Tag Archive for: The Last Lion

Joe Fanning pays tribute to ‘gentleman’ The Last Lion

Joe Fanning has paid tribute to The Last Lion after the Group One-winning sprinter suffered a fatal injury at Kempton on Saturday.

The son of Choisir was a top-class juvenile in 2016, winning the Brocklesby on his racecourse debut and going on to place in a string of Listed and Group races before taking the Group One Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket.

The bay was then retired to stud but produced only a handful of foals before his fertility tapered off and he was eventually excused from his duties as a stallion after standing at both Godolphin’s Kildangan Stud and Hedgeholme Stud in Darlington.

After a five-year absence The Last Lion was gelded and gradually eased back into work at Johnston’s yard, returning to training in May last year and making a comeback on the track when 10th in the Listed Golden Rose Stakes at Lingfield in November.

He then ran twice more before heading to Kempton on Saturday, where he sustained an injury and was pulled up by Fanning two furlongs from home in a six-furlong handicap.

The Last Lion defeating Blue Point in the Middle Park Stakes
The Last Lion defeating Blue Point in the Middle Park Stakes (Julian Herbert/PA)

“It was sad and he didn’t deserve that,” the jockey said.

“Coming round the bend it just happened quickly, it was one of those things.

“He was moving OK and just on the bend, I wasn’t 100 per cent happy then he just went. It was one of those things and you couldn’t blame the track or anything like that.”

The eight-year-old provided Fanning with the first Group One success of his career and was a horse fondly thought of by the veteran rider.

“He was a great horse and he was my first Group One winner. He was a lovely gentleman of a horse, he was good to do anything with,” he said.

The Last Lion in action at Sandown
The Last Lion in action at Sandown (Julian Herbert/PA)

“As a two-year-old he was a tough horse, he won the Brocklesby then he had about 10 races that year. He was tough as old boots.

“He just seemed to get better the more racing he had as a two-year-old. That day at Newmarket was great, I wouldn’t have retired happy if I hadn’t ridden a Group One winner, so that was a bit of a relief that day – he was a lovely horse.

“He was an old gentleman and it is sad it has ended like that. He was rusty the first couple of runs since he came back, he missed the kick a couple of times and he was never like that before.

“He seemed to sharpen up a bit and seemed to be enjoying life.”

Group One hero The Last Lion verging on racing return

Mark Johnston is preparing Group One winner The Last Lion to return from a mammoth absence of over five years in the Betway Golden Rose Stakes at Lingfield on Saturday.

The son of Choisir won four of his 10 starts during a juvenile campaign which started with victory in the Brocklesby at Doncaster and ended with top-level success in the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket.

The Last Lion was retired to stud after that 2016 victory over Blue Point, but returned to training earlier this year and is closing in on a remarkable comeback at Listed level this weekend.

“He’s been back since around May time,” said Johnston.

“Basically, once it was realised he was infertile, he was retired (from stud duties) and I purchased Godolphin’s half-share and the other owners basically gave him to me.

“John Brown and Megan Dennis are still in, so we decided to give it a go and see how it went.

“He was gelded and it’s taken a long time to get him fit and make sure everything was OK.

“Joe Fanning has had a couple of gallops on him in the last couple of weeks and was very happy with him, so we’ve made an entry.”

Trainer Mark Johnston
Trainer Mark Johnston (Mike Egerton/PA)

While The Last Lion covered a number of mares and produced 13 individual winners, his stallion career did not take off as hoped.

Johnston added: “I don’t think he’s had many foals right from the beginning. It hasn’t been going all that well and it’s just got gradually worse.

“Someone has asked me if we’ve had a horse come back from a stud career before and I don’t think I have and I don’t think many people will have had one after so long off.

“There’s a little bit of trepidation – you’ve got to be careful – but we think we’ve done plenty of work with him and it would be great if he can come back to anything like his former self.

“He’s worked very, very well. Joe Fanning, who was on him in the Middle Park on his last start, said he gave him a great feel, so he’s very excited about it.”