Posted by Tania Kindersley.
My heart is actually pounding as I sit down to write. This is because I have just watched one of the greatest afternoon’s racing of my life, and the adrenaline is still coursing through me. I smile even as I think of it.
There is, in the world, a lovely, bonny horse called Big Buck’s. He is one of the great champions of a generation, a staying hurdler of such imperious talent that he makes good horses look quite ordinary. He jumps, he stays, he gallops; he answers every question asked of him with an emphatic yes.
He is trained by the brilliant Paul Nicholls, who also trains two of my other favourites, Master Minded and Kauto Star, and is ridden by Ruby Walsh. Walsh is, for my money, the finest jockey riding today, perhaps the finest of any day, ever. He is poetry to watch. He has a curious stillness, an empathetic oneness with the creatures he rides. He very rarely boots a horse into a fence, as plenty of perfectly good jockeys do. Often, running into a fence, he sits quite, quite still, trusting the horse, communicating the stride almost through osmosis. It’s quite a beautiful thing to watch.
Anyway, today, Big Buck’s was bidding to win his fourteenth race on the trot. This is an extraordinary feat. It has only ever been done once before. Big Buck’s is a brilliant animal, but anything can happen in racing. There were some other hot contenders, the ground was testing; even though he was odds on, nothing was quite certain.
I wanted him to win so badly I could hardly watch. The Pigeon, catching my nervousness, prowled and paced about the room.
Big Buck’s went down to the start looking like a hero. He is a big horse, with powerful quarters, and great depth through the girth. (There are racing people who look for this; more room for the heart, they think.) He has a slightly old-fashioned look, like the horses my mother remembers from her youth.
Off they set. It was a long, gruelling contest. A smart grey called Dynaste was out in front, leaping over his hurdles like a cat. Big Buck’s stalked along in mid division, waiting. Come on, come on, I muttered; steady, steady. Round the final bend, the grey was still out in front. Big Buck’s is so good that sometimes he looks as if he is not doing anything much; he can idle along, as if he is playing with his rivals, teasing them, almost. Ruby just had to shake him up a little.
And this is the glorious moment. Just one little shake of the reins, and the champion powers forward, as if someone has thrown a switch. Everyone else is suddenly scrubbing away, heads down. Ruby is looking up to the sky, as Big Buck’s saunters into the lead, collected as a show pony, certain as a stone. He wins in a canter. Ruby is patting his neck in congratulation three lengths before the winning post.
The great horse pricks his ears, raises his head, eases back to a trot, as if it all were a mere bagatelle. He is in his rightful place. He turns to acknowledge the roar of the crowd, who pay him his homage.
I don’t know why I find this so magnificent, but I do. It makes me cry actual tears of delight. In these daunting economic times, with political fury and fiscal meltdown, there is something so pure and wild and true about a really, really good horse.
That one was for love. The price was far too short for gambling; the only thing was to watch in awe and wonder. Afterwards, I put my punting boots on, and had a swift thirty quid on Ruby again, with a lovely chaser called The Minack.
He made my afternoon by running his heart out in a tough staying chase, a picture of honesty and courage. There is a thing racing people say about horses who really try, who don’t give up, who respond to their jockey when the chips are all the way down. They say: oh, he is genuine. The Minack is genuine. (And he won me a hundred smackers, for which I gratefully thank him.)
My mother rings up. ‘Oh,’ she says. ‘We are lucky to be alive to see these horses.’
We are. There’s a bit of a golden age going on in racing at the moment, with the kind of horses who make history, who touch your heart, whom you know you will remember years afterwards. It is our great good fortune to witness it.
And now I am going out for tea. My sister has six enchanting Americans staying at her house, and I am going to eat cake with them. I shall try very, very hard, not to be a racing bore. I don’t want them going back to California thinking that all Britons are crazed gamblers who can only talk of the 2.30 at Ascot.
Only four very quick pictures today, as I am running late:
The glorious Big Buck's, photographer unknown:
My very own little heroine:
And a rather blue hill: