The trainer. “Just keep him up there, don’t push him, just let him find his pace.” Michael nodded at the trainer, certain that this horse could do more, would do more. Implacable and inscrutable. Tightly wound. Joe Black legged him up into the saddle, nodded to the owners. Holding on tight as the horse pulled forwards he lead him and his jockey once around the paddock and out onto the course.
Joe Black can see that this young fellow is going places. The horse was truly something special, but so too was that young jockey. All wire and sinew and spots and attitude. A little tall perhaps, but discipline like you rarely see. And as for that seven year old, he had scope and ambition to spare, that open easy stride, that powerful backside you could see fighting for more as Michael worked to hold him, keeping the steady canter down to the first, sitting motionless, hands low, head bowed, silks bright. The youngest horse in the race. The youngest jockey in the race. A Grand National virgin. Joe watched as they hack cantered down to the first, noting the shined streaks of aluminium as the horse’s shoes cut into the turf. Good to firm. Perfect. They turned black dirt to the sky, slivers and divots arcing high, shining bright in the sun. Angels rising up in the chilly April air. Speed and power he thought, speed and power, and a young lad who will be more than the average jockey.
The jockey. I nod at the trainer as he’s telling me how to ride this race. It’s ok but I know what I should be doing, just as I know that this big beast of a seven year old can do much more than they reckon. I’m glad I can make the weight with room to spare. Although maybe it would be better if I were a bit heavier, then the weight would be working instead of dead and useless in the weight pad. Jesus this horse has some power. Lean back a tad, keep his mind on the job, calm, don’t just hang onto him. He’s taking a steady pull, but that’s as much excitement as anything else. Every stride is surging forwards against me, my hands, my weight. Barely contained, that half a tonne of muscle, bone and attitude pounding forwards. He’s still young but this horse knows the game. “Steady lad, steady… we’ll get there soon enough” and he hears me even though it’s barely a murmur. Those sleek birch grey ears swivel back momentarily, that steady snort of steamy breath matching an even stride. I just know how his eyes are shining, the bugger. Can’t help but smile and love that perfect rhythm.
The horse. Sunshine warm on my back; the scent of crushed grass rising. I am warm, blood and heart surging faster. My skin taut and strong over my frame, my muscles pressing hard. I know why I am here. I know what they want. I know the fear and the thrill and I set my head against the pull. We are slowing and the stink of muscle and sweat are in my nostrils and I am ready.
Beyond. Suddenly in slow motion and quiet, the two of them stop in shared silence between the greens below and the blues above. They stare momentarily at the four and a half foot obstacle, suspension, stillness, a time and motion hiatus. They turn back striding lean and sleek and fluid, towards the start. They are ready.
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