Plato's story reaches a sad final chapter

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The Independent Online

ONCE A WEEK, on Thursday morning, racehorses which will never see a track again are laid to rest with a three-word epitaph. The list of official scratchings from Weatherbys usually runs to at least half a dozen names. These, the sport's civil servants tell us, have been removed from ''all engagements (dead)''.

ONCE A WEEK, on Thursday morning, racehorses which will never see a track again are laid to rest with a three-word epitaph. The list of official scratchings from Weatherbys usually runs to at least half a dozen names. These, the sport's civil servants tell us, have been removed from ''all engagements (dead)''.

It may seem a brusque way to mark the end of a horse's life, but with almost 7,000 animals in training, what can we honestly expect? An obituary?

Sometimes the names are familiar, but more often - much more often - they are the also-rans and never-weres. For every career which earned fame and glory, there are a dozen which were played out in obscurity, or never started at all. And in between, there are names which will mean something to someone, even if it is only the memory of a winning punt in a Bangor seller.

Names, in fact, like Plato's Republic, who appeared on yesterday's list among others of a less classical tone like Duwon and Ferret Eddie. Plato's Republic was not an unusually talented horse, as a career record of two wins from 38 races proves, but his racing life certainly had its moments. And since those two wins came at odds of 40-1 and 16-1, he was a horse worth following, though it seems unlikely that anyone ever did.

But he was also a winning favourite in the most famous Classic of them all, although in his case, it did not mean retirement to a stud in Kentucky or Japan.

Plato's Republic was a 500-1 outsider for the 1994 Derby. At that time he was trained by John Jenkins, while Darren Biggs rode him in the big race. However, the bookies made the colt a firm favourite - to finish last. That he did, coming 24th of the 24 finishers.

Biggs's mount crossed the line a furlong behind the winner, Erhaab, and two and a half lengths adrift of another 500-1 chance called Colonel Colt, who finished 23rd. In the process, by all accounts, Plato's Republic landed some very healthy bets. He never did win a race on the Flat.

As a young horse, Plato's Republic once changed hands for £75,000. He was, after all, a son of Woodman, one of the most sought-after sires in the world. By the time Bernard Scriven bought him at the Ascot sales in 1996, though, a bid of £500 was enough to buy him.

Scriven is a farmer from the west country who rarely has more than a couple of racehorses in his yard near Taunton. ''When he came here, he was a nervous wreck,'' he said yesterday.

''I gave him two years off after I bought him at Ascot because he had a tendon problem in a front leg, and after that it was my daughter Kay who really got him back to winning ways.

''To begin with he wouldn't work at all, but she persevered, and in the end he was doing some magical pieces of work. He turned into a real softie, he was almost a pet.''

Plato's Republic ran his last race at Cheltenham on Tuesday this week, when he broke a joint in a hind leg on the run to the third fence.

''We tried to save him, because he would have been a marvellous hack for someone, he was so quiet,'' Scriven said, ''but when we brought him back to the stables in the ambulance to have a look, the bone was coming through the skin. I couldn't put him through that pain.''

But at least Plato's Republic had already managed to settle one old score. At Newton Abbot last August, he won a novice handicap chase at odds of 40-1. Many dozens of lengths down the field, in fifth place, was none other than Colonel Colt - the very same horse who had pushed him into last place at Epsom more than five years earlier.

Scriven will now ''go back to Ascot sales and try to find another one to patch up,'' but there is a huge sense of loss in his small yard.

Not all of the names on the weekly scratchings list would have as unusual a story to tell as Plato's Republic, but there is probably a similar tale of sadness behind every one. It is a thought which deserves at least a moment's quiet contemplation every Thursday morning.

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