Tall Tales of the Track: The Ups and Downs of Tango Shandy

November 10th, 2023

Whether breaking from a gate or a standing start, running on the flat or over jumps, a horse race might seem like managed chaos. Horses and riders maneuver for position, constantly seeking a way to get clear of traffic and gain an advantage over their competitors. Add in the challenges of clearing jumps consistently with no mistakes that could cost a second, a seat, or worse, and the chaos becomes even more high stakes.

The slip of a saddle at an inopportune time, like the middle of the Dubai World Cup in the case of California Chrome, can become a challenge even greater than the 1,000-pound animals running alongside. In one particular jump race nearly 40 years ago, a slip of a saddle and the question of a foot caused a horse, his rider, and his trainer enough consternation to last a lifetime.

Setting the Scene

Down in the southwest corner of England, in the county of Devon, lies a racecourse named Newton Abbot. Located between the towns of Newton Abbot and Kingsteignton, the course is a one-mile and one-furlong grass track with seven jumps. First established in 1866, Newton Abbot plays host to steeplechase races each year, and on Aug. 28, 1984, one particular race took an interesting turn.

The Holne novice chase counted seven runners in the field, as an eighth, Top Reef was scratched. A novice race brings together horses that have never won a race or have not won one within the last year. The betting favorite for the Holne was Gamel’s Path at 2-1, a 10-year-old carrying 11 stone, 4 pounds, or 158 pounds. Also carrying that weight were Cold View, Free Drop, Legal Session, and Tango Shandy. Both Brianka and First Award carried 10 stone, 13 pounds, or 153 pounds, the lighter weights in the field. 

On Tango Shandy’s back was an amateur rider, Stuart Kittow, who was on the tall side at 6’3” and also well connected to the gelding’s trainer, Gerald Cottrell. The young man was Cottrell’s son-in-law and an aspiring jump jockey, shedding nearly 15 pounds to make weight for his try at the Holne chase. Tango Shandy and Kittow shared another connection, as the jockey’s father, George, was also the gelding’s breeder and owner. 

Over three miles, two furlongs, and 100 yards, chaos seemed to reign as the seven traversed the course. First Award fell at the seventh jump, taking Brianka with him. The favored Gamel’s Path fell at the 13th while Free Drop pulled up with an injury. Legal Session fell at the second-to-last fence and was then remounted, falling behind the final two still-standing competitors. Only Tango Shandy and Cold View were left, with the former enjoying an advantageous lead over his remaining competitor. Kittow was on the verge of winning his first race.

At the final fence, Tango Shandy made a mistake, still clearing the hurdle, but just barely. As the gelding recovered from his wayward leap, Kittow’s saddle slipped. He lost his irons but was able to hold on as Tango Shandy ran the final yards toward the finish line. As the gelding ran for the finish line, Kittow’s feet creeped ever closer to the ground; those present observed the jockey’s feet finally hitting the track after crossing the line rather than before. Kittow was dragged for another 20 yards before he was able to pull Tango Shandy up, falling out of the saddle completely.

Still 10 lengths behind despite Tango Shandy’s near fall at the last fence, Cold View came in second with a remounted Legal Session third. Kittow entered the winner’s circle bruised but elated at his victory. That elation would be short-lived, unfortunately.

Challenging the Result

After the race, the placing judge declared Tango Shandy the winner, but 15 minutes later, a stewards’ inquiry was announced. The question was, had Kittow’s feet touched the ground before the finish? If they had, then Tango Shandy must be taken down. The photographs of the Holne finish appeared to show that his feet indeed had hit the turf prior to the finish. The stewards disqualified Tango Shandy 45 minutes after the race, awarding first to Cold View and second to Legal Session. Cottrell vowed to appeal the result to the Jockey Club.

The Trainers’ Guild later appealed the ruling to the Jockey Club on Cottrell’s behalf. The Jockey Club overruled the Newton Abbot stewards after examining photographs of the final yards and the finish. Supporters pointed out that if Kittow’s feet had hit the ground at the angle supposedly shown in the photos, then he would have been injured. However, the jockey slid out of the saddle bruised but basically uninjured after the finish, confirming Cottrell’s assertion that the disqualification had no grounds, in fact. 

Aside from Kittow’s misadventures after the awkward landing, questions arose about the rule that had resulted in Tango Shandy’s disqualification. Earlier in the race, Legal Session had fallen, and his jockey had been unseated. However, that rider then remounted to finish the chase. How was that any different from what had happened to Kittow? Fortunately, the Jockey Club agreed with Cottrell and his supporters.

Two weeks after that chaotic chase, the ruling overturning Tango Shandy’s disqualification gave Stuart Kittow his first victory as an amateur rider and awarded his father George the ₤1,700 purse for the gelding’s win. Gerald Cottrell would go on to train winners on both the flat and the jumps, including Group 2 winner Acclimation. Stuart Kittow would later serve as an assistant to Cottrell and then went out on his own as a trainer. He is currently based at Haynefield Farm near Cullompton in Devon.