More memories than hopes but The Tatling just keeps galloping

Old stager wants to keep on running after refusing to be put out to grass
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The Independent Online

Just imagine it. David Beckham, aged 67, turns out for Exeter City every week, very nearly as fit and well as he was in his pomp, and keeps banging in goals. Posh tries to stop him from running about in the cold and wet, but he would have none of the slippers and stamp collection scenario.

Transfer to horses the idea of a once top-class athlete still plying his trade in what many would consider his dotage, and you have The Tatling.

The remarkable gelding is now 12, which is geriatric for a Flat racer. But this afternoon at Leicester he will line up for the 132nd race of his extraordinary career. And he has, more or less, risen from his sickbed to do it. He missed a scheduled run in the Bronze Cup at Ayr on Friday because of a mild attack of colic. But then, The Tatling appears to have been hewn rather than foaled.

In 11 seasons he has galloped 87 miles in anger, all of it in sharp bursts over five or six furlongs. He has won 16 races and earned nearly £680,000. He has been ridden by 27 different jockeys (young Jack Dean is his present partner), lived in three different training yards (now and for ever with Milton Bradley) and globetrotted as far as Hong Kong.

His finest moment on the track came five years ago when he entered the Royal Ascot winner's enclosure in triumph after the King's Stand Stakes, now a Group One contest. But for Bradley, who is not in the first flush of youth himself, pride comes nowadays with the just the sight of his favourite horse, hale and hearty and enjoying life, in his small family yard at Sedbury, near Chepstow.

"We tried to retire him a couple of years ago," he said yesterday, "but he absolutely hated it. "We had a lovely paddock for him, and a pony for a companion, but every day he was there by the gate, hanging about and wanting to come in and be part of what was going on. When the string went down the road next to his field, he'd follow them down the inside of the hedge and gaze after them. So we took the hint and brought him back into training."

The Tatling, who cost 54,000 guineas as a yearling, was with Michael Bell in Newmarket for his first 14 races, winning twice, before being sold on at auction to Thirsk-based trainer Dandy Nicholls as a three-year-old for 11,000gns. Twelve months later Bradley claimed him for £15,000 from a Class F contest at Catterick and a year after that he had improved 2st and beat all bar the champion Oasis Dream in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York.

Today's contest, a Class Four sprint handicap, is a far cry from those heady festival days, but the old brown horse is as up for competition as ever. "He's not as fast as he once was," said Bradley, "and people perhaps think that it's a shame that he's now running around in these lower grades. But he just loves racing. When he goes on the lorry to go to the track, he goes up that ramp with his ears pricked."

The 73-year-old trainer, a former champion ploughman and exponent of the Welsh flapping circuit, is a hands-on stockman of the old school and, like all the horses at Meads Farm, The Tatling gets the best of care. The one foible he has is that he prefers to go out to exercise and work on his own, rather than in a string. "He likes his own company round the lanes and on the gallops," Bradley said. "The only time he takes on other horses is when it's for real."

The Tatling's fans will be pleased to know that he has fully recovered from last Thursday's setback. "It was only a mild attack of colic and he got over it very quickly," Bradley said, "but there was no way we were going to subject him to a 10-hour journey to Ayr, and he was bright as a button this morning."

Bradley now owns the gallant veteran, having acquired him when his former owners wanted to move on to younger, fresher legs (and they have at least two successors, the smart sprinters Regal Parade and Evens And Odds, in The Tatling's image) just to make sure he stayed in what is his now his permanent home. "I'm not sure what the secret is that keeps him going," Bradley added, "but I'd like a bit of it myself.

"Like all of us when we get old, some days are better than others. But racing is what he wants to do and what you can be sure of is that when he tells me he's had enough he won't be made to do the job any longer."


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