Two years ago he had a phenomenal rise up the weights, starting on a mark of 68 in a novice handicap chase at Folkestone. By the end of the season he had carried 12 stone to victory in a handicap chase at the Cheltenham Festival and climbed to a BHA mark of 154 when running in the Betfred Bowl at Aintree. That wasn’t the end of his rise, as he was on 162 for his last race in England in April this year.
Two months later, owner Anthony Knott and trainer Kieran Burke had fallen out with each other, and Hunt Ball was sold to Atlantic Equine, an American syndicate. He went west to be trained by Jonathan Sheppard, with high expectations from all involved. Syndicate manager Nick Carter said at the time, “Very rarely do horses of this calibre come up for sale. I like to buy horses who go on good ground, as we tend to get that in America. I’ve bought horses over in the past like Black Jack Blues who have dominated and proved to be Grade 1 class, and with a horse such as him, rated 162, it will take a very good one to beat him. He’ll go for the New York Turf Writers Cup then the Lonesome Glory at Belmont and the $250,000 Grand National. In the back of our minds we could go to Japan for the Nakayama Grand Jump.”
Things didn’t quite go to plan. Hunt Ball was down the field on his American debut at Saratoga at the end of July, and finished behind stablemate Divine Fortune in nine races. He tried hurdles, he tried fence, but simply didn’t take to American racing at all. A poor effort in the Grand National there at Far Hills last weekend signalled the end of his adventure.
Atlantic Equine has high hopes that Nicky Henderson can work some magic with Hunt Ball, and the syndicate continues to aim high. Carter said, “We’d like to see Hunt Ball run at the Cheltenham Festival. We’re not sure in what, although we know he is very highly handicapped, and not to expect too much. We’ll leave it to Nicky.”
I hope that the experience of America hasn’t scarred the horse, and look forward to seeing him resume his racing career in England. Somehow, despite Henderson’s tremendous ability with horse, I can’t see Hunt Ball hitting the heights again.