CATS Fun part-owner BRIAN SALMON reflects on the star jumper’s passing.
While the silvertails fought out the richest staying race in Australia on Tuesday, my thoughts lead to the hundreds of track riders, strappers and support staff working behind the scenes.
The early starts, hours of grooming and all for the love of the thoroughbred horse.
On Melbourne Cup eve, I received a phone call from one such lady.
In a wavering voice, a clearly distressed Kirsty McMahon found her message difficult to deliver, as much as I found it hard to accept.
“The Cat died in the paddock today,” she said.
The Cat was our name for 15-year-old retired racehorse Cats Fun, a good horse to many, but a champion to those closest.
Like many racehorses Cats Fun entertained thousands of racing patrons over the years and in retirement was cared for and owned by Kirsty.
Cats Fun was purchased for $70,000 as a yearling and first raced at Northam in Western Australia.
Along the journey he raced in four states and finished in the top-three an astonishing 29 times, predominantly in high-class races.
His finale being the South Australian Grand National Steeplechase.
Under the guidance of trainer Jarrod McLean, Cats Fun, with jockey Brad McLean in the saddle, ran for four years at the top level over the jumps, never faltering, a brilliant combination.
He was a star in retirement too, enjoying life as a pony club horse.
After years of hurdle, steeple and pony club jumps, the champ had his life cut short in a simple paddock accident, doing what horses do, playfully jousting with his good mate Gotta Take Care.
He slipped on wet grass and broke a bone close to his pelvis, severing an artery and blood vessels causing internal bleeding. A sad end come in less than 10 minutes.
Horse trainers and strappers won’t admit it, but they all have their favourite horse in the stable. Phar Lap and strapper Tommy Woodcock were inseparable.
Such was his love for the horse, Tommy slept in the same stall as Phar Lap, he claimed it was to keep the horse calm. It was probably the other way around.
Warrnambool trainer Symon Wilde has made it clear his brilliant horse Gold Medals has a home for life with him. Not because the horse is a champion but because of his pleasant nature.
Being around Gold Medals makes you feel good, he puts a smile on your face.
Cats Fun had those same qualities. In human terms, he was a larrikin, a cheeky bugger, highly intelligent and the best four-legged mate you could have.
A brilliant athlete with those beautiful kind eyes reserved only for the best. He has been cremated in Geelong and his ashes will return to Warrnambool next week.
Kirsty McMahon and people similar to her are also champions of the thoroughbred industry.
Not only showing compassion and love to horses on race day but giving retired thoroughbreds the opportunity to live a full life with the respect they deserve.
During his racing career, Kirsty was officially the strapper of Cats Fun.
That’s just a title.
She was so much more than that.