Ayton, a 65,000 euro purchase as a juvenile, failed to make the first three in six races with Yorkshire trainers Ollie Pears and then Tim Easterby, but leading syndication group Ontoawinner were committed to giving her a second chance that has put her in the frame for national honours in the showing arena.
The mare, together with her devoted owner Lucy Chivers, has just qualified for the Jockey Club Retraining Of Racehorses (RoR) National Championships at the Aintree Equestrian Centre at the end of August.
Known at home as Ellie, the daughter of Declaration Of War wooed the judges when she won her qualifier at the same venue earlier this month, excelling in the showjumping ring before impressing in her paces on the flat.
“It was the first RoR show we had ever been to,” enthuses Lucy, a 17-year-old business student from Market Drayton in Shropshire. “I went with an open mind and just wanted to enjoy the occasion – I had no great expectations.
“We were up against seven other horses but it started well when we had just one unlucky pole down in the showjumping. Ellie was brilliant when it came to showing off her paces but I couldn’t believe it when the judge pulled us out first.”
Now Lucy is fine tuning the partnership in readiness for the final, which showcases the versatility of former racers in their flat paces and over showjumps. “It’s amazing to get there as it was totally unexpected. We’ll be out to do our best but if we win or get placed it really will be a bonus,” she adds.
It was Lucy’s grandmother Vicki Denston, from Barnsley, who found Ayton when the search began to rehome an ex-racehorse early last year with a view to retaining it for other equestrian disciplines.
The striking bay mare had been prepared for sale by Bursea Lodge Stud near York on behalf of Ontoawinner and it really was love at first sight when Lucy went along to try her out.
“Nan said she had a gut feeling that Ellie could be something special and I loved her, too, the minute I saw her,” recalls Lucy, who owns five other horses and represents the West Midlands region at Under 18 level in eventing.
With nan’s keen eye for a horse, and mum Fay’s experience in working for a top show producer, Ayton was certainly in good hands and gelled quickly with her talented new rider.
“Due to Covid, we only did our first competition together in the spring – a one-day event – and she loved it. She’s so trainable because she has such a lovely temperament and has really filled out her physique. We’re growing in confidence together,” she enthuses.
Simon Bridge, of Ontoawinner, says he is delighted about Ayton’s new-found success. “It’s great to hear that one of our former syndicate horses is doing so well after her racing career. She may not have been one of the fastest racehorses but she is certainly showing them a clean pair of hooves in her new career.”
The RoR Championships take place just a few weeks before the inaugural National Racehorse Week – a nationwide celebration of the thoroughbred racehorse which features open days at Epsom, Malton, Middleham and Newmarket between 12th and 19th September.
Get a taste of what you can expect for the first National Racehorse Week with TV star and ITV pundit Chris Hughes in the video below!