The toughest of days….

The hardest of blogs to write as the reality of losing Sarasota Star yesterday due to an irreparable tendon injury at Musselburgh is so painful. Thanks to the vets who were so thorough and even chose to transport him back to the racecourse stable yard, when we’d feared any chance of survival was gone, to give him the best chance of survival but as always the horse comes first and he just couldn’t be saved. Believe me if he could have been saved then we would have helped move heaven and earth to do so…

Anyone who knows our yard will know that we absolutely adore our horses here, each and every one, and they want for nothing. They are all important to us but some have that extra something that make them almost part of our family – maybe that’s because we live, breathe and sleep our horses here and Sarasota Star was ridden out every day by Belinda and he therefore did feel almost part of our family.

Beth offered to drive the lorry the 7 long hours home from Musselburgh Racecourse last night, with David Maughan’s Brorson on board, (who had run well to finish 3rd) but Belinda was adamant she needed to share the driving rather than take the easy option to come home with me in the car, as I wanted her to. She is heartbroken and, as sad as I am too that we have lost him, as he was such a lovely horse who was so talented too, it hurts so much more to see her so sad. Paddy did a great job too looking after him every day and I have no doubt Paddy feels his loss as well. For the two of them their day will never be the same as it was when he was here.

Thankfully, whilst still struggling with the right words to say to you all about Sarasota, and how much he meant to us all, Jon Hughes sent this over so thank you so much Jon and these are his words:

“There are four key decisions owners have to make: how to buy the horse, who to own it with, who to train it and who to ride it. With Sarasota Star we were very fortunate that at every stage the right decisions were made and although we are all in shock at the passing of this lovely young horse at Musselburgh on Sunday, we have the most tremendous memories that will never fade.

One of Martin and Belinda’s close friends from David Nicholson days, Gerry Hogan, has been our man on the ground in Ireland for quite a number of years, and some time back I decided to concentrate purchasing of horses on to unraced stock, either foals, yearlings or stores. Gerry and I had an agreement that if he was at a sale and saw something he really liked at the right price, then to let me know. During the Goffs Ireland sale back in October 2017 I had a call from Gerry to say that he had found a really interesting yearling. The horse had already been sold to go to Hong Kong, but had been wrongly described as a bay rather than a grey roan. The Chinese purchaser refused to take the horse, who was turned out in a boggy field, before being entered as a wild card at the last minute. It was so late that he wasn’t even included in the catalogue, and was the second-last lot. Gerry loved his demeanour and stride, so we decided to bid. In less than a minute, he went under the hammer to us for €4,500 – a bargain indeed. He was sent to former assistant trainer to Aidan O’Brien, P.J. Colville in Tipperary, who looked after him and broke him in. I remember getting a call from PJ in early 2018 saying that this horse, in time, would jump anything. So true. Decision 1 – a huge success.

Our initial co-owners have a gorgeous house on the seafront in Sarasota, Florida, hence the horse’s name. More recently, David Bishop, Colin Bowkley and Paul Davis, huge supporters of Team Keighley, readily stepped in when shares became available. Proper NH enthusiasts and a delight to be with. Decision 2 in the bag.

We moved him from Ireland to Martin, expecting that he would have a Flat career initially. The horse was sired by Zebedee, who was a high-class sprinter and often produces early 2yos. Not in this case! Martin quickly decided after few spins on the Flat that we should be patient with him before going hurdling. From then onwards his career started to blossom, until by the end he had had 22 runs, winning four races and coming second three times, third four times and fourth four times. Martin guided him from a rating of 105 to 130, with his best years still likely to be ahead of him as a 6yo, 2m chaser. Decision 3 sorted.

As a slow developer and somewhat gangly, Sarasota Star needed good riders to encourage him to use himself in the right way. A super association started between the horse and Belinda, and we have so much to thank her for. I’ve always had a simple view that horses ridden by the trainer’s wife are ones to be followed! At the time we started thinking of going chasing, James Best became closely associated with the yard and he was the perfect pilot, ably supported by Rex Dingle, Ben Godfrey and now retired Champion, Richard Johnson. A bold jockey on board an exuberant horse who jumps with panache is one of the best sights in racing. Decision 4 could not have been better.

The Musselburgh race, although a handicap, was called the Scottish Champion Chase. Whether Sarasota Star would have become a genuine champion, we’ll never know, but in our eyes he’ll be remembered as one, and clearly in the minds of a vast number of racing’s supporters. I have never received so many messages from so many people. The flying grey had clearly captured the imagination. So sad to have lost him, but so proud to have owned him”.

Thanks Jon and thank you to each and every person that has messaged us too – they’ve been hard to read as the reality is so hard but heartwarming too. My initial reaction as the screens went up and Belinda’s heart began to break was ‘why do I put myself and my family through days like this’ but 24 hours on, whilst still hurting a lot, the support from the racing fraternity and the outside world too has been unbelievable. That’s a huge part of why I do the job I love so much.

The tough days never get any easier but that’s why we make the most of the good days and hopefully they are just around the corner again. Sleep tight Sarasota Star (Belinda’s favourite flying grey) – in time, when the pain eases, we will be able to smile again when we remember all the fun days we had with you.

James & Sarasota en route to their impressive Chepstow win

Sarasota with Paul Davis & Jon Hughes
Belinda & Sarasota

Sarasota Star & Rex Dingle en route to winning at Worcester
Belinda, Mr Mafia & Sarasota – best of mates



If you would like to have a horse trained by Martin Keighley, visit the yard or make an enquiry