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Wednesday, 19 December, 2018

Past masters who could mix it with the best at any discipline

Sea Pigeon (right): tussling with Monksfield at Cheltenham
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One of the most popular British racehorses in history, the legendary Sea Pigeon would also be many fans idea of the ultimate dual-purpose performer, a horse who was good enough to contest the Derby on the Flat and rise to the very pinnacle of his sport over jumps.

He won 37 races in total, 16 on the Flat and 21 over hurdles, in a glittering career in which he was ridden by Jonjo O'Neill, John Francome and Lester Piggott.

As a three-year-old he finished seventh in the 1973 Derby before he joined Peter Easterby for whom he would combine hurdling with occasional but highly effective diversions to the Flat.

He followed a victory in the Scottish Champion Hurdle in 1977 by landing the Chester Cup on his first Flat start in three years, and won it again the following year. He ran up a sequence of Flat wins that culminated in a heroic triumph in the 1979 Ebor Handicap under 10st.

He was also able to hold his own during a golden era of hurdling. He had already finished fourth to stablemate Night Nurse in the 1977 Champion Hurdle, and second two years running behind Monksfield before his turn arrived at Cheltenham in 1980 when he finally got his revenge on his foe. He reigned again in 1981 under a cocky ride by Francome.

He was hailed by both O'Neill and Francome as the best horse they ever rode.


Rite Of Passage (Pat Smullen): after winning the Long Distance Cup

The Gold Cup is the most prestigious staying prize in the Flat calendar and has been won by many of the sport's greatest long distance performers, so few horses are good enough to cross codes to compete at this elite level.

Rite Of Passage was an exception. Though he raced only 12 times in a career that was ultimately curtailed by recurring tendon problems he was expertly campaigned by Dermot Weld to make the most of the opportunities put in front of him, competing at the Cheltenham Festival and the royal meeting.

After winning his first two bumpers he went to Cheltenham where he started favourite for the 2009 Weatherbys Champion Bumper, where he finished third under Pat Smullen.

He was switched to the Flat the following September winning a maiden and the Irish November Handicap but was hurdling by January when another two successes earned him a start in the 2010 Neptune Investment Management Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham. He started favourite again but had to settle for another third placing behind Peddlers Cross and Reve De Sivola.

Three months later, without a race in between, he lined up at Ascot as a 20-1 shot for the Gold Cup in which he made full use of his proven stamina to break the track record in beating Age Of Aquarius by a neck, the pair finishing six lengths clear of the next horse.

It was another year before he made his next appearance before a further injury interruption kept him away from the track until October 2011 when he returned from a 510-day layoff to land the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup.


Jason Maguire celebrating Overturn's triumph in the Fighting Fifth

In an era when jumps horse have come to dominate the top Flat staying handicaps few reached the heights of Overturn, who won more than £730,000 in a career in which he excelled at Flat racing, hurdling and chasing.

He made his breakthrough in 2010 when he embarked on a prolific spell in which he won the Scottish Champion Hurdle, Northumberland Plate and Galway Hurdle. His performances elevated him to the highest level over hurdles but while he was well beaten by Hurricane Fly in the 2011 Champion Hurdle, he was still good enough on the Flat to claim the Chester Cup two months later.

By autumn the front-running Overturn hit his hurdling peak and in landing the Fighting Fifth Hurdle the year after landing the Pitmen's Derby became the first horse to win Newcastle's biggest race over jumps and on the Flat. At Cheltenham he produced one of his best hurdling performances finishing second to Rock On Ruby, with Hurricane Fly third, in the 2012 Champion Hurdle.

He filled the same spot in that year's Chester Cup and switched to chasing in the autumn won three times in a row before the festival where on unsuitably soft ground he was a well beaten fourth behind Simonsig in the Arkle Trophy.

Next time out at Aintree he went toe-to-toe with future Champion Chase hero Special Tiara, only giving way at the final fence. It proved to be his final start.

He was also able to hold his own during a golden era of hurdling
E.W. Terms
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