A friend who knows little about racing rings up and says, ‘Tell me about the Derby. Tell me the stories.’
‘Oh,’ I say without hesitation, the words tumbling out in a rush. ‘Well, the simplest story is the favourite, who is Bolshoi Ballet, and who is ravishingly beautiful, and who is bred for it and trained for it and has the big guns behind him and could win by a street.’
‘But then,’ I say, ‘there is Mac Swiney, whose trainer is a legend of seventy-nine who bred the horse himself. Mac is a tough little street fighter, and who might do something wonderful if he gets the trip.’
‘And,’ I add, ‘there is the lovely Mohaafeth, who has a big white face and who won his last race in a glide, with his jockey sitting motionless in the saddle, and whose trainer I remember when he was a smiling young man just come into racing, a man who seemed almost too sweet and merry to train a Derby winner. I still really think he is twenty, although he’s our age now.’
‘There’s John Leeper,’ I say, still going at a hundred miles an hour, ‘who is named after his trainer’s father, so that every time the son is interviewed about the horse he gets a bit weepy, because he’s thinking of his late dad. And that father was one of the mighty figures of the turf, so I hope he’ll be looking down from the great racetrack in the sky. John Leeper’s got Frankie, who is fifty now, and who is one of a kind, and who won the Oaks yesterday by sixteen lengths, in a canter.’
I pause, trying to think of the other stories. They’ve all got stories. Everyone who works at home with these beauties will have tales of their darlings, will know their quirks and their characters and their funninesses. There is Hurricane Lane, who is strong and handsome and just looks like a really nice person, and Third Realm, a charmer whose trainer has the best spectacles in the business, and the bright and bonny Youth Spirit, who lives in the yard that sent the mighty Mill Reef out to glory.
So many stories. So much love. So much beauty.
In the pause, my friend says, ‘So, you don’t know what’s going to win then?’
‘Absolutely no idea,’ I say. ‘It’s the Derby. Anything could happen.’