Poor Ned, the horse that never made it

He was the horse no one had ever heard of. The undistinguished battler who never captured the nation’s heart. Indeed, he failed to capture anyone’s, except perhaps his owners, until they too fell out of love with him; their dreams of riches and reflected glory dashed.

Unlike Kingston Town, Black Caviar or Red Cadeaux, Poor Ned occupies no special place in racing history. He never even reached the track: for all the frenzied efforts of his trainers, no whisper in Poor Ned’s ear or whip on his hindquarters could spur him to go any bloody faster.

No one sent cards or flowers wishing him luck. No ashes were to be scattered at Flemington, scene of not a single Ned appearance. No one ever cheered him down a home straight anywhere. He never grew to be an old warrior. He was just another two-year-old nag who wasn’t good enough.

He wasn’t handsome enough for dressage, and he couldn’t jump to save himself. He was too nervous for kids to ride on. Even professional jockeys found him hard work. The best that could be said about Poor Ned is that no one other than his owners ever lost money on him.

He was, in all respects, a disappointment. So his owners regretfully made the decision that, all agreed, was in their own best interests. After all, he was costing them around a hundred bucks a day. And Poor Ned was high maintenance. He couldn’t cope with the stalls, and he wasn’t much more docile in the stables.

He never gave anyone any joy. He competed with no distinction; in fact he was so lacking in distinction that he never competed at all. He was fragile and cranky, and no one will miss him, because no one other than his owners and handlers knew he ever existed. He served no useful purpose whatsoever.

No one ever turned out in their finest for him. No jewellery was flashed; no top hats or tails were worn; no ostentation of any kind was ever required. At least, being no peacock, he never had to put himself on display either. No one ever cooed their admiration at his perfect physique before he took to the track.

So to the knackery he went, unmourned. They led him to the kill-box and humanely euthanised him with a bullet to the head. Where Red Cadeaux was the third horse in two years to die following participation in the Melbourne Cup, Poor Ned was just another horse that never made it.

There’s more where Poor Ned came from, though. About 15,000 thoroughbred foals are bred each year in this country. Some of them are bought for millions; when they fail, they might fetch a couple of hundred in the saleyards. But gambling is big business. Sometimes you have to cut your losses.

They ground Poor Ned up for dog food, but no one ever got attached enough to him to care. No one outside of his connections knew his name, and nobody in his industry’s governing body recorded his fate. He wasn’t even a statistic, because no official statistics on horse wastage are recorded.

Apparently, though, it’s roughly 10,000 horses a year. Horses that, like Poor Ned, simply didn’t have the necessary fast-twitch fibres. Or they lacked the temperament for racing, or they broke down injured, or were just too much trouble. 10,000 horses that the nation never stopped for.

First published in The Guardian, 23 November 2015

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