The return of a long-lost friend has reignited a passion for riding in Laura Gatecliffe.
The 29-year-old recently ended a 10-year hiatus from the saddle after being reunited with her best friend, a cheeky 10-year-old gelding affectionately known as Lewie.
Better known in racing circles as C’est La Guerre, Lewie burst on to the Australian racing scene in late 2008 having been plucked from New Zealand by leviathan owner Lloyd Williams. The striking son of Shinko King would run a fast-finishing third behind Viewed and Bauer in that year’s Emirates Melbourne Cup before taking out the Group 3 Craven Plate, his sole Australian victory, at Randwick two years later.
C’est La Guerre
These days life is a little slower for Lewie. The mischievous gelding has found his way back to Gatecliffe, who worked as his personal strapper while at Macedon Lodge.
“He was one of the first horses I strapped when I was working at Lloyds,” Gatecliffe said. “He’s a very cheeky character, it didn’t take him long to come out of his shell.
“He has so much personality and as we bonded that personality just grew and grew. He was the only horse I had to look after at Lloyd’s and I spent 12 hours a day with him so fair to say we got pretty close. It was like he was my own horse, we spent so much time together we ended up best friends.”
Lewie would continue to race for Macedon Lodge with moderate success until mid 2012 when he was on-sold to Hawkes Racing via the 2012 Melbourne Select Racehorse Sale. The then eight-year-old would have just two starts for his new training team before being retired in early 2013 having lost interest in the racing caper.
Knowing Gatecliffe’s enduring love for Lewie, new owners Gilian and Geoffrey Coady made immediate contact with the former stablehand to inquire whether she was interested in re-homing the million-dollar earner.
“It was really great, but also pretty scary at the same time,” Gatecliffe said of the news Lewie was hers to keep.
“I had just bought my first house, I had a mortgage and I hadn’t had a horse in 10 years. I’d given up riding when I first took a job in the racing industry. I wasn’t sure how I’d make it work but I just couldn’t let him go.
“Now I work two jobs to try and make ends meet and support myself and a horse, but he’s certainly worth it, that’s for sure.”
C’est La Guerre enjoying some well deserved down-time
Determined to give Lewie the proper post-race education he deserved, Gatecliffe engaged the help of renowned thoroughbred re-trainer Clint Bilson to give Lewie a crash course in the equestrian life.
“I really wanted someone to get back to basics with him,” she said.
“Because I hadn’t ridden in so long I wanted someone to give Lewie the right start to his new career and for someone to tell me where we’re at with him. Given he’s such a high-class horse, I wanted to know whether he was the right horse for that new career.”
Lewie was a star pupil in his time with Bilson, taking to his new life in equestrian like a duck to water. Gatecliffe credits Lewie’s relaxed manner as the key to his successful re-education for the showing and dressage worlds.
C’est La Guerre and racday pilot Steven Arnold
“He just takes everything in his side, he’s a very well behaved horse and he just loves to learn,” she said.
“He’s currently doing and has done a couple of low grade adult HRCAV dressage and showjumping clinics. For me though it’s not so much about the equestrian world, I’ll take him as far as I can but I’m more interested in making sure that he’s happy and sound.
“He’s a horse that deserves a happy retirement and he’s definitely got it. He’s my best buddy; he’s a rather spoilt old boy. I do sometimes have to remind him that I don’t get paid to look after him anymore. But really, none of that matters. I just want to make sure he’s happy because in the end that’s all that really matters.”