Sean Tarry’s War Horse

The Hangman goes for the King’s Cup

The Noose Tightens - Piere Strydom rides Tarry's classy The Hangman in the Gr3 Graham Beck Stakes

The Hangman

“I’m not sure people understand how much manpower it takes to get a horse to the races,” says Dr Alasdair Cameron of Baker McVeigh’s Cape Town veterinary practice. We are sitting in his office, looking at x-rays of The Hangman’s 2012 operation.

The average Thoroughbred passes through an extraordinary number of hands during its life, even one of those lucky individuals that doesn’t have too much go wrong (and lord knows, there are precious few of those around!). There are the maternity staff that ensure the foal makes its way safely into the world, vet checks for early inoculations, farriers, feed merchants, stud staff for the day to day care of the foal, sales staff if it goes through the sales ring, spelling and pre-training farm staff, and then any number of trainers, racing grooms, work riders and jockeys as well as all the general healthcare services of vets, farriers, dentists, physiotherapists, etc. No man is an island and neither, it seems, is a horse.

I’m not sure how many people know the story of The Hangman, but as he’ll be contesting the King’s Cup at Greyville this weekend, perhaps now is a good time to tell it. The fact that he’s around at all is quite remarkable and it’s taken a team of equally remarkable people to get him back on the road again. But let’s start at the beginning.

Jealous Jim

CTS Cape Premier Sale

CTS Flagship Sale (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

The Jallad colt out of Helleborous Blue was bred by Highlands Stud and led through the ring at the 2011 Cape Premier Yearling Sale. Sean Tarry remembers, “He was an outstanding horse in my opinion. Obviously not everyone thought so, because we got him for R450k, but he was a nice horse with a nice pedigree. He was named Jealous Jim at the time. Jallad is the Hindi word for executioner, so Chris (van Niekerk)’s son and myself brainstormed and came up with the name ‘The Hangman.’”

“I always thought highly of him but not everyone shared my enthusiasm. I put Piere on him one day and said ‘this is the best baby I’ve got at the moment.’ Piere said ‘If this is your best, then you’re in trouble!’ But I raced him in the SA Nursery as a maiden and he ran 5th behind Soft Falling Rain. He won his maiden at Clairwood in June, was just over 5 lengths off them in the Golden Horseshoe and then he won the Gr1 Premier’s Champion Stakes on Gold Cup day. We gave him a break to freshen up and then one or two preps going into the Dingaans, which he won, and I was quite upbeat about a challenge for the Cape Guineas.


The Hangman

The Hangman’s propagating condylar fracture

“We were stabled at Kenilworth for quarantine reasons. He went for a strong canter on Thursday 20 December 2012 and fractured a cannon bone. The nature of the fracture meant it was impossible to put the horse under general anaesthesia as the risk was too great that he would snap the leg trying to stand up, so he had to have surgery done under local anaesthetic. Luckily the horse has got an amazing temperament and that allowed Dr Alasdair Cameron at Baker McVeigh to do exactly what he needed and it went very well.”

Dr Cameron was kind enough to pull his records and show me the x-rays. The Hangman suffered what is termed a propagating condylar fracture of his near (left) foreleg. In layman’s terms, a triangular piece of the bottom right hand corner of the cannon bone had fractured. Condylar fractures are pretty rare occurrences in South Africa and Baker McVeigh sees approximately 2 cases a year (which compares very favourably with centres like Newmarket which see an average of 4 a week). On their own, condylar fractures are relatively straightforward to treat as one generally inserts a screw through the bottom of the bone and holds the pieces together until they knit. However, The Hangman had additional fracture lines spiralling all the way up through the bone, which would eventually require a total of eight 4.5mm surgical steel screws to keep everything in place. Unfortunately, no amount of x-rays could pinpoint the exact path and more importantly, the exit point of the fractures, meaning that one wrong move could cause the entire structure to shatter. Having the horse under local anaesthetic added enormous challenges. The pieces of bone have to be lined up very precisely in order to maintain the integrity of the articular joint surface. Any errors result in bony irregularities and lead to secondary arthritis and lameness. Dr Cameron said that the horse lifted his foot exactly once during the whole procedure. “He really was incredible. There’s no way we could have done it if he didn’t have such a good temperament.” The procedure took approximately 2 hours in total and The Hangman took it very well, requiring a little less than the sedative required for a routine gelding. Best of all, Dr Cameron says that the most satisfactory aspect was that “he walked in on 3 legs and walked out on 4, which showed that he was immediately more comfortable.”

The Hangman

The final result

Fractures take around 90 days to heal, so on 18 February 2013 The Hangman was transferred to Eric Sands and his team for rehabilitation. He had his metal work removed on 23 April and was trotting and cantering again by the time he headed back to Sean’s yard in May where they take very good care of him.

“He goes on the treadmill every day and gets daily hydrotherapy from Retha van Deventer at the TBG spa. It’s on my premises, so people tend to think it’s mine, but it’s not. I’m just her biggest customer! The Hangman has therapy every day and while it’s hard to imagine a condition like his can improve while a horse is in training, the leg probably looks better now than a year ago. That spa is worth its weight in gold. All my old boys are in the spa every day and it definitely helps keep them sound.”


Retha and her TBG hydrotherapy spa have been at Randjes for nearly two years now. She treats around 20 horses for Sean a day, as well as a few for Mike de Kock and Alec Laird. The spa looks more or less like a horse box – the horses walk in, the front and back doors are closed and then it’s filled to just below their stomachs with ice cold (0-1°C) water which contains a solution of Epsom salts and fine salt. The fine salt works as a disinfectant and is fantastic for cleaning out wounds, while the Epsom salts is a drawing agent and acts as a poultice to draw out inflammation. In addition, the spa has Jacuzzi jets which adds a massage effect. Due to the extreme cold, the treatment lasts around 15 minutes in total. It’s not only good for horses with existing injuries, but is particularly effective as a preventative measure. Horses have relatively poor circulation to their lower limbs and therefore all horses get some sort of inflammation in their legs after hard work. The faster the inflammation is removed, the less damage is done to the joint. Other big name horses she treats on a regular basis are Tiger’s Retreat, Halve the Deficit, Heavy Metal, Willow Magic and current Triple Tiara contender, Siren’s Call.

Back on track

The Hangman

The Hangman

Because of the way the very bottom screw is inserted, it goes through the joint capsule as well as some of the collateral ligaments, resulting in some loss of flexion to the joint and Sean says they were by no means convinced that they’d won the battle. “There were quite a few times that there was inflammation in the area and we had to ease back, so it was a bit of a stop start process.” However, The Hangman lined up for a conditions plate on 14 January 2014. “Because Piere had been riding him, I put him on first time back. It was a very ordinary run and Piere wasn’t too hopeful. I put S’manga up next and he was just touched off behind two very good horses over 1400m at Turffontein. We started stepping him up over ground and he finished 5th to Cagiva over 1800m and 4th behind Halve The Deficit in the Gr2 Colorado King Stakes over 2000m. He then went to Durban for an easy run which we thought he’d win comfortably, but he ran badly, so we rested him again.”

“He came back in November last year and because he was working so well with blinkers, I thought I’d give it a try. His first run was over 1800m and it was pretty poor, so we tried again over 1160 at Scottsville, but it was another poor run and we realised the blinkers were obviously a mistake.”

“Although his form was gone at that point, I just couldn’t see anything wrong with him, but he’s a great horse and I didn’t want to be unfair to him. I got Craig Zackey to ride him every day with the instruction that if he ever felt anything untoward we’d retire him. Craig said ‘please don’t retire him, he feels good.’ So I said OK, we’ll run him.”

“He came out again at Turffontein in the 1600m Wolf Power Stakes in February. He came from off them and although he sat behind them in the straight, they never really quickened away from him and I was quite impressed. Craig was pretty happy with the run, but felt he should race more handy, so I said he could ride him again. We got a run at the Vaal and his merit rating had come down, so I thought we’d give it a go.” The Hangman won comfortably, registering his boss’s 100th winner for the season.

This Sunday he lines up for the Gr3 King’s Cup at Greyville. Sean says “The Hangman drew so nicely and I would have loved Craig to ride him, but he’s got a suspension. Thandi (Athandiwe Mgudlwa) has done a lot of work and has ridden for me in the past, so he knows me well.”

War horse

Sean Tarry

Sean Tarry

The older horses that just keep running are known as ‘war horses’ and The Hangman has certainly earned this honour. Sean says, “I know some people are of the opinion that I am forcing him, but I think that’s a bit unfair. He had those two runs in the blinkers – one in the soft and the other over a sprint to see if blinkers were effective over a shorter distance and those were really the only two shockers. You know what – maybe I should have called it a day a long time ago, but he’s come back and he’s won a race and that form has really worked out. It’s been a long haul and we all know what he’s been through, but he’s come through the race very well and he’s happy going into the Durban run. I don’t have any fixed plans and I don’t want to be unfair to him. If he gives signs that he’s not enjoying it or goes unsound, then we’ll retire him, but at the moment he does everything we ask of him.”

“Some of the horses go on and prove you right, some prove you wrong. Some you retire and you think maybe I kept them a season too long. Others are very rewarding and do their bit. I just think when you’ve got a top horse, they’re hard to replace. And they’re so used to their life as a racehorse and being pampered. If they can still perform and they’re happy doing it, then why not?”

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