Even though I am running up to deadline and my shoulders are around my ears and there are not enough hours in the day, today I am taking the afternoon off. I have written 1060 words, and done some editing, and now my desk is cleared, and I am going to watch the racing at York. Because it is Australia Day.
Australia is a mighty chestnut, as red as my red mare, but twenty times as fast. He has a sprinkle of stardust about him, and he’s coming back from a nice summer rest to, I hope, delight me again with his power and speed and brilliance.
There is also a horse running today who lives in my heart: the charming, compact grey that is Kingston Hill. I fell in love with him last season not because he is so talented, but because he is so nice. It’s an odd thing to say about a top-flight racehorse, but it is true. His good character shines out of him like a sudden shaft of sunshine on a cloudy day. Even when he was a baby, he took the hurly burly of victory with a touching equanimity, a lovely matter-of-fact getting on with it attitude. I suspect he is a stoic. I hope he gets his moment of glory this afternoon.
I’m going to go and sit with my mother, and we shall watch the dazzling equine beauties soar over the Knavesmire, one of the loveliest tracks in Britain. The Yorkshire crowd is famously one of the greatest in the world, warm and enthusiastic and knowledgeable. And the Ebor meeting always gathers a feast and festival of thoroughbred talent. I adore it.
As I watch, I shall think of my sweet girl, bred to win the Oaks, her pedigree packed with storied names, and how she trundled round at the back in her racing days. I think she just never saw the point of it. This morning, she was going so lightly that I offered her a gallop. She thought for a moment of putting her sprinting shoes on. I watched her ears flicker, and felt the mighty engine start to rev up. ‘Come on,’ I said, ‘you can go.’ And then the dowager duchess reasserted herself, and she decided on a nice stately canter instead, bouncing gently over the emerald grass, complete within herself, not needing to prove anything to anyone. At York, her fleeter cousins will be hitting top speeds of forty miles an hour, every sinew stretched, every muscle bunched, every ancestral voice reminding them of their will to win. And my slow old girl will be dreaming happily in her field.
I feel there is almost some kind of parable in that, but I’m not sure what it is. It makes me smile, that is all.