Rushing Wild – a brief but brilliant career

  • Posted: Friday, 12th June 2020
  • Author: Carl Evans

A runaway Cheltenham Foxhunter Chase winner who went on to finish second in a Gold Cup sums up the brilliant Rushing Wild.

He ran just three times in hunters' chases, winning two and falling in one, and it can be argued that such a brief association should render him ineligible from a place among the all-time greats of the sport. Yet his importance as a symbol of the best of point-to-pointing and hunter chasing and his place as the first significant horse to emerge from the stable which would become the most powerful in Britain, setting records and trends along the way, meant Rushing Wild (seen above under Justin Farthing) carried impact beyond those brief appearances.

Had his life not been cut short he might well have joined the list of ex-British pointers who won the Gold Cup, Cheltenham's pinnacle of steeplechasing. None have done so this century, Santini came closest when second in March this year, and the most recent to win the race having opened his career in British point-to-points was See More Business, 21 years ago. Like Rushing Wild, See More Business commenced racing from the Dorset stable of Richard Barber and carried the colours of John Keighley for much of his career.

Interestingly, despite owning See More Business – who also won two King George VI Chases at Kempton – and also the double Foxhunter Chase winner Fantus, not to mention high-quality pointers/chasers, Keighley, a former engineer who is now retired and living near Poole in Dorset, says: "Rushing Wild was the star, the best horse I owned."

Foaled in 1986 out of the mare Lady Em II, Rushing Wild would prove easily the best progeny sired by stallion Rushmere (by Derby winner Blakeney). Keighley says: "I bought him privately from his breeder, a lady in Sussex called Marion Baker. He went to Richard Barber's to be trained and was initially so slow on the gallops they called him 'Turtle'. Yet when he went racing they found he had gears."

Too big and backward to reach the top of the gallop

Justin Farthing, who rode Rushing Wild in the two seasons in which he combined pointing and hunter chasing, says the horse came close to making his debut as a five-year-old. He says: "He was so big and backward that initially he couldn't get to the top of the gallop. Eventually Richard got him fit enough to run at the Cotley meeting towards the back end of the season, but the ground came up hard and he didn't run, thank God, because it wouldn't have done him any good."

Instead Rushing Wild was held back until, as a six-year-old in 1991, he made his debut in a 17-runner maiden race at the former course of Nedge in Somerset, where he was unlucky enough to bump into another all-time great, Double Silk. The last-named would go on to win two Cheltenham Foxhunter Chases plus one at Aintree, and start second-favourite for a Grand National, so it was no disgrace for Rushing Wild to finish second, beaten eight lengths. Double Silk was a year older and had the benefit of a couple of educational runs the previous year.

Barber was not inclined to spare his youthful talent, and a week later Rushing Wild was back in action in a 13-runner maiden race at Didmarton, where he showed a turn of foot to win cosily after being pressed heading to the final jump. Two weeks later he ran at Badbury Rings in a 14-runner restricted race where he beat the smart Chilhampton, and Barber then found him a relatively straightforward first step into open company at Toller Down Gate. Just four horses ran, Rushing Wild won easily, Double Silk landed the following adjacent (confined) race to provide the crowd with a sighting of two future stars, and a four-timer for Farthing teed him up to win that season's national men's championship.

He must have felt confident of another win on Rushing Wild when riding him in the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale members' race on his fifth start of the season, but the horse ducked out at the sixth fence. Farthing says: "I was young and cocky and trying to go up someone's inside. I was more prepared for it the next time he ran [at Badbury Rings, two weeks later], and was on it when he half thought about the idea. He never showed another sign of doing anything like it again, but at that time he was still green. He would see a fence and speed up, because he didn't understand. It was extraordinary to ride him."

A rematch which proved he had real talent

The Badbury Rings run which concluded his first season involved a rematch with Chilhampton, who would go on to win a 16-runner hunters' chase for owner/trainer Tony Green at Stratford a few weeks later. Tim Mitchell, who rode Chilhampton, says of that horse: "He was a machine, but he didn't quite stay three miles. Nonetheless I was convinced he would win his restricted at Badbury Rings, and yet he was beaten by Rushing Wild. I couldn't work out what went wrong. A month later we went back to the same track and faced Rushing Wild again.

"Justin's horse walked through the second-last, and I thought, 'I've got you this time', and I couldn't believe it when he came back upsides me going to the last. No one could talk to me after the race. I was absolutely gutted."

Farthing says: "We often talk about it. I missed the second-last badly and it stopped him in his tracks, but he still got up to win. I still can't believe it."

While Mitchell brooded he could not help but be impressed by the winner and he was to profit from his observation the following year. Rushing Wild headed off for a summer break and Farthing marched on to the men's championship, which he won with a score of 26, three more than former champion Philip Scholfield, the father of current Jump jockey Nick. Of that title victory, Farthing says: "I didn't start thinking about it until the final two or three weeks of the season, and then realised I really wanted to win it. It felt good at the time, and yet it means even more to me now.

"There were far better people than me riding, but I was lucky to be hitched up to Richard's stable."

Barber had saddled his first winner five years earlier in 1986, and would go on to develop the most powerful yard the sport of point-to-pointing has known, but at that stage the business of training horses was in its infancy. Farthing, whose mother, Rachel, was Barber's first cousin, says: "Richard had only had a few winners when I first started riding for him, but I decided to stick with him because he was the sort of person who would either make it a success or pack it in. Rushing Wild was the first really high-class horse he trained, followed soon after by See More Indians, who raced for Richard, went to Paul Nicholls and should have won a Sun Alliance [RSA] Chase at Cheltenham."

As a seven-year-old in 1992 Rushing Wild had no trouble winning his season's debut at Bishops Court in Devon, an 11-runner open race – one of 11 races on the card – and he then went to Didmarton in Gloucestershire and proved imperious once again, beating 18 rivals under 12st 7lb. Runner-up Friendly Lady (who received 12lb) would win the following year's John Corbet Cup at Stratford.

Rushing Wild was then given the rare task of making his debut under Rules at the Cheltenham Festival, and to add to the challenge he would be one of 24 runners in the Foxhunter Chase, a stiff task for an inexperienced horse.

So what if he missed out on novices' chases

Farthing says: "Given that he was likely to go racing under Rules they didn't want to win a hunters' chase and lose the opportunity to run in novices' chases – but after Didmarton, and with encouragement from me, it was decided that if he proved good enough to win a Foxhunter Chase, so what [if he missed out on novices' chases].

"He was jumping out of his skin on the day of the Foxhunter Chase. That happens with horses – on one or two days of the season you can get them absolutely spot on, and he was spot on for that day. The great thing about him was that he could go as fast as you wanted for three miles, and still quicken at the end of races."

With Barber a relatively unknown trainer and Rushing Wild a stranger to anyone outside of the point-to-point field he was sent off at 9/1 for the Foxhunter Chase. The top-class Scottish mare Dun Gay Lass, who had been second in the race the previous year – beaten a head by Lovely Citizen after her rider's iron broke – was sent off the 5/2 favourite under Clive Storey, and she led over the final ditch. Rushing Wild eased ahead before the next fence where Dun Gay Lass made a stopping mistake, and from that point Farthing had the race under control.

The Red One came out of the pack to pursue him down the hill, but turning for home Rushing Wild was asked for more and powered clear, scoring by 25 lengths from the 100/1 outsider Ardesee (James Wintle) with Federal Trooper (Tim McCarthy) another two lengths back in third. Farthing says: "Cool Ground won the Gold Cup that year, and he was all out to win [by a short-head from The Fellow]. Given that a professional jockey would have been worth at least a stone more than me, and Rushing Wild won his race easily in a time just eight seconds slower than Cool Ground you have to think he could have won that year's Gold Cup."

You can watch the Foxhunter Chase here:

Tim Mitchell remembers the race well, and after placing a good bet on Rushing Wild enjoyed an evening of celebration that was to have a significant effect on his career. He says: "I went back to Jason's after the race and woke up there the next morning still in my suit. He said, 'Come on, we're going to ride out,' so we went to Richard's and that was the first time I rode out there – and I was still in my suit, but Richard didn't seem bothered."

Barber liked to see a bit of character in the many young people that walked through his door to work or ride out at Manor Farm, Seaborough, and Mitchell's attire was probably a plus. He went on to become Barber's no.1 race rider and won the 1997 Foxhunter Chase on the stable's Fantus, who has also featured in this series of All-time Greats.

To Aintree for the Foxhunters' Chase

Having flown through his first test under Rules Rushing Wild's next assignment was no less daunting for such an inexperienced horse – Aintree's Foxhunters' Chase over the Grand National fences in a field of 29 runners. Prominent from the off, Rushing Wild got away with a blunder at the Chair, and was not foot-perfect at a couple of other fences before falling five out when lying second. The leader at that point, Gee-A (Paul Murphy), who started at 66/1, stayed in front to score from Raise An Argument (Andrew Sansome) and Glenavey (Paul Hacking).

Watch the race here:

Barber elected to give Rushing Wild one more run to complete the season and picked a Chepstow hunters' chase in which he regained the winning thread but unimpressively from the remarkable Fiddlers Pike and his no-less remarkable owner/trainer/rider Rosemary Henderson. Fiddlers Pike led on the run-in, but Rushing Wild rallied to win by just over a length, and Farthing says it was a classic case of a horse being over the top after a tough couple of races. "Going to the start I knew I was in trouble," he says. "He was so lethargic."

Two years later Fiddlers Pike finished fifth in the Grand National under his owner/rider who was in her fifties and had been dubbed by the tabloids as the 'Galloping Granny', even though she politely informed them she had never produced children.

It was time for another summer break for Rushing Wild, and Keighley recalls: "After he won the Foxhunter Chase Richard said, 'I want to have a long chat about next season', and I said 'He's going to Ron Hodges' [to run under Rules]'. Ron was and is a good friend, and he had the tools to do the job, but Richard was keen for the horse to go to Martin Pipe [who had just won his fourth champion trainer's title and would win another 11 more]."

Making his debut for champion trainer Pipe

Keighley accepted Barber's advice and Rushing Wild made his debut for Pipe's stable at Wincanton in December 1992 having been given a handicap mark of 137. He won easily under Jonothan Lower, was given a new rating of 145, and then went to Sandown where, under Pipe's stable jockey Peter Scudamore, he beat the previous season's Gold Cup winner Cool Ground by 25 lengths, although he was receiving 27lb and needed to produce a convincing performance if Cheltenham ambitions were to be realised. His new mark of 162 placed him in Gold Cup territory, and he lost little in defeat next time out when attempting to give 21lb to the useful Country Member in Sandown's Gr.2 Agfa Chase. The winner was ridden by Luke Harvey.

Just ahead of the Gold Cup it was announced Scudamore would ride Chatam in the race, and Richard Dunwoody was called up for Rushing Wild, who was sent off an 11/1 chance behind 5/4 favourite The Fellow. By the second fence Rushing Wild was in front and he stayed there until the second-last, where Jodami, under a masterful ride by Mark Dwyer, nosed alongside before going on to win by two lengths. Rushing Wild had run a tremendous race against a much more experienced rival, albeit also an eight-year-old.

Rushing Wild (Richard Dunwoody) with owner John Keighley and led up by a youthful David Pipe (pic by John Beasley)

One month after that Gold Cup defeat Rushing Wild headed to Fairyhouse where he was set to carry top weight of 12st in the Irish Grand National. Keighley says he had some reservations about the trip, and his instincts were to prove prophetically and sadly accurate, for after leading at the third fence, and still going strongly in front approaching the sixteenth, Rushing Wild was pulled up by Dunwoody. A broken pelvis had severed an artery with fatal consequences.

Years later Farthing met Dunwoody in a pub in Chelsea after a football match at Stamford Bridge. He says: "I went with a friend of Dunwoody's and we met up after the game. He was the greatest of his era, and I was a bad amateur, but he was absolutely charming and we spent a long time chatting about Rushing Wild. I was very privileged to ride such a good horse."

Farthing retired from race riding at the end of the 1993 season due to work commitments and battles with the scales. He now farms in Somerset. Richard Barber went on to train four Cheltenham Foxhunter Chase winners, plus one of the Aintree equivalent, and he would have been a multiple champion trainer in the point-to-point field had such a title existed during the 1990s and early years of the new millennium. He won it just once, in 2012/13, the year it was inaugurated.

Farthing was the first rider he helped to win a senior national championship, followed by Polly Curling, Polly Gundry, Rachael Green and Will Biddick. Joe Tizzard and Martin McIntyre won novice titles while riding for the stable. Barber died last year at the age of 77.