RACNG is a joyous sport. But it does have the ability to leave you with a gut-wrenching feeling of emptiness. The sad death of Darlan was such a moment today. Here was the heir to the Champion Hurdle throne, lobbing along at the last flight on his way to a likely victory, but within a second…crunch!
A simple case of meeting the hurdle wrong and diving at it resulted in a fatal injury that left his trainer Nicky Henderson in tears and jockey AP McCoy hollow-faced in despair. Within a split second the dreams of so many were shattered.
The demise of Darlan at Doncaster (and Mujamead and Desert Vision) sparked a wave of tributes and sympathy on Twitter that spoke volumes for the decency of proper racing folk. Apparently, the Racing Post office turned from an atmosphere of excitement to a stunned silence within a split second.
For myself it brought into focus the darker but unavoidable side of racing. I also started recalling a few of the other brilliant but ill-fated hurdlers who have suffered a similar fate to Darlan.
Let us remember:
BROWNE’S GAZETTE: The brilliant Supreme Novices Hurdle winner of 1984 who suffered a fatal heart attack in the 1985 Fighting Fifth Hurdle.
MIGHTY MOGUL: David Nicholson’s brilliant six-year-old was the warm favourite for the Champion Hurdle in 1993 after an exhilarating win in the Christmas Hurdle in the previous December. Alas, a leg fracture in his prep race at Cheltenham scuppered that and despite surgery he could not be saved.
THETFORD FOREST: Another Nicholson horse who was destined for the very top after cruising to victory in the Neptune (then the Sun Alliance Novices Hurdle) under Richard Dunwoody in 1992. But the brilliant Cheltenham winner suffered a fatal fall at Aintree on Grand National day a few weeks later.
EKBALCO: Enigmatic but brilliant hurdler who fell fatally at the second last in the 1983 Fighting Fifth behind Gaye Brief.
MILLE CHIEF: The apple of Alan King’s eye never really showed what he could do on the racecourse, but then he never got the chance after a freak accident on the gallops claimed his life.
We now add Darlan to that list. And I’m sure there will be more, but let’s just doff our caps for a moment to these brilliant horses and remember the pleasure they all gave.