ONE of the beauties of racing is the way that some horses just seem to go on forever. Season after season they stretch every sinew in the quest for glory. Take Kauto Star: I can’t quite imagine national hunt racing without him. One horse who fell into this category was the wonderful warrior Go Ballistic. When news came through last night that he had gone to the the big stable in the sky at the age of 23, I was absolutely gutted, as I’m sure were hundreds of racing fans.
Initially Go Ballistic came to my attention because he was so wonderfully named. That was after making a winning bumper debut at Sandown in 1994 for the legendary trainer David Nicholson. He then did me a good punting turn in the Cheltenham bumper by coming third at a big price.
That race was the start of an amazing statistic: between 1994 and 2003 Go Ballistic ran at the Cheltenham Festival in March an amazing NINE times. Only in 2001 did he fail to appear due to injury.
He was pulled up behind Putty Road in 1995 in the Sun Alliance Novices Hurdle after being switched to a new trainer, John O Shea, and then came sixth in the Cathcart to Challenger Du Luc in 1996. (He had several trainers including Henrietta Knight and Richard Phillips).
He tackled his first Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1997 and ran a cracking fourth to the runaway winner Mr Mulligan. Incredibly there would be four more attempts at racing’s blue riband to come.
In 1998 he blundered his chance away behind Cool Dawn and in the 1998/1999 season returned to Nicholson’s yard. It was under The Duke’s tutelage that he ran the race of his life in the 1999 Gold Cup. Unfancied at 66/1, he was given a beautiful ride by Tony Dobbin and crept into the race almost unnoticed after being held up off the pace.
One of the Gold Cup’s great finishes saw Go Ballistic and See More Business locked in a great personal duel. Mick Fitzgerald got the verdict by a length on Paul Nicholls’ horse in a driving finish up the hill denying what would have been the biggest shock in the race since Norton’s Coin. Relive the race here
Go Ballistic still returned to the Gold Cup arena twice more in 2000 and 2002 but by then his best days were behind him. Fittingly his final victory came at Cheltenham when he won a handicap hurdle in December 2000 at the almost insulting price of 25/1.
The bare statistics say that Go Ballistic won nine of his 57 career starts and was placed in 15 other races. He also won more than £246,000 in win and place prize money. Not bad for horse picked up by owner Sheila Lockhart for six grand. But the stats don’t do justice to the pleasure he gave thousands of racing fans over a decade.
His death followed another bout of colic and his owner told the Racing Post: “He had rotten feet, bad wind and terrible experiences with colic, but he was a fantastic animal and so gutsy. When he was able to put his feet on the ground and breathe he was always going to win.”
The horse spent his post-racing years at the Batsford Stud in Gloucestershire and stud owner Alan Varey told the Post: “People really had a fondness for him. He used to go out in the paddock and he was a brilliant minder for the young horses. He was a wonderful old boy.”
RIP Go Ballistic.