Leeds Rhinos legend Rob Burrow meets racehorse named after him to raise money for MND
This is the emotional moment rugby league legend Rob Burrow met a racehorse named after him to raise funds for the Motor Neurone Disease Association.
Former Leeds Rhinos scrum half Rob, 38, has joined forces with ex-teammates to purchase a thoroughbred and give fans the chance to part-own him.
The ex-England international was diagnosed with the terminal illness last year, stunning fans who witnessed his prowess on the rugby league field.
The debilitating condition causes muscles to waste away after a loss of nerve cells that control movement, speech and breathing.
There is no effective treatment or cure and half of the 1,500 people diagnosed each year die within 24 months.
His courage was highlighted in a documentary which aired on the BBC and showed how the disease is robbing him of his ability to walk and talk in less than a year.
Now, the inspirational father-of-three is inviting fans to join the Burrow Seven Racing Club to raise money for the charity that funds research into the disease.
Members will be able to part-own the racehorse, named Burrow Seven after Rob's old squad number, and profits from the £59 joining fee will go to the charity.
Prize money from races the three-year-old grey gelding wins will also be donated to the fund.
Rob met the racehorse last week at the club's training yard in Leyburn, North Yorkshire, with his parents Irene and Geoff and ex-teammate Barrie McDermott.
Rob said: “I’m a bit overwhelmed. I’ve been excited about this fundraising campaign for some time but meeting this magnificent racehorse was something else.
"I’m really honoured to have him named after me and I can’t wait to see him in his first race.
"My granddad loved horses and used to enjoy a flutter. If he knew I had a thoroughbred racehorse named after me, he would be thrilled.
"Thank you to everyone who supports the MND Association by taking part.
"Research is the key to cure this disease. Together we can do it.”
Rob's devoted dad Geoff, 70, was at the stables last week with his son to meet the horse.
He said that although he was not gambler, he would break the habit of a lifetime and back the horse when it races early next year.
Geoff, of Castleford, said: "Everytime the horse races, people can enjoy it and bet on it and have some fun while also being reminded of what MND is.
"If someone has a bit of spare cash and wants to help support this fantastic cause, then it would be great if they got involved.
"It sounds good to say you're part-owner of a racehorse and it will definitely give us an interest and something else to focus on as family.
"His granddad idolised Rob and vice versa, he loved a flutter on the horses and he studied the form and it was a big hobby of his.
"Rob would sit with his granddad and listen to how he was going to have a big winner in every race.
"Rob used to like going to the races with his teammates and having a bet, so it's a great way of combining two of his passions to raise money for a great cause.
"We went to see the horse and Rob loved it, he was able to meet the racehorse and live out a bit of dream.
"I've never been a gambler, I haven't had a bet on the horses for years, but I'll be betting on this one, that's for sure."
Geoff said that Rob had kept his spirits up despite losing the ability to speak and was determined to continue his courageous fight against the disease.
He added: "We have a saying that 'I can, I will, we can, we will' and it has become our family motto throughout all this.
"That's Rob's attitude to everything and he wants to do whatever is possible to raise money and awareness, not just for himself, but for everyone else suffering who doesn't have the spotlight that he has.
"I've never been prouder of him. Whenever he took a knock to the head while playing rugby, he would come into the bar after the game with a big smile and say 'I'm fine'.
"He's still doing that now, whenever you see him, he's smiling and he says 'I'm fine'.
"As long as he's fine, I'm fine - and he is, in his own sweet way."
The horse, initially been pre-trained by respected former racehorse trainer Henrietta Knight, will now continue his training with Jedd O’Keeffe.
Rob's ex-Leeds and Great Britain teammate Barrie McDermott said: "It is something that's Covid-friendly, it's going to be fun, it's going to be exciting, it's going to be inclusive.
"It's all right for Rob, he'll say himself that he is a former international athlete so everybody understandably jumps on board with the things he's involved with.
"But he very selfless individual, he'll always put other people first and he says what about the ordinary people that don't have the support network that he has got?
"So he is shining a light on those people, their crusade and their mission but also trying to raise valuable funds to research and conquer what is a terrible disease."
People can join the racing club at www.burrowseven.com.
Memberships last one year and all prize money from Burrow Seven’s race wins will go to the charity.