Ed­die Wood has a dream meet­ing with equine stars – and a real-life horse to watch out for!

Racing Ahead - - CONTENTS -

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.

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