For horsemen, the poignant, split perspectives of a new year remain available for 365 days. The news that Monet's Garden has not only been retired, but is fighting for his life, emerged almost simultaneously with an impressive start to his own jumping career by Credit Swap at Leicester yesterday. His connections will be very lucky if he goes on to achieve even half as much as Monet's Garden, in his new vocation; and they will be luckier still, if he eludes the hazards that have finally caught up with one of the most vibrant and popular steeplechasers of recent years.
Monet's Garden has undergone a series of operations on an infected bone in his hoof, but remains critically ill. Having turned 13 on New Year's Day, the only available consolation is that he ended his career with a signature performance, at Aintree in October, showing undiminished vitality to become the first horse to win the Old Roan Chase three times – on one occasion, in 2007, beating Kauto Star himself. This time, the grey jumped with trademark gusto before bravely seeing off the challenge of a classy young rival in Poquelin, for a 17th success in 32 starts.
That fearless, sprightly exhibition was a credit not only to the horse himself, but also to his trainer, Nicky Richards. In truth, Richards has struggled to match his father Gordon's achievements from the same stable, once so dominant in the North, but his record with Monet's Garden shows what he can do with the right material. Little wonder if he is now so desperate for the horse to make it through to a deserved retirement.
"The old horse is battling away for his life," Richards said. "It has been a hell of a job trying to close this infection down. The lady looking after him has done a fantastic job. We've searched worldwide, looking for a way to treat it. He has had the best treatment available. Regarding his racing career, though, that's over. We are just trying to save the old horse now."
Poquelin's trainer, Paul Nicholls, yesterday said that he had "never seen a tougher, more genuine horse" than Monet's Garden. Incidentally, he also revealed that Big Buck's will miss the trials card at Cheltenham later this month and instead be freshened up for his defence of the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Festival in March.
As for Credit Swap, he proved immaculate in his first novice hurdle, settling and jumping well before being produced at the last by Aidan Coleman and quickening four and a half lengths clear in conditions that would have exposed any stamina deficiency. Any Cambridgeshire winner would be a fairly classy recruit to jump racing, and Credit Swap could hardly be in better hands for his new calling than those of Venetia Williams.
Kersivay (3.55 Lingfield) Back to form when second in a seller a couple of days ago, pulling six lengths clear of the third.
Pliny (1.40 Southwell) Warrants one last chance, his stable having turned a corner since his enthusiastic chasing debut at Newbury.
One to watch
Master Overseer (David Pipe) Won all three starts last term, but looked equal to new mark when seeing off all bar one of his pursuers at Plumpton on Sunday.
Where the money's going
Dance Island is 10-1 from 12-1 with the sponsors for the Coral Welsh National at Chepstow on Saturday.
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