Friday, 8 April 2016

My own little Annie Power. Or, every post is a winning post.

Annie Power won, cantering round in a Group One like a composed dressage horse, and the love burst out of my heart like an exploding rocket. She has grown very regal, with all the composure and aplomb and grace of an empress, and she kindly surveys her subjects and allows them to pay homage to her, as is her right.
            All horses have their characters, and all are as unique as snowflakes, but the great ones get this imperial aspect as they grow in stature. It is what my mother used to call the look of eagles. She always said that Arkle had it, and later Kauto Star and Frankel. Annie has it now. Something has shifted in her. She was always very good, but now she floats above the herd, on a higher plane. She is soaring into the realms of the unforgettable. I think people will tell their grandchildren that they were there when Annie Power won the Champion Hurdle, or sauntered to victory at Aintree. She is stamping herself into the collective memory, and there is something profoundly moving in that.
            I think about why I watch all these races and watch all these horses and rush to finish my work each morning in a frenzy so I can spend the afternoon with these flying thoroughbreds, who feel like friends to me.
            I think it is an almost unique combination of the aesthetic and the visceral. Almost all of these racing horses are astonishingly beautiful. They have their different shades of beauty. Annie Power is well named. She is not a pretty mare. She is all power and muscle and granite strength. Her stable-mate, Vroum Vroum Mag, has a gentle sweetness to her, and much more defined features, and is known at home for her kind nature and her willingness to do anything that is asked of her. Cue Card, who also brought the house down yesterday, and especially this house, has a bright, flashy, fine handsomeness, and an antic, dancing disposition. Vautour, who runs today, has something charmingly old-fashioned about him, and would not look out of place in a Stubbs hunting scene.
            They are also beautiful in action, stretching their carved legs in a searching gallop, rising in a perfect arc over the stiff birch, gathering themselves for the final effort.
            And then there is the visceral aspect, the heart and guts and glory. There is the pure joy of watching fierce athletes do what they were bred to do, at top speed, at the edge of their capabilities. There are the ones who really want it, who fight like tigers, who dig deep, generously offering every last inch of themselves without question. That calls to some ancient instinct in me, the one that loves courage and spirit and devil may care. That is the part which throws caution to the winds and says what the hell, that does not stop to be sensible or contained or respectable.
            I rode my own little Annie Power this morning. I did the thing which is now becoming traditional when Annie struts her stuff on a racecourse. I threw the reins at the red mare, stood up in the stirrups, and shouted: ‘Come on, Annie’. I let her roll under me, seeing the woods ahead through her pricked chestnut ears, trying to imagine what Ruby Walsh must see when he jumps the last on that mighty mare and sees only empty green racecourse in front of him, and the winning post beckoning like a gleaming beacon.

            We will never win anything. She could not see the point of racing at all, and trundled round merrily at the back, blithely oblivious to the disgrace she was bringing on her illustrious bloodlines. (I find this very funny, but her poor breeder must have wanted to cry.) I was never brave enough to tread in the footsteps of my father and ride over fences. But all the same, out in that quiet Scottish field, with all that thoroughbred power under me rolling happily along on a loose rein, I feel the glory and hear the shouts of the crowd and know that, for us, every post is a winning post.

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