Posted by Tania Kindersley.
I like almost nothing more than an illustrative vignette, and it turns out I have one for you. It’s quite a long story, so you might like to get a nice cup of tea.
Yesterday was the Eclipse at Sandown. The Eclipse is one of the most storied races in turf history. It was founded in 1886, as Britain’s richest ever race, with a prize of £10,000 donated by Leopold de Rothschild. It was named after one of the greatest racehorses that ever lived, the mighty Eclipse himself.
Eclipse was an extraordinary horse. He was foaled in 1764 during a solar eclipse, hence his name, and he was never defeated. He had to be retired because no one would take him on any more. When he went to stud, he produced a rattling roll of honour of great classics winners.
His own pedigree is equally stellar: he had the Godolphin Arabian on his sire’s side, and the Darley Arabian (my own mare’s ancestor) on his dam’s side. This means he is descended from two of the three founding sires of the entire thoroughbred breed. Almost every horse racing today can trace its bloodlines back to him.
This year, the race was very exciting. It was packed with quality horses, who had won races all over the world, from Italy to Dubai. The favourite was the progressive Farhh who was a fast-finishing third after getting boxed in at Ascot. The question mark in the race was the lovely big colt Nathaniel, who has class and stamina in abundance, but had been off the track since October. He had been seriously ill with mucus on his chest, and his preparation had been seriously affected.
His trainer, the thoughtful and brilliant John Gosden, had given some very downbeat interviews, talking about how difficult it had been to get the horse right again, and warning the betting public, very correctly, that he was not quite sure his horse was completely match-fit.
It’s very hard to get a horse tuned up for a big race without a run first. You often hear in racing the expression ‘he needed the race’. There is only so much you can do on the gallops at home. Often, these mysterious, sparkling creatures need the heat of battle to bring them to their best. The catch-22 is that often you can’t quite tell how near their best they are without running them.
Nathaniel went off in front. They all came at him; the Italian raider, the Dubai winner, and one by one he fought them off. Then, out of the pack, on the wide outside, came the blue colours of Farhh, with Frankie Dettori crouched over his neck, finishing like a train.
This was where the fractured training preparation would show; fitness and strength would be tested to the limit. Some horses would fold like a house of cards under a challenge like that, after a mile and quarter in front on testing ground. Not Nathaniel. He stuck his big, bonny head out a little further, and kept on galloping. He had a look in his eye which said: none of you buggers is getting past me today.
You couldn’t really call Nathaniel an underdog. He is a top class horse from a top class yard under a top class jockey. He holds the distinction of being the horse who has finished closest to the imperious Frankel, getting to within half a length of him when they were two-year-olds. But because of him having been sick, because it was first time out, because there were whispers of poor performances on the gallops, because of the doubts of Mr Gosden, he felt like the underdog. It made the victory a very sweet one indeed; he won that race on talent, but he won it also on heart and guts.
So, all was joy. Commentators were throwing about words like brave and brilliant. Everyone was delighted with the remarkable training performance from John Gosden and the stellar ride from William Buick, who was grinning all over his young face. Into this cauldron of happiness went Mike Cattermole, with his Channel Four microphone. He politely approached Lady Rothschild, the owner, and congratulated her, and remarked on the astounding fact that this was her seventh winner in two weeks. (She had just won the Lancashire Oaks with one of the nicest three-year-old fillies I’ve seen in ages.)
‘So they tell me,’ she said, rather oddly. I wondered what this could mean. Who were this mysterious They? Did she delegate minions to watch the races for her?
And then she ran away.
I’ve never seen anyone do that after a race. She actually scuttled away from poor Mr Cattermole, who was left on live television with no one to interview. Someone must have said in his ear that the gentleman standing in front of him was Nathaniel Rothschild, the son of the owner, after whom the horse was named.
In tones of joyous relief Cattermole said: ‘So you are Nathaniel!’
‘Nat,’ said Nat Rothschild.
Cattermole at this stage was clearly going into some kind of cosmic broadcasting nightmare.
‘Nathaniel is nicer?’ he said, hopefully, hopelessly.
‘We like Nat,’ said Nat Rothschild. A woman standing next to him giggled, as if this were a great joke.
Mike Cattermole made a doomed attempt to get him to say something, anything, about the horse, the race, the occasion. Nothing. There was an indecipherable mutter, and then silence. Eventually some sort of spokesman stepped forward and made some anodyne remarks, and poor Mr Cattermole must have been led away and fed valium and brandy.
I try not to do ad hominem, because I am thin-skinned enough, and I don’t like bitching people up when I can’t take it myself. But occasionally I am driven to it.
That little scene was one of the most peculiar, ungracious, downright rude things I’ve ever seen on a racecourse. Nathaniel Rothschild had just led his winner in, punching the air in triumph, as if he had ridden the horse himself. Would it have killed him to have said something nice to the good people at Channel Four? Could he not have paid tribute to the patience and cleverness and hard work of John Gosden? Could he not have mentioned that it takes a team of dedicated people to get a horse like that to win such a race?
If it had been me, I would have thanked the vet and the farrier and the head lad and the travelling head lad and the damn postman. I would have pointed out that the horse would not have been there without the devoted care of the person who looks after him every day, and the person who gets up at the crack of dawn to ride work, in rain and shine.
I would have hymned to the skies the determination and skill and strength of the young jockey, who timed his fractions to perfection, and got every last ounce of stamina and speed out of his horse. I would have sung a song of the horse himself, of his genuine character, his courage, his marvellous will to win. I might have had to be dragged away before I started on a paean to the long line of champions from whom he was descended. I would have been speaking of the Darley Arabian as some desperate producer shouted: ‘Cut to advertisements.’
I don’t know about the Rothschilds. Perhaps they were having a really awful day. Perhaps their dog just died or something. But what I don’t understand is that it is so much easier to be nice. Grace and manners not only add increments to the sum total of human happiness, but they are much easier to do than taciturn sullenness. It was a most inexplicable lack of sophistication or charm.
At the other end of the scale, Shirley Teasdale, the young apprentice I wrote of the other day, took the time to leave an incredibly polite and charming message on the blog. Teasdale, unless her family secretly owns Yorkshire, does not have Rothschild millions, but she could teach them a lesson in manners. Apparently, reading what I wrote about her made her mum very happy. This is one of the good miracles of the internet. I am almost more delighted by the fact that I have made Shirley Teasdale’s mum smile than by anything else that has happened this year.
Radio programmes often have regular contributors; this is a friend of the show, the host will say. I am going to make Shirley Teasdale a friend of the blog. I’m so impressed with her that I’m going to follow her through her season and report back.
I told my own mother about Shirley Teasdale today. She was enchanted by the whole story. ‘I tell you what,’ I said. ‘I’d take a bet on her being the first woman to win the Derby. I might ring up William Hill and ask if they are making a book on that.’
My mother fingered her iPad, on which her own William Hill account was showing. She was considering having a little punt on Andy Murray in the tennis. ‘It’s called the patriotic bet,’ she said. ‘7-2 to win the first set and then the match.’ But I could see her wondering if she might not be better off betting on Shirley.
Pictures of the day:
It’s been a rainy old two days, so Red and I have not been riding. Back to groundwork: circus tricks yesterday; moochy old donkey today. She was so sweet and biddable this morning that I only worked with her for twenty minutes and then just spent the next twenty rhythmically rubbing her neck, which is the consistently of velvet after the rain. I know I have my theory about not babying a horse, but that does not mean Red does not get the love. She adores the neck rub so much she goes into a hazy trance of pleasure.
Here she is this morning:
Later, the Pigeon and I played ball. Are you going to throw the damn thing?:
YES YOU ARE:
Hill, under a flat white sky:
So much for flaming July.