The Connolly’s Red Mills National Champion Horse award has long been one of the most coveted trophies in the sport of point-to-pointing. Inaugurated in 1970, it has been won by horses with diverse backgrounds – from prolific pointers like 2014 laureate Tempelpirate, still winning races at 15, to classy ex-rules types such as the quirky Brunico. Five-year-old Findlay’s Find was the youngest winner in 2011 and – this year – 14-year-old front-running veteran Southfield Theatre, aka Kevin, looks likely to be the oldest champion after eight wins and two seconds from ten starts.
Southfield Theatre’s keeper Sara Bradstock – daughter of Lord Oaksey and wife of Mark, who trained Coneygree to win the 2015 Gold Cup – trains a small string of pointers from her Letcombe Bassett base and explained how she came by the horse. “He’d lost his way under rules having been second twice at the Cheltenham Festival for Paul Nicholls, we got chatting to his owner – Angela Yeoman – at the Nunney Horse Trials, which she hosts and where Lily (Sara’s daughter who rides Southfield Theatre in all his races) was competing and she sent us the horse in summer 2018.”
“When Southfield Theatre arrived, we didn’t know much about him, other than that his back needed TLC and that good ground was vital,” Sara continued. “The first time he ran at Larkhill, we were excited based on his work at home, but didn’t know if he’d do it on the track. He won that day, got better and better and just kept on winning – usually when he’s been beaten, it’s been when ground conditions haven’t been to his liking. Lily’s learnt to get a tune out of him and has realised that he can go at a pace that other horses can’t.” His career highlight for Sara? “Winning the four-miler at the Cheltenham Hunter Chase evening in 2019 – it was a wonderful moment. He’s also run twice in the Foxhunters Chase at the Festival but the whole atmosphere worried him and was a bit too much.”
Lily and Southfield Theatre in full flight at Siddington
Southfield Theatre travels to the races with a little friend, a Shetland pony named Summer. “He doesn’t like being on his own and, for him to be happy, she needs to be with him – he absolutely adores her,” and Sara admits that Southfield Theatre is, “An absolute lunatic at home from the moment you get on him, although he’s a sweet cuddly bear in the box! He has to go up to the gallops in a lorry and he loops, bounces, goes sideways and always wants to go flat out. He’s just a wonderful enthusiast who thinks everyone should get out of his way. Maybe being a lunatic helps him front run at such a pace.” So where did he get his moniker? “I think he was given an ASBO as a young horse because he was so badly behaved and given the nickname Kevin,” laughed Sara.
“Mrs Yeoman’s horses have the Southfield prefix as she lives in Southfield House,” confirmed Sara. “Kevin was the first foal she bred from his dam Chamoss Royale so he’s always been very important to her. He’ll probably have one more run this season – he’s entered at Garthorpe, Chaddesley Corbett and Bratton Down this week – and the plan is to run him again next year, but the moment he’s no longer loving it, we’ll stop.”
As for the future, Sara has Southfield Lily, Mrs Yeoman’s six-year-old half-sister to Southfield Theatre, a winner at Badbury Rings in November for whom she has high hopes. Asked for a final word on Kevin, Sara smiled, “A horse like him is a wonderful advertisement for horses retiring from racing under rules. It’s just lovely that Mrs Yeoman sent him to us.”