IT’S slightly strange how we become attached to certain racehorses. I have no idea why I loved Ben Nevis, so much so that I backed him to win the Grand National in 1980 as a young lad. Likewise, there was Barton Bank. He seemed to be around for years in the 90s and I willed him to victory each time he graced the track. But one of my all-time favourites was a doughty little horse with a huge heart; a horse who always tried his hardest and who probably became the best two-mile chaser never to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase. But Waterloo Boy still had his days in the sun… and the biggest came on one glorious winter’s day in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown Park 20 years ago…
On 29 October 1988, a small but compact chestnut gelding showed grit and tenacity to get up close home to win a workaday handicap chase at Worcester. His name was Waterloo Boy. He was ridden by Richard Dunwoody, who was in the prime of his career, and was trained by David Nicholson, who was enjoying one of the best periods of his long and majestic career. Waterloo Boy was one of two horses sent to Nicholson by Michael Deeley. The other was Another Coral, the subsequent Mackeson Gold Cup winner. Not a bad pair!
On this autumnal day Waterloo Boy was thrown straight into handicap company on his chasing debut at the age of five. It was something Nicholson was prone to do if he thought his charge was good enough. Waterloo Boy obliged and the racing public got the first glimpse of his courage and determination.
He followed up five weeks later in a little race at Bangor under Jamie Osborne and then jumped like a stag to complete a quickfire hat trick in a Towcester handicap. He then made the first of 10 visits to Cheltenham and a clash with Toby Balding’s Beech Road. The pair were locked together at the last when Beech Road crashed out, leaving Waterloo Boy to make it four out of four. Beech Road was promptly sent back hurdling and won the Champion Hurdle just two months later!
Waterloo Boy made it five on the bounce at Kempton a few weeks later and was thriving on his racing. He also still hadn’t been fully tested. But he met his match in the shape of the brilliant Sabin Du Loir in a listed novices chase at Ascot in the February. However Nicholson was convinced it wasn’t the real Waterloo Boy who showed up that day and quietly fancied him to turn the tables in the Arkle Chase at the 1989 Festival. Sabin Du Loir was a warm favourite but the rain had got into the ground and that suited Waterloo Boy. The pair of them traded the lead and jumped for fun. Southern Minstrel joined them at the second last and the three fought out a magnificent finish. Waterloo Boy, under an inspired Dunwoody, prevailed by half a length. The SP of 20/1 was remarkably generous.
At this point, Nicholson thought Waterloo Boy would become a leading middle distance horse and he was mainly campaigned over 2m 4f the following season, with mixed success. But it was when he reverted to 2m in the 1990 Champion Chase that we saw his brilliance again. He was foiled by a whisker by the equally brilliant Barnbrook Again, but at least connections knew they had a specialist two-mile chaser on their hands.
Waterloo Boy’s first crack at the Tingle Creek Chase came in 1990 but the ground was too quick and he was third to Young Snugfit. His season ended in glorious failure again when Katabatic denied him victory in the Champion Chase. But over the next two seasons Waterloo Boy seemed to improve even further. He won his first Tingle Creek, then a limited handicap, in 1991 under 11st 13lb, gaining his revenge on Young Snugfit. You can relive the race here. It started a winning sequence that saw him win the Castleford Chase at Wetherby, the Victor Chandler at Ascot, and the Game Spirit at Newbury. But again he was inched out in the Champion Chase, this time by Remittance Man and Katabatic again.
But Waterloo Boy’s greatest performance came in the Tingle Creek of 1992. He carried 12 stone and was giving 21lb to Deep Sensation, who would win the Queen Mother Champion Chase just three months later. He was also giving 10lb to the classy Uncle Ernie. What followed was a career-best effort by the little horse. Watch his powerful performance here
Waterloo Boy never quite recaptured those dizzy heights but he didn’t owe anybody anything. I won’t forget his performance that day in the Tingle Creek, particularly the great tenacity and zest for jumping that he showed.
In fact, Waterloo Boy was everything that is so wonderful about National Hunt racing.
Do you have any favourite Tingle Creek memories? Please feel free to leave a comment below.