true value of the thoroughbred. This weekend, he’ll be much remembered by his fans and the Racing public as Frodon is set to defend his title.
Action photo courtesy of George Selwyn
RoR photo courtesy of the Retraining of Racehorses and Majestic Photography
Blog by guest blogger Roz Howling