Limato: quirky but delightful character whose fire is still burning strong
In this year of earth-shaking change, it can be reassuring to find some things are just the same. For Henry Candy, the old normal still holds sway in a quiet corner of his Oxfordshire yard as stable favourite Limato gets ready to kick off his seventh season of racing.
Many racing fans will be delighted to hear that, especially those drawn to the type of classy, tough and consistent sprinter embodied by the dual Group 1 winner.
Not that the corner is so quiet when the time comes to saddle Limato. He may be eight but age is not mellowing his dislike of getting ready for work. “He just doesn’t like people touching him, he’s always been the same,” says Candy. “He’s not easy to deal with, he’s very difficult to saddle, but his lad gets on very well with him.”
The unenviable task falls to Anil Chavan, who has looked after Limato since he arrived in the yard as a two-year-old in 2014. “Saddling time is crazy. He’s always been the same, jumping here and there, he doesn’t like it at all,” says Chavan.
Apart from that quirk, Limato is easy to like. “He’s the most delightful character really,” says Candy. “He’s very intelligent, he can recognise people from a long way away and he’ll shout at anyone who might give him something interesting, like a bit of grass or a Polo.
“This year he’s in a little yard close to the house where there are just six horses. He was in the main yard last year but I think a change can help horses an awful lot. Now he has a good view of everything that’s going on and he loves it there.”
Out on the gallops there is no sign that Limato has lost any of his old zest as Candy prepares him for a first appearance of 2020, probably in the Group 3 Criterion Stakes at Newmarket on Saturday week. Victory in that contest last year extended Limato’s remarkable feat of having won a black-type race in each of his six campaigns.
“He’s in great form, he loves life,” says Candy. “He’s very enthusiastic on the gallops. He likes to have a decent lead horse and just draw up to that horse at the end of the piece of work. He’s pretty old and canny now and if you ask him to lead and something else comes up to him he gets fed up with that.
“The other options around the same time as the Criterion are the Ballycorus in Ireland or the Prix de la Porte Maillot in France, but the main aim is Newmarket,” says Candy. “He’s completely ground dependent, so we’ll go where the ground is fast. That’s vital.”
Candy is well aware of Limato’s following. “A lot of people ask me about him when we go racing – in the days when there was a crowd – and it’s perfectly obvious he has a fan club. I think people started to take more interest when he was four. If horses like him are around for a while, they capture the imagination.”
On the reasons for his star sprinter’s longevity, Candy says: “It’s partly because of his constitution – touching all wood, his legs have been pretty good – but basically it’s his mental attitude, he’s very tough.”
The toughness is still there, even if the speed has faded since his heyday as a four-year-old when he landed Group 1 prizes in the July Cup and Prix de la Foret. His 13 victories from 31 starts also include three Group 2 contests, but no doubt some of his popularity stems from the fight he showed in losing battles when placed in five Group 1 races.
Candy picks out two highlights from Limato’s long and illustrious career. “The standout would be when he won the July Cup. He showed a great turn of foot that day, although he then decided to turn right-handed when he was in front – typical Limato!
“The other race that was quite extraordinary was the Redcar Two-Year-Old Trophy when Graham Lee rode him and he never got out of a canter. We knew then we had something quite special.”
Limato has won at least one race in each of his previous six campaigns and Candy is hopeful more success will come his way when conditions are right. “He’s lost that bit of Group 1 sprinting speed and seven furlongs on fast ground suits him better now,” he says.
“I think he’d be bored to death in retirement and as long as he can perform at a reasonable level it’s probably doing him a service to keep him going.”
Having recorded a Racing Post Rating of 119 – the sixth-highest of his career – in last year’s Criterion, there seems plenty of life left in Limato yet.
He's the horse of a lifetime
Paul Jacobs has missed just one of Limato’s 31 outings – and only then because he was ill – but like all other owners he is resigned to being unable to attend the races for now.
“That will be a wrench [not to see him race] but the most important thing is the health of everyone concerned,” says Jacobs, who has long had next week’s Criterion Stakes at Newmarket in mind for the eight-year-old’s reappearance. “Hopefully if he makes it back to Newmarket for the Challenge Stakes in early October, it would be nice to think the restrictions would be lifted by then so that I could go to see him having a fourth attempt.”
The Group 2 Challenge has become Limato’s regular end-of-season target for the past three years, resulting in two wins and last year’s second to Mustashry, and the planning has worked backwards from that race again.
“His best performances have been at Newmarket, where he enjoys the undulations, and we’re going to try to stick to seven furlongs because that seems to be his distance now,” says Jacobs.
That is not the only consideration, as the owner is conscious of Limato’s fans too. “Ideally we’d like to stick to British races this year so that people can see him on TV. The foreign races are there as back-up really,” he says.
“He seems to have quite a following. When he won the Hopeful Stakes at Newmarket a couple of years ago, he hadn’t been having a great season up to then, and the support and enthusiasm when he came into the winner’s enclosure was really quite touching.”
Limato, who cost £41,000 as a yearling, has earned almost £1.4 million on the racecourse but Jacobs would not be able to put a value on how much he means to him and his family.
“I’ve had some fairly large offers for him but I turned them down because he’s genuinely the horse of a lifetime and also he’s named after the first two letters of the names of my wife [Linda] and my late parents [Marjorie and Tom]. If you name a horse in a very personal way, you don’t really want to see them racing in someone else’s name and colours,” he says.
Limato usually spends the winter in the paddocks at Henry Candy’s yard in Kingston Warren but this time he went to Claire Bonner’s pre-training yard at Aldbourne, just the other side of Lambourn from his home.
“It was the first time he’d been out of Henry’s yard since he was a two-year-old, apart from going to race meetings,” says Jacobs. “As he’s such an intelligent horse, I thought a change of routine and scenery would be good for him and he seemed to love his time there. Claire does a great job.
“You don’t know if it’s your imagination, but when I went to visit him at Claire’s there seemed to be a bond there in the way he responded to me. As usual, to show his wellbeing, he tried to take a bite out of my arm but I take that as a sign of kinship.”
Limato was such a handful in his early days that he was gelded before he ever ran, ruling out a stud career, but Jacobs believes his pride and joy can continue to have a productive life after racing. “This year could very well be his last season, depending how things turn out, and I’ve started to think about what he might be able to do,” he says.
“He gets bored rigid standing in a field and I want to find something that will keep him active and interested, because he’s that type of horse. It’s remarkable what some of them are able to do in retirement. I want to find him not just a good home but a really challenging one.”
Jacobs feels the weight of responsibility to choose the right moment for Limato to retire but sees no reason to stop yet. “We race him not just for our pleasure but genuinely for his as well,” he says.
If Limato flashes past the post in first place again this year, many racing fans will share that pleasure too.
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