There is nothing quite as heart-warming as a happy horse and owner. When that horse is a Gr1 winner that survived a bush racing ordeal, that owner is his Gr1 jockey and the whole package comes gift-wrapped in a catchy tune, well, that’s a special kind of awesome.
It’s a story I’ve been saving up all year, so in the spirit of spreading a bit of festive happiness, I took some time to catch up with Glen Hatt and Wavin’ Flag.
Wavin’ Flag (Silvano – Garland) was bred by former Maine Chance stud manager, John Slade and his wife and bought as a weanling by a grooms’ co-op. The colt was bought back at the National 2yo Sale and eventually joined the Brett Crawford yard, racing in the interests of a syndicate.
Being quite a light-framed horse, Wavin’ Flag didn’t see the racecourse until well into his 3yo year and had his first start over a mile at Kenilworth on 20 February 2013.
Glen was Brett’s stable jockey at the time and says the team always felt the horse had a big race in him. “He was a bit of a wimp – a really narrow horse with no confidence. We always hoped he might fill out, but he never did. He wasn’t going to be the next champion, but we had a lot of belief in him and always felt if we got him right, he’d be able to crack a feature.”
Wavin’ Flag had 5 starts as a 3yo for 1 win (over 2400m) and three places. He started his 4yo season in handicap company, placing consistently and cracking a second win over 2400m at Durbanville on 12 October 2013. He was 4th in the J&B Jet Stayers on Met day 2014 and 3rd in the Lektron Chairman’s Cup in February, before joining the Crawford string in Durban.
“We took him specifically with the Gold Cup in mind,” remembers Glen. “It was a big ask – lots of stayers don’t get the 3200m and he was only a two time winner.” Wavin’ Flag’s first start in Durban was over 1900m on 16th May when he finished 6th (but only 2,3 lengths off) stable companion Futura. “We’d put blinkers on and he never travelled,” remembers Glen. “I had to push him from three quarters of the way back. He was a hard ride.”
However, Wavin’ Flag blossomed in KZN. “Being quite a light horse, he didn’t take much work and I think he battled the sand in Cape Town. The lighter Durban tracks were easier on him. He started travelling better, gained a lot of confidence and started enjoying his work. He started to travel in his races too.”
In the Gr3 Lonsdale Stirrup Cup, he finished less than a length 4th to Wild One. “He was travelling really well and I thought we would win, but as he hit the front, he ducked with me, so I said to Brett we need to take the blinkers off.” It did the trick. In a traffic-plagued Gold Vase, a blinkerless Wavin’ Flag ran Hot Ticket to a 0.15 length second at Greyville.
On Saturday, 26 July 2014 the plan came together when Wavin’ Flag enjoyed a trouble-free run to lift the Gold Cup trophy. “Before we left for Durban, one of the partners pulled out and Ian Longmore asked my opinion about taking a share. I said ‘grab it, he’ll win the Gold Cup,’ remembers Glen. “I said it with hope, but I did have belief in the horse. When you make a plan to go somewhere with a horse and it comes to fruition, it’s special, you know?”
Wear and tear on his hands meant Glen had worn down the cartilage in his right wrist and desperately needed medical attention. “I’d been struggling with my hand for about six months, but the yard was doing so well. We had frikkin brilliant horses like Futura and Captain America coming through.” With the team bullish about Futura’s July hopes, Glen scheduled surgery after the Gold Cup and rode through the Durban season with the help of cortisone injections.
Although the July was not to be, Wavin’ Flag’s Gold Cup formed the first half of a back to back Gr1 double on the day as Glen and Brett won the Champions Cup just 45 minutes later with Futura, crowning a stellar season for the team.
It is one of those days one only truly appreciates in hindsight – while it would be one of the most glittering highlights of Glen’s career, unbeknown to him at the time, it would mark his last day as a jockey.
After his Gr1 double, Glen had one more ride on the day which finished 5th, he flew back to Cape Town on Sunday and on Monday, he was on the operating table at 9am.
“That op was my best chance of being able to ride again. They took a piece of tendon from my arm and put it between the bones in my wrist. There was never any guarantee it was going to work, but you have to go in positive.”
“I was so looking forward to the Cape season. The horses had had a nice break and were ready to go, but my hand just wasn’t coming right. The physios kept telling me to try and bear with it, but eventually they admitted it wasn’t working. As we got close to the Green Point Stakes, I said to Brett there’s no way I’d be able to ride and said we needed to find another jockey.”
“It was a lot to come to terms with. I’d probably had the best year of my life, not only financially, but also in terms of results, Brett and I were really gelling as a team and we had all these good horses coming through. A lot of guys said I should try and come back, but I’d lost some of my range of movement and strength. Luckily I’d had a good few months after the first op to think things over. I had to ask myself whether I was willing to take a risk. Having lost a lot of my grip strength meant I’d be in trouble with a really strong horse and I could be a danger to other horses and riders on the track. Also, if I had another fall, I would risk damaging my hand even further.” Ultimately there wasn’t really much choice. “I had good insurance, though, thank goodness,” he shrugs.
Having made peace with the fact he’d never ride again, Glen underwent a second, more extensive, operation a few months later to remove 2 bones from his wrist and fuse two others together to stabilise the joint. He had a good break to rest and recover and then joined Maine Chance as their racing manager. “I popped into Brett’s yard from time to time and Wavin’ Flag’s name always came up because people always asked after him, so he was always in my mind, but life carries on, you know?”
Wavin’ Flag raced for another season, including posting a solid 4th to Louis The King in the 2014 Summer Cup and then did a tendon, bringing his racing career to an end. Wavin’ Flag made his way to Jenny Millington’s Thoroughbred Rehoming Centre and made front page news on Wednesday, 12 April 2017, when he was one of two horses stolen from THRC by alleged bush racers. After huge rescue efforts, the horses were found abandoned in the Cape flats two days later. Wavin’ Flag, who had always been a timid soul, stayed resolutely by his friend’s side until help arrived. Maximum Flo sadly had to be euthanased on humane grounds. Flag was tired, footsore and dehydrated, but by some miracle, had survived unscathed.
“I didn’t really want a horse, but when I heard he’d been stolen, I said if no-one else takes him, I’d be interested,” says Glen. “He was standing at a paddock at Brett’s yard, I offered to take him and that’s how it happened.” In May 2017, Wavin’ Flag joined the Hatt family and moved to a local livery yard, where Glen’s daughters have riding lessons.
I had joined a long line of visitors to see Wavin’ Flag at THRC after his ordeal. His mane had been crudely hogged and he was a little shut down, as one might expect, but he accepted my company while he ate his dinner. His new livery facility is near where I live, so I’ve popped in to visit and was thrilled to see him shiny and sparky and starting to figure out that he was in a good place.
With Christmas around the corner, it seemed a good time for another visit. Glen kindly agreed to re-tell the story and do a little photo op. I was running late (story of my life) and by the time I arrived, Wavin’ Flag had been groomed and polished to within an inch of his life – although Glen was exasperating that he’d rolled and undone all his hard work. Wavin’ Flag’s mane has grown back, he has filled out (finally!) and is glowing with good health – both mentally and physically – while his eyes shine with intelligence and mischief.
Glen tries to convince me that he ‘does horses for a job, not for fun’, but there’s an empty carrot bag and an obvious rapport between the two that states firmly otherwise. “The plan was always for the kids to ride him eventually, so I started him off. While they were having riding lessons, I would take him for out rides into the bush, that sort of thing.”
Glen is learning that the transition to horse ownership is not necessarily straightforward, but in addition to his horse, he is now also the proud owner of a new saddle and bridle. When I ask his daughter who cleans the tack, Glen is adamant he does it.
“At one stage I hadn’t been able to ride him for three weeks and I got on him and he was like a frikkin 2yo! I don’t know if I’m getting older, but he was very fresh. Not naughty,” he adds quickly, in case I should think badly of his horse, “just fresh”.
Having been a race rider all his life, Glen is enjoying owning this special horse. “People always ask about him and it’s nice to be able to say where he is now. Once he’s had a bit more work, I’m really looking forward to seeing my kids riding him and getting him going.”
They say every horse deserves to be loved by a little girl once in its life. Seems a jockey comes a pretty close second.
“When I get older,
I will be stronger,
They’ll call me freedom,
Just like a waving flag.”