By this time tomorrow, we shall know whether Enable has galloped into the history books, or whether she is on her way back to Newmarket, honourable in defeat.
What is sure is that if she is defeated, she will go down with honour. Enable doesn’t have a bad day. She is sometimes beaten by a better horse, but she always shows up and runs her race. She always stalks around the paddock with her head held high, nodding graciously at the crowd, as if she somehow knows they have come to pay homage to her. She always dances down to the start, poised on that perfect fulcrum between responsiveness and relaxation. She’s ready to go, but she listens to Frankie, who tells her, ‘Not yet; not yet.’ And when she comes back in, she does not skitter about and make a fuss, but merely pricks her ears at the applause and looks about for the nice bucket of water she knows will be waiting for her.
In other words, she is astonishingly, gloriously, grandly consistent. She is always Enable.
I think that, perhaps, is why everyone who loves racing is talking about her just now. It’s not just that she is coming to the end of her magnificent career, tilting at the last, most impossible windmill. (No horse has ever done what she is trying to do.) It’s that, when you cast your eyes back over her glittering prizes, you realise what an extraordinary thing it is to have stayed at the top level for so long, with so much grace and enthusiasm and charm.
She does what we humans love in each other: she turns up. She doesn’t have mysterious dips in form, as any top class athlete is entitled to. She doesn’t get out of bed the wrong side. She doesn’t decide, on a whim, that she can’t be fagged. Frankie has asked her so many questions, and her answer is always a big, bold, unhesitating yes. She knows him like her brother, and she trusts him implicitly, and they have formed a partnership for the ages, but even so, I marvel at her enduring willingness. It’s almost an optimism, a wild ‘Why not?, a conviction that yes always is the answer to everything.
The people who crunch the numbers and know the form and understand the intricate mysteries of the rating system are having a last-minute, hectic debate about whether she is one of the greats, or whether she is merely very, very good. A lot of them say she has to win tomorrow’s Arc to secure her place in the pantheon of the racing deities. I’ve seen fierce arguments comparing her to Frankel, or any other past champion that can be randomly pulled out of a hat. The experts squint and frown and talk of times and sectionals and numbers.
But, for me, the whole point about a truly great race mare is that her greatness has nothing to do with numbers. I could, if I wanted to, score a knockout blow right now, by listing the fifty-five Group One and Grade One winners Enable has beaten. Fifty-five! I saw one knowledgeable gent say he was considering having them printed on a t-shirt. I could point to her going from the Arc to the Breeder’s Cup Turf, across oceans and continents, and pulling off one of her convention-smashing triumphs. (I still think that was her finest hour. It wasn’t just the unprecedented double; it was that she had to fly half-way across the world and spend a week away from home, in a strange environment, with strange sounds and smells and routines, which would be enough to trouble the most sanguine of flight animals.) But all these lists and firsts and statistics don’t really mean anything to me. I don’t think it is all that which makes her so brilliant. I think it is much more of a matter of the spirit. To me, it is her mind and her character and her attitude which make Enable so great.
There’s the consistency, the always Enable, but there’s also the astonishing versatility. She can go on pretty much any ground. Frankie can put her anywhere he likes in a race. He can wait and wait and ask for that astounding finishing kick, where she accelerates off a fast pace and lengthens her stride and puts a race to bed in a heartbeat. He can make his own running, if he has to. He can run into traffic and she’ll sit and suffer with him and then find the gap and go.
She has won in a thunderstorm, literally, in cracking rain and flashes of lightning; she has flown home with the beating sun on her back. She takes the fizzing electricity of capacity crowds in her stride, and she shows the same will to win in front of echoing, empty stands. Wherever she goes, she brings joy, to tens of thousands or a few lockdown hundreds. ‘I saw Enable this morning,’ people will say, after they bump into her on the Heath, and they will carry the smile she brings with her for the rest of the day.
And then there is the beauty. It’s a particular kind of beauty. She has the delicate, carved head and the ravishing face that reminds me of an old-time movie star – Ava Gardner in her prime, or even Audrey Hepburn. Yet, in her huge, muscular body, with its absurdly strong shoulder and incredible depth through the girth – plenty of heart room, the old school would say – she has the strength and swagger of a heavyweight prize-fighter. She’s Funny Face and The Rumble in the Jungle, which is a combination you don’t see too often.
She surveys her people like an empress and she points her toe like a ballerina. She gallops with a metronomic, almost ruthless rhythm, and then she stands still, in the aftermath of a massive adrenaline spike, and lets Frankie kiss her on the nose. Like all great mares, she won’t be told, and John Gosden is wise enough to know that. But even though he treats her with the respect and extraordinary intuition she deserves, she will sometimes give him a little kick in the saddling box. They love Enable – and everyone who works with her adores her – but they know you don’t mess with Enable.
So I think all these technical arguments miss the point. She’s already done everything you can ask of a horse. She’s danced every dance, with the timeless verve of Fred and Ginger. She’s done it pretty and she’s done it ugly. She’s laughed at the rest, and she has not shied away from a battle. She has set the stands on a roar, and she’s brought smiles to thousands and thousands of faces. She’s shown everyone who has been lucky enough to watch her that she is brave and talented and strong and fine. She’s left enough memories for a lifetime, and she doesn’t need to do any more.
She might fly through the bog tomorrow and make her date with destiny. And she might get stuck in the ground, and Frankie will nurse her home, and some unexpected outsider will adore the mud and swoop down the straight at an absurd price. I want her to win with every beat of my ridiculous, soft, racing heart, but I see now that it really is not about the winning. It’s about the beauty and the spirit and the sheer joie de vivre of this mighty mare, and nobody can take that away from her, or from those of us who have seen her and cheered her home and marvelled at her.
I suddenly realise that she’s already won. She is Enable, and that is enough. To borrow from Shakespeare – she shines like a good deed in a naughty world. And how far that little candle throws her beams.