Highfield hurdler Countrywide Flame retired

Gazette & Herald: John Quinn’s top-class hurdler Countrywide Flame, pictured with Denis O’Regan on board, has been retired prematurely due to a bone disease. Picture: Alec Russell John Quinn’s top-class hurdler Countrywide Flame, pictured with Denis O’Regan on board, has been retired prematurely due to a bone disease. Picture: Alec Russell

RYEDALE’S top hurdler has had to be retired.

Countrywide Flame, winner of two Grade 1 races and third to Hurricane Fly in last season’s Champion Hurdle, is suffering from a bone disease which has left Norton trainer John Quinn with no option but to hang up his saddle.

The gelding won five of his 13 races over hurdles and accumulated prize money of almost £220,000.

He was also a five-time winner on the Flat and finished second in last year’s Cesarewitch Handicap at Newmarket and fifth in this year’s Chester Cup.

“He was a horse and a half,” said Quinn, after announcing the premature end to a career which still promised so much for a horse who was still in the early throes of his jumping life.

Countrywide Flame had already been ruled out of action this season after concerns about a hind joint in the autumn led to him being sidelined. But, when the problem failed to improve, further investigation was carried out and the depth of the gelding’s woes were confirmed.

“He has got a degenerative bone disease in both his hind joints,” revealed Quinn.

“There is no way back from that and he will not be able to race again.”

Countrywide Flame will be remaining at Quinn’s Highfield yard at least for the remainder of the winter.

“He is comfortable and we will aim to turn him out in the spring,” said the trainer.

“If there ever comes a point where he’s in pain or discomfort, we’ll address it there and then.”

Previously trained on the Flat by Kevin Ryan, Countrywide Flame was a shining star over hurdles for Quinn.

He won the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham last year and also gained a 12-length triumph in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, his two most notable triumphs.

“He was a proper Grade 1 horse – you couldn’t knock him,” said Quinn. “It’s a real pity, a great shame because he’s only five.”

Dougie Costello, who rode him to victory in the Triumph, said: “It’s so sad to hear the news about Countrywide Flame.

“He’s a little star, who gave me one of my biggest wins. I hope he enjoys his retirement.”

Fortunately for Ryedale trainer Quinn, he has some useful younger horses coming through the ranks to hopefully fill the void left by Countrywide Flame.

Indeed, one of them, Rutherglen is aiming to follow in the distinguished hoofprints of his stablemate in the coming months.

A winner on his hurdling debut at Wetherby last month, Rutherglen followed up with a wide-margin success at Bangor on Sunday.

The Triumph Hurdle in March will now figure very much on his agenda with a trip to Leopardstown early the previous month being another consideration.

“There’s a Grade 1 race at Leopardstown which he could go for,” said Quinn, who saddled Countrywide Flame to finish third in the corresponding event before he went on to lift the Triumph.

“It’s a top race in its own right and if offers the chance to get some good experience, plus a galloping course like Leopardstown would suit him. He’s a smart horse.”

Racing Pulse is another smart horse from the Quinn camp, as he showed when bolting home by 17 lengths at Newcastle earlier this month on his first outing since coming to Ryedale from Ireland.

“He’s grand,” said Quinn. “We’re thinking about running him at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.”

There is no lack of hope and expectation among the up-and-coming horses. Winning at Grade 1 level is the ultimate target. The tough and talented Countrywide Flame set the bar.

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