The day before Christian’s race his jockey arrived to give him a final work out. Most horses get a brief leg stretch just before they run but not Christian, he had three miles to canter.
“Can ya put him a neck strap on tomorrow,” Sean asked in his serious Limerick drawl. “A tight one.” I avoided giggling. A jockey’s safety is paramount.
The following day there were 11 runners in our race. I’d agreed to go down to the start to lead our temperamental steed round if he suddenly had a ‘moment’. When I went to ask permission I noticed a large black squiggle by Christian’s name in the steward’s race card. My stomach wrenched. They would be watching him closely.
I went to saddle up and whispered in his ear, “You had better book your ideas up today”. He pushed me in the stomach as if to say, “Ha!”
When you run a small yard every horse counts. Every result means something. If every horse is not giving their best I take it as a personal failure. Today I had a point to prove to myself.
The owners gathered in the paddock, excited. They had just backed him at 150-1. “How is he today?”… “Has he a chance of winning?”… “If he wins I’m set to make a fortune”, they chatted hopefully. I responded honestly: “Firstly he needs to start, then jump. If he finishes we’ve made real progress.”
I got a lift to the start and stood waiting for the runners to arrive. As they got closer I picked out Christian waving his head violently trying to extricate himself from the jockey’s clutches.
I could hear Sean, who was spouting an imaginative array of obscenities at my disobedient racehorse, and decided to hold hard before approaching. He stayed away from the other runners as they circled, still chuntering.
When the horses lined up he was at the back. I stood almost frozen, helplessly watching as Christian began to dance about. Suddenly the flag dropped and ten horses in front of him galloped off. After a brief pause, he leapt away boldly.
I watched as the group approached the first hurdle. He was at the back and popped it cautiously. The rest of the track was obscured from view so I jumped in the starter’s car to get a lift back.
As I waited by the finish post I looked to see where my owner’s colours were. They weren’t last or second last. There was a bunch together some way off the leaders as they turned for home which I guessed he must be part of. I looked again and did a double take.
There was Christian cutting through the pack and leaping the last as Sean coaxed him on. I couldn’t believe it. Our delinquent, with ears pricked, passed the winning post in second place with a decent field of horses behind him. All that work - the aches, the pains and the tears - finally worthwhile.
The owners were overjoyed. Rarely has not winning meant so much. Even Sean almost broke in to a smile.