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Mad Moose: the serial refusenik who drove his team crazy and his fans wild

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Many of the greats among this series are widely adored for their winning exploits or gallant efforts, never would the racing public gain cult-like affections with horses whose careers were clouded in disgrace. Then along came Mad Moose.

Racing has been littered with horses who refused to race, but none caught the admiration more than Nigel Twiston-Davies’s cheeky chestnut.

Such was the extent of the ‘will he, won’t he’ soap drama around whether he would race before his final ‘misdemeanour’, a high-suspense trailer was created by Racing TV and a mass following of 5,000 partisan followers had already built up on Twitter.

By the time he turned up for the 2014 International Hurdle at Cheltenham, Mad Moose had ‘officially’ refused to race five times, but on plenty more occasions he just about set off and trudged his way around. Unsurprisingly, to the sarcastic delight of many in the racing public but to the frustration of the Twiston-Davies family, he planted his hooves at the start for a sixth and final time.

The ultimate disappointment for those closest to him came through Mad Moose himself. Naughty, mulish, call the horse whatever you want, but one thing that cannot be denied is the class he had. He was no ordinary moose.

Mad Moose: no doubting his talent

This was a horse who finished second in a Grade 1, won seven races and over £100,000 in prize-money, secured black type over jumps and on the Flat and took his owners involved in Middleham Park Racing to the pinnacle festivals, albeit declining to participate in the most impolite manner each time. He was also a key learning curve in the career of Sam Twiston-Davies as he blossomed from an inexperienced claimer to an elite jockey as Mad Moose’s devious ways became rife.

But what was it like to be the regular partner of Mad Moose? “Crazy,” Sam says simply.

“It drove us mad that a horse who had as much ability as him ended up behaving as he did,” he recalls. “He was a big character – great and bad – and we managed to try to get the best tune out of him during what was an interesting and funny career. But that’s life, we knew what he was like in the end and he’s a very special horse for a lot of people.”

His blend of madness and intelligence brought his connections plenty of headaches, but also a lot of love. The son of Presenting was a mainstay in the Twiston-Davies yard since joining as an unraced three-year-old in 2007, but in those early days there were no signs of major misdemeanours or high-class ability.

Beaten by a combined total of 176 and a half lengths on his first nine starts, it took until the tenth attempt for Mad Moose to get his head in front for the first time at Cartmel in the summer of 2010. Sam was a spright 3lb conditional jockey then and he could not envisage the tribulations his career would take.

“He was really straight-forward to start with. It was always only in his latter days when he became quirky, but he was very intelligent,” he remembers. “He wasn’t the best jumper we had in the yard, but I remember Dave England rode him at Ludlow one day which was when he really started to progress.

“My career was finally getting going and he did very well for me at Cartmel, all the things fell into place when we needed it. Willy [Twiston-Davies, brother] also got a great tune out of him as he kept on making his way through the ranks.”

Mad Moose with his fan club

Two more victories over hurdles followed, but it was over fences Mad Moose began to fulfil his true promise.

His second chase success at Uttoxeter in September 2011 prompted Middleham Park Racing to buy him and, in its now-renowned sky blue and orange colours, he danced the dance against the likes of Silviniaco Conti and Bobs Worth before gaining a deserved success in a handicap chase at Cheltenham in April 2012.

Everything seemed to be moving on upwards on the straight and narrow, that was until his “remarkable” Cheltenham victory under Twiston-Davies, when Mad Moose’s bipolar personality made its first appearance on the track.

Tailed off throughout most of the race, a reluctant Moose was booked for distant minor honours when 15 lengths down two fences from the finish yet he flew home up the hill for a near-impossible three-length victory, much to the bewilderment of everyone.

His in-race antics were of no shock to his trainer or jockey though, who were well aware of his evolving Janus-like character from his homework.

“It’s like that old saying ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ – you learn more about these horses and the trips and tracks they like,” Sam says. “We learned a great deal about Mad Moose that season, mainly that he was crazy.

“That was the season when he began to really understand things. He knew which days were the hard work days and you had to play up to him. We worked him on different days to try to keep one step ahead. He was definitely showing signs of intelligence.”

Sam Twiston-Davies had lots of faith in Mad Moose

Those signs came to the boil the next season where the serial refusenik performed his pantomime act of planting his hooves for the first time at the scene of his remarkable triumph.

Connections were happy to put his misdemeanour down as an isolated incident and, in the short-term, their forgiveness was vindicated. Mad Moose consented to race on his next four starts, culminating with his best-ever performance in the rescheduled Victor Chandler Chase at Cheltenham in 2013.

It was a remarkable run that mirrored a stark contrast to the infamous Mad Moose racing came to love. So keen was he to race that he was given an uncontested lead and, while he was no match for the great Sprinter Sacre, he finished a highly creditable second.
Racing’s new bad boy banished his deviant ways to place in a Grade 1, much to the shock of his rider.

“The win and then the Victor Chandler Chase second can only be described as ‘one of them Mad Moose days’. I have to keep reminding myself that somehow he chased home Sprinter Sacre once,” Sam recalls. “He had an abundance of ability but, as we always saw on the track, he was always that little bit quirkier.

“It was a brilliant performance – when he did jump off he’d try incredibly hard! It’s very much testament to himself – Sprinter Sacre was a horse of a lifetime and me and Nigel were amazed to finish that close behind him.”

Hopes were high in the Mad Moose camp that he would evolve into a top-class performer, but he would never scale those heights again.

Instead, the aftermath would descend into darkness as the refusenik tag tainted the rest of his career, starting with when twice planting his feet firmly still at the Cheltenham and Aintree festivals.  
Connections would have been far from aggrieved to be embarrassed by his repetitive antics, but those feelings were markedly outweighed by frustration, especially for trainer Nigel.

“Dad got quite frustrated because he really did have a lot of ability. I think one day he started waving his arms with a belt to stop him as he could see he was misbehaving – I think he got a hefty fine for that,” Sam adds.

“It’s never ideal to do what he did. He understood what the starter was doing, the protocols in starting a race and how they work. He’d be fine getting there and happily walk around, it wasn’t until the tapes would go. He had become really frustrating.”

Nigel Twiston-Davies: “Dad got quite frustrated because he really did have a lot of ability"

Plenty of head-scratching with Mad Moose left him with declining opportunities. Drastic change to salvage his career was needed.
The now nine-year-old was set for a different discipline and made his Flat debut in the spring of 2013, with connections praying the unique sight of starting stalls would spark him back into life.

Miraculously, a brief resurrection of Mad Moose’s career followed as he exuberantly won his maiden before running a mighty race to finish second in the Ormonde Stakes at Chester. The Moose completed the ‘holy trinity’ of winning on the Flat, over hurdles and fences.

However, his devilish ways soon reared its ugly head again, this time permanently. Like a true genius, Mad Moose worked out the formula to the stalls and subsequently planted himself firmly still at York before his final act on the Flat ended in disgrace when walking out of the stalls at Royal Ascot.

Worse was to come as two more ‘efforts’ over jumps were to follow. While he did officially consent to ‘race’ in the Shloer Chase that November, he – and the stewards – took a dim view towards the trainer’s belt-waving technique in desperation for him to run.

He then pulled himself up before the first fence in the Tingle Creek Chase and, while the Sandown crowd gave jovial cheers as the bad boy passed the stands, it would be the last time Mad Moose graced the track for over year as the BHA barred him from being entered in races to “protect the betting public”.

“Miraculously, he was fantastic on the Flat to begin with,” Sam remembers. “Nigel had to try something different because jumping wasn’t working and Dad knows very well as a trainer, when things aren’t working you’ve got to try something different. Luckily it worked out for a little bit then he soon managed to get the hang of that one as well!”

The Twiston-Davies family refused to lose this major battle in the war against his devious antics. A year-long ‘working holiday’ followed, with plenty of vacations and unpredictable scenarios intertwined to revive his unlikely zest.

“We tried anything and everything. He went down to Gary Witherford’s, behaved very well and came back home to different methods of training,” the jockey says. “He was always up and down the gallops on different work days, with different jockeys. We tried everything but sadly not much – if anything at all – worked.”

The authorities proved forgiving enough to give Mad Moose one final chance. The International Hurdle mirrored the return of a prime Netflix drama left on a cliffhanger, never before had a rank outsider in a premier British race had so many eyes on him.

But unlike a gripping TV series, the outcome for Mad Moose was entirely predictable. His hooves stood still as the tapes went up, and the curtain came down on the pantomime show of his career.
While Sam did not partner Mad Moose that day, the ramifications of his antics across the yard, knowing they had lost the long, hard-fought battle, were palpable.

Willy Twiston-Davies: partnered Mad Moose a handful of times

The jockey says: “You’re always willing a horse of his ability to jump off, but I think it was in the back of everyone’s minds that he might not have wanted to go. That good amount of time off we hoped would make him forget about his antics and he’d come back fresh and well. He clearly remembered!

“There was no chance he’d be seen on a racecourse again, but it’s lovely that Middleham Park Racing found him a great home very quickly – it shows you how popular he truly was.”

Six years have passed since Mad Moose last graced the track, but the fondness towards his antics remain a jovial talking point in the racing sphere, especially on social media with his Twitter page still going strong.

Just like his racing career, his life in retirement has been far from quiet. However, this time for all the right reasons.

The once rogue Mad Moose is now “loving life” according to Sam, taking part in Retraining of Racehorses competitions and, while certainly not fond of his misbehaviour when sat on his back, the jockey looks back on his colourful career with a laugh.

“We always asked ourselves the question of ‘what else could we have done?’ but everyone tried their best,” he says. “Now he’s got a loving home doing dressage and playing around, he’s certainly still busy!

“In all honesty, Mad Moose was a great pleasure to have in the yard.”

More from our Fans' Favourites series:

Sprinter Sacre: the perfect racehorse in every way

Silver Streak: the grey warrior who had an unconventional route to the top

Badsworth Boy: untouchable Champion Chase hat-trick hero who set the bar so high

Might Bite: 'He's a Grade 1 Mad Moose' - and that's his owner speaking!

Cue Card: the fascinating rags-to-riches tale of racing’s most popular racehorse

Faugheen: why the Machine will be a 'very, very hard horse to replace'

La Landiere: the super mare who went from forgotten to fondly remembered

Un De Sceaux: 'You're going to go a million miles an hour into a fence – do not move'

Speredek: the gallant front-runner who wore his heart on his sleeve

Long Run: the electrifying star in a golden age of chasing

Lil Rockerfeller: versatile, talented and always ready to give it his all

Reve De Sivola: the Long Walk king with the heart of a lion

Politologue: Hales on why the Tingle Creek king is the best jumper he's owned

Yorkhill: the efforts to revitalise an enigma wrapped in a mystery

Simply Ned: the public's outsider, a flamboyant, attractive, tremendous jumper

Prince Of Arran: 'horse of a lifetime' who never disappoints at Flemington

Roaring Lion: the dazzling champion with the courage to match his speed

Sea The Stars: a horse of a lifetime who enjoyed the most perfect of seasons

Battaash: the speed machine who is the pride and joy of trainer and groom

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Dad got quite frustrated because he really did have a lot of ability
E.W. Terms