Christian Lady defied the odds

NZ HARNESS NEWS

It may seem odd to some that Peter McClelland is still racing Christian Lady as a nine-year-old. To him, he’s just happy to have the option to do so.

The speedy daughter of Christian Cullen, who recorded her fourth career win at Addington on Saturday night, is less than three years on from a battle with cancer.

And McClelland himself is lucky to be alive after flirting with death a couple of years ago.

“There’s quite a story to tell, to be honest,” he said.

“As a six-year-old, when she was already a race-winning mare, she came up with a lump on the side of her face. It was on her cheek, right where the bit went.

“We thought it was bit rub, but figured we should get it checked anyway. It turned out to be malignant cancer.

“We had to go in to Christchurch and get a very good surgeon to take it out.

“She then made to go through chemotherapy, which was localized and injected in to the site.”

It meant the best part of a year on the sidelines as she recovered from the surgery and treatment.

“It took her out for about a season and it was quite a while until she recovered from it.

“Getting her condition back proved difficult.

“I always felt though, that if I could get her back to the races, that she had more wins in her.

“I just needed to get her back to where she was before she got sick.”

Eventually she did return, in March last year, but it took her 10 runs and another 11 months to get back to the winners’ circle.

It’s taken McClelland a while to figure her out, but he’s got her number now.

“She can be a bit naughty, a bit wayward especially when she drew the second row.

“So, if we draw there, we don’t start her now, which is tough given the scratching penalties.

“We mainly go after preferential barrier draws where we can see what she’s going to draw.

“It can be a real problem, her behavior, especially if she’s in a bunch of horses at the start.

“She pig-jumps and won’t go away.

“So, we talked to the Stipendiary Stewards and ask if we could put her on the gate and she stands there and walks away with it.”

It’s the main reason, combined with her generally good draws, and gate speed that she usually lands in front.

Sheree Tomlinson did the driving again on Saturday night and McClelland speaks highly of her.

“John Morrison had been driving her but eventually he couldn’t drive her – he was committed to something else or was shoeing or something – whatever it was, I decided to give Sheree a go.

“She does a nice job and doesn’t knock them around.

“And the best thing about her is she listens to what I have to say about how the horse is best placed in the race.

“A classic example was last night (Saturday) where we had a discussion and I said that I think she needs to keep Martin John out at the start.

“Because he would hand up to Franco Texas and we would be three back.

“Anyway, she had to chase her out pretty hard to hold out Blair Orange on Martin John, but she didn’t flinch on a pretty hard first quarter.

“In fact, I just did the calculations off ‘Stridemaster’ (Addington timing software) and she’s basically run her first quarter in 26.5.

“So, to then run home in 26.99, that’s quite the effort. She’s a tough old thing.

“Not many horses can break 27 at both ends of the race.”

The big mare is a bit head-strong, and can have a mind of her own.

“She’s a bit of a hard case; a typical Cullen that can drag you around on the end of a lead rope.

“She’ll suddenly decide she wants a drink of water or molasses and charge off, the stroppy thing.

“You actually have to be quite careful walking past other horses, too.

“If you get too close to them, she can give them a bit of flick. She’s not a nasty horse, just a bit stroppy.”

McClelland is close to winding up Christian Lady’s race career and plans on sitting down this week to plan her first consort.

“We’re just starting to work through that now. We probably should have served her by now, so I have to get organized.

“She’ll maybe have a few races in foal, but that’s it.

“I’d like to serve her with Bettor’s Delight, being a Cullen mare and we know how good that cross works.

“But he’s $25,000 and that’s quite expensive and he might be unavailable anyway.

“My backup was Sweet Lou but I think he’s fully booked as well.”

That McClelland is even here to tell the tale and train Christian Lady is a miracle in itself; he nearly died after suffering a brain aneurism a few years ago.

“I had a splitting headache that just intensified rapidly.

“It was a burst aneurism, and I had to have surgery for it.

“The doctor said one third of people who have them don’t make it to hospital, another third don’t survive surgery, and the ones that do, many are never the same.

“So, I count myself very lucky to be here today and still able to live a normal life.”

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