Tuesday, 15 March 2016

The mare did it.

Annie Power won the Champion Hurdle, and I cried tears of joy.
            Mares don’t really win the Champion Hurdle. The last time that happened was twenty years ago. This mare had gone to Cheltenham twice, and come up short each time. She was beaten in the World Hurdle. ‘Will Annie stay?’ was the cry. She did stay, but she was bettered by a faster horse on the day. Then she went for the Mares’ Hurdle. ‘She only has to stand up to win,’ everyone said. She was tanking into the last. It was a sunny day, and there was deep shadow in front of the hurdle. She jumped the shadow and landed on her elegant nose.
            Then she disappeared. She had niggles. There was something not quite right. She finally returned to the spotlight in a little egg and spoon race which she won as she liked, but which told nobody anything except that she was fit and well. She was still Annie, but was she the supermare she was once supposed to be?
            It was not precisely the ideal preparation. Off the track for months and months, one nothing race in the bag, no big trials or expected tests. But Annie is Annie and Willie Mullins is a genius and the normal rules don’t really apply.
            Now, everyone said: ‘Will she be quick enough for two miles?’ Will her jumping be neat and accurate enough? Will she have it in her to beat the boys?
            The race cut up and she was backed in to favouritism. She was a sort of false favourite, as the bookies desperately tried to protect themselves from a possible Mullins/Walsh accumulator, as is becoming tradition on the first day of the festival.
            You could see her winning by ten lengths, or making a muddle of one down the back and not recovering. Anything could happen. There were plenty of others for whom cases could be made.
            I love Annie Power. I’ve loved Annie Power since she first burst onto the scene. She is big and bold and imperious. She’s a great slab of a mare, nothing delicate or retiring about her. She goes into a race like she’s the boss, and when she wins, she wins as she likes, dismissing the others with disdain. She is not sweet or pretty or gentle. She is mighty.
            I wanted her to win so much I convinced myself that she could not possibly win. That way I could avoid crashing disappointment. I am very fond of The New One, a stalwart in the race, and I thought it might be his year. There were other hopes from Ireland; Nicky Henderson was bringing one of his stars back from a long absence, and there is nobody who can do that at Cheltenham like Henderson.
            This morning, I got onto my own little dancing chestnut, my own little Annie Power, and stood up in the irons and imagined the Cheltenham hill before us. She caught my excitement and flew up the slope and we passed the imaginary winning post with nothing but the emerald green track in front of us. My red mare is as different from Annie Power as can be. She never came close to winning a race; she never made a single headline, except for the crazy ones in my own head. The two horses have only their colour and their gender and a few hundred thoroughbred cousins in common. (All thoroughbreds end up being related; hardly a one does not go back to Eclipse.) But my own red mare is still the supreme champion of my heart.
            In the end, I let that heart rule my head. I threw loyalty cash at Annie Power, and went all in. I could not desert her now.
            She won in a canter, measuring each hurdle to perfection, dancing round those undulations as if she were doing ballet.
            Annie Power won the Champion Hurdle, and I cried tears of joy.
            Later, I took the dogs out into the cool Scottish air and looked at the sky and looked at the hill and listened to the quiet. I had been shouting and weeping and leaping up and down. Now all was still. I was, literally and metaphorically, hundreds of miles from that cauldron of emotion, that great natural bowl of hopes and dreams.
            I looked at the view. I wished very much I could tell my mother about Annie. She had loved her too. ‘Oh, Annie,’ she used to say, a wistful note in her voice.
            ‘Mum,’ I said, even though I knew she was not there. ‘Annie Power won the Champion Hurdle. And I cried and Ruby cried and Rich Ricci cried and even Willie Mullins looked as if there was a tear in his eye.’

            ‘Mum,’ I said. ‘The mare did it.’


  1. An extra bag of carrots for the red mare and all her cousins to celebrate!

  2. Wasn't she just magnificent? Just bliss. Jane


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