Saturday, 4 May 2013

Guineas Day; or, in which the titans make my heart beat faster.

Two years ago, on the day of the Guineas, I was outside with my family, looking at my favourite mountain shimmering and lucid in the spring light, and feeling quite disconnected from the outside world.

I remember well the vivid feeling of unreality. The children were laughing and playing; the grown-ups were laughing too, but in a different way. It was ten days after my father died and I did not know what day of the week it was.

So it was that I completely missed Frankel’s demolition job in the great race.

The next day, I drove south for my dad’s funeral. Still in the same humming limbo of unreality, I arrived at Tebay, my traditional half-way stop, and called my mother to say I was not dead in a ditch.

‘Did you see that?’ she said.

‘See what?’ I said.

‘Frankel,’ she said.

I did not know what she was talking about. I had turned away from flat racing, deciding the soul had gone out of it, that it was all about money now, with the rolling billionaires throwing their cash about and buying winners. I had decided that I hated that there was no longer any room for the small owner, the little yard. It was all about the clash of the big boys, and I felt there was something sad in that.

‘I’m not going to tell you if you did not see it,’ said my mother. But I could tell from her voice that it was something out of the ordinary. Her voice was vibrating with delighted disbelief.

I turned on the television for the 1000 Guineas, and, at that very moment, they showed a replay of the 2000 from the day before. The sun was blazing down on the Rowley Mile, so bright and dazzling that it made the very racecourse itself look not quite real, which chimed with my mood.

The stalls clapped open, and a horse in the familiar Khalid Abdullah colours surged out of them. I remembered those colours from the days when I was in love with Dancing Brave, when my heart thrilled to his every mighty hoof-beat.

The horse blasted away from the field, in the impossible light. The sun was so insistent that it threw motes and beams into the camera lens, so that at times you could hardly see the runners. They were cast in silhouette, their shadows chasing along the green turf behind them.

Frankel picked up speed, his stride lengthening and deepening.

‘At half-way,’ shouted the commentator in disbelief, ‘Frankel is almost ten lengths clear.’

I watched Frankel in urgent fascination. No horse does this in the Guineas and survives. The best of his generation were scrubbing and scrabbling in his wake. You could almost catch the sense of disbelief in the chasing pack. Afterwards, several of the jockeys said that they truly thought he was the pacemaker.

The mighty horse, oblivious to everything but the exhilaration of his own speed, floated over the dips and deviations of the Rowley Mile as if they were not there.

‘FRANKEL CONTINUES TO BE IN A MASSIVE LEAD,’ bawled the commentator.

Tom Queally sat motionless, letting the horse flow under him.

‘At the bushes, Frankel is fifteen lengths clear.’

At this point, Queally began to move a little in the saddle. The horse seemed to do something extraordinary. He almost started to dance.

A usual horse, even a very good one, would begin to tie up at this point. To have gone at sprinting speed over the first half of that searching mile would surely take its toll. To be out in front for so long would cause even a brilliant beast to wander about a bit, to think too much, to shorten stride.

Not Frankel. Straight as a die, with his tail lifted in triumph, he kept on galloping to the line. It was a display of pure speed and talent and exuberance such as I’m not sure I ever saw on a racecourse before.

And there, in a quiet hotel room, heavy and tired with grief, I fell in love with racing again.

Today there are two more mighty fellas, stepping up to the mark. There is the lovely Dawn Approach, whom I followed all last season with increasing joy. And there is the big, bonny, bold Toronado, who was good at two, but has developed into something altogether other at three.

I love them both, but my beating heart belongs to Toronado. I think he might be something very special indeed.

Even as I write this, I feel my heart banging away in my chest, in anticipation, in eager delight. It’s a privilege to watch animals as beautiful and brave and bold as this run over the storied turf of the Rowley Mile, where Charles II invented the Sport of Kings.

Whoever wins this afternoon, I shall take off my hat and make a salute. I shall feel lucky to have seen it.

I have a feeling that it will be a race to remember.


No pictures today; I have to study the form and read the Racing Post and make my bets. There is just this, which still, two years on, makes me doubt the veracity of my own eyes:



  1. I was at Frankel's Dewhurst: 16th October 2010. It was my Granny's birthday, and the first she would not be present for, having died that July. I was not in my right mind that day; the family had gathered to celebrate anyway. I said, 'No. I shall go racing and remember her in my own way.' And that was the plan as that searching straight mile sorted out the rare horse that was Frankel. And the bloody thing of it, is that I can't remember the race. I watch the replays to try and jog my memory but it doesn't seem to at all. Racing and horses and memories are so entwined. My mother's sixtieth in Holland Park when George Washington won and then the fillies and 10/1 all round when the little people won with Pam Sly and Speciosa. The cruelty of Jacqueline's Quest. And so on.

    I have not watched racing for nearly two years now; partly because of an event on that Dewhurst Day. I was thinking, I might, today. I saw a picture that Clare Balding tweeted of Toronado this morning. He looks in fine order. His neck looked sturdy and strong, more like a sprinter, but the camera angle (not quite head on) will have had a foreshortening effect. His eye looks determined... Maybe, maybe...

    Enjoy the race. When the sun shines on the Rowley Mile there is no better place on earth to be. Despite everything, I still believe that.

  2. Bugger that weather. It was terrible for Speciosa's 1000 Guineas. We got muddy and wet that day, but the sun always comes out in the end. I've gone Toronado and an e/w interest on Mars.

  3. Final thoughts: I got that all wrong / that's racing / the sun came out / what else can we ask for \o/


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