King Of Sparta
This morning, at the age of 26 the 15 time winner King Of Sparta was very sadly put down after a bout of colic.
Bred and raised at Kildangan Stud, Ireland by Sheikh Mohammed this handsome dark bay colt went into training with Luca Cumani. On his second start there he tried to make all under Pat Eddery but was just done near the line by Persian Punch. Luca did win a race with him before he was sold to Oliver Sherwood’s yard.
Oliver won 8 races with him including two flat races. It was however the races that he lost not that he won which caused his undoing there. His owner was Darren Mercer who loved a punt but unfortunately King Of Sparta enjoyed throwing the odd winning opportunity away with some interesting tail swishing antics. Timeform described him as “very temperamental, his behaviour nothing short of appalling, far from enthusiastic”. On one occasion his race report read “level terms jumping the last, blatantly downed tools, as awkward and obnoxious as possible. Must not be trusted under any circumstances and punters should steer clear at all costs…”.
So needless to say he headed off to the sales again, which is where Sophie and I met him in the summer of 1998 having just married and started training. With the help of agent Patricia Smyly we were looking for a horse or two to get us going. We could not take our eyes off this most handsome of horses with lovely ears. Naturally his reputation was a concern but we had to have him and £13k later he was ours and sold to a school friend of mine, Richard Tice and his wife Emma who were to become marvellous owners for the horse.
We found Sparky to have a wicked sense of humour and very, very clever. Sophie rode him most days throughout his time with us and he won us 6 races., and was placed countless times. Four of them in succession including a valuable novice chase at Cheltenham which got us a televised interview and a marvellous introduction to the racing public. His greatest moment was when finishing second at the Cheltenham Festival in the Mildmay Of Flete chase. His regular rider had been our friend Chris Maude but it was Jamie Osborne who won the Cheltenham novice chase after ringing up for the ride and assuring us he would win whatever happened. As John Francome said on Channel 4 just before the race, it was debatable who was cleverer, Jamie or Sparky.
Inevitably tendon issues crept in which interrupted his further progress. . After a year off at the end of 2001 and a few prep runs Sparky triumphed again under Timmy Murphy on his final start in March 2003.
Sparky was offered a job with us at Compton as a lead horse but it soon became clear he was not ideal for that as he loved to frighten the yearlings and anything else he was asked to lead whenever possible. Sophie soon took him off on his own around the downs as a riding horse and the odd day’s hunting but that too became rather alarming as was just trying to turn him out on a daily basis. He was so full of life and would very likely preferred to have been racing and having an audience but age and tendon weakness dictated that total retirement was called for so off he went, still under our supervision, to Fawley House Stud in 2006 where he spent the rest of his days and looking immaculate no matter how hard the winter or hot the summer had been. We are indebted to Danni and Steve there for making this home available to him and letting us creep in and out with the extra strong mints whenever we fancied.
His character was unique. He was handsome and he could jump like a stag. He gave us both so much fun at such an early stage of our lives together. We lived and breathed the horse and very few conversations we had didn’t include him.