Tuesday 16 July 2019

Heartbreak of a tragic loss

Sheila Lavery with Lady Kaya and Robbie Colgan: ‘There’s just a massive hole in your heart’
Sheila Lavery with Lady Kaya and Robbie Colgan: ‘There’s just a massive hole in your heart’

Daragh Ó Conchúir

Sheila Lavery has spoken movingly about the emotional impact of losing Lady Kaya, who could not be saved after breaking a leg while galloping on the Curragh on Tuesday morning.

Lavery, her niece Joanne who owned the talented filly, and regular jockey Robbie Colgan rushed her to nearby Anglesey Lodge Equine Hospital but an x-ray confirmed their worst fears.

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The trainer says it was her worst day in a lifetime working with horses, but finds some consolation in the reaction of members of the general public as well as her peers within the industry.

"An awful lot of people understand what she meant," Lavery notes. "You know the saying, 'it's outside the back door', but they all know she wasn't outside the back door. She was inside the house. I saw it happen so I knew immediately it was fairly catastrophic. Racing didn't even come into it. I just ran down and all I wanted to do was save her and Jo was exactly the same.

"And I'll tell you why. It's those horses that give you everything. She was the soundest, easiest horse to train. Never a problem and she was so professional. You just have to love them. I love horses that try. The depth of feeling towards the filly has surprised me. I've had phone calls from people that I don't even know, and not even from racing. They followed her. She captured the imagination.

"The amount of emails, texts - and I will get around to answering all of them - from people is unbelievable. At the moment, mentally, I answer a few and then I have to walk away and do something else."

Those who think racing professionals are immune to such emotional attachments and are somehow pushing horses to do something that isn't natural to them or that they don't enjoy, will hopefully note Lavery's words.

She is chuckling as she recounts some of Lady Kaya's personality traits.

"She hated mud. Don't put her out in mud. She hated rain. I put her out the other day and it started raining. She had no rug on and she hated it. She didn't mind it if she had a rug on. She likes her carrots cut up. She doesn't like big carrots. She was a joy to do anything with. She would lie into you and nuzzle you, wouldn't bite you or anything like that. She was a person's horse. She really liked people I think."

The love is evident not just from the content, but the tone of their delivery. The adoption of the present tense in some instances reflects the ongoing grieving process. Lavery is bereft.

A failed pinhook venture for her young owner, who had subsequently turned down huge offers with each improvement of her status, Lady Kaya had given her pilot a new career in the flat game after almost 20 years as a journeyman jump jockey. In the process, she confirmed the abilities of her trainer, illustrated clearly by a rapid ascent up the ladder since taking out a licence as a 52-year-old when the economy was lower than a snake's belly in 2012.

That Lavery only became a trainer, having been unable to sell on young stock she had invested in, only added to the romance of the story. Third on her debut as a two-year-old, beaten just a length by classic-placed Decrypt, Lady Kaya won her maiden by 10 lengths at the Curragh, with subsequent Oaks runner-up Pink Dogwood leading the obliterated pack.

She was runner-up in the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes before commencing her three-year-old campaign with an easy Group 3 triumph at Leopardstown.That booked a passage to Newmarket, where she displayed outstanding guts to go with her prodigious speed, and only found Hermosa too good in the English 1000 Guineas. It was heady stuff for this team of underdogs, none of whom had taken a traditional route to the main stage.

Even with Ten Sovereigns in the field, the daughter of Dandy Man was considered a major fancy for the Commonwealth Cup over the ideal trip of a testing six furlongs at Royal Ascot, before disaster struck.

The mourning will continue but Lavery knows she has to get on with business and she was back in the winner's enclosure with Colgan on Thursday night. Galeola, running in the colours of her brother John, was providing the conditioner with a fourth winner from her previous eight runners.

"There have just been a lot of tears in there. They're not finished. We're just trying to get on with it. We're here and working. Everyone was delighted for the winner (at Leopardstown). It makes everything slightly better but it does not fill the hole in your heart.

"I have to get on with it. I still have 35 other horses and many other owners so you have to just pick yourself up and treat the other horses as you would before this happened. You can't let it impinge on your day-to-day job. But there's just a massive hole in your heart and a bit of your soul is gone. A horse like that, you give part of your soul to.

"Last year, we had three winners Galway week and that same week, Viztoria's Australia yearling died and then Truffles got cast and she's fine but we had to retire her and she's in foal now.

"But Jesus, you're up one minute and you're down the next. I suppose you just really have to try enjoy the good days."

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