Yorkshire horse racing legend Mister McGoldrick achieved huge success on the track and is still a winner in retirement – teaching young horses how to behave, and acting as an ambassador for the New Beginnings charity, which retrains and rehomes former racehorses. Steve Wright, one of his biggest fans, went to meet him.
In a lush, rolling meadow, a handsome bay horse grazes happily, gently swishing his tail in the sunshine of a warm summer’s day. It is a scene of equine contentment in an idyllic rural setting.
The peaceful environment is a world away from the hurly-burly of the horse’s former lifem, because this isn’t any old horse. This is Mister McGoldrick, possibly the most popular racehorse Yorkshire has ever produced. Mac, as he is affectionately known, had a glittering race career that spanned 12 years, mainly as a hurdler and then a spectacular front-running steeplechaser.
Trained by Sue Smith, on Bingley Moor, he won 15 races and was placed 34 times, earning more than £372,000. He was a specialist at Wetherby racecourse, but the highlight was when he landed the Racing Post Plate at the 2008 Cheltenham Festival - destroying the opposition at odds of 66-1 and putting the Smith stable yard on the map.His enormous enthusiasm prolonged his career well beyond other racehorses. He became the Ryan Giggs of horse racing.
Now 17 years old and three years into his retirement, he is still busy, but in a hugely contrasting way. He acts as a “schoolmaster,” teaching manners and giving confidence to younger, less experienced horses, and his visits to the racecourse now are as an ambassador for the New Beginnings charity, which does tireless and wonderful work rehabilitating and re-homing former racehorses, and that is how I bumped into him again.
Mac is an old friend. Four years ago, when he was still racing, I wrote a feature about him for Yorkshire Living. He was my favourite racehorse and I described meeting him, at Sue Smith’s stables, as a labour of love. “It is a proud moment as I stand at his head holding him by his lead rope,” I wrote. The moment was so inspirational that a few months later I bought my own ex-racehorse and since then Adelphi Warrior, or Alexander, has brought me joy I could not have imagined.
I saw Mac again at Skipton point-to-point race meeting earlier this year. He was standing in a grassy area close to the racecourse itself and I joined the steady stream of race goers stopping to give him a pat and have their photos taken with him. His popularity was clearly undimmed. His behaviour was impeccable, but as the horses raced past there was a defiant look in his eye that seemed to say: “I could still beat you.”
He was wearing a green New Beginnings horse rug and accompanied by the charity’s principals, Kevin Atkinson and Pam Hollingworth. Mister McGoldrick went to live with them in March 2012, after they were carefully vetted by Sue Smith. He joined more than 20 former racehorses which the charity cares for at its base, tucked away near Stamford Bridge. There are stables, a horse walker, an outdoor school, and 37 acres of picture postcard paddocks. In short, it is a horse’s retirement pad from heaven.
When I visit, he is in the field with his best pal, 23-year-old Golden Hello, or Harry. The pair are inseparable. The horses Kevin and Pam care for are allowed to “empty their heads” in the luxurious fields for as long as it takes, before they are slowly brought back into work on a lunge line and then ridden in the school or hacked out. After retraining them, the charity seeks to find them suitable new loan homes - but they are never sold and some stay with New Beginnings.
Pam said: “Mac and Harry will stay with us for the rest of their days. Mac loves being ridden and is a perfect gentleman. He enjoys schooling and hacking out, and he leads the younger horses, giving them confidence. He still wants to be first, even if it is to be first at the gate to be brought in for his tea.
“He is also an ambassador for the charity and loves being paraded at the Yorkshire racecourses. He still has an amazing fan club and is a bit of a diva. He has adapted well to life after racing and a new job and is a perfect example.”
Pam and Kevin are planning for Mac to compete in Retraining of Racehorse showing classes next year. In the meantime, he will continue to help raise the profile of a charity which saves many retired racehorses from falling on difficult times later in life.
New Beginnings - whose motto is ‘Life Past The Post’ - relies solely on donations from wellwishers. Anyone who wants to help can contact the charity on 01759 369810, or by visiting its website, www.newbeginningshorses.org.uk