Posted by Tania Kindersley.
Well, it turned out my dear auld fella could not quite do it. He was not disgraced; he still finished third in a hot grade one race, beaten by a horse half his age, from a stable in form. There was not shock and disaster. All the same, I felt very, very sad. There is something indescribably melancholy about realising that an old champion may be at the end of his time.
It's entirely irrational. The old king must make way for the young king. Someone else must have a chance. And the record stands, shining: two Gold Cups and four King Georges. As racing people would say, in their curious patois: he's been an incredible servant. (They really do say that. It is not because they have been watching Downton Abbey or are antiquated snobs; it's just what they say, and they mean it in the nicest, least upstairs downstairs way.)
Dick Francis once wrote: there are no fairy tales in racing. He was, I think, making quite a serious point: that it's all very well, romanticising the whole thing, but most of the time it's mud, sweat and tears, and there is no swelling violin section or sunsets to gallop off into. He is not quite right. In my lifetime, there have been two. There was Bob Champion, who should by all medical opinion not really have been alive, and Aldaniti, who had had such leg problems that he was almost put down, romping home in the Grand National. And there was Desert Orchid, battling battling battling up the Cheltenham hill, in sleet and murk and bottomless ground, to win his Gold Cup.
I wonder if old Kauto might have one more surprise in him. It's easy to forget, after watching him win last year's King George by thirty-six lengths, that he has his ordinary days, when he is just a good horse and not a world-beater. There have been races, most especially when he was beaten by Denman, when the mighty Kauto Star does not turn up. I've seen him look as if he has wings, and I've seen him oddly flat, doing his job without poetry. It's not because he is not genuine, it's just one of the enduring mysteries of the thoroughbred racehorse. It's perhaps why racing people are so superstitious. Horses are not machines; they have moods and characters like humans. You can do everything right: the schooling, the feeding, the routine. You can pick the perfect race, get the best jockey, and still the thing does not come out right. That is why even the best trainers in the world sometimes shake their heads in bafflement and say: there are no excuses. There might be the odd fairy tale in racing, but there are no certainties. It's a little bit like life, really.
Luckily, after my day of disappointment, today the sun came out, and dazzled everywhere, and the air was clear and mild, and a wind blew out of the west to clear my head. I did not have to look for the beauty today, because it was all laid out in front of me, in the glorious light.
Beeches and birches:
My favourite baby tree:
And my equally favourite old, gnarled tree:
The dancing light:
This is rather plain, ordinary picture, but for some reason, I love it. Something about the combination of mistiness and dark green. I find it very soothing, anyway:
And now off goes the klaxon for SELF-INDULGENCE ALERT. The ladyships were looking so ravishing in the sunshine that I could not choose just one picture but am putting up six. I clearly have no impulse control:
Today's hill, faded and mysterious in the light:
And my dear old Kauto, in his pomp:
PS. I have just read that they are going to run him in the Gold Cup in March. He may be 11, and he may not have run his race yesterday, but I still say he has as much class, guts and heart as any horse I ever saw. All the doubters will be out in force. The bookies have written him off and are offering him at 12-1. The narrative will be he is past his best, and there is no way he could win it a third time. Nothing I like more than defying the conventional wisdom. I'm going to put a tenner on, and sod 'em if they can't take a joke.