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‘He’s wonderful!’ Grand Nationwide runner wins at his first dressage outing

  • A two-time Grand National runner who retired after last year’s race came back with a red rosette from his first ever dressage outing.

    Ballyoptic, who earned over £300,000 in his National Hunt career with wins including the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle and the Charlie Hall, ran in the race twice under Sam Twiston-Davies, trained by Sam’s father Nigel. He was pulled up in 2021 as the ground did not suit him, and then retired to Marisa Mills, whose family owned him.

    His next competitive outing was preliminary dressage at Beechwood Equestrian Centre on Tuesday (23 August), where he won his class.

    “Can you believe that?” said Marisa. “I was so impressed with him, bless him. He’s amazing.”

    Marisa told H&H that after the National, “Bally” came straight to her home, to join fellow former National runner Ballyfitz, 22, and Ballymalin, both owned by the family and formerly trained by Nigel, and Bally’s new best friend, a Shetland pony called Honey.

    He spent months “just being at home and being a horse” before Marisa and her friend Hayley Goode, who rode him for his dressage debut, started him in his new career.

    “Between us, we’ve got him to where he is now,” Marisa said. “It took a lot of time and patience; we had a bit specialist out as he didn’t really know what he was doing, saddle-fitter, physio, and just took everything really slowly.”

    Tuesday was the first time Bally had left the yard since he arrived at it, and the first time he had been ridden indoors, or seen white boards.

    “The first test, he went round a bit like a llama!” Said Marisa. “But the second time, he was ‘I’ve got this’. He got just over 71% and the comments were amazing. Hayley’s got an amazing relationship with with him.”

    Marisa said Bally is a “lovely boy”, who tries hard, and that he shows the thoroughbred’s versatility.

    “I wouldn’t have gone out and bought a thoroughbred; I’ve got an Irish draught who’s like a settee,” she said. “But he was our horse and I can keep him at home so he was always going to come home, and he did. Thoroughbreds may not be for everyone but this shows what they can do. He’s amazing, and hopefully one day I can take him out to do things too.”

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