I bought Flat Top as a yearling in the autumn of 1992 from Tattersalls Sales. He was knocked down at 2,500 guineas as a store horse to go jumping and I knew I had a bargain. He was by the 1969 Derby winner Blakeney and his half brother had shown form for Mel Brittain, winning as a three year old at Beverley. Main thing for me was I liked the look of him, trust your eye, that's the key to buying a successful horse. Look at how he walks and how he behaves in the sales ring. Pedigrees can tell you so much but there's a lot of horses bought for their pedigree that have turned out to be no good. So you need to learn what to look for and not just read the books.
Flat Top as he became known originally ran in the colours of David Spence, and was sold later in his career to Major Milo Watson. We didn't run him on the flat as he was too slow, and as a future chaser we had his nuts off before he started training. Jumping them big fences is best without anything dangling about that might hurt. We schooled him at home and he jumped nice, he was an exciting prospect and I'd got him at a good price which always helps.
Flat Top made his debut on a foul day at Catterick in 1995 in a bumper in heavy ground. He progressed to hurdles, losing his maiden tag at Hexham in March 1995. The next season we started him novice chasing. Jumping the big fences had always been his aim.
He was always going to be a long term project, a good old fashioned raw-boned steeplechaser. Flat Top epitomised the winter game, at his best on ground that was the soft side of good, loving nothing more than a slog around Hexham or Newcastle when it was freezing bloody cold and there was mud flying everywhere. I think he enjoyed getting mucky, some 'osses do, they love the mud. When we turn out the 'osses now some of 'em just go straight to the nearest puddle and have a good roll about.
We'd take Flat Top all over the north of England in the winter, wrapped up warm against the elements to watch him jump round in the mud. There were more 'osses than punters at some of those meetings where he ran, but they were mainly proper jumping people, real enthusiasts, together with the usual mix of elderly midweek punters.
He improved with age as he strengthened and filled out, but it was three years before he would win again. He was a funny old beggar was Flat Top and he didn't do things by halves. After three winless years he reeled off a hat-trick with three novice chases in the space of eight days at Wetherby, Cheltenham and Hexham in his favourite soft/heavy ground. Later that year, New Year's Eve 1998, he was a winner again at Catterick over hurdles rated 103.
The year 1999 started well with two wins at Newcastle over fences - his wins often came in succession - when he was hot he was very very hot, and when he was bad he had a tendency to be shocking. There were as many Ps, Fs and Us in his career form as there were numbers!
In 2000 he won at Hexham, and the following year he was beaten just a head when ridden by his owner Milo Watson in the Royal Artillery Gold Cup at Sandown.
Flat Top's final win came at Newbury in March 2002, taking the Stan James Telebetting Handicap Chase under Richie McGrath. The old bugger really battled hard that day and he led three out, was headed, and then battled back to regain the lead in the final half furlong and held on.
Flat Top ran in point to points after retiring from racing under rules and was ridden predominantly by Jackie Coward, until time was called on his racing career in March 2005, the final run between the flags being at Brocklesby Park.
In all he ran 68 times under rules, winning nine races. He didn't care who rode him either, as he'd been successful for six different jockeys in his remarkable career that had spanned ten seasons in which he'd collected the best part of £72 grand.