Did Sea Pigeon win the Ebor Handicap?
At the time of the retirement, as a 12-year-old, in March, 1982, Sea Pigeon was described as
‘probably the best known horse after Arkle and Red Rum’. He is best remembered for winning the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 1980 and 1981, but arguably his most memorable victory came in the Ebor Handicap at York in 1979.
Saddled with top weight of 10 stone and ridden by his regular hurdles partner, Jonjo O’Neill, Sea Pigeon was sent off the longest-priced of three runners trained by Peter Easterby, at 18/1. O’Neill had actually broken three toes in his left foot the previous week, but ‘hoodwinked’ the racecourse doctor by presenting his uninjured right foot for inspection and was passed fit to ride.
In any event, Sea Pigeon – on whom, according to Easterby, ‘you couldn’t come too late’ – hit the front, travelling easily, with a furlong to run and looked like winning comfortably. However, he stopped quickly and, with O’Neill dropping his hands in the closing stages, was tackled close home by the 3-year-old Donegal Prince, to whom he was conceding 40lb. After a nailbiting wait, Sea Pigeon was called the winner, by a short head, thereby smashing the previous weight-carrying record for the Ebor Handicap.