Day At The Track

Top UK/IRE pacer Rhyds Five Star dies

12:18 AM 31 Jan 2015 NZDT
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Rhyds Fivestar, harness racing Rhyds Fivestar, harness racing
Rhyds Fivestar (left) beating Forafewdollarsmore on the grass
Graham Rees Photo
Rhyds Fivestar and driver Mick Lord
Graham Rees Photo

On Friday 23rd January 2015, UK harness racing fans learned of the passing of one of the modern day harness racing legends, Rhyds Five Star. Known as ‘Sam’ to those closest to him, Rhyds Five Star was one of the country’s most prominent Free For All class horses and his loss has been felt across the harness racing community.

Born in 2007 at Rhyd Farm, north Wales, Rhyds Five Star was the third colt out of Tonda Star (Albert Albert) to be born in the UK, by John & Grethe Wright’s own stallion Hasty Hall. At public auction as a yearling he broke the then British sales record, selling for £24,000 to John Howard.

The training and driving partnership chosen to nurture and develop Rhyds Five Star were Sheelagh and Michael ‘Mick’ Lord, who firstly broke him in and then guided him through his early qualifiers.

These initial appearances did not indicate the level of success that would befall Five Star, however on his first start as a two year-old he finished second at Tir Prince. This would prove to be the springboard from which he launched arguably one of the most impressive juvenile campaigns seen in the UK.

Rhyds Five Star went on to win the Will Cowan 2YO at Musselburgh, York 2YO, Breeders Crown 2YO Colts at York, BHRC National Pacing Futurity at York, Junior Welsh Dragon at Tregaron, and finally the Sire Stakes 2YO Colts Heat and Final at York in September.

In 2010 he returned to the racetrack under the guidance of Sheelagh and Mick, and built upon the foundations laid in his two-year-old season, with the NESA 3YO Grass Championship at Staindrop being the first title added to an already impressive collection.

The 3YO Derby Trial at Ffos Las followed, with Rhyds Five Star seeing off his closest rival by a staggering 10 lengths, and after that the victories kept coming. Fivestar went on to claim the York 3YO Championship Heat and Final, BHRC National Pacing Derby, Foster Care Associates 3YO, Corbiewood 3YO Derby Heat and Final, Musselburgh Scottish 3YO Derby, Hereford & Borders 3YO Colts and the Christopher Dunne 3YO Memorial Heat and Final in Ireland.

At Tregaron in August in the Little Welsh Dragon he lost out slightly in the heat being placed fourth, but still qualified for the final and went on to win. He finished his 3yo year at York in September in the Sire Stakes where he was beaten into second in the heat, but a week later he was back to take the prize in the final.

The only titles to elude Rhyds Five Star in his three-year-old campaign were the Breeders Crown and Appleby Grass Track Championship, however he never competed in either event.

It was in this peak of form that he broke the two-minute barrier, clocking a time of 1.58.4 at York and setting his lifetime best of 1.57.7 in Annaghmore.

Rhyds Five Star began the 2011 season at the top of the handicap system, a Grade 12 at four years of age.

Only a handful of horses, if any, can claim to have attained such lofty heights at the end of their three-year-old season, but such was the success of Rhyds Five Star’s early career.

Perhaps it was the sheer number of races in these early years which accounted for him only facing the starter five times in his four-year-old season, however yet again he returned to the winner’s enclosure, this time netting the Tregaron Senior Welsh Dragon early in the season and a heat of the York 4YO Championship.

His other three appearances saw him finish outside the first four on only one occasion. In winning at Tregaron, Five Star became only the fourth horse in history to complete the hat-trick of ‘Dragons’ – the Junior, the Little and the Senior Welsh Dragons, and joined his half-brother Star’s Dragon (Dragon Again/Tonda Star), Rhyds Destiny (Hasty Hall/CPR) and Mattador Hall (Blissfull Hall/Matt’s Sunshine) in the history books.

Stepping up to the Free For All ranks, Rhyds Five Star encountered his toughest opposition yet. Taking on the likes of Forafewdollarsmore (The Panderosa/Oh My Dear) and Stoneriggs Mystery (Village Jasper/Stoneriggs Quality) amongst other top class pacers, Five Star finished second in the Crock of Gold Final at Tir Prince and the FFA at Musselburgh.

However, the horse knew better than most where the winning post was and returned to victory lane in the FFA at Pikehall and the BHRC European Pacing Classic.

In 2013, Rhyds Five Star raced competitively, finishing second in the European Pacing Classic which he had added to his list of accolades the year before. Rhyds Five Star had amassed such great success whilst trained by Sheelagh Lord, however his owner made the decision to bring the horse home mid-season for his son, Samboy Howard, to train.

With his usual pilot Mick on board, Five Star returned to Musselburgh as a 16/1 outsider in the Hazel Kemp Memorial FFA. They say a change is as good as a rest, and John Howard’s decision to let his young son train a horse that some would say had seen his best days paid off.

His impressive victory at Musselburgh saw him surpass the £50,000 lifetime earnings mark, making him one of the highest earning Standardbreds in British history and only the second horse ever to do so. Furthermore, the victory saw him complete a treble that remains unmatched, winning the 2YO, 3YO and FFA at Musselburgh, one of the ‘big four’ meetings in the racing calendar.

The victory at Musselburgh would be Rhyds Five Star’s last visit to the winner’s enclosure, missing the 2014 season. He had resumed training with the Howard stables for the 2015 season with a view to continue his successful career, however tragedy struck.

Suffering from colic initially, Rhyds Five Star was taken to Liverpool University and had to undergo surgery. That all went well but he broke his leg in the recovery stall coming out of the anaesthetic and had to be put down.

His full brother, Rhyds Mega Star, sold as a yearling at public auction in October of last year for a new British sales record of £51,000, being the first colt from the mare since Rhyds Five Star. His existence alone generated much hype both before and during the sale, and he will be closely watched throughout his career, no doubt with comparisons being drawn at every step of the way. Such was Rhyds Five Star’s dominance that he leaves a very hard act to follow.

There have been, and no doubt will be, other horses with Five Star in their name; but for everybody in British and Irish harness racing, there will only ever be one Rhyds Five Star.

By Sara Thomas, for

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