About eighteen months ago, my son-in-law was coerced, cajoled, guilted into buying a nostril of a racehorse. When I say “racehorse”, I mean a very expensive untried, untrained but oh-so-well-bred colt. The only member of the extended clan who thought this was a good idea was me.
My first encounter with the sport of kings was in the early 1950’s. I remember it vividly. There was such a sense of occasion about it: donning the best dress, being given money by all the rellies, and setting off with my favourite aunt. I was enchanted. The fabulous horses, the “glamorous” crowd, my own special race-book, the mystery of the betting ring with its demand for big decisions, such as where oh where to risk my money? And finally the big one, the actual Cup, accompanied by unladylike screams and the thunder of hooves, down the straight and past the post and it’s yes! Yes! Yes!
I had won five shillings. Gai Waterhouse never felt so good.
I married a man who had spent his childhood holidays in the stables of his step-grandfather, a trainer. My father-in-law put himself through accountancy by riding as a jumps jockey around the country. And now here I was, mother-in-law of a part-owner of an actual racehorse. This had to be a Good Thing, it was part of a pattern, it was Meant to Be.
When you join one of these syndicates, you just hand over regular sums of money and if you are a believer, you pray and if not, you hope. You don’t have any say in the upbringing or education of the young one, such as private v public or any of that. You just pay and pray (or hope). Probably just as well because my son-in-law, henceforth known as P, knew nothing much at all about racehorses, possibly even less than I do, but at least he’s a fast learner. I won’t call the colt by his real name either. Let’s pretend he’s Greg. I’m pretty sure there has never been a racehorse called Greg.
It all started out well enough. Once every week or two, P and all the other owners get an email with a little video attached, detailing Greg’s progress. A bit like a school report. P forwards these to me because he recognises my deep and abiding interest in Greg’s welfare. Occasionally we get a few words from the trainer; usually we get handed over to some underling. The reports are strikingly similar. Greg is a strong, fine-looking colt. True, he’s very handsome. Greg has a lovely temperament. Nice to know. Greg worked well, he’s got a great attitude. Terrific. But hang on, what’s this? Greg has a bit of a problem with his knees. The first hint of trouble, immature knees, comes at the same time as a request for a double payment this month. Which will be refunded out of Greg’s first winnings. Well, we all love a bit of optimism. Greg, who’s been in training for a glorious career for all of four months, is sent off for a spell in the country, all expenses paid, while his knees fix themselves. We do not want to jeopardise either his knees or his lovely temperament, not to mention his excellent attitude, and fair enough too. I am still in love with this useless nag, by the way.
Greg returns from his spell. The knees are “better”. We don’y know if that means cured or improving. He resumes training. He is still working well, lovely temperament, good-looking horse, etc. etc. Very encouraging. Until there are mentions of his weight. Lots of laughs about how Greg likes his tucker. I think to myself, clearly there is no equine Weight Watchers. So cut his rations, perhaps? Greg gets fatter. Does it occur to his trainers, vets, nutritionists to put him on a diet? Not on your life. Colt is overweight, the problem is in that word “colt”. Greg is off to the country again for another nice “rest”. Are they kidding? He’s getting his balls cut off is what’s happening! Poor horsie. Of course we sent organic carrots and Pink Ladies. It did occur to me, though, that this could perhaps offer a new approach to the nation’s obesity problem. Well, half of it, anyway.
I have to say that the time Greg is given to recover from this surgical procedure is ludicrous. I mean, women have hysterectomies, and a few days later they’re back at work and running the household to boot. Next life, I’m coming back as a racehorse, Korean possibilities notwithstanding.
Greg has finally returned to Caulfield and is back in light training. I would like him to do some serious galloping. Like going very fast. But I have to admit, just between us, that I am losing faith a little bit. I tell myself that he’s a late developer. He’s not going to be a sprinter, what we’ve got here is a stayer. Wait a few years and Greg will win the Melbourne Cup! We’re dreamers, we racing people.
I do see another possible future for our Greg. If you’re looking for a really nice hack to ride, handsome, beautiful temperament, ideal for kids or beginners because he doesn’t go too fast – and if you’ve got the odd $150K – just give me a call.