What do you give a horse who has everything? Time, primarily, but also the best care and attention and a little indulgence to sweeten the pot.
That’s that TONIGHT’S PRIZE (11yo bay gelding by Night Shift out of the Shirley Heights mare Bestow) has had and he’s repaying his connections in spades. TP as he’s more manageably called is fast becoming a leading light of the eventing world and, according to owner David Allan, is “bang on schedule” four years after his racing career came to an abrupt end.
At his best between a mile and a mile and a quarter, Tonight’s Prize didn’t race as a juvenile and arguably reached his peak at four when he won at Pontefract and finished third in a valuable Newbury handicap under 10st. Trained by Chris Wall, he was usually ridden by Seb Sanders who partnered him to all three of his victories.
Allan retired TP after he had bled profusely following a race at Newmarket. Allan, who was present when TP was foaled and has a very close affinity with him, then sent him to Bernice Cuthbert at Aston Park Stud for rest and recuperation and a chance to assess his capabilities for other roles. Allan says: “He needed considerable time to adjust both mentally and physically as the muscular demands of eventing as opposed to racing are very different. He’s an extremely intelligent and brave horse. He has a bit to learn on the dressage front but as far as the cross-country aspect goes he’s at Advanced level already.”
Currently an Intermediate performer, TP is partnered by dual Olympic Silver Medalist Jeanette Brakewell when eventing and by England International rider Gail Burchmore when showjumping. Cuthbert has mater-minded his ascent through the ranks although there have been “a few hairy moments along the way”. She says: “It’s taken time to get him where he is because of the injuries he’s had and he still has physiotherapy. However it doesn’t stop him being a bit of a playboy. I was lungeing him once and he bolted out of the field, over a nine-bar gate and away with the lungeing rein and the side-reins flapping behind him. It took four people 20 minutes to catch him.”
His escapology aside, Tonight’s Prize is expected to upgrade to Advanced Level next summer and continue to fulfill Allan’s and Cuthbert’s dreams and opinions of him. “The sky is the limit with him,” according to Allan, while Cuthbert says “He has never been anything other than fascinating or interesting to work with.”