20 January 2002

Brough Scott witnesses first hand the events which claimed the life of Kurakka on the day his stablemate, Looks Like Trouble, made a triumphant comeback.

For the star the morning will tell, but for the other horse the morning is too late. Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Looks Like Trouble made a successful comeback at Wincanton yesterday but two hours later, his stable-companion, Kurakka, stood shaking but sedated in the Kempton hospital box, an ice pack on his fatally haemorrhaging neck.

Early today, trainer Noel Chance will be running his experienced fingers down Looks Like Trouble’s fragile tendons in high expectation of being able to file an upbeat report. The news he awaits from Kempton will just be yesterday’s log from the knacker’s yard.

From Kempton, we watched TV pictures of Looks Like Trouble skipping around the 17 fences of Wincanton’s John Bull Chase with all the elan that took him to the top of the chasing tree two seasons ago. We switched over to Haydock to see French staying hurdler Jair du Cochet book his Cheltenham ticket before coming back live to watch his stable-companion Heros Collonges hack up at Kempton and then be told by Biarritz trainer, Guillaume Macaire, that in three weeks he will loose the superior Japhet as his intended Sun Alliance Chase candidate at the Cheltenham Festival.

It seemed like another busy day at the ranch following up bits of gossip about those three March days in the Cotswolds which more and more become the absolute focus of every National Hunt season. Then, just to taste the air and see an old friend in action, I went down to the last fence for the Super Tactics Handicap Chase. Super Tactics himself was running. He is 14 now and rightly honoured for six career victories over these black, birch Kempton fences. He got round again, in his own time. Kurakka did not.

In February last year, Kurakka was running promisingly on this very same track when he wrenched his near foreleg almost out of its socket. That the Noel Chance stable have nursed him back to be second and third this season is a masterpiece of care as unnoticed as Looks Like Trouble has been high profile.

Watching Kurakka coming to the last fence an honourable if leg-weary third, it looked as if owner Monica Sweeney would be going home a happy bunny. Jockey Robert Thornton had a tired horse underneath him. Too tired, he calculated, to drive in hard for a big jump. He sat still hoping that Kurakka would pop over quietly and lob in to collect his prize as the winner King On The Run received the cheers. But Kurakka didn’t “pop”. His brain sent a message to take off, but his body betrayed him. He tripped down into the fence and did a long and ugly somersault on the turf.

Robert Thornton rolled clear, crouched for a moment for his head to clear, then did not like what he saw. Kurakka was lying prone, his wide flanks heaving, the breath coming in gulping snatches from distended nostrils. Within seconds, photographer David Hastings and vet Simon Knapp were by his side. We loosed the girth and got the saddle off him. “Hold his head down,” Knapp said, “that will stop him trying to get up.”

Knapp examined Kurakka’s legs. There seemed no fractures. His eyes were not glazed. They had got the screens up now but had they not done that to Desert Orchid when he crashed right here at the end of his first ever race? Maybe Kurakka was just winded too.

By now Monica Sweeney had come down with her husband Paddy. Neil Harris, Lindsay Leitch and Rowan Hyde had arrived from the Noel Chance stable. At last Kurakka rocked, struggled and rose. He seemed OK. Neil Harris led him into the little ambulance trailer. The tractor moved. Rowan phoned Noel. “He may be all right.”

But then the trailer shook as if a bomb had been detonated. Knapp rushed up and got in. The trailer moved again. This time a much bigger detonation. The side door burst open and Neil Harris came out like an ejected cartridge. Inside, a traumatised Kurakka was upside down with Knapp reeling from a head wound.

This time of year is understandably obsessed with the road to Cheltenham, but for sheer devotion to horse and duty, nothing will better how that vet and those stable staff managed to get their stricken horse back to the racecourse stables, roll him sideways out of the trailer before Knapp himself, blood seeping under a hastily-donned protective helmet, delivered a massive steroid injection to help with the haemorrhage which was now clearly visible high on the left side of Kurakka’s sweat-soaked neck.

Racing is about competition. But for me it does not count if it is not about caring too.

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