Stephen Wallis looks back at Our Vic's career with the help of trainer David Pipe, and takes a look at what he is up to in his retirement.
However, 9 years ago, on the 3 April 2008 the scene was very different. Our Vic had just beaten one of the all time greats, Kauto Star, at the Aintree Festival.
After winning his opening race at Oldcastle in Ireland on 24 March 2002 (a four runner maiden) he moved across to Martin Pipe’s Pond House in the autumn. He soon gained a reputation as a smart hurdler, winning all three of his races; two novice hurdles and a handicap in the 2002/3 season with AP McCoy in the saddle.
These successes over hurdles meant that Our Vic was already quoted as one of the favourites for the next season’s Cheltenham Festival Novice Chases before he jumped a fence in public. Racing followers were not disappointed. On 2nd February 2004 he won his first novice chase at Exeter over 2m 3f by twelve lengths. This was followed by an impressive six length win at Ascot. A natural over fences, his owner, David Johnson even considered supplementing him for the Gold Cup but decided on the Grade 1 Sun Alliance Novice chase (now the RSA). Sent off as the 11/8 favourite, he faded on the climb to home and was beaten by just over three lengths in 3rd place.
Moving out of the novice ranks in the 2004/5 season, the 16.3hh bay gelding suffered a crashing fall at the last fence when leading by a length in the valuable Bonusprint.com Gold Cup (2m 5f) at the Cheltenham December Open meeting. The fall kept him off the course until the twin festivals of Cheltenham and Aintree where he disappointed, pulling up on both outings.
Refreshed after his summer break, Martin Pipe was confident Our Vic was back to his normal self when he returned to action in the Grade 3 Paddy Power Gold Cup in mid November. Pipe had stated in the press that Our Vic should have had the season off after his fall the previous December. Partnered by his new regular jockey Timmy Murphy the 7 year old took the lead approaching the third last to win by 2 and a half lengths. It was the seventh time in ten years that Martin Pipe had captured the prize.
Grade 1 success soon followed in February 2006’s Ascot Chase, run at Lingfield Park due to renovations at Ascot.
Taking over the training reins at Pond House for the 2006/7 season, son David, immediately guided Our Vic to success in the Charlie Hall Chase (3m 1f) at Wetherby, where he beat the future Grand National winner Neptune Collonges by seven lengths.
Doubts over his stamina, after he failed to stay on Cheltenham trials days led the Pipe team to target the Ryanair Chase (2m 4f) where he came 2nd beaten only by a neck. He followed up with a 3rd place in Aintree’s feature chase, the Betfair Bowl (3m 1f) behind Exotic Dancer, albeit beaten by 25 lengths.
Due to an early season injury his seasonal reappearance in 2007/08 came in the prestigious King George VI chase at Kempton where he clashed for the first time with Kauto Star. Paul Nicholls’ precocious young chaser, who was to make the race his own, was defending his crown after a comfortable success in 2006. Unfortunately Our Vic was no match for the odds on favourite and, despite sharing the early lead, he trailed home 11 lengths behind the superstar.
Our Vic’s most significant wins came in the spring of 2008 at the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals.
On his 5th visit to Prestbury Park’s premier meeting the horse won the Ryanair Chase, which had just been granted Grade 1 status. The ten year old made all and stayed on to win by 5 lengths from the Gigginstown team’s Mossbank. Trainer David Pipe said at the time “He is an old favourite who deserved to win a race at the festival”.
It was the first time Our Vic had been fitted with blinkers. Asked if they made a difference Pipe remarked “You know the older you get, you need a little bit more encouragement”.
As he had done in 2005 and 2007 it was always the intention to go to Aintree and run in the Bowl, the leading chase at the meeting over the Mildmay course. “It was always going to be a small field” said Pipe and only five runners lined up on the opening day of Aintree’s premier meeting. However, a select group featured recent Gold Cup runners Kauto Star and Exotic Dancer, Monet’s Garden, and Gungadu.
The punters thought Kauto Star was expected to land Aintree’s consolation prize as he went to post the 4/7 favourite with Exotic Dancer (6/1), Monet’s Garden (8/1), Our Vic 9/1 and Gungadu 10/1.
Our Vic set the pace in the 3m and a furlong contest but the favourite, ridden aggressively by Ruby Walsh was kept in close order. Meanwhile, Gungadu and Monet’s Garden were out of contention with a circuit to run.
The race looked over when with a flying leap at the third last, Kauto Star went six lengths clear. However, the forceful tactics may have led to Kauto Star taking off too soon at the next and his front legs went through the birch. Timmy Murphy sensed he still had a chance and by the last had cut the deficit to a length and a half. In a fierce battle to the line, the Ryanair victor just got up to win by a nose. Exotic Dancer, who had tracked the leaders into the straight, was fourteen lengths back in third.
Whilst the press focused on the tactics of the former Gold Cup winner, which
they believed had contributed to his downfall, Our Vic had proved his quality over an extended 3 miles.
As David Pipe reflected “When you run at Cheltenham and Aintree you sometimes do get some strange results. Whilst Kauto Star was the better horse, Our Vic was the best horse on the day. We didn’t expect to beat him. It was a pleasant surprise. He was quite adaptable to tracks, when on his A game he was a very good horse."
Asked if this was his best ever run Pipe declared “That and the Ryanair. He had lots of big wins. He got a 171 rating (his highest) after beating Kauto Star. Perhaps that was the best”.
Kauto Star had his revenge, winning the next two King George VI Chase’s at Kempton where Our Vic was pulled up (2008) and a tailed off 8th (2009).
Our Vic won two more races in the 2008/2009 and 2009/10 campaigns. His last victory came as a 20/1 outsider in the Grade 2 Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock in January 2010.
After disappointing runs in March 2010 at Newbury and at the Cheltenham Festival (his seventh appearance there) the old warrior retired. Our Vic had won 13 of his 34 starts earning over £700,000 in prize money.
Although Our Vic had been given the dreaded squiggle by Timeform, Pipe thought that was unfair. “They don’t know what goes on in everyday life at the stable. He was lovely horse to train, always showed a lot of class at home on the gallops. He was a delight to have. He went out in one piece, having a happy
retirement. It is hard to replace a horse like him”.
Asked if he was the best horse he had trained Pipe said, “I think it is difficult and possibly wrong to judge horses from different eras, although he would certainly have been one of the best we have had.”
As a footnote to the story, Our Vic arrived at the National Heritage Centre from the British Racing School on 5 September 2016. RoR Yard Manager, Joe Grimwade recollected that Our Vic instantly settled into his new surroundings and handled his opening day press conference with great aplomb.
“Whilst laid back, he was also quite capable of telling his handler when he wanted
to be elsewhere; 10 minutes at the fence being admired by the public was fine, but 'meet and greets' were sometimes ended when Vic decided that enough was enough and he would set off at a steady walk with his handler having little option to object. When he was going out to the paddock, the walk became considerably stronger and you could imagine him saying come on - keep up.
“The horses are always checked last thing by Sue and Mick Molloy – tidying beds, topping up water and ensuring that all is well; Our Vic quickly learned that this was an opportunity to gain more carrots from Mick (in addition to the handful which he got in each feed)! I suspect that Mick enjoyed the process as much as Vic; it was a sad day for us when he returned to the British Racing School on 18th January and we hope to welcome him back soon”.
We would like to thank trainer David Pipe for his help with this blog and for Bill Selwyn for allowing us to use the action photo of Our Vic and Kauto Star.