The Best of Times: My Taxi simply flew up the hill: John Oaksey talks to Danny Danziger

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Indy Lifestyle Online
MY LIFE has been stuck in a bit of a rut really, but a happy, contented rut, and certainly my most exciting moments have been when I was riding.

A really happy moment came in 1958, when a wonderful horse I rode, called Taxidermist, won the Hennessy Gold Cup at Cheltenham in rather sensational style, because he came over the last fence a distant sixth and went past the other five as if they were standing still.

Not long ago, I found a letter that my father had sent to my mother, describing this day at Cheltenham. It said at the bottom, 'it was the best and most exciting day of my life', which, since it meant that much to him, made it mean a lot to me.

I rode some years without much success, until suddenly I got lucky. One season I had a heavenly time; I rode 18 winners. Scudamore is riding 200 a season now, but nevertheless 18 winners was an awful lot for me.

Taxidermist was only six years old at this time. He was a very good-looking bay, with a lovely head. He was beautifully balanced, he didn't pull very hard and he was a superb jumper most of the time.

The Hennessy Gold Cup is in November, when the weather is often unkind. My heart sank into my boots immediately before the race because it pissed down with rain all night the night before, which was exactly what I didn't want, because this horse loved fast, hard ground and hated mud.

He belonged to two ladies, and they nearly took him out because of the weather, they were so certain that it wouldn't suit him. But they decided in the end to run and told me that I wasn't to give him at all a hard race if he was hating it. At one stage in the race I did seriously think of pulling him up because he was going so badly.

This was a three-and-a-quarter- mile race. A famous horse called Mandarin was a favourite. I saw his jockey pick up the whip and hit him to try and make him go faster, and I said to myself, well if he is going that badly, maybe I am not going quite so badly. So I soldiered on, thinking I might be placed if I was lucky, and arrived at the last fence, still with a possibility of being placed. Taxi jumped the last fence and, it was absolutely extraordinary, he suddenly started to fly up the hill . . .

You can't believe the television film of it. I show it to myself once or twice when I am feeling gloomy.

Kerstin, another favourite, was sailing to victory far in front of him and it was she who we just caught.

No one knew whether the photo finish would say I had won and we were in the unsaddling enclosure a long time. It used to take several minutes to develop the photo - in fact, there was time to have a whole new market on the photo finish. People used to make a lot of money betting on photo finishes in those days.

But it was Taxi who was declared the winner. The result was announced over the loudspeaker, which was lovely.

I then rode him in two Grand Nationals, in the first of which he fell very unluckily at Beecher's. But it was very sad that he never ran in a Grand National when he was at his best, because if he had, he would have been just the sort of horse you'd fancy your chance on.

Taxi lived a long time, until he was 20. Then he became rather old and infirm and couldn't be hunted any longer, and he was put down when his arthritis got bad.

One of the worst things about life is the number of horses and dogs you outlive.

It's absolutely immediate, they put a humane killer against the horse's forehead, and bang . . . If the horse is in friendly surroundings there is no reason why he should feel any fear or pain. I am very much against sending them to slaughterhouses.

Taxi was a crib biter, which is a habit some horses get into where they take hold of something with their teeth and suck wind in. All over my farm you will find fences that have been nearly bitten in two by Taxi, so he left his mark.

Lord Oaksey is a racing correspondent and columnist.

(Photograph omitted)

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