05th February 2018

The story of Edwulf.

The story of Edwulf, the horse that the Cheltenham groundstaff and vet teams fought to save at The Festival in 2017 and who went on to win the Unibet Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown in February 2018, as told by Liam Kerns, part of the veterinary team at Cheltenham Racecourse, written by David Jennings, Racing Post.

FROM the thrill to the tragedy to the triumph. Edwulf did not win the JT McNamara National Hunt Challenge Cup at last year’s Festival, despite looking as though he would for so long, but the end result was so much more satisfying than victory. Winning is not always everything.
Let’s take you to the start of the four-mile marathon. Edwulf is trying to give owner JP McManus and jockey Derek O’Connor back-to-back victories in a race they won with Minella Rocco in 2016. The eight-year-old, trained in Ireland by Joseph O’Brien, goes off at 5-1.
Edwulf spends the first half of the race out the back before O’Connor, in his customary creeping style, begins picking them off one by one. “He gave me a great feel the whole way,” he recalls.
“Coming down the hill for the final time, when I started to pass horses, I was really getting excited. I thought I was going as well as anything and we would have a big say in the finish. I dearly wanted to want to win this one, all the more so on account of it being named in honour of John Thomas.”
Edwulf got by everything bar Tiger Roll. Turning for home he took aim at the leader. To some eyes it seemed only a matter of time before he would overtake Lisa O’Neill on the Gordon Elliott-trained seven-year-old. Indeed, he traded at a low of 1.56 in-running. There was the strangest of scripts written for Edwulf, though.
An awkward landing at the second-last led to him losing valuable ground on Tiger Roll. The tide had turned. Now the chase was looking in vain. A tired leap at the last ended any remaining hopes of winning the race but the run-in soon turned into a lifesaving journey rather than a race-winning one.
O’Connor continues: “We jumped the last in second. I knew we didn’t have much hope of catching Lisa on Tiger Roll but we were definitely going to be second. All of a sudden I felt the horse weaken underneath me. He began to stagger and it was obvious he wasn’t going to recover his action. I pulled him up and he collapsed.”
From wanting to score to simply wanting to survive.
“I was sure he was gone,” admits trainer O’Brien. “When a horse collapses like that you fear the worst. It is only natural. I’d gone from thinking he might win to thinking we had lost him.
“I knew he was in the best possible care, though. The vets were top class. They did everything in their power. I couldn’t say enough good things about them. This was something extraordinary.”
Extraordinary indeed. Edwulf was down and seriously distressed. His chaotic heartbeat was not in rhythm and he began to have a fit due to starvation of oxygen to the brain. He was convulsing and
shaking. Grand National hero Many Clouds had lost his life after winning the Cotswold Chase a few weeks earlier and a similarly sad outcome looked in store.
Screens were erected and behind them began a rescue mission led by Liam Kearns, the head vet at the course. Kearns had eight talented vets on his team, including David Chalkley and Henry Tremaine who were first on the scene. Edwulf was in healing hands.
A sedative was quickly administered by Tremaine to stop the shaking, followed by a painkiller, but Edwulf was not making any effort to stand and he became less and less responsive. He was then moved to the side of the track to allow the last race to be run and all fences to be jumped.
“It did look as if he had serious neurological problems,” Kearns said. “Normally, when you tap a horse on the skin close to the eye you get a blink. He didn’t. He had some sort of neurological episode, the exact cause of which we are still not sure, a temporary lack of blood supply and oxygen to the brain. It can have potentially fatal consequences without treatment.”
Fortunately for Edwulf, treatment was quick and extensive. The care he received was remarkable and the recovery even more so. It took 70 minutes to see progress but after the concluding Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase he wobbled to his feet.
Edwulf was taken straight to the Three Counties Equine Hospital, near Tewkesbury, with a police escort. They arrived at 7.30pm and by 7.30am on Saturday he was prancing around the paddock at the equine hospital like a newly born foal. Mission complete.
“To have a horse down in that situation, that was way out of the ordinary. I’ve never known anything like it, when a horse has recovered from being on its side for so long,” Kearns says, looking back on the emergency episode. “When you have a successful outcome it’s fantastic.”
O’CONNOR was impressed by the way the vets managed to revive Edwulf and overwhelmed by the public support during the process.
“There must have been half a dozen vets in attendance, and they were of the opinion he’d run out of oxygen and was suffering from palpitations. As efforts to treat him continued, a good many racegoers came down to find out if there was any news. I chatted to a number of them and they were so genuinely concerned. They were as thrilled as all the connections when Edwulf began to revive.”
There was nobody more thrilled than O’Brien, who had a top staying chaser back in his stable within a few days.
“I thought we’d lost him. I can’t describe the feeling of getting him back. The fact that the vets and the whole team were able to revive him highlights just how good they are. It was an incredible effort from all concerned.”
There was no race won, yet this was the ultimate tale of triumph.