A simple look at the record books tells only some of the story when it comes to courageous racehorse Dan Excel, an overachiever whose whole-hearted efforts were the hallmark of a career that was drawn to a close by grateful connections today.
Owner David Boehm and trainer John Moore paid tribute to the three-time Group One winner after announcing the eight-year-old’s retirement due to ongoing leg problems that flared up following trackwork on Thursday.
Dan Excel had been invited to compete in the Group Two Godolphin Mile later this month, but he pulled up with swelling in a left front fetlock joint after a regulation gallop on Thursday, and following X-rays and consultation with Jockey Club veterinarian Paul Robinson, it was decided the tough-as-teak gelding had run his last race.
“I said to John at the start of the season that this would be Dan Excel’s last, and we had agreed that if there was ever an issue with his soundness, or if there was any indication that he’d had enough, he would be retired straight away,” Boehm said.
Moore said he had no hesitation in retiring Dan Excel following the latest setback.
“He had done so much in his career, but his joints were showing too much wear and tear. He doesn’t owe us anything, and we owed it to him to ensure he retired without breaking down,” Moore said. “He was a horse that was as genuine as the day is long. We have lost a warhorse.”
Dan Excel’s career was crowned by a dramatic last-gasp win in the 2013 Champions Mile and back-to-back wins in the Singapore Airlines International Cup at Kranji in 2014 and 2015.
A winner of four from 38 after being imported from Irish trainer Kevin Prendergast, where he raced as Dunboyne Express, Dan Excel was also second at Group One level an amazing five times and often punched above his weight when he seemed outclassed or unsuited by race conditions – which was often.
“Of the horses I have owned in Hong Kong, Dan Excel would be my favourite, just ahead of Happy Zero. Dan Excel was a horse that kept giving his all every run and never gave up,” Boehm said.
The son of Shamardal seemed to save his best for Singapore, where he was not just the only horse to win the now-defunct feature race twice, but broke the 2,000m track record in 2015 and also finished runner-up in 2013.
The performances in Singapore had particular significance for Boehm as it was his former business base, but also because the dual success helped to put Hong Kong racing on the map.
“It was such a special moment to be standing there in 2014 with the Hong Kong flag, and I really felt like that wasn’t just a win for us, but for all of Hong Kong racing – we were so proud,” he said.
The second win in Singapore followed a serious setback during an aborted spring carnival campaign in Boehm’s native Australia, and subsequent complications that nearly ended Dan Excel’s career.
An infection to an epiglottal entrapment meant throat surgery was required, the horse spending two months convalescing at Boehm’s Muskoka Farm.
“To come back from what was a pretty serious operation, and not as a young horse either, showed the character of the horse – some vets had only given him a 50-50 chance of ever racing again,” he said.
Fittingly, Dan Excel will now return to the gorgeous property on the banks of the Hawkesbury River, in the northwest outskirts of Sydney.
“There are a lot of beautiful paddocks there and hopefully he will be there for many years to come,” Boehm said. “He will be a mentor for the young horses on the farm, running with some of the yearlings and helping to keep them calm.”
Dan Excel’s retirement comes just over two weeks after Lucky Nine’s career came to an end, with the respective owners of the two horses sharing a certain kinship having raced in Singapore on the same night for three straight years.
“Lucky Nine won the Sprint the first year we raced there, and we both won in 2014 – it was wonderful to share that experience with Lucky Nine’s owners and it does seem fitting that the two horses, both of them great fighters, are heading off into the sunset of retirement together,” he said.