'What he did for me was miles bigger than anything I was capable of dreaming of'
Owner Stuart Graham pays tribute to his horse of a lifetime Intisaab
Intisaab with Stuart Graham (second right) after success in the Tote Scurry Handicap at the Curragh in 2018
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By Stuart RileyUPDATED 5:34PM, JUN 29 2020
To most the news of Intisaab's retirement will result in little more than a nostalgic shrug, another high-class sprint handicapper you have almost certainly backed at some point in his 70-race career who will never go backed again.
But Stuart Graham is not most people. He is Intisaab's owner, and the news his admirable nine-year-old had picked up a sesamoid injury that has put an end to his racing career had him in tears.
It is not just that Intisaab is the first horse Graham ever owned, or that he was very good – an 11-time winner who reached a rating of 109 at his peak – but because Intisaab has taken him places beyond his wildest dreams.
Graham lives in Immingham, a small industrial town in north-east Lincolnshire, in a house whose value would have to be multiplied several times to match the £433,073 Intisaab has amassed in win and place prize-money. A chance job on an oil rig off the Shetlands, on what he describes as "daft money", meant the mechanical fitter could afford to take a chance on the 18,000gns purchase.
Intisaab (leading); won 11 races and £433,073 in prize-money
Graham got him from the horses-in-training sale at the end of his three-year-old season from Shadwell and Dermot Weld and knew anything more than one losing season would mean he had to sell. Six years later the pair are still together.
"I've not been able to tell anyone yet, I just don't know how to – I've been quite upset," he explains. "You're upset he's injured as you care about him as an individual, but it's also the memories and the good times that you think you're never going to have again.
"I thought I'd have him for a year. You don't expect to make money, and in the first year he ran six times and won twice. I was in the Shetlands for his first win, but for the second I was going to Doncaster for a mate's 40th and I said to Dave [O'Meara, trainer], 'Can we run him?'
"There was a lady riders' race and there was a lass in the yard called Becky Heptonstall who claimed 7lb off him. I'm not even sure if she'd ever ridden a winner, but they went and won. That was an amazing day. Then he picked up an injury and I thought that might be it.
"His first two runs back were poor and I said to Dave, 'If this is going to be it can we just have a proper day out with him?' So we went all the way down to Ascot and we were in the last race of the day. They fed us and it was just an incredible day – and then he came second.
"They took us for champagne and we didn't come out for two and a half hours, they said they get given x amount of bottles per meeting and most of the owners hadn't come in that day so we could have as much as we liked. It was unreal. I have a 60-inch canvas on my wall of that day alone, we thought it'd be the pinnacle of our lives at that stage."
It wasn't. Intisaab was rated 78 that day. Two wins at Ayr and a Coral Sprint Trophy later he ended the year rated 105.
Stuart Graham: Immingham home is a shrine to his beloved Intisaab
"That was a funny day," Graham, 45, says of his win at York. "I did a survival-of-the-fittest race in Nottingham with my lad, who was 17 at the time, they'd had us swimming about in the River Trent, and then we jumped straight in the car up to York. We changed in the car park, my 15-year-old Lexus next to all those posh cars, as the two of us tried to look presentable.
"At the owners' enclosure they took one look at us, still sweaty and dirty, and they weren't going to let us in until we showed them our badges. Half an hour later he'd won and everyone was taking our photo. It was surreal, we carried on all day."
Graham, whose living room is a shrine to the horse, could entertain you with stories of the places Intisaab has got him into for hours, whether it is the Aga Khan's box at the Curragh or business class flights to Qatar, but his favourite memory of all was when he finished one place outside the money in the July Cup Harry Angel won from Limato, Brando and Caravaggio.
"The memory that will stick with me forever was the July Cup, and he didn't even win any prize-money," he says. "That's not a place your average youth-turned-knobhead from Immingham should be frequenting, let alone stood in the parade ring before one of the biggest races of the year.
"I've never seen so many people. To see his board in the Champions Series presentation, to this day the experience is one of the greatest days of my life. At the furlong point I dared to dream he could do it, which is insane.
"He was beaten only four lengths by Harry Angel, giving him 6lb. I look back at that piece of form and think it's unreal. It was an unbelievable day to be involved with, we went out in Newmarket afterwards and had an absolute ball – we celebrated like we'd won, I didn't even get to bed that night."
Part of the reason Graham loves Intisaab so much is how he has broadened his horizons and taught him to dream bigger.
"People say you've lived the dream but I've done so much more than that. The dream, the ultimate hope and the reason I went for a six-furlong horse was to have a runner in the Great St Wilfrid," he says.
"What he did for me was miles bigger than anything I was capable of dreaming of. I would never even consider those things were possible. I just want to thank Dave and Jason [Kelly, O'Meara's assistant] for being bloody brilliant at picking horses – they deserve so much credit."
Intisaab was second in a Great St Wilfrid, and the man who still has the Union Jack rug he wore when winning in Qatar framed on the wall's only comment is "he didn't half finish quickly that day", is testament to how Intisaab shattered the ceiling of his expectations.
Intisaab (cheekpieces, right) finishes second in the 2016 Great St Wilfrid Handicap, fulfilling Graham's dream to have a runner in the race
The Intisaab chapter may be closed – he will spend his retirement with Danielle, who has looked after him for the last four years, with regular visits from Graham – but he was such a money-spinner for Graham he also covered the cost of the attempt at a sequel. How long that runs is down to Maharg's Princess.
"There's not a huge amount left as there have been five years of training fees and I've bought another horse with those proceeds, but I've never had to dip into my pocket – which is just as well because I couldn't afford to do that," he says. "He's funded himself and it's been so much fun, so this week has been heartbreaking.
"It would be a shame to never be involved again but Intisaab has been retired and the filly we bought, who turned out to be Night Of Thunder's very first foal on the ground, ran a great race on debut. We expected a huge amount at Thirsk but she's picked up an injury too, it's just a little niggle but it will set her back a month or so – we hope she'll be out at the backend of the year."
To see Intisaab's retirement from Graham's perspective makes the tears all the more understandable. This was not just an owner's horse of a lifetime, but a horse who for six years changed his owner's life.