Very tired. All my beloveds got beat today, yet there was some glory in the losses. First Lieutenant and Hunt Ball ran doggedly on up the hill in defeat, and made the frame, and they reminded me that it is not all about the winning, but the taking part. The first two days were about untrammelled victories: Hurricane Fly, Quevega and Sprinter Sacre, flying home, laughing at lesser mortals. I had so many doubles and trebles with them in that I was miles up on the meeting, so I could afford to bet for love today, and did not mind the setbacks.
There was a lot of joy and laughter, as unfancied long-shots came roaring home, and the mighty stables did not have it all their own way. It’s always lovely to see the less sung yards have their moment in the sun, when it’s not all Henderson and Nicholls. There was also some keen delight in watching two old veterans, Celestial Halo and Tartak, run huge races at wild prices.
There was a shadow though, the first there has been over this morning’s sunlit Prestbury Park. Two jockeys were taken to hospital with critical injuries, and one lovely chaser was put down on the track. Racing is a hard sport. I grew up in it, and know the peaks of triumph, and the troughs of despair. I remember many hushed hospital visits to my dad, and there was a time before I was born when he was told, gravely, by men in white coats, that he must never sit on a horse again. That was after he broke his back and his neck for the second time. A year later, he ignored orders, and rode in the Grand National. He rode out every day for years afterwards. I remember too his tears for horses lost, a visceral grief that leaves a stamp on the heart.
I struggle with this sometimes, as I turn on the racing. But then I remember the nature of risk. All life is risk. Humans and equines both cannot be wrapped in cotton wool. A horse can die in its box, if it lies down at an awkward angle, and cannot get up again. (It’s called being cast.) It can die in the benign surroundings of a green field, just from cantering the wrong way. A human can die looking the wrong way, crossing the street.
So, it was a more mixed day. But I saw fond old friends, and gazed over the natural beauty of that lovely amphitheatre that is Cheltenham, and I spent the day with the dear Older Brother. I got to see some of the horses I love the most up close, in all their easy, athletic, thoroughbred fineness. I watched the people who work with them, day in and day out, and saw, in every touch of the hand, and tilt of the head, and softening of the eye, the fondness they hold for their brave equine charges. Some people think racing is too flinty and ruthless, but if they could see the lads and the trainers and the jockeys, who really do wear their hearts on their sleeves, I think they might reconsider.
A couple of quick pictures, from the pre-parade ring and the paddock: