A talented flat runner in Europe whose U.S. steeplechase career was cut short by bad luck and injury, Theydon Grey has taken to show jumping like a fish to water, and was accepted to compete in the prestigious retraining competition for retired race horses.
On pedigree and looks, Theydon Grey is a rock star. The British-bred eight-year-old son of the great Champs Elysees out of the Sadler’s Wells mare Cheerfully, was a pretty good runner, too, winning five times on the flat in the UK, including four handicaps at York and Chelmsford City for trainer William Haggas, whose clients include Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.
So when National Steeplechase Association owner and trainer Meriwether Hudson Morris submitted the winning bid for the eye-catching grey at a Tattersalls sale in Newmarket, England in 2017, his new connections had high hopes that Theydon Grey could transfer his talent over hurdles. Her expectations grew when she got a series of urgent Facebook messages in the middle of the night after the sale from a trainer in Hong Kong, who offered her around $60,000 — twice what she paid for the horse — sight unseen.
But Meriwether had an inkling about the gelding, a feeling that was reinforced when she encountered Haggas after the sale and the two began to chat. “My wife rides him, and he’s the most wonderful horse,” Meriwether recalled Haggas saying. Haggas’ wife, Maureen, who handles the stable’s day-to-day training, happens to be the daughter of legendary British jockey Lester Piggott, so the praise meant a lot.
Meriwether brought Theydon Grey to her Upperco, Md., farm in the fall of 2017, where she taught him to jump, and he had a real knack for it. By the following spring, Theydon was ready to run and was entered in a warmup on the flat at the Carolina Cup Races. But things began to unravel from the get-go.
Besides the oppressive heat that day, something the horse was unfamiliar with, the thick Camden, S.C., air was filled with pine pollen from its signature trees. Worse, Theydon’s stablemate and buddy, Al Neksh, who was also entered, had a meltdown at the start and froze only lurching forward after a few seconds, causing his friend to freak out. Between the pollen, the heat and the shocking heat, Theydon Grey crossed the finish with blood streaming out of his nostrils.
The horse returned home to recuperate and regroup, and underwent hyperbaric and salt-room therapy, among other treatments, in hopes of recovering enough to run at Saratoga in the summer. Plans had to be redrawn for a fall campaign. Healthy once again, Theydon finished fifth of nine in his U.S. maiden hurdle debut, at Shawan Downs with Bethany Baumgardner aboard. Baumgardner then pulled him up in his next start at the International Gold Cup Races in Virginia, before things started to click in his final start of the season at Charleston. In that race, Theydon Grey finished a close third under Graham Watters in a field of 10, beaten a length. However, excitement soon turned to despair, when the horse had a seriously bowed tendon.
The injury, would require a layoff of a year and a half — meaning he had no hope of facing the starter until the spring of 2020. Between the bleeding episode and the injury, Meriwether didn’t want to further risk the horse’s health by pursuing the stresses of racing.
As one chapter ends, though, another is hopefully beginning. Meriwether knew she had a horse who was more than a one-trick pony. Having ridden Theydon Grey in the ring, Meriwether was in awe of the horse’s natural talent over show jumps.
Familiar with the Retired Racehorse Project, Meriwether enlisted the help of veteran show-sport trainer Rachel Lively, and they successfully applied for entrance into the Makeover Project in the show jumper category. For full details about the competition, scheduled to take place at the Kentucky Horse Park Oct. 12 to 17, click here: https://www.tbmakeover.org/component/content/article/230-2018-thoroughbred-makeover/1984-480-trainers-accepted-into-2021-class-of-thoroughbred-makeover?Itemid=696
At the moment, Theydon Grey is recovering from surgery for yet another setback. He was diagnosed with a condition known as “kissing spine,” a term that describes the touching or “kissing” of the long, thin bones that project upward from the vertebrae of the spinal column in the horse’s back. Most horses with “kissing spine” that are diagnosed, treated, and rehabbed appropriately are able to return to work.
If all goes well, Meriwether said, “Rachel will take him in the big jumper classes and see how far he can go.
“The message we want to send is that we love these horses, want to take the best possible care of them, and then they will tell us what they want to do. That is the fun.”