The news that Nicky Richards' grey Monet's Garden has not only been retired but is fighting for his life emerged yesterday almost simultaneously with an impressive start to his own jumping career by Credit Swap at Leicester.
His connections will be very lucky if he goes on to achieve even half as much as Monet's Garden in his new vocation and they will be luckier still if he eludes the hazards that have finally caught up with one of the most popular steeplechasers of recent years.
Monet's Garden has undergone a series of operations on an infected bone in his hoof, but remains ill.
Having turned 13 on New Year's Day, the only available consolation is that he ended his career with a signature performance, at Aintree in October, to become the first horse to win the Old Roan Chase three times -- on one occasion, in 2007, beating Kauto Star himself. This time, the grey jumped with trademark gusto before bravely seeing off the challenge of Poquelin. It was his 17th success in 32 starts.
That sprightly exhibition was a credit not only to the horse himself, but also to his trainer, Richards.
In truth, Richards has struggled to match his father Gordon's achievements from the same Greystoke stable, but his record with Monet's Garden shows what he can do with the right material. Little wonder he is now so desperate that the horse can make it through to retirement.
"The old horse is battling away for his life," Richards said. "It has been a hell of a job trying to close this infection down. The lady looking after him has done a fantastic job. We've searched worldwide, looking for a way to treat it. He has had the best treatment available. Regarding his racing career, that's over. We are just trying to save the horse now."
Credit Swap was immaculate in his first novice hurdle, jumping well before being produced at the last by Aidan Coleman and quickening four and a half lengths clear in conditions that would have exposed any stamina deficiency.
"He settled very well so fair play to everyone at home for that," said Coleman. "At home he is always dropped in and can be quite keen, but today he was good.
"They've got him relaxed at home and he really enjoys his jumping, he loves going to the schooling field at home. Hopefully he'll do as good at this game as he did on the Flat."
Any Cambridgeshire winner would be a classy recruit to jump racing and Credit Swap couldn't be in better hands for his new calling than those of Venetia Williams. (© Independent News Service)