Horse’s death dashes Pakistan’s long-held Olympic eventing hopes

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Azad Kashmir, the mount of Pakistan's Usman Khan, has died.
Photo by Sameer Akhtari on Unsplash

Pakistan’s Olympic eventing dreams have been thwarted after the death of the 13-year-old thoroughbred Azad Kashmir.

Azad Kashmir, a New Zealand-bred former racehorse, died on Thursday morning of an aortic aneurysm in Melbourne.  His rider Usman Khan has been based in Australia for 15 years, and he acquired Azad Kashmir in April, 2019.

Khan was the first equestrian from his country to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Last October, the combination won the three-star long format class at Goulburn in New South Wales, and their most recent result was in March, where they placed fourth in the four-star short format in Tonimbuk.

Pakistan’s equestrian federation had launched a campaign 15 years ago to achieve Olympic equestrian qualification.

Khan told Pakistan newspaper The News that he had buried Azad Kashmir with an Olympic flag. “I am in a state of shock. He was laid to rest as an Olympian and I am proud of my friend,” he said.

As he does not have a back-up horse, Khan now has to find another horse to qualify.

Azad Kashmir was a Top 3 Finalist in the Eventing Horse of the Year Award 2020, which recognises off-the-track eventing horses. Bred by Peter Walker and under the racing name of Spookles, the son of Johar (by the Mr Prospector son Gone West), was unplaced in two starts in New Zealand. His dam, Strike the Belle, a grand-daughter of Sir Tristram by Straight Strike (by Mr Prospector), is from the same tail-female line as 10-time Group One winner Melody Belle (2014).

His last raceday start was at Waikato in March, 2011, and his final racetrack appearance was a trial in Auckland in November of the same year. After his racing career, Spookles was produced by Anne Marie Styles, and at the age of five and under the name Here to Stay, he won the New Zealand Young Event Horse National Championship title at the National Three Day Eventing Championships in May 2013. The class was judged on eventing’s three phases, as well as the horse’s conformation and suitability to become a top-class eventer. A report of the event said: “Here To Stay rose to the occasion and lapped up the attention, convincing the judges that he was the one to watch for the future.”

A few months later Azad Kashmir won the 105cm class at the Puhinui three-day-event.

Azad Kashmir was then sold to Australia, where he campaigned with Belinda Isbister for just over four years, to the end of 2018. Their best result was a CIC3* win in August, 2018.

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