They are the closest thing in horseracing to the Rolling Stones, the crowd favourites who keep defying the years and coming back for more.
There is high-quality action wherever you look this weekend, with Cheltenham Festival clues abounding at Kempton and Wetherby, but there will not be a more enjoyable race than the Unibet Veterans’ Chase, staged at Warwick. Satisfaction is guaranteed.
The Veterans’ Series was created by the sponsors, alongside the British Horseracing Authority and the Jockey Club, to give more opportunities to horses aged 10 and above, those who find the going a little tougher in races dominated by those with younger legs.
If you think this is some sort of consolation affair, however, think again. A measure of the appeal for this kind of contest was shown by the fact the BHA were determined to get it re-staged this weekend, having seen last Saturday’s fixture at Sandown abandoned.
So a field of 16 will set off at 3.35pm and whether you are on track or watching at home, it will be like a reunion with old friends. There is little these wonderful characters have not seen or done and the numbers they have accumulated prove this point spectacularly.
Cyclop will feature in a 16-strong line-up in the Veterans’ Chase at Warwick on Saturday
Cyclop’s trainer David Dennis has trained the horse for over 10 years and his affection for the gelding is palpable
Together in the course of 515 combined races, they have galloped a remarkable 1,491 miles, jumped more than 6,000 obstacles and amassed 114 victories. When you consider high-class Flat horses can be retired with fewer than 10 miles on the clock, you understand this group’s durability.
They have a combined age of 184 years (it makes them whippersnappers compared to the 236 years between Sir Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and racing fan Ronnie Wood), while put their win-and-place prize money together and the kitty adds up to £2,595,962.00 — it is an extraordinary yield.
But these are extra horses, none more so than Cyclop, who turned 13 on New Year’s Day (the unofficial birthday of every horse in training is January 1). He has been in the life of trainer David Dennis for 10 years and the affection he has for the gelding comes out in every word he speaks.
Cyclop’s career began in a contest in Bordeaux on March 12, 2014. He raced five times in France before making his debut for Dennis, who is based in Banbury, at Uttoxeter that October; he has gone on to race another 60 times, pocketing £160,056 and covering 202 miles.
That is a huge figure but nothing compared to the distance he gallops at home. Dennis works him between a mile-and-a-half and two miles six days a week for 10 months of the year, which he has done for a decade: meaning he has clocked up more than 5,400 miles.
‘He’s just a real, placid lovely horse, a pleasure to having anything to do with,’ says Dennis. ‘If you were making a comparison in terms of where he is with a human sportsman, he’d be like Frankie Dettori, still going strong in his 50s.
‘He takes his races extremely well. He loves his food, he eats up every time he comes back from the course. He isn’t the biggest of horses and you wouldn’t necessarily pick him out of a line-up but he very much thinks he is the king of the pack.
‘You can’t thank horses like this enough, he’s the kind of horse that captures the affection of racegoers. There’s nothing complicated about him, he just goes out there and gives you everything.
‘He doesn’t owe us anything and when he lets us know he’s had enough, we’ll look after him.’
In comparison to Cyclop, the likely favourite, Aye Right, seems like his career is still unfolding. But he is now 11 and worked his socks off more than 90.1 miles in 34 races for Harriet Graham, taking a little stable like hers to places she could not have imagined after making his debut at Kelso in September 2017.
Highly-fancied Aye Right (near side) is now 11 and galloped more than 90 miles in 34 races
‘We call him “Jock” and he’s the first thing I see when I look out the bedroom window of a morning,’ says Graham, who now trains in partnership with Gary Rutherford and is based in the Scottish Borders in Jedburgh. ‘What a privilege it has been to look after him.
‘He has taken us to the Cheltenham Gold Cup, to big races at Ascot and Newbury and never let anyone down. He’s a superstar for us, a real good eater who loves fruit and vegetables and we take him sometimes for a gallop on the beach.
‘He’s given us all such incredible fun and we are so thankful to have him. When you stand next to him, you feel his presence but he never bats an eye. He just wants to stand there and munch on some hay but when he gets on course he goes into the zone and gives you everything.
‘Things are hard for him in those top races, so that’s why this race is such a great opportunity for all these horses. It’s what National Hunt racing is all about.’