Lady Buttons back in training – and may run before Christmas

Phil Kirby’s much-loved mare Lady Buttons has made a tentative return to training after a rare issue halted her second career as a broodmare.

Lady Buttons is already a multiple graded winner over hurdles and fences, having also been a useful bumper horse in her youth.

She went on to win both the Group Two Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle at Doncaster and the Listed Mares’ Hurdle at Wetherby twice – also finishing second in the latter in 2017.

Those runs were interspersed with impressive chasing performances, including victories in the Yorton Stallions Mares’ Novices’ Chase at Bangor in 2017 and the Listed Yorkshire Silver Vase Mares’ Chase in 2018 and 2019.

She was retired last September after sustaining a minor injury which would have seen her sidelined for most of the campaign.

Lady Buttons is owned by Jayne Sivills and was bred by her husband Keith, and it was their decision to call time on her career following the injury and instead send her to Coolmore’s Grange Stud in Ireland to be covered by Walk In The Park.

She did not conceive, though – and after blood samples were sent to America it transpired she had under-developed ovaries, an unusual and untreatable condition which means she would never produce a foal.

Lady Buttons and jockey Adam Nicol
Lady Buttons and jockey Adam Nicol (Richard Sellers/PA)

Lady Buttons was not far from the peak of her powers when retiring, so connections have opted to send her back to Kirby’s base for another season in training.

The North Yorkshire trainer has her return to the track pencilled in by Christmas – but there are no firm plans for her comeback date, and she will not continue to be campaigned should she fail to train or run at her previous level.

“It’s very much in the balance still – we haven’t decided one way or another,” said Kirby.

“There’s no rush, and we’ve no desperation to run. If she’s working as well as she was then we will – but if not there’s no harm done.

“She had under-developed ovaries, and that was preventing her from being able to have foals. It is what it is, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Lady Buttons at Wetherby
Lady Buttons at Wetherby (Richard Sellers/PA)

“She was at Coolmore, so they’ve done everything they possibly can. We gave her every chance, and it’s just a shame, but we know she likes her work so we thought we might as well just see how she gets on.

“If she’s not as good as she was, she won’t be running again. That’s how we’ve left it, and we’re all happy with that.

“We’ll just see how she comes back – if her work is as good as it was then we’ll give it another go; if not then we won’t.

“I’d imagine it would be around Christmas time or November into December – she should be ready for about then.

“She’d have to be somewhere near her best to be running again, but there’s no desperate need to run her – and she’ll be staying with us, no matter what happens.”

Lady Buttons retired following setback

Phil Kirby hailed Lady Buttons as “our horse of a lifetime” after confirming his star mare’s retirement because of injury.

While very much in the twilight of her racing career at the age of 10, the daughter of Beneficial was arguably better than ever last season – winning three of her five starts.

After successfully defending her crown in the Listed mares’ hurdle at Wetherby in early November, Lady Buttons finished a creditable fourth in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle before landing both a Listed mares’ chase and a Grade Two mares’ hurdle at Doncaster.

She could finish only seventh in an especially high-class renewal of the Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March, but Kirby had been looking forward to her return to action this autumn for one final season.

In an emotional statement posted on Twitter, the trainer said: “It’s been a significant morning here at the yard, and time has been called on a wonderful career. Our horse of a lifetime, and the people’s favourite, Lady Buttons, has been retired.

“Keith, Jayne (Sivills, owners) and all of us here would like to thank you so much for sharing her incredible racing story with us. What a legend she has been, and the decision to retire her this morning was typical of her devoted owners – putting the mare first.

“A small setback meant she would have been on the sidelines until Christmas, and a spring return would not have been in Buttons’ best interests.

“With a few months now to chill, her second career begins in the spring and we’re delighted that she will remain with us to become a broodmare.

“We can’t wait to see her in the fields with a foal by her side – one chapter is over but the next one begins.”

Lady Buttons won 15 of her 33 career starts, earning almost £300,000 in win and place prize-money.