Friday, 22 June 2012

The glory of Gatewood, and other animals

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

There are lots of different kinds of glory in racing. There is the perfect, untouchable, up on the high plains kind, which we saw on Tuesday, with the immaculate run of Frankel. There are the great weight-carrying performances, and the brilliant tactical rides. There are the wild surprise outsiders, who come up the rails, laughing at the pundits and the tipsters and the punters. There is the dear old dog who finally has his day. (I saw a horse who had lost something like 28 races finally have his first win at a small track a couple of weeks ago, and I felt as happy for him as if he were mine.)

Today, it was the glory of guts.

One of my favourite horses, Gatewood, was running in the Wolferton Handicap. The Wolferton is not the most glamorous or richest race at the royal meeting, but like all the handicaps at Ascot, it is tough to win. I had completely lost my heart to Gatewood when he won three weeks ago at Epsom, coming from last to first, encountering some trouble in running, but refusing to lie down. He stuck his head out and would not give up and prevailed. It's lovely watching a mighty champion streak away on the bridle, with many lengths in hand, but it's just as thrilling, perhaps in some ways even more so, to see those really gutsy animals who dig deep and give all they've got, and win by a neck.

Gatewood is one of the most genuine horses I've seen in training. But he had a hard race at Epsom, and had not had that long to recover. As I watched him, down in the pre-parade ring, he looked well, but slightly subdued. He is a neat, beautifully put together horse, but not a flashy type. He was not preening or giving out looks of eagles, or even on his toes. I could not tell whether this is because he has a lovely temperament, or whether that recent battle had left its scars. Some horses thrive on pressure; they are those flinty types who improve with constant demands and running. Others need to be nurtured and wrapped in cotton wool, and must have plenty of recuperation time.

Certainly, in the paddock, there were others who looked in more obviously fine fettle, but I stuck with dear Gatewood, out of sheer love. The form was all there, it was just a question of what that last race had taken out of him. No one would know until he was out there on the green turf.

Off they set. It was a mile and two, sweeping out of the round course and into the straight. Gatewood was well positioned in fourth. A wall of horses thundered down to the two furlong pole. My fella was asked for his effort. For a moment, I thought that he would not, could not, respond. I started shouting, slightly to the surprise of the venerable lady to my left. Then the horse picked up, and game and glorious and gutsy as he is, put every last ounce of effort into it, and flashed past the winning post by a head.

I erupted in joy. The beauty turned, and cantered back past me, his fine legs stretching out in a daisy cutter action, his head lifted in triumph, his ears pricked. His young jockey, the marvellous William Buick, was bright red in the face, from happiness, from exhaustion. The horse gazed at the stands, applauding him, and there, even though he is not a famous group one champion, was the look of eagles in his dear old eyes.

Gatewood is a talented horse, he is beautifully bred (related to Red the Mare, of course, of course, through Northern Dancer, their common great-grandsire), he is not a mug. But I swear he won that race on heart alone.

It had been a lovely day for me. I had an excellent punt on the dancing filly Newfangled, who romped home in the first. Then, another of my favourites, Astrology, could not quite do it in the second, but I love him so I forgive him everything. The Derby took it out of him, I think. Then, there was the big race, which I could not untangle. I did something I never do. I went on my pick of the paddock. Often, when you see the horses before a race, there are three or four who stand out. It can be a mug's game, because there are some horses which are slow as tractors but look gorgeous. My dear Red is a perfect example of this. She is physically glorious, has a beautiful action, and, in racing terms, is the most sluggish of slow coaches.

But before the Coronation Stakes, I fell completely in love with a John Gosden filly called Fallen for You. I had fallen for her in ten seconds. She stood out by a country mile. She had so much presence, and such character, and she gleamed and glowed with health. She was one of the most bonny fillies I have seen this week. She was 16-1 on the Tote and I put a fiver on each way, again, for sheer love.

She bolted up. I actually stopped shouting for a moment because I was so speechless with amazement. I've never done that before in my life. Pick of the paddock, baby.

Gatewood was also trained by John Gosden, and it was particularly lovely seeing him have such mighty victories today, because he suffered a horrible tragedy when his delightful horse, The Nile, broke its leg on the first day in a hideous incident, and had to be put down. It's pretty rare to see flat horses do this, but it reminds one how fragile they are, as well as how brave and tough. Those brilliant legs can go, from the mere fact of a wrong angle.

Then, an even more lovely thing happened. In the Queen's Vase, the Queen herself had a nice filly called Estimate. She'd won well at Salisbury last time out but this was a big step up in class and trip. She went off favourite, mostly I think because of sentimental Jubilee year bets. I had thought she might have the right stuff, but then I saw her in the ring, and she was a small mare, narrow in the neck, with a sweet but plain face. It was two miles, and the other horses looked so big and muscled and powerful by comparison.

And, I thought, it really would be too good to be true, on this Diamond Jubilee.

The ordinary little brown mare galloped to the front and did not stop and won as she liked. The crowd went mad. Posh gentlemen took their hats off and waved them in the air as if they were at a football match.

I rushed to the winner's enclosure. There was Estimate, suddenly looking rather beautiful, flushed with her great victory. 'Where is she? Is she there?' said people in the crowd, looking around for the Queen. Would her Majesty descend from the Royal box? Yes, she would. There she was, walking across the grass, and cheers and whoops and roars rang out.

Suddenly, everyone realised it was the Queen's Vase, which meant the cup would be presented by a member of the royal family. 'I suppose she can't really present it to herself,' said the lady next to me, laughing happily. 'Your Majesty, here is your cup, well done. Oh, thank you Your Majesty.' Everyone was very excited by this stage. The Queen, serene in lilac, was smiling all over her face, and giving Estimate a regal pat.

Then, the ramrod nautical figure of Prince Philip appeared, and picked up the trophy, and gave it to his wife. I know it's silly to get soft about the Queen, but I am quite silly, and I have to say I had a tear in my eye. There was something so touching about the two old people and the young filly and the cup and the delirious crowd. The lady next to me was wiping her eyes.

My mother, when I rang an hour later, was still misty with emotion. 'You know,' I said, 'there really was nothing to her, that filly, but she ran like a titan.'

'Oh, she was glorious,' said my mother.

'But then,' I said, 'it's sometimes the way with those great mares. Dunfermline wasn't much to look at; Quevega is just an ordinary brown mare.'

'Yes,' said my mother. 'Sometimes, if they look too much like flashy colts, they are not much good.'

I told her the story of the Queen and the crowd in the winning enclosure, and the whoops and the cheers and the clapping.

I walked away with a big fat smile on my face, even though I had not a penny on that filly. I probably should be a grouchy old republican, but I can't help it, I love the Queen. Her untrammelled delight when her brave little horse won her that shiny cup really was one of the sweetest things I've seen in racing.

So, it was a great day.


  1. You are right, what a day. Your Gatewood ran quite a race; reading what you say, I am very happy for him. Newfangled, of course, looked the part and everyone was saying she would win, which was nice, but the unexpecteds, like Gatewood and Estimate and Fallen For You were much more touching. And Astrology's loss seemed to have been taken in stride; the commentator Graham Cunningham agreed with you that Epsom had taken too much out of him (not to mention that windbag John McCririck, to give him his due, wouldn't shut up about the possibility before the race). As usually, you have expressed it beautifully.

    As you say, how lovely for the Queen. Carleton House second to So You Think (no disgrace), Estimate on the front end and HER prince to hand off the trophy. She must feel it's been a good Royal Ascot.

    Cannot wait to hear your account of the other "queen" -- Black Caviar. Hope her post doesn't compromise her; she's already handicapped by a 30-hour plane ride. Though she'll have every excuse in the book if she doesn't fire, it would be nice to see her do well, given the sportsmanship it took to get her there.


  2. Wonderful description, quite felt I was there (which I was through the 80s). Already feeling quite sick with nerves for our great mare - can I stay up tonight to see her - about 1am I think? Perhaps you can help her get over the line?!


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