As with Faugheen, as racing people we enjoy an unbeaten sequence and feel cheated when the ‘invincible’ horse is eventually beaten. I suspect bookmakers are not of the same opinion. Unbeaten runs do not occur very often and as with Altior at present there is always some unexpected development waiting in the wings to spoil a good story.
In the distant days of the 1830’s a mare by the name of Catherina won 79 races, all on the flat, a record for a horse of British breeding. I can find no reference to her in any of the books in my small racing library but one must assume there would have been a good few walkovers sprinkled throughout her career, as was the case with Eclipse, and many races that were easy pickings. 79, though, remains an impressive score-card.
Lonesome Boy won 65 point-to-points between the years 1950 and 1959 and of course Frank Cundell’s Crudwell must take the honour of being Britain’s most versatile racehorse, winning 50 races spread between the flat, hurdles and steeplechase, and of the winning most horses in British racing history he must surely have achieved the highest rating.
There is one horse though who, arguably, can be spoken of in the same breath as Crudwell. In fact Flying Ace ended his career the winner of 59 races, registered under the rules of National Hunt and point-to-pointing. He ran 88 times, so his wins to races ration is exceptionally high. In fact as his regular rider would admit, if she had not made errors in judgement in two races Flying Ace might have finished on 61 wins, 62 if he had not been disqualified for losing the weigh-cloth on the run-in at Kelso one day.
Flying Ace was bred and trained by Adam Calder on his farm at Marigold near Duns and was ridden in all but one of his races by his daughter Doreen. For a point-to-pointer he was well-bred, being by the Champion Hurdle winner Saucy Kit out of the Vulgan mare Flying Eye, a winner herself of 13 Point-To-Points.
As a four-year-old Michael Dickenson was interested in buying him, rejecting him on the grounds that he would need time to mature. The Calders’ never rushed their young stock, preferring to Hunter-trial, team-chase and hunt them so they gained as much experience of jumping as was possible before they were subjected to the white heat of the steeplechase.
Flying Ace was six before the Calders’ thought him ready to race, though a broken pedal-bone brought about by landing on a jagged stone out hunting took him out of training and into box rest for two months. As with his siblings Flying Ace also suffered from a paralysed larynx and while he was recovering from his broken pedal bone he underwent a pioneering operation that used a piece of stainless wire to hold open his larynx. While at Edinburgh Veterinary College it was discovered that Flying Ace also suffered from a consistent heart murmur. If he knew, I suspect Michael Dickenson would have thought he had dodged a bullet the day he decided not to buy Flying Ace.
How good Flying Ace might have become if M.Dickenson had trained him we will never know. He might have won a more prestigious race than the Horse & Hound Cup at Stratford, then the top hunter chase in the country, but the one certainty is that he would not have won 59 assorted races.
He was retired from racing aged 15 and lived an active life until illness took him aged 27. His owner died aged 94. One can only hope that they were reunited on some other plane of existence.
For whatever reason horses with career records as achieved by Flying Ace only come around infrequently. In National Hunt and the flat it has not occurred since the days of Crudwell. It is to be regretted as the horses with extended win records are the working-class heroes of the sport and racing is diminished by their absence.
Perhaps the handicapper is to blame, with improving horses given high ratings too quickly, without ever being given the chance to prove their true level before they are over extended in races that are beyond their ability. Or perhaps there are just too few conditions races. Whatever, it is an aspect of the sport that should be given some thought by the powers-that-be.
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.