Big Conoy makes his sixth trip over the Grand National Point-to-Point course at Butler today, but it could be his last.
He is expected to race again, but probably not over the course that has been the scene of his greatest success.
At age 15, the chestnut gelding can still jump the big fences, but I don't think he's got much speed left," said his trainer, Patty Fenwick. "We're relying on his experience."
Most racehorses have died or been turned out to pasture by age 15.
When Big Conoy won the Grand National last year, he was the oldest steeplechaser in the country to win a race sanctioned by the National Steeplechase and Hunt Association.
Fenwick said Big Conoy came back "jigging, snorting and pulling" after his final workout for the race yesterday, "so there's no question he still wants to do it."
Big Conoy has been ridden in most of his races by Bruce Fenwick, Patty's husband and the younger brother of five-time Maryland Hunt Cup winner Charlie Fenwick. But it is Patty Fenwick who makes the old gelding her special project.
He joined the Fenwick barn nine years ago, when he was owned by Fife Symington and Jay Griswold. Griswold eventually sold his half to Symington. "Jay used the money to build a swimming pool," Patty Fenwick recalled.
Big Conoy didn't make his first start in the Grand National until he was an 8-year-old in 1984.
It was not an auspicious beginning. He was running well but slipped on one of the turns and Bruce Fenwick fell off.
Since then, Big Conoy has missed the race only twice, both times because he was recovering from leg injuries.
He finished fourth in his second try, in 1986, but it wasn't until he was 12 that he won over the course. His victory came in the Benjamin H. Murray Memorial, the companion race to the Grand National, which is run over a slightly altered course with one fence fewer and one jump lower.
Big Conoy came up lame after the race, and Symington sold him to the Fenwicks.
"He was lame for quite some time, and we were wondering whether we had made a bad investment," Patty Fenwick said.
But Big Conoy made it back to the races the next spring. He not only ran in the Grand National -- he was disqualified after Bruce cut a flag -- but also made it to the Maryland Hunt Cup, finishing fifth.
Last year, he finally won the Grand National.