Some racehorses are smart, others strong. Then there’s Key Symbol. He was fearless.
Prepared on the beaches of Warrnambool by the father-son partnership of Bill and Symon Wilde, Key Symbol proved a determined competitor on the flat winning the Dunkeld, Mortlake, Coleraine Cups of 2008 before embarking on a career over obstacles in mid-2009.
A bold, front-running son of Fraar, Key Symbol quickly gathered a cult-following in his time over the jumps, inspiring punters with his fearless, attacking style.
The hardy bay found immediate success over obstacles, racing in a number of the state’s premier jumps events before retiring in August 2013 with 13-career victories to his name.
Oaklands Junction-based horseman and keen hunter Gerard Hurry had long admired Key Symbol’s racetrack deeds and jumped at the chance to take the gelding for a test-ride following his retirement from racing.
“From the moment I first sat on him and jumped a couple of logs I knew I was on to a winner,” Hurry said.
“I’d seen him race and I knew the Wilde’s give their horses very good jumping education .
“When we got home I took him straight to the national park near my place in took him out for a spin. He was very safe and very bold – he didn’t think about stopping at anything that’s for sure. I knew he’d be perfect for me”
Key Symbol’s mix of endurance, speed and adaptability made him the ideal hunting horse; with Hurry’s charge quickly cementing his position as the Oaklands Hunt Club’s key ‘whip’, boldly leading the chase and ensuring the following party – and hounds – remain on the fox’s trail.
With hunts often requiring horse and rider to traverse challenging terrain for stretches of 40 kilometres at a time, hunting is not a discipline for the faint hearted.
Hurry and Key Symbol have spent countless hours hacking around the national parks of Victoria, building the unbreakable bond required to partake in such testing ordeals.
“As they say, ‘Wet saddlecloths make good horses’, and that’s certainly the case with off the track thoroughbreds,” Hurry said.
“They’re fantastic at building that special bond (between horse and rider). If you spend a lot of time riding them and treat them kindly they’ll reward you in spades.”
Hunting is just one of Key Symbol’s various talents, with the retired racehorse having also turned his had to everything from show jumping, cross country and dressage in the 18 months he’s spent away from the track.
“That (dressage) was a first for us both, I can tell you that much,” Hurry said with a laugh.
“It’s really important for his overall education that he’s exposed to as many things as possible, and he really enjoys it too.
“I’ve taken him to the Royal Melbourne Show where he finished sixth of 27 in the S.A. Greaves Memorial Hunter Plate – he just adapts to any type of jumping.”
And while hunting will always be his first love, Hurry said that Key Symbol had found his ‘forever home’ and would live out a happy and lazy retirement once his hunting days were over.
“Once I have them, I have them forever,” he said firmly.
“Special horses like him, they’re one in a million. There’s no way I’d ever let him go.”