Eddie Wood has a dream meeting with equine stars – and a real-life horse to watch out for!
Eddie finds himself surrounded by Arkle, Sea Pigeon and Caerleon
For many years, I have considered writing a book called A Journey to the Other Side.
My first chapter would contain the majority of what appears below. The storyline relates to horseracing and includes both facts and fiction which I understand is called faction.
As I crossed to ‘the other side,’ I was full of hope and apprehension. Would I be able to recognise my old equine friends, and would they welcome me? Stranger still were my inner thoughts as I considered if I wanted to return to the cruel and insensitive world.
My fears were soon allayed as I descended into Paradise Valley. A large group of horses galloped to greet me including Arkle, Ardross, Caerleon, Red Rum, Sea Pigeon and many more old favourites. My eyes welled up; the tears of relief and joy oozed forth. The leader of this first string, instantly recognizable as the high-class dual-purpose horse Sea Pigeon, said, “We have heard a lot about your tilts in the betting ring!”
At first it was strange to hear horses speak. The expected neighs and whinnying were replaced by plain old English. It took me by surprise. “Do not flatter me, they do not compare to your exploits on the turf and over the jumps,” I retorted. This remark trig- gered a variety of emotions among those present. Everybody listened intently as Arkle started to recall his great moments. He talked of his tussles with Mill House and the tragic event of 1966 in the King George at Kempton which ended his racing career.
I remember it well. I was there to see the incident that rendered him lame as the resolute figure of Dormant passed him to win in fine style. It was not the victor that all eyes were on but the mighty Arkle who now stood before me after all these years.
As Arkle finished his story, a great chorus of ‘he’s a golly good fellow’ rose across Paradise Valley. “Come on now,” Arkle said as he pointed his left hoof in the direction of the brown horse standing next to me. Arkle got a small response at first as the addressee was too busy gazing into the eyes of a mare several feet away.
The love-entranced individual was Caerleon, son of Phalaris. Eventually he replied to Arkle’s request as he bellowed out, “No, you heroes and heroines of the winter game have much greater tales to tell than I.” The assembled crowd were having none of it and all urged Caerleon to speak. His voice was strong and must have carried across the whole length of the vast pasture which stretched as far as the eye could see.
“I suppose my greatest was when I was four. I ran in the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown Park in 1931 and beat you, Goyescas, by half a length! I remember my trainer, George Lambton, giving me an extra strong pat on my shoulder and telling me that my owner the 17th Earl of Derby was proud of me.” He then turned to me and said, “have you met my American friend?”
He was, of course, referring to the other, younger Caerleon, sired by Nijinsky in 1980, some 57 years after himself. This Caerleon was a fine sire, (unlike his elder who like many stallions failed to produce progeny anywhere near as good as himself.)
I sensed that this introduction to the younger Caerleon was a diversion from something that was making him uneasy. He quickly saw my concern and apologetically stated that it was indeed to distract us away from another event on that particular ‘Eclipse Day’.
He obviously found the situation most embarrassing for he looked very sad, if not distressed. Law Society, who was also eyeing up the rather attractive mare by the elder Caerleon’s side asked, “what’s the matter, old friend?” Caerleon could hardly hold his head up as he sheepishly looked around for signs that his recollections were being encouraged.
There were many who were ready to
listen, and they immediately gave him the encouragement he desired. It was clear that he was gaining some relief from a trauma that had never left him since it occurred. Caerleon added to the story we had previously found so interesting. In a slow and remorseful style, he recalled, “when I entered the winner’s enclosure, I could see that my connections were pleased to see me. There were others, however, who weren’t and clearly showed their displeasure. It really saddens me to this day and it certainly spoilt my moment of triumph.” Here he faltered as if not wanting to continue, but, with further empathetic encouragement, he continued his story in a lowered and even more reticent voice.
The source of Caerleon’s displeasure was then made clear. As he walked up the path to the winners enclosure there were angry voices, some booing while others called him derogatory names. Tears ran down his face and dripped onto the ground already moistened by dew.
He then gallantly finished his woeful tale. It soon transpired that the unruly and vociferous section of the racegoers were not happy with the result of this race compared to others in which he contested. Caerleon recalled that he had run in the Duke of Cambridge Handicap just two weeks ago finishing unplaced. His two previous races had the same outcome.
The Sandown stewards had enquired into this discrepancy in form. Naturally Caerleon found this intrusive and unpleasant. Apparently, Lambton informed them that his horses had been coughing and that Caerleon had shown this marked improvement in performance as he was on a ‘good day’. He then went on to explain that his charge was of a peculiar temperament and that he did not always race to his exceptional ability.
The stewards readily accepted this explanation, aware that the race was run at a false pace. However, this did not pacify the disgruntled or make the proceedings enjoyable for Caerleon or for his owner, Lord Derby. He was most distressed that that a public demonstration was centred around one of his favourite horses.
The other creatures gathered around Caerleon and offered their sympathy and, in some cases, their empathy as several others had been in a similar position during their own racing careers. But as they and Caerleon became more settled it was time for me to return. As they all said their goodbyes, it was clear that many of them would have liked to join me on my journey back to mother Earth. But they all stayed, content that we would meet again sometime in the future.
My journey to ‘the other side’ had been truly awe-inspiring. The horses that I witnessed and shared memories with were not skeletal but fully rejuvenated individuals. They galloped through green pastures and up and down the vale with great enthusiasm. It was a truly joyful occasion from several viewpoints. Of course, the scenery was enjoyable but the pleasure of seeing old favourites reliving their youth cannot be equalled. I will go back one day.
Now back to reality. I would like to give readers a horse to keep an eye on in its next three runs providing that it is suited to the conditions on the day. The horse is called Happy Diva (IRE), trained by Kerry Lee. It ran on Saturday the 18th of November this year in the BetVictor Gold Handicap Chase (Grade 3) Class 1. It was still full of running when it came to the fourth last but was sadly brought down. I was also sad as I backed it at 33/1. Its starting price was 25/1. Until next time, good investing.