Little Owl (horse)

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Little Owl
SireCantab
GrandsireCantaber
DamBlack Spangle
DamsireBlack Tarquin
Sex Gelding
Foaled1974
Country Great Britain
ColourBay
OwnerMrs B Gundry, Mr R J Wilson
Trainer Peter Easterby at Habton Grange near Malton, North Yorkshire
Record33: 16-4-2
Major wins
Dipper Novices' Chase (1980)
West of Scotland Pattern Novices' Chase (1980)
Reynoldstown Novices' Chase (1980)
Peter Marsh Chase (1981)
Tote Double Chase (1981)
Timeform Chase (1981)
Cheltenham Gold Cup (1981)
Tommy Whittle Chase (1982)
Awards
Timeform rating: 176

Little Owl was an English trained racehorse. Undefeated in his first eight completed starts over fences, he was described by Timeform as "potentially one of the most talented steeplechasers since Arkle". [1] Particularly after winning a notably strong Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1981. However, after a series of injuries and a general drop in form, he was never to fulfill his promise and ended his career competing in hunter chases.

Cheltenham Gold Cup Steeplechase horse race in Britain

The Cheltenham Gold Cup is a Grade 1 National Hunt horse race run on the New Course at Cheltenham Racecourse in England, over a distance of about 3 miles 2½ furlongs, and during its running there are 22 fences to be jumped. The race takes place each year during the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Contents

Background

Little Owl was a bay gelding who was purchased at the 1977 Doncaster August Sales by his trainer at the price of 2,300guineas. His Sire, Cantab, was a useful horse on the flat before switching to the jumps for trainer Ryan Price. His most notable efforts were winning the 1961 Triumph Hurdle [2] and finishing fourth in the 1962 Champion Hurdle. [3] A successful jumps sire, his leading progeny included Little Polveir (1989 Grand National), The Thinker (1987 Cheltenham Gold Cup), Ballyross (1978 Powers Gold Cup) and Canton (1983 Scottish Grand National). [4] His dam, Black Spangle, was a lightly raced half sister to Little Tom - a prolific jumps winner in Ireland and France while her dam, Spangle, was a seven-time winner over hurdles. Little Owl's siblings were pointers and platers of little note. [5]

Henry Ryan Price was a British Thoroughbred horse trainer in both flat and National Hunt racing.

Little Polveir (1977–1999) was a race horse. He won the 1989 Grand National steeplechase ridden by Jimmy Frost, beating West Tip by seven lengths. The horse had previously finished ninth in 1986 and did not finish in 1987 and 1988 while owned by Mike Shone, after which he was sold as a 12-year-old for 15,000gns in February 1989.

The 1989 Grand National was the 143rd renewal of the Grand National horse race that took place at Aintree Racecourse near Liverpool, England, on 8 April 1989.

Racing career

1977/78 season

Little Owl's career began in a juvenile hurdle on 1 March 1978 at Wetherby where he ran out an eight length winner. [6] He followed up in two further novice events at the same venue during the spring, ending the season unbeaten in three starts. [7]

1978/79 season

After winning a qualifier for the Coral Golden Handicap Hurdle (currently known as the Pertemps Final at Nottingham, Little Owl was sent off favourite while carrying more weight than all but one of his opponents. [8] Despite the race being only his fifth start, he ran with credit chasing home Willie Wumpkins (ironically ridden by Jim Wilson who would become Little Owl's regular jockey) who was six years his senior. Little Owl failed to win his next three starts but regained the winning thread at Market Rasen on his first start under leading amateur Jim Wilson. While success was seemingly assured, the jockey mistook the winning post and had to be rousted along to maintain his position at the finish. [9] No such mistake was made on his next and final outing of the season at Wetherby where, despite conceding 33lb, Little Owl won by twenty lengths from Silversmith who himself had won four races that season. [10] While he did not race outside of handicap company, Little Owl's progression was such that he wound up being rated that season's leading staying hurdler by Timeform - ahead of Stayers' Hurdle winner, Lighter. [11]

The Pertemps Final is a Grade Three National Hunt hurdle race in Great Britain which is open to horses aged five years or older. It is run on the New Course at Cheltenham over a distance of about 3 miles, and during its running there are twelve hurdles to be jumped. It is a handicap race, and it is scheduled to take place each year during the Cheltenham Festival in March.

The Stayers' Hurdle is a Grade 1 National Hunt hurdle race in Great Britain which is open to horses aged four years or older. It is run on the New Course at Cheltenham over a distance of about 3 miles, and during its running there are twelve hurdles to be jumped. The race is scheduled to take place each year during the Cheltenham Festival in March.

1979/80 season

Instead of challenging the top staying hurdlers, Little Owl was sent novice chasing and he made his seasonal debut in the Dipper Novices' Chase at Newcastle. [12] Despite conceding experience and race fitness to all of his opponents, he jumped immaculately and comfortably prevailed by a length and a half from Peterhof, a former Triumph Hurdle winner and twice placed in the Stayers' Hurdle in what would be that horses' last start. [13] He was less convincing in his jumping a fortnight later in the West of Scotland Pattern Novices' Chase at Ayr where he beat Irish raider Romany Count by half a length although to his credit, he was giving away 10lb over a trip short of his optimum. [14] Little Owl was seen to better effect next time over three miles in the Reynoldstown Novices' Chase at Ascot where he was well fancied to make it three from three over fences. [15] Again he made several mistakes, blamed on the roving television camera by his jockey, and was still eight lengths behind when Caper's Lad sadly took a fatal fall four out. While whether Little Owl would have won that day was a matter of contention, [16] in the end, he did win the contest by twelve lengths from the average Martinstown. With a perfect record over fences, Little Owl went into the Sun Alliance Chase as a well fancied second favourite behind Edward O'Grady's 1978 Stayers' Hurdle winner Flame Gun. However, the jumping problems which dogged him throughout the season ended his race at the tenth fence.

The Dipper Novices' Chase is a Grade 2 National Hunt chase in Great Britain which is open to horses aged five years or older. It is run on the New Course at Cheltenham over a distance of about 2 miles and 4½ furlongs, and during its running there are seventeen fences to be jumped. The race is for novice chasers, and it is scheduled to take place each year on New Year's Day.

The Triumph Hurdle is a Grade 1 National Hunt hurdle race in Great Britain which is open to horses aged four years. It is run on the New Course at Cheltenham over a distance of about 2 miles and 1 furlong, and during its running there are eight hurdles to be jumped. The race is for juvenile novice hurdlers, and it is scheduled to take place each year during the Cheltenham Festival in March.

The Reynoldstown Novices' Chase is a Grade 2 National Hunt steeplechase in Great Britain which is open to horses aged five years or older. It is run at Ascot over a distance of about 3 miles, and during its running there are twenty fences to be jumped. The race is for novice chasers, and it is scheduled to take place each year in February.

1980/81 season

It was the Saturday before Christmas when Little Owl made a winning seasonal reappearance at Doncaster in a conditions event. A race over two and a half miles he was expected to win easily and did so by twenty lengths. He had been purchased by the Wilson family since his last start and it would be Jim Wilson who would ride Little Owl for the rest of his career. [17] Little Owl stepped up in class for his next start in the Peter Marsh Handicap Chase at Haydock. Among his rivals were the veteran Tied Cottage, who finished eight lengths ahead in the previous season's Gold Cup before losing the race due to a drug test, [18] Ballet Lord, winner of the previous season's Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase and Straight Jocelyn, twice a winner already that season at Lingfield. Prior to the race, Little Owl was quoted at 14/1 for the Gold Cup alongside Tied Cottage. [19] However, after the latter fell at the eleventh, Little Owl opened up a large lead in the back straight and with sound jumping and resolute galloping, he won by an easy fifteen lengths from Straight Jocelyn, moving towards the head of the Gold Cup market in the process. [20] One week later, he contested the Tote Double Chase at Cheltenham and with Henry Kissinger, who had hitherto won all four completed starts, his only realistic opponent on paper, Little Owl was sent off 8/11 favourite. Due to heavy fog, not much was seen of the race itself. Nevertheless, he reportedly jumped well and in the end, won by six lengths from unfancied novice Lesley Ann (who incidentally, went on to win the Sun Alliance Chase six weeks later. [21] Little Owl returned to Haydock for his final prep race to contest the inaugural running of the Timeform Chase. A valuable race established for novices and second season chasers, it attracted a small field and was effectively a match between Little Owl and leading northern novice Wayward Lad. [22] In the event, Wayward Lad fell four from home leaving Little Owl to win by twelve lengths from Fairy King - a winner of two decent handicaps at Ascot and Cheltenham who was in receipt of 10lb.

The Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase is a Grade 3 National Hunt steeplechase in Great Britain which is open to horses aged four years or older. It is run at Wetherby over a distance of about 3 miles, and during its running there are nineteen fences to be jumped. It is a handicap race, and it is scheduled to take place each year on Boxing Day.

The Cotswold Chase, currently known for sponsorship reasons as the BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase, is a Grade 2 National Hunt steeplechase in Great Britain which is open to horses aged five years or older. It is run on the New Course at Cheltenham over a distance of about 3 miles and 1½ furlongs, and during its running there are twenty-one fences to be jumped. The race is scheduled to take place each year in January.

The Timeform Chase was a National Hunt Conditions chase in England. It was run at Haydock Park over a distance of 2 miles and 4 furlongs, and it took place each year in February.

1981 Cheltenham Gold Cup

In recent seasons, the Cheltenham Gold Cup was going through a spell in the doldrums. After Tied Cottage's disqualification, the previous renewal fell to Master Smudge, a horse beaten in his six previous starts and whose timeform rating of 150 was decidedly below championship standard. [23] In 1979, the race was taken by Alverton whose fatal fall in that year's Grand National brought much bad publicity to the sport. [24] Indeed, it wasn't since 1975 that a Gold Cup winner achieved a timeform rating of 170 or above. [25] However, despite the absences of the likes of Venture To Cognac, Bright Highway and Border Incident, the 1981 renewal was regarded as one of the strongest fields assembled in years. [26] The market was headed by Silver Buck who had won twelve of his thirteen previous starts including two King George VI Chases. [27] Next in the betting was Little Owl who was joint second favourite with stablemate and dual champion hurdler Night Nurse. Dual Punchestown Chase winner and twice King George VI Chase runner up Jack Of Trumps also featured prominently alongside fellow Irish raider Tied Cottage. Other notable runners included Royal Bond (Premier Chase), 1978 victor Midnight Court, top handicapper Diamond Edge and leading hunter chaser Spartan Missile.

Tied Cottage forced a strong pace from the front but the shape of the race changed when unseating jockey Liam O'Donnell with over a circuit to go. Diamond Edge was left in the lead as they set out on their final lap and was soon joined by Night Nurse with Little Owl tracking them closely in third. Night Nurse increased the tempo and on jumping the final ditch six out, led ahead of Little Owl, Diamond Edge, Silver Buck and Spartan Missile while Royal Bond, who wasn't far behind, made a terrible blunder which put him out of contention. While Night Nurse jumped and travelled well throughout, he was joined at the third last by Little Owl and Silver Buck. The latter two began to pull away approaching the penultimate fence where Silver Buck's error gave Little Owl a clear advantage. With another fine jump over the last, Little Owl galloped resolutely up the Cheltenham hill being chased all the while by Night Nurse as Silver Buck's stamina gave way. Little Owl never looked like getting caught and held off his stablemate's challenge by a length and a half at the line. [28] Having only his ninth start over fences at the young age of seven, Little Owl's display of sound jumping and plentiful class had writers mentioning Peter Easterby's charge in the same breath as Pendil and Captain Christy. [29] However, given the inherent fragility of steeplechasers, Little Owl would never again attain those heights again nor would he contest another Gold Cup.

1981/82 season

Like others at Peter Easterby's Habton Grange stables, Little Owl was affected by a virus infection and his comeback was delayed until New Year's Eve for a two and a half mile handicap chase at Cheltenham. [30] Re-opposing old rivals Royal Bond and Henry Kissinger, he began as favourite under top weight. [31] However, he got no further than the eleventh fence when falling while disputing the lead. His second start in the three runner Fulwell Chase was shrouded in controversy after he was pulled up due to the bit slipping through his mouth. [32] Questions were raised after large sums were placed on forecasts involving the other two runners Venture To Cognac, returning after a thirteen-month absence, and Great Dean, a 66/1 shot who'd failed to complete his previous two starts. Nevertheless, within a week, the Betting Office Licencees Association determined "there is no reason to withhold payment". [33] In between the Kempton race and his next start at Ascot, he drifted out from 7/2 favourite to 8/1 despite assurances from his owners that nothing was amiss. [34] It was in Ascot's Whitbread Trial Handicap Chase where he met his first defeat when completing over fences. Although disappointing, the effort was still respectable as he beaten by less than twelve lengths while giving away upwards of 19lbs to Grand National winners Aldaniti and Grittar. Little Owl returned to the track nine days later for a handicap chase at Newcastle where he took a heavy fall while not appearing to travel well. [35] This would be his last appearance of the season and he was hobdayed over the summer.

1982/83 season

Little Owl returned to the track ten months later in the aptly named "Last Chance Chase", a minor conditions event at Nottingham, where he won in a canter. [36] He followed up with another success nine days later where he defeated Bregawn by ten lengths in the Tommy Whittle Chase. Although it later transpired that Bregawn was running with a pulled muscle. [37] Nevertheless, these two successes rekindled faith in Little Owl as he was sent off as 5/2 second favourite for the King George VI chase splitting Silver Buck and Wayward Lad in the betting. However, while he jumped well in the most part, he could only manage a distant fourth. [38] His next start was in the Peter Marsh Chase, a race which he had won two years prior. Giving upwards of 10lbs away to the likes of Venture To Cognac, Lesley Ann and Ashley House (two handicap wins in past month), he wasn't disgraced in being beaten by less than ten lengths although he did fail to see out the race finishing fourth. [39] He was out a fortnight later for the Gainsborough Chase at Sandown where he once again failed to see out the race, finishing over twenty lengths behind Observe (who went on to win that season's Cathcart Challenge Cup) and the ten year old Royal Judgement. This was his last race for the season and along with another breathing operation over the summer, he was also diagnosed with a trapped epiglottis. [40]

1983/84 season

Little Owl's seasonal reappearance came with an attempt at successive victories in Haydock's Tommy Whittle Chase. The task was made easier when odds on favourite, Bregawn, fell three from home although he still had to play second fiddle to Prince Rowan who was no better than a decent handicapper. [41] Not entered for the King George VI Chase, Little Owl contested the Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase at Wetherby instead where he finished fifth behind Phil The Fluter while conceding weight all round. His final start of the season came in the Anthony Mildmay, Peter Cazalet Memorial Chase where following a first fence unseat, he tore ligaments and muscles in his hind quarters and sustained a suspected broken pelvis after galloping loose. [42]

1984/85 season

For his final season, Little Owl joined trainer John Edwards and competed in a pair of hunter chases. [43] In his first hunter chase, he was beaten thirty two lengths into sixth before finishing a similar distance into second behind old rival Royal Judgement at Wincanton. [44]

Races

DateFinishRaceDistGoingJockeyMarginWinner/Runner up OddsTrack
1 March 19781stHarewood Novices' Hurdle2mHeavy J J O'Neill 8Pennine Derek6/1 Wetherby
27 March 19781stBilton Novices' Hurdle2mGood to Soft J J O'Neill n/aTemucoEvsf Wetherby
3 May 19781stCity Varieties Novices' Hurdle2mGood to Soft J J O'Neill n/aTreasure Island4/11f Wetherby
16 December 19781stCoral Golden Handicap Hurdle (Qualifier)2m6fSoft J J O'Neill 1.5Longacre15/2 Nottingham
13 March 19792nd Coral Golden Handicap Hurdle 3mHeavy J J O'Neill 5Willie Wumpkins9/2f Cheltenham
29 March 19794thEmlyn Hughes Handicap Hurdle2m5fSoft J J O'Neill 13.75Varalgo11/4f Aintree
17 April 19793rdMontagu Handicap Hurdle2m4fGood Mr T Easterby 4Manton Castle11/2 Wetherby
7 May 19792ndSunday Sun Handicap Hurdle2m4fGood Mr T Easterby 2Royal Navy5/1 Newcastle
19 May 19791stHandicap Hurdle [1] 3mGoodMr A Wilson.75Star Music5/1 Market Rasen
28 May 19791stHeadley Handicap Hurdle2m4fSoftMr A Wilson20Silversmith9/4 Wetherby
11 January 19801st Dipper Novices' Chase 3mHeavy J J O'Neill 1.5Peterhof9/4f Newcastle
25 January 19801stWest of Scotland Pattern Novices' Chase2m4fGood to Soft J J O'Neill .5Romany Court8/11f Ayr
13 February 19801st Reynoldstown Novices' Chase 3mGood to Soft J J O'Neill 12Martinstown11/10f Ascot
12 March 1980Fell Sun Alliance Chase 3mHeavy J J O'Neill n/aLacson9/4 Cheltenham
20 December 19801stDavid M. Adams Developments Chase2m4fGood to SoftMr A Wilson20Cape Felix10/11f Doncaster
24 January 19811st Peter Marsh Chase 3mSoftMr A Wilson15Straight Jocelyn4/6f Haydock Park
31 January 19811st Tote Double Chase 3m1fGoodMr A Wilson6Lesley Ann8/11f Cheltenham
7 March 19811st Timeform Chase 2m4fHeavyMr A Wilson12Fairy King4/5f Haydock Park
19 March 19811st Cheltenham Gold Cup 3m2fHeavyMr A Wilson1.5 Night Nurse 6/1 Cheltenham
31 December 1981FellColt Car Diamond Handicap Chase2m4fHeavyMr A Wilsonn/aRoyal Bond9/4f Cheltenham
23 January 1982PUFulwell Chase3mSoftMr A Wilsonn/aVenture To Cognac4/11f Kempton Park
10 February 19825th Whitbread Trial Handicap Chase 3mGoodMr A Wilson10.75Cavity Hunter9/4 Ascot
19 February 1982FellTrout Chase3mSoftMr A Wilsonn/aPeaty SandyEvsf Newcastle
6 December 19821stLast Chance Chase3mGoodMr A Wilson12Kalkashanndi8/15f Nottingham
15 December 19821st Tommy Whittle Chase 3mSoftMr A Wilson10 Bregawn 9/4 Haydock Park
27 December 19824th King George VI Chase 3mGood to SoftMr A Wilson28.5 Wayward Lad 5/2 Kempton Park
22 January 19834th Peter Marsh Chase 3mGood to SoftMr A Wilson9Ashley House11/2 Haydock Park
22 January 19833rd Gainsborough Chase 3m1fSoftMr A Wilson22Observe6/1 Sandown Park
14 December 19832nd Tommy Whittle Chase 3mGoodMr A Wilson5Prince Rowan4/1 Haydock Park
26 December 19835th Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase 3mGood to SoftMr A Wilson8.5Phil The Fluter9/2 Wetherby
7 January 1984UR Anthony Mildmay, Peter Cazalet Memorial Chase 3m5fGoodMr A Wilsonn/a Burrough Hill Lad 14/1 Sandown Park
26 February 19856thDingley Bell Hunters' Chase2m6fGoodMr A Wilson32Golden Ty6/1 Nottingham
7 March 19852ndHine Cognac Hunter Chase3m1fGood to SoftMr A Wilson30Royal Judgement5/1 Wincanton

1 Full race title;- Dorothy Viscountess Portman Memorial Long Distance Handicap Hurdle

Pedigree

Pedigree of Little Owl (IRE), bay gelding, 1974 [45]
Sire
Cantab (IRE)
1957
Cantaber (FR)
1946
Djebel (FR)
1937
Tourbillon (FR) 1928
Loika (FR) 1926
Polaris (FR)
1941
Pharis (FR) 1936
Pompeia (FR) 1928
Balek (FR)
1946
Mehemet Ali (GB)
1938
Felicitation (GB) 1930
Firouze Mahal (IRE) 1922
Balaclava (FR)
1941
Plassy (GB) 1932
Ballili (FR) 1936
Dam
Black Spangle (GB)
1965
Black Tarquin (USA)
1945
Rhodes Scholar (FR)
1933
Pharos (GB) 1920
Book Law (GB) 1924
Vagrancy (USA)
1939
Sir Gallahad (FR) 1920
Valkyr (USA) 1925
Spangle (GB)
1947
Flamenco (GB)
1931
Flamingo (GB) 1925
Valescure (GB) 1917
Vestarsome (IRE)
1936
Vesington Star (IRE) 1921
Fusome (IRE) 1918

Related Research Articles

References

  1. Timeform (1981). Chasers And Hurdlers 1980/81. London: Portway Press Limited. p. 434.
  2. Sporting Chronicle
  3. Timeform (1981). Chasers And Hurdlers 1980/81. London: Portway Press Limited. p. 438.
  4. TBH Heritage
  5. Timeform (1981). Chasers And Hurdlers 1980/81. London: Portway Press Limited. p. 438.
  6. The Guardian 2 March 1978 p.23 (subscription required)
  7. Timeform (1978). Chasers And Hurdlers 1977/78. London: Portway Press Limited. p. 361.
  8. The Guardian 13 March 1979 p.26 (subscription required)
  9. Timeform (1979). Chasers And Hurdlers 1978/79. London: Portway Press Limited. p. 347.
  10. The Guardian 28 May 1979 p.13 (subscription required)
  11. Timeform (1979). Chasers And Hurdlers 1978/79. London: Portway Press Limited. p. 347.
  12. Evening Times 10 January 1980 p.15
  13. Timeform (1980). Chasers And Hurdlers 1979/80. London: Portway Press Limited. p. 394.
  14. The Guardian 25 January 1980 p.21 (subscription required)
  15. The Glasgow Herald 13 February 1980 p.25
  16. Timeform (1980). Chasers And Hurdlers 1979/80. London: Portway Press Limited. p. 394.
  17. The Guardian 20 December 1980 p.25 (subscription required)
  18. https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2005/aug/07/features.sport1
  19. The Guardian 24 January 1981 p.25 (subscription required)
  20. Timeform (1981). Chasers And Hurdlers 1980/81. London: Portway Press Limited. p. 436.
  21. Timeform (1981). Chasers And Hurdlers 1980/81. London: Portway Press Limited. p. 420.
  22. The Guardian 7 March 1981 p.25 (subscription required)
  23. Timeform (1980). Chasers And Hurdlers 1979/80. London: Portway Press Limited. p. 424.
  24. Timeform (1979). Chasers And Hurdlers 1978/79. London: Portway Press Limited. p. 41.
  25. Timeform (1976). Chasers And Hurdlers 1975/76. London: Portway Press Limited. p. 539.
  26. Timeform (1981). Chasers And Hurdlers 1980/81. London: Portway Press Limited. p. 438.
  27. The Guardian 7 March 1981 p.25 (subscription required)
  28. The Guardian 20 March 1981 p.23 (subscription required)
  29. Timeform (1981). Chasers And Hurdlers 1980/81. London: Portway Press Limited. p. 438.
  30. Timeform (1982). Chasers And Hurdlers 1981/82. London: Portway Press Limited. p. 436.
  31. The Guardian 31 December 1981 p.19 (subscription required)
  32. Timeform (1982). Chasers And Hurdlers 1981/82. London: Portway Press Limited. p. 436.
  33. The Guardian 28 January 1982 p.23 (subscription required)
  34. The Guardian 2 February 1982 p.23 (subscription required)
  35. The Guardian 20 February 1982 p.25 (subscription required)
  36. The Guardian 7 December 1982 p.21 (subscription required)
  37. Timeform (1983). Chasers And Hurdlers 1982/83. London: Portway Press Limited. p. 134.
  38. Timeform (1983). Chasers And Hurdlers 1982/83. London: Portway Press Limited. p. 465.
  39. Timeform (1983). Chasers And Hurdlers 1982/83. London: Portway Press Limited. p. 134.
  40. The Guardian 14 December 1983 p.19 (subscription required)
  41. Timeform (1984). Chasers And Hurdlers 1983/84. London: Portway Press Limited. p. 597.
  42. Timeform (1984). Chasers And Hurdlers 1983/84. London: Portway Press Limited. p. 463.
  43. The Guardian 7 March 1985 p.27 (subscription required)
  44. The Guardian 8 March 1985 p.23 (subscription required)
  45. Pedigreequery