'He never got a chance to show his real ability'
Barry Geraghty on Monday paid a glowing tribute to Simonsig, who was fatally injured in a fall at Cheltenham on Sunday, describing Ronnie Bartlett's ten-year-old grey as "a really high-class horse."
While there was a feeling of relief mixed with sadness from trainer Nicky Henderson and his team about the retirement of Sprinter Sacre, the void created by the death of dual Cheltenham Festival winner Simonsig left those who knew him best reflecting on what could have been.
"He was high class, a really high-class horse," Geraghty said. "It's a big pity for Ronnie, such a bitter blow. You know it was a hard few years anyway with Simonsig on the sidelines, but then to get him back with a clear run and for that to happen is so sad.
"Nicky and I have been fortunate to have had some fantastic horses over the years, but Simonsig was Ronnie's baby, his real true superstar.
"Sprinter went on to achieve almost everything he should have achieved, whereas with Simon you could only say the opposite. He never got a chance to show his real ability.
"When he won the Arkle he scoped so badly afterwards that a normal horse would have pulled up. To win the Arkle and to be that unwell was a massive performance.
"Nicky was afraid to work him and Sprinter against each other, and that's a measure of how good he was. The year he won the Arkle and Sprinter won the Champion Chase, the biggest concern for me was how we were going to split them."
Point-to-point trainer Ian Ferguson nurtured Simonsig in the early part of his career from his base in Ballymena, County Antrim, winning two point-to-points and the Racing Post Champion Point-to-Point Bumper.
"Simon Tindall bred him and sent him to me and he was always a very talented horse," Ferguson said.
"In fact the first day he ran in a point-to-point, I couldn't believe Chris [Cully] had to have a smack on the backside to win his race. I think he was a bit starstruck by the whole occasion. The second day he fell and next time out I got Derek O'Connor to ride him and he won like I thought he could.
"Derek got off him and took a minute or two to study things and said 'I think that's one of the nicest horses I've ever ridden'. That will tell you how good he was and he went on to win the Champion Point-to-Point Bumper easily with Chris on board.
"There's no doubt he was the best I've ever trained. Normally I handle stayers, but he had so much speed, and because he was a grey, he had the flash factor about him and the older he got the whiter he got. I've been looking for another one like him since."
A look at three of Simonsig's most memorable races in his 13-race career which yielded eight wins, including five at Graded level
Irish Racing Post Champion Point-to-Point Bumper, Fairyhouse, April 25, 2011
Trained by Ian Ferguson, the five-year-old came into the race with a serious reputation having won two of his three point-to-points in impressive fashion. Held up in midfield by Chris Cully, Simonsig raced keenly throughout – as he so often did – and swooped to the front over two furlongs out, showing that he was in a different league to his opponents, before drawing clear for a comfortable 13-length win. A star was born. Racing Post Rating: 126
Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle, Grade 1, Cheltenham, March 14, 2012
"He won it in a common canter," were the words of Barry Geraghty, and he wasn't exaggerating. Simonsig came into the race with a massive reputation but on a recovery mission after having been beaten by Fingal Bay when tested in a Grade 2 novices' hurdle at Sandown in December. Never out of second gear, Geraghty settled him off the pace, and when left in the lead two out, he simply cruised up the run-in to make subsequent Grade 1 winner Felix Yonger and Grade 2 winner Monksland look very ordinary. RPR: 162
Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase, Cheltenham Festival, Grade 1, March 12, 2013
This was one of these brilliant triumphs over adversity – a true sign of a champion. Having raced with the choke out for the majority of the contest, 8-15 favourite Simonsig blundered at the ninth fence and had to work harder than most would have expected for his win. However, a scope examination after the race showed he was wrong in his mucus and blood – a sick horse had won one of the most competitive novice chases of the year. Sadly, it proved to be his last victory. RPR: 163