Thursday, 3 April 2014

A happy day. Or, Warne and Silviniaco Conti make me smile.

A rather profound and emotional morning at HorseBack UK. Sometimes there I hear stories which contain so much despair that I feel them moving me physically, as if the very atoms of my body are reconfiguring themselves.

I did all my work and then took the afternoon off for quite a different kind of emotion, as the National Hunt season threw its last hurrah at Aintree. So many of the horses I have loved were there, so many I have followed through the season, as they were up and as they were down, as they found fortune and as they met none.

I won a little and lost a little, but funnily enough the two horses who gave me the most pleasure were ones in which I only had a tiny financial interest. It was all a love thing, for very different reasons.

Silviniaco Conti is one of the most professional horses in training. I’ve always admired him more than loved him. Today, he was coming off the back of a tough race in the Gold Cup, and I thought he could not possibly bounce back in time. I had a little placepot money on him, but more for old times’ sake than anything.

He set off joyfully, bowling along in front, ears pricked, as if that gruelling run round Cheltenham was three months ago instead of three weeks.

Coming into the final stages, he started wandering about a bit. Ah, I thought, he’s tired; he’s going to pack up. But he did not pack up. His exceptional jockey, Noel Fehily, got him organised again, and the brave fella responded with honesty and guts. They were coming for him, but he would not be denied. It was a performance of pure heart, and suddenly I did not just admire him, but fell finally in love. Class and talent thrill me, but it is the bravery that moves me, and this was as brave as you will see on a racecourse.

Then, there was a different kind of being moved. In the Foxhunters’, the big race for amateurs over the National fences, there was the hot favourite, Mossey Joe, and then there was Warne, ridden by Sam Waley-Cohen. I thought Mossey Joe was nailed on, going by the book, but I had a little bit each-way on Warne for fun.

Sam Waley-Cohen is a really interesting man. He’s won the Gold Cup, the King George, and has a record round Aintree that most professionals would envy, but he is a constant Aunt Sally for armchair jockeys. These keyboard warriors, who almost certainly have never sat on a half-ton flight animal going over massive obstacles at thirty miles an hour, disobligingly insist, every time a Waley-Cohen horse is beaten, that it would have hosed up if only ‘the dentist’ had not been on board. (Waley-Cohen runs a dentistry business.)

Warne galloped off in front, having a delightful time. His jockey got him into a lovely rhythm, and saw a fine stride into each fence. Then it started getting complicated. Loose horses began charging about, rather excited to have got rid of their own jocks, and Warne had to weave in and out of them, and keep his concentration. It’s hard enough to win a race like this from the front, let alone when there are rogue animals cavorting about you. But Waley-Cohen kept his cool, judged the pace perfectly, gave his boy a breather when he needed it, plotted a true course, and won going away.

I’ve never met Sam Waley-Cohen and I know little about him. He is always very modest and polite and smiling in interviews, and I have no idea why people on the internet are so unkind about him. The most touching thing about him is that he rides with his brother’s name stitched into his saddle. His brother died, ten years ago, at the age of twenty. I’ve heard him say ‘Thomas lives and rides with me’. Even more touchingly, the trophy he won today had been donated by his family in memory of that brother.

It’s been a season of highs and lows, of dreams and reality, of hearts lifted and broken. There have been some mighty performances and some thrilling races. I’ve shouted myself hoarse and thrown all my hats in the air in wild triumph. But for the sheer spirit of the sport, for the humanity of it and the heart, I think perhaps that moment was the most moving.

Apart from anything else, it was a truly glorious ride, horse and jockey in perfect harmony, that old Corinthian flag flying.

I hope that today of all days, the doubters and the knockers might give Sam Waley-Cohen his due. He deserves it.


Too tired now for pictures.

Just one of my glorious red girl, mooching about under the trees, very happy indeed that she no longer has to gallop round a racecourse, fruitlessly trying to pretend that it was where she belonged. Everyone has their talent, and hers is mooching. She is world class at it, as you can see:

3 April 1

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