An emotional Phil Middleton recalled how Exitas twice overcame life-threatening injuries in the last two years to return to winning form at Southwell.
Middleton, who owns as well as trains the 13-year-old, managed to hold his composure as he greeted his winner after the Dapper Spaniel Gastro Pub Rolleston Handicap Hurdle.
Ridden by 5lb claimer Tabitha Worsley, the 17-2 chance showed he retains all his enthusiasm for racing as he came home eight lengths clear of Hattaab.
It was a first success for Exitas since a veterans’ handicap chase at Aintree in October 2018.
“He ran here a couple of years ago and put his foot in a hole,” Middleton told Sky Sports Racing.
“He ripped his shoe off, and the shoe was dangling in his tail. He came back and couldn’t get off the horse box.
“He had torn all his ligaments through his pastern. We stood him for six months in agony. We nearly had him put down.
“We nursed him back. On his comeback run, he struck into himself, burst his joint capsule. The vet said he will get an infection. It’s 50-50. You might want to put him down.
“We sent him off to Newbury vets hospital for two weeks, and they saved him.”
After that second major scare, Middleton thought it best to retire Exitas – but the horse had other ideas.
“I retired him. He was as miserable as sin. He stood at the gate asking to come in – ‘I want to be a racehorse’,” said the Aylesbury permit holder.
“We ran him at Warwick, and he pulled up two out. The jockey got off him and said he was lame. I thought ‘not again’.
“I leapt over the rails and got down there. He was soon trotting as sound as a bell. The vets were there, there was nothing wrong with him, so I thought we’ll carry on.
“I can hear people thinking he’s cruel carrying on, but it’s not about greed. He loves the game – and I love him!”
Retirement could finally be imminent for Exitas – but he is first likely to make a quick reappearance in a handicap hurdle at Worcester on Saturday.
“He’s going to be retired,” added Middleton.
“When he wins he usually wins three. I think he’ll win at Worcester on Saturday night – and I’ve got the best home ever for him after.”
Jockey Jonathan England, on fourth-placed Wishfull Dreaming, received a two-day suspension for careless riding.