A while ago, I wrote of difficult decisions. There were two or three I had to resolve in my mind. The first two are done; there was just one final one to make.
In the great scheme of the world, this was a tiny, tiny thing, but it loomed large in my mind. It was: shall I go and watch Frankel run his last great race.
I had gone the five hundred and fifty miles to see him romp home at Ascot in June. I drove the four hundred miles to York to see him send shivers up the Knavesmire in August. It sounds slightly nutty, because really it’s only a horse, but those were two of the finest days of my life. I spent them in a haze of joy. I felt excessively privileged to be alive to see such a sight.
Watching him on the television is thrilling enough. I am such a racing geek, and such a Frankel fan, that sometimes in the evenings I settle down and watch all of his old races, which I have recorded. It doesn’t matter how many times I see them, I still clap my hands like a child when he cruises to the front.
But actually being there is a whole other thing. There is a crack of electricity in the air. The crowds shift and murmur; everyone is tense with excitement and anticipation. They clap him out of the paddock; they cheer him down to the start. He is such an old pro now that he canters past the stands with all the decorum of a dressage horse, and everyone there stands and salutes him, before he has run a yard. It is the old saw of being in the presence of greatness, keenly felt, profoundly appreciated.
There is the loveliness of seeing him close-up, admiring all that contained power, that shining beauty. And then, out on the emerald green track, as he unfurls that mighty, unanswerable stride, and stamps his class, and makes everything else look like a pack of donkeys, there is the rising roar of the crowd. It starts as a murmur, about three out. As he hits the front, it grows to a shout. And then, as he begins to motor and there is nothing that can get close to him and it is clear that his unbeaten record stands and another scalp is his, it explodes into a wild yell of sheer joy.
It is usually at this moment that I burst into tears. I heard a woman on the radio the other day say that she had only cried from happiness once in her life. I cry for happiness every time I see Frankel. It’s as if the emotion is so high, so uncontainable, that it must come out of my actual eyes.
He is my once in a lifetime horse. I shall be very, very lucky if I see anything like him again. It’s only five hundred miles. I had assumed that I should go, because it would be crazy not to. But, it turns out, I can’t.
In the end, the decision was very easy. It was horse against horse. My mare is currently living up the hill, in the field of my kind landlord. It is a perfect summer paddock, but it shall not do for the winter. It is a wide, open place, with a long flat stretch of hayfield beyond, running down to the big mountain. There is no shelter, and the weather comes roaring down off the hill, pitiless. In a frigid January, it would be a hard place. So, I have made her some special winter quarters. We have found an old patch of set-aside, surrounded on three sides by thick Scottish woods, with a hill to the north, and a lovely high stone wall to the south. It is two minutes from my house, so I shall not have to drive through blizzards to do morning stables. It is a peaceful, hidden, rather magical place, and the little herd will be safe and happy there when the serious weather comes.
What it needed was a fence. If you are going to make a new field, you can’t skimp, in my opinion. It was posh post and rails or nothing. The fencing man arrived, with a broad grin on his face, and has made the most beautiful, elegant fence you have ever seen. I go down to watch him work and tell him he is currently my favourite man in the whole of Scotland. Anyone who makes my precious herd such a glorious construction has my love for life. (He looks slightly surprised when I declare this.)
Good fences are expensive. That was what made the decision. I could afford to make a new paddock, or I could afford to travel south for one race. I could not do both. It was Frankel or the fence, and the fence won.
I am a little sad to think that I shall have seen the mighty fellow for the last time, in the flesh. But it’s twice more than many people have. Those memories do not fade; I can dial them up any time I want. I got the crazy luck to see the finest, the most bonny and bold, the most coruscating, complete, soaring racehorse in a generation. I shall be able to bore for Britain on the subject for years to come.
So this Saturday, I shall be watching on television, as he makes his lovely swansong. I have no doubt that he shall go out in a blast of glory. I shall shout and weep; the dog shall bark and jump, as she always does for a big race. I shall ring up my mother afterwards and get her to tell me stories of when she saw Brigadier Gerard, the last great miler of comparable brilliance. And then I shall go and admire my new fence.
Are in fact not from today at all. I went up for my morning ride in three frosty degrees. Red’s View looked magnificent, pale blue in the still light. The mountain is white with snow. I snapped away. All the horses posed beautifully, looking quite ravishing. Then I got home and found I had forgotten to put the stupid memory chip in. I was very, very cross for at least ten minutes. Then I dug out a quick selection from the last few days. Not the same, but better than nothing.
Red’s View before the snow:
Myfanwy the Pony:
I did a slightly strange effect with this picture of Red, dozing. I quite like it:
She’s been a little bit ornery, the last couple of rides. I like to think she sets me small tests. She needs to make sure I am up to the job, so she can feel safe. This morning, for whatever reason, I passed, and she settled into the most glorious, free, willing action, and we went about together in perfect harmony and I felt that sort of happiness that does not go into words. When all is ease between us there is no feeling like it.
Pigeon, with her dignity on the monument face:
Frankel, because there must be Frankel:
Lovely picture by Steven Cargill for racingfotos.com.