22 February 2024

Ferguson ‘quite optimistic’ over Spirit Dancer

22 February 2024

Sir Alex Ferguson “never dreamed” that he would have a horse good enough to take on the best in the world on the international stage. But in Spirit Dancer – a horse he bred – that is exactly what he is doing.

The former Manchester United manager has become immersed in the racing world since his retirement, enjoying several high-profile victories in the National Hunt sphere.

To date, his Flat exploits had not reached the same heights. But the Richard Fahey-trained seven-year-old Spirit Dancer has started to change all that.

Winning the Strensall Stakes at York last summer earned him an invite for the Bahrain International Trophy, which he won, and he was last seen finishing a respectable fourth in the Group One Jebel Hatta at Meydan in Dubai.

He now runs in the Howden Neom Turf Cup on Saturday in Riyadh, a race worth almost £1million to the winner.

“One of the great advantages of having a really good horse is international racing. We never dreamed, when I bred Spirit Dancer, that he would end up getting as far as this,” Ferguson told The Saudi Cup.

“We’re so excited about it and after Bahrain we are quite optimistic.

“He had a little problem when he was three years of age, he got over that and he’s just got better and better. He’s not had a lot of racing. That’s what Richard keeps saying, that he can race a lot more than he’s been doing. So we’re getting the benefit.

“The international element is something we didn’t expect. I’d been to Dubai some years back and I was saying to myself I wonder what it’s like to have a horse involved in it – now we’ve got one, I’m enjoying it.

“Competing with the likes of Aidan O’Brien and the Japanese, you know you are up against the best, and we’re enjoying it.”

Ferguson’s racing interests stretch back almost 30 years now, and it is fair to say he is more involved than at any time in his life.

“It was round about 1995 that I remember my wife saying I was going to kill myself because my whole day was absorbed with the (football) club,” he explained.

“One day, I said to my wife ‘shall we go to the races?’. She asked where that had come from and I told her it was her who said I needed to start doing something else.

“We were at the races one day when I met John Mulhern and Dessie Scahill and I got hooked. She once said ‘you want to buy all the right horses’, well, I’m trying!

“I got into breeding by accident, I was in Germany visiting Andreas Wohler and he put the idea in my mind, I bought a horse from him, the mare Queen’s Dream (Spirit Dancer’s dam).

“A friend of mine then put the idea in my head about buying the stud in Hemel Hempstead. I said we’d have a go and it’s been great. They are fantastic people there, we had a foal there last week by Stradivarius, so it’s great.”

It is Ferguson’s second trip to Saudi Arabia, the first was in 2008 when Manchester United played in a testimonial to honour local player Sam Al Jaber, who played over 150 times for his country.

“We came to Saudi about 15 years ago to play in a game to celebrate a famous player who had 150 international caps. The King bought 80,000 tickets and gave them all away to the people and it was fantastic,” said Ferguson.

Spirit Dancer is co-owned by bookmaker Fred Done and Ferguson’s big friend, Ged Mason, with whom he is involved with most of his horses – and who initiated a rather painful celebration in Bahrain.

“Ged broke my rib celebrating in Bahrain, I won’t mind him breaking another if it means we win!” said Ferguson.

Mason is loving being involved in the ride and is thrilled at the enjoyment Ferguson is getting from the game.

“When he came round the bend at Bahrain, it was a fantastic sight and the way he pulled away was a pinch yourself moment, to be honest,” said Mason.

“He got the invite to Bahrain because he’d produced the goodies at York. I’m so proud for Sir Alex because he bred him and he’s out of Frankel.

“I think our first venture into ownership was What A Friend and what a friend he was to us, he got our appetite for winning. Clan Des Obeaux won King Georges and Irish Gold Cups, it’s been a fantastic journey and we don’t want it to stop.”

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