Obviously, the title of this post refers to an entirely subjective judgement.
It is the sweetest photograph in my very own eyes.
Here I am, this morning, with the two nieces, the red mare and the little American Paint.
There are several things which I love about this picture. One is that the two nieces and I are hardly ever together in the same place. They are young and antic and move about a lot, embarking on their own lives. So it is extremely special when the three of us are reunited.
Second, I love that The Younger Niece and The American Paint both are doing almost identical ready for their close-up faces. (Autumn the Filly’s owner was taking the picture, so it might have been a pretty face for her. But it still makes me laugh and laugh.)
Third, I find it amusing that despite the fact I am supposed to be posing for a rare photograph with my beloveds, I am far too busy pulling Red’s ears to put on my own camera face.
Fourth, it was quite a tight space, between two stretches of grass that MUST NOT BE STEPPED ON. (The Brother-in-Law gets sad if there are hoofmarks all over his nice turf.) So The Older Niece, as you can see, is having to crane her neck even to be seen. Hello, I’m here at the back.
Fifth, that dozy old donkey you see there on the left, all muddy and woolly and shaggy, really is one of the poshest horses in Britain. My father brought me up not to pay any attention to human grandeur, but oh, when it comes to horses, he gave me a snobbism I cannot shake. I am not especially proud of the fact. But on dark nights, when my heart is afflicted with melancholy, I am afraid I trace Red’s pedigree back through Nijinksy and Northern Dancer to Hyperion and St Simon, in order to cheer myself up.
She has not only that obvious top line, but Derby winners a go-go in the bottom line. I love reading the storied names, as lyrical as poetry: Mahmoud, Sir Peter Teazle, Voltigeur, Smolensko, Dante, Gainsborough. She has the Byerley Turk, the rarest of the three foundation sires, twice. Nearly everyone has the Godolphin Arabian, as she does, but not everyone has the Turk.
None of this really means anything, but it means something to me. And what I really love is that there she is, day after day, dopey as a faithful hound, following me back to the field without a rope, swinging her dear, scruffy head, smiling her soft equine smile, quite unaware of the blue blood which courses through her veins. Of course, I could posh her up a bit. I could give her a haircut and brush a bit more of that mud off her. But I like her being a horse, mooching around in her paddock, getting as dirty as she likes, no matter how many glittering prizes her ancestors won.
And in other horse loveliness, the most tenacious, gutsy, bold and brave Bobs Worth returned to his best in Ireland today, and made my mother and me cry. He’s one of the most talented and most tough horses in racing and last time out he never went a yard. After a horse has been triumphant in a hard Gold Cup, there is always the danger he is never quite the same again. Some big race glories can take it out of a horse; they can look fine, work well at home, seem well in themselves, but that glittering, glimmering brilliance has been dulled, in a way that nobody quite understands.
After watching an uncharacteristically lacklustre run at Haydock, I feared for little Bobs Worth. He was so magnificent last season, and I was sad to see a champion brought low. But today, he kindled his fire again, and even though he had it all to find after the last, he picked himself up, put his head down in his trademark terrier fashion, and powered past his rivals.
Then he pricked his ears, stretched his neck, and looked up at the stands, as if to say: Ah, you were fretting over nothing. I got it covered, said Bobs Worth. I’m back. And the crowd, which knows greatness when it sees it, rose to him in delight.
Some more sweet pictures for you:
Back in the paddock, modelling her astoundingly smart new Amigo rug. I don’t really believe in giving animals Christmas presents, but the old rug was falling to pieces, literally held together with binder twine, and this one happened to arrive just yesterday, so it does feel almost like a present. And she looks so smart in it. Excellent service from the wonderful Ride-Away, who should surely employ the red mare as a model. She is, I often think, wasted in real life:
She did get an awful lot of love:
And, in other news – Stan the Man has a BLOODY ENORMOUS STICK: