IN a lush, rolling meadow, a handsome bay horse grazes happily, gently swishing his tail in the sunshine of a warm summer’s day. It is a scene of equine contentment in an idyllic rural setting.
The peaceful environment is a world away from the hurly-burly of the horse’s former life. For this isn’t any old horse. This is Mister McGoldrick, possibly the most popular racehorse Yorkshire has ever produced. Mac, as he is affectionately known, had a glittering race career that spanned 12 years, mainly as a hurdler and then a spectacular front-running steeplechaser.
Trained by Sue Smith, on Bingley Moor, he won 15 races and was placed 34 times, earning more than £372,000. He was a specialist at Wetherby racecourse, winning there eight times, but his crowning glory was to land the Racing Post Plate at the 2008 Cheltenham Festival – destroying the opposition at odds of 66-1 and putting the Smith stable yard on the map – long before they were Grand National winners.
His enormous enthusiasm prolonged his career well beyond other racehorses. He became the Ryan Giggs of horse racing.
Now 17 years old and three years into his retirement, he is still a winner, but in a hugely contrasting way.
Mister McGoldrick left the racing yard three years ago and is now in the devoted care of the New Beginnings charity, which rehabilitates and re-homes former racehorses.
He lives with more than 20 other ex-racers at the charity’s picture postcard base in the heart of the East Yorkshire countryside near Stamford Bridge, and will stay there for the rest of his life.
But ‘Mac’ has not put his hooves up. He is regularly ridden, in the outdoor school and hacking out, and acts as a “schoolmaster” to younger, less experienced horses, teaching them manners and giving them confidence as they adapt to their new lives.
Kevin Atkinson and Pam Hollingworth, whose tireless efforts keep the charity ticking over, are planning to take Mister McGoldrick to Retraining of Racehorses showing classes next year, a more sedate form of competing than his racing days.
But his main role is as chief ambassador for the charity, raising its profile and helping to bring in vital donations from the public by making personal appearances at Yorkshire race meetings.
And that is how I bumped into him again.
Mac is an old friend. Four years ago, when he was still racing, I wrote a feature about him for Yorkshire Living magazine. He was my favourite racehorse and I described meeting him, at Sue Smith’s stables, as a labour of love. “It is a proud moment as I stand at his head holding him by his lead rope,” I wrote.
The moment was so inspirational that a few months later I bought my own ex-racehorse, a former steeplechaser called Adelphi Warrior, so fulfilling a childhood dream. I gave him the stable name Alexander, we began competing at local showjumping and eventing competitions and in the last four years he has brought me joy I could not have imagined.
I have now told our story in a book, Run With Your Heart, to be published in paperback next month, and Mister McGoldrick gets an honourable mention.
I saw Mac again at Skipton point-to-point race meeting earlier this year. He was standing in a grassy area close to the racecourse itself and I joined the steady stream of racegoers stopping to give him a pat and have their photos taken with him.
His popularity was clearly undiminished. His behaviour was impeccable, but as the horses raced past there was a defiant look in his eye that seemed to say: “I could still beat you.”
He was wearing a green New Beginnings horse rug and accompanied by Kevin and Pam, and I was quick to make an arrangement to see him at his home, which has stables, a horse walker, an outdoor school, and 37 acres of well-maintained paddocks. In short, it is a racehorse retirement pad from heaven.
When I visit, he is in the field with his best pal, 23-year-old Golden Hello, or Harry. The pair are inseparable and if one goes out on ambassadorial duty, the other is waiting for him at the gate when he returns.
Mac still has an air of self-importance about him and he strolls nonchalantly over to be given a fuss and a mint. He seems bigger than when I met him at the High Eldwick stables, but he looks in tip-top condition and it is a delight to see how contented he is.
After retraining the former racers, the charity seeks to find them suitable new loan homes – but they are never sold and some stay with New Beginnings.
Pam said: “Mac and Harry will stay with us for the rest of their days. Mac loves being ridden and is a perfect gentleman. He enjoys schooling and hacking out, and he leads the younger horses, giving them confidence. He still wants to be first, even if it is to be first at the gate to be brought in for his tea.
“He is also an ambassador for the charity and loves being paraded at the Yorkshire racecourses.
“He still has an amazing fan club and is a bit of a diva. He has adapted well to life after racing and a new job and is a perfect example of a former racehorse making the most of his new life.”
Before leaving, I give him a last pat of gratitude. “Thanks, old pal. Without you, I might not have ended up with my own wonderful racehorse.”
Mac will continue to do his bit for a charity which saves many retired racehorses from falling on difficult times later in life.
New Beginnings – whose motto is ‘Life Past The Post’ – relies solely on donations from well-wishers. Anyone who wants to help can contact the charity on (01759) 369810, or visit its website, newbeginningshorses.org.uk.