His win in the 2016 Eider Chase at Newcastle wasn’t only our biggest to date, it was also a victory for perseverance.
A notoriously fragile horse, we’d actually retired him and turned him out in one of the fields here.
But with the fire in his belly showing no signs of going out, we thought we’d give him one more go – and thank God we did!
Stepping up in trip proved the making off him. That February, he won easily at Newcastle and then, little more than a fortnight later, by 20 lengths on his next start at Kelso.
There were only nine days between Kelso and the Eider, but I’ve learned when you’ve got a horse in the form of its life – and especially an 11-year-old who’s never been the easiest to keep sound – you have to strike while the iron is hot.
Rocking Blues ran them ragged that day under Lorcan Murtagh, winning easily despite attempting to bring home Newcastle’s final fence as a souvenir!
The sad part of the story is Rocking Blues didn’t make it back to the races again. It would have been great to see what he could have done in a race like the Grand National or the Welsh National, but at least he had a big day in the sun that a horse with his talent deserved.
Everyone loves a bold jumping grey chaser – and we certainly loved Robin’s Command!
Front-running tactics and decent ground were the keys to him. Once we worked out how to ride him, he took off.
Almost literally at times, too. He loved jumping fences and was as fast and accurate over them as any horse I’ve known. His first win came off a mark of just 72, at Kelso in April 2014.
By the time he’d won his EIGHTH chase less than 18 months later, he’d climbed fully 50lbs in the handicap!
He got on famously with his regular rider Craig Nichol, who was the only jockey to win on him. They were a dynamic double act and a fabulous sight to behold when in full flow.
Winner of five of his ten races for us – and finishing out of the first three only once – Jonnie has been a flagship horse for the yard.
He’s given us and his owners, Robin and Annette Houghton, some great days so far.
His win in a Grade 2 Albert Bartlett trial at Haydock in early 2016, when he showed guts and courage aplenty to beat Vintage Cloud, was one of those.
Another was when he made a winning chase debut at Carlisle in October 2017. He’d been off the track for 19 months with a suspensory injury and two miles is a distance well short of his best, but he overcame all of those obstacles on what was a hugely emotional day for everyone connected to the yard.
The form of that race has actually worked out very well, which makes it doubly disappointing that he was absent again with an injury to the same leg.
But just like the hero he is, Jonnie came back with a bang for a second time at Ayr in November 2019, winning his comeback race by 15 lengths.
The horse who gave me so many great days in my career. He was my second and final Cheltenham winner as a jockey and I also rode him to finish runner-up to Ninetieth Minute in the Coral Cup at the 2009 Festival.
Then when I retired from riding and turned my hand to training, Mirage came here to Hazelrigg from Lucinda Russell and he was my very first winner with a licence – in a novice chase at Market Rasen in January 2010.
Things didn’t really go his way after that and a run of niggling injuries caught up with him eventually, although it was lovely to see him bow out from racing by winning a point-to-point at nearby Alnwick.
A horse I owe a lot to, we’d love a few like him here now.