Thousand Stars after winning the County Hurdle under Katie Walsh
PICTURE: John Grossick
By Keith Melrose 4:22PM 2 SEP 2016
With popular 12-year-old Thousand Stars retired, we look back on some of his most memorable moments on the course.
The first 20 of 80 career starts for Thousand Stars came on the Flat in France, including a third to future champion hurdler Binocular at Fontainebleau as a two-year-old. Even when he came to Ireland, early success with Larry Byrne was only in modest terms.
It was in autumn 2009 when he joined Willie Mullins, who had just planted his flag as Ireland’s dominant jumps trainer, that Thousand Stars’ fortunes took off.
He won twice that winter, then came unstuck in what is now the Coral.ie Hurdle, but still came to the Festival with one of the more attractive profiles in the County Hurdle.
Six years on it is easy to say that Thousand Stars was chucked in off 134, but the coolness of the ride delivered by Katie Walsh still draws the eye. She was happy to play her mount last, getting to the front at the bottom of the hill and scooting clear.
The official margin over Arcalis was three lengths, but it looked easier than that and evidently was. Five or so weeks later, Walsh and Thousand Stars were beaten little more than two lengths by Hurricane Fly in Punchestown’s Champion Hurdle.
Thousand Stars: enjoyed several career highlights at Auteuil
Thousand Stars was more or less Walsh’s ride at this point, with the partnership only broken in the 2011 Champion Hurdle, Paul Townend partnering the grey to fourth.
On his next start he was a relatively unconsidered 16-1 chance in the Aintree Hurdle. The race panned out similarly to the County Hurdle: Walsh waited as long as she dared and when the gap appeared before the last they shot through.
This time waiting for them at the other side was Oscar Whisky, who proved tougher to pass than Arcalis. Thousand Stars got within a neck, and was up two strides after the line, but was ultimately denied.
Incidentally, this race marked the first time that Thousand Stars posted 165, his career-best RPR. He did it three times in all, each time finishing second in a Grade 1. That gives a good illustration of a horse who, it felt rather too often, was cast as the gallant loser by the brilliance of others.
After another defeat to Hurricane Fly at Punchestown (there would be 11 in all before he got his Vitas Gerulaitis moment on their 12th and final meeting), Thousand Stars was sent back to France to seek out top-level success.
A first run in the Prix La Barka would result in another narrow defeat, this time to Roi Du Val. Three weeks later in the Grand Course de Haies, France’s de facto Champion Hurdle, Thousand Stars did his bit for the maxim that so much of success is turning up.
Roi Du Val struggled in the Grand Course de Haies, as did Grands Crus, but Thousand Stars was on song and battled to success over Bel La Vie under Ruby Walsh. It was not his very best performance, but it was enough to gain the first Grade 1 success.
Thousand Stars winning his second Grand Course De Haies D’Auteuil
In later years Thousand Stars would become most readily associated with his successful French raids. 2011-12 was another season of near-misses in Britain and Ireland, including a spookily familiar neck defeat to Oscar Whisky in the Aintree Hurdle.
In France, this year was his most successful. Thousand Stars won both the Grade 2 Prix La Barka and the Grand Course de Haies, the second by an authoritative four lengths that was accurately forecast by his 15-8 starting price. In his homeland, he became the champion that he could never quite be in Ireland.
The best things about Thousand Stars were all contained in the 2015 Grand Prix d’Automne, his 76th start and last successful one.
Waited with, he moved into contention late on, with Walsh (Ruby this time) content to play last. Still fifth over the final hurdle, Thousand Stars responded well to strong driving from his rider. He squeezed between Aubusson and Hippomene to lead for the first time in the very last stride.
Beating Aubusson by a nose would not rate among his best performances, but in terms of showing the attributes that made him so popular, Thousand Stars was never seen to better effect than in that memorable finish.