It was just over two years ago that we paid this tribute to the remarkable Wicklow Brave. And just two months ago we were singing his praises yet again after trainer Willie Mullins reinvented the fantastic ten-year-old as a steeplechaser. That all came crashing down in America on Saturday, when he suffered an ultimately fatal fall when about to write another chapter in his amazing life story.
Wicklow Brave was the toast of Ireland, or at least of the many fans of the hugely popular Mullins, when he won the Grade 1 Punchestown Champion Hurdle in 2017, which helped Mullins clinch the Irish trainers’ championship, overtaking longtime leader Gordon Elliott in a thrilling final-week surge.
“Is this the world’s most versatile racehorse?” we asked of an 8-year-old who had run in 32 races of all shapes and sizes, including a Melbourne Cup, and had won ten of them, the highlights of which were a G1 on the flat (the Irish St Leger the year before) and that Punchestown championship event.
That was back in April 2017. You might have thought that would have been about that for owner Nick Peacock’s gelding.
You’d have been wrong.
Wicklow Brave had run another 27 times since then, winning seven, being placed in seven, and finishing fourth four times. Eight of those runs have been in Group or Graded flat races, four of them G1s, and he has also competed in four at the top level over hurdles. Oh, and he’s been back to Australia, where he ran twice, and he’s raced at Belmont Park in New York - and of course in that fateful final outing at Far Hills, New Jersey, where he had to be euthanized after fracturing a shoulder in a fall at the final fence when looking a certain winner of the $450,000, 2m5f American Grand National Hurdle.
That would have been another remarkable achievement for a horse who had, at some stage or other through his career, lined up at most of the biggest racing festivals in Britain and Ireland - as well as those overseas - as the tables below illustrate.
Incredibly, this summer the veteran ten-year-old then began a new lease of life as a chaser.
Mullins sent the son of Beat Hollow over fences for the first time in May, and he won a beginners’ chase nicely at Ballinrobe. In August, he was back at a big festival - Galway this time - cruising home impressively in a Grade 3 novice event. And he kept up the momentum by winning a novice chase at the Listowel Festival in September.
The trainer told the Press Association after Galway: “He is unique and has won bumpers, on the flat, over hurdles and chases. [Owner] Nick [Peacock] said he’d love to win a Grade 1 chase, so the obvious thing is to go for the Drinmore Chase at Fairyhouse in early December with him.
“He was very slick over his fences and [jockey] Paul [Townend] said he has a lot more respect for fences than hurdles. At one or two of the fences, he said if they were hurdles, he would have landed in the middle of them.
“He is so versatile and is himself at home. We only do what Wicklow wants to do and he is so laid back. We have got used to him and he has got used to us at this stage, but I don’t think anyone queues up to ride him out in the morning. He is getting more unique as he grows older.
“I don't know if any horse has done it before, but we’d like win a Group 1 on the flat, over hurdles and now over fences. If any horse has, it was a long, long time ago.”
WICKLOW BRAVE AT THE BIG MEETINGS
PUNCHESTOWN FESTIVAL (April)
GALWAY FESTIVAL (July/August)
CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL (March)
ROYAL ASCOT (June)
WELCOME TO YORKSHIRE EBOR FESTIVAL (York, August)
IRISH CHAMPIONS WEEKEND (Curragh, September)
BRITISH CHAMPIONS DAY (Ascot, October)
CHESTER MAY MEETING
QATAR GOODWOOD FESTIVAL (July/August)
MELBOURNE SPRING CARNIVAL (October/November)
BELMONT STAKES RACING FESTIVAL (June)
YORK DANTE FESTIVAL (May)