09 Jan Tragedy of the brilliant Noddy’s Ryde
HORSE racing is a wonderful sport. But there are lows as well as unspeakable highs, and occasionally there is a tragedy that hits us like a sickening punch to the stomach. The death of Many Clouds almost a year ago was such a moment. Down the years champions have been taken from us prematurely doing what they love on the racecourse. One Man and Best Mate spring to mind, although at least they were in the twilight of their careers and had already achieved so much. But one horse whose life was cut short before he really had the chance to show his true brilliant potential was the marvellous Noddy’s Ryde.
Gordon W Richards (GWR) produced countless splendid national hunt horses as he presided over Greystoke Castle near Penrith after taking out a licence in 1964. He won two Grand Nationals with Lucius (1978) and Hallo Dandy (1984) and three King George VI Chases with Titus Oates (1969) and One Man (1995 and 1996). He even trained Sea Pigeon before he was transferred by owner Pat Muldoon to join Night Nurse Peter Easterby’s Malton winner factory. Rinus, The Grey Monk and Tartan Tailor were other good horses from Greystoke, and Gordon’s son Nicky is continuing the good work today.
Noddy’s Ryde was the best of the lot
But there has always been a feeling that Noddy’s Ryde was the best of the lot. Well, he would have been if his career had not been cut short in such freakish circumstances.
He made his chasing debut at Wetherby as a six-year-old with Neale Doughty in the saddle. Doughty had recently replaced the retired Ron Barry as stable jockey. Noddy’s Ryde pulled like a train but was given his head down the back straight. He cruised home 10 lengths clear of Beamwam. Easy victories followed at Ayr and Cheltenham, and he was set for the four-timer at Sandown. But he slipped on landing and gave Doughty no chance of staying in the saddle. Noddy’s Ryde put things right a week later at Cheltenham in the Coventry Novices’ Chase beating Leading Artist.
Connections then experimented by running Noddy’s Ryde over 2m 4f at Newcastle in the Dipper Chase. Jonjo O’Neill replaced the injured Doughty but the pair made a shuddering mistake two out and came home third. Afterwards, the consensus was that two miles was his trip. This decision was justified when Noddy’s Ryde ran his rivals ragged in the Freebooter at Doncaster and the Nottinghamshire Novices’ Chase.
Noddy’s Ryde versus Bobsline
So in the 1983/84 season, Noddy’s Ryde had established himself as the outstanding 2m novice chaser in Britain and went into the Arkle Trophy at the Cheltenham Festival with a growing reputation. There, he came up against Ireland’s great white hope in Bobsline. What happened next went down in Cheltenham folklore and it was the race of the 1984 meeting. Relive Noddy’s Ryde and Bobsline battling it out. Their battle for supremacy over the last two fences was reminiscent of the famous Grundy-Bustino duel.
Noddy’s Ryde was not finished for the season. He gained ample compensation at Aintree in the Sporting Life Weekender Novices’ Chase, jumping his rivals into the ground. You can watch that one here. And he also won the Future Champion Novices’ Chase at Ayr.
Noddy’s Ryde with world at his feet
At the start of the 1984/85 season the racing world was relishing more head-to-heads between Noddy’s Ryde and Bobsline. The northern star, who was seven, went to Devon and Exeter (as it was then) for the Haldon Chase in November. Incredibly, this was Gordon Richards’ first-ever runner at the track. Noddy’s Ryde went off the 1-2 favourite although among his three rivals was the useful Fifty Dollars More.
Everything was going to plan and Noddy’s Ryde had a clear lead at the last when he slipped on landing. He never got up. It was clear he had done himself serious damage and had broken an offside hind leg. There was no option for the vets other than to put him down. Both Doughty and Richards were in tears although the trainer put an arm round his rider and said: “Don’t worry lad we’ll find another one.”
The thing is, GWR probably never did find one quite as good. In 1985 Bobsline fell in the Champion Chase when cruising behind another northern star Badsworth Boy. He broke a small bone in a hind leg and was never the same horse. There was a feeling that Noddy’s Ryde could have won several Queen Mothers.
As for GWR, he did not run another horse south of Cheltenham for 13 years (until Unguided Missile at Wincanton).
Please share your memories of Noddy’s Ryde in the comments box below.