The Ride of his Life

Apr 11




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It was a chilly, crisp morning at the racetrack. The sun was just beginning to come up over the mountains in the distance as Dad and I led one of our thoroughbreds out of the stables and out towards the training track. We were waiting to start track work with one our best gallopers, Paragon Prince, but unfortunately, once again the jockey had forgotten to show up. The particular jockey had tendency to spend many a night out with the boys getting on the booze and the hangover that ensued the next morning, inevitably led to his unreliability.


“Damn that blasted jockey.” cursed my father,The Ride of his Life Articles rubbing his hands together, attempting to warm them. “He’s not going to show.”
I tethered our horse to the rails and studied my Dads face, thinking this was going to be another one of those interesting mornings. He was extremely irate and angry and when my Dad got irritated with the horses or situations connected with the stable and coupled with Dad’s way of managing things, any sign of frustration in my father, usually meant trouble. In all his years of training race horses, I had lost count of the number of times Dad had flipped out.
“What are you staring at.” Dad suddenly snapped at me.
“Nothing.” I said quickly, turning back to Paragon Prince, checking over the saddle, bridle and straightening up the saddle cloth. I slid my hands under his long thick mane, attempting to warm them, and avoided eye contact with my father, anything to not to incur his wrath. I felt even more strongly now that Dad was about to lose his temper and it was not going to be a pleasant morning.

I guess I should explain why I was so worried about my fathers temper. In all our years dealing with horses, trainers, owners, jockeys and the like, there had been many an occasion where things had not worked out the way Dad had envisioned. Therefore he would quite often lose his temper, spit the dummy and do some really off the wall stuff. Let’s face it, the racing game and more importantly thoroughbreds can be very unpredictable creatures and things can invariably go awry and my father could be usually seen, should I say throwing some kind of hissy fit. Like the time, a few years ago, when he couldn’t catch one of our brood mares. Granted, this particular horse could be a prize bitch when she wanted and this particular day was no exception. She really didn’t want to be caught that day and after two hours of my Dad and I trying out every plan that we had hatched the night before, she (the mare) decided to go into the paddock dam and stay there. My father was infuriated with this blasted horse, as he called her as well as few other strong expletives and suffice to say began to hurl stones at her. The mare just stood there, with an expression of complete arrogance, regarding my father with absolute contempt. The mare was not going to budge. She had won this round, and my Dad knew it. Anyone watching this little performance would have considered my Dad to be quite mad, but that was just his way of doing things, not necessarily the right way, but Dad’s way nonetheless. This particular story and many others involving our thoroughbreds have been told and re-told to family and friends, ending with everyone rolling around in fits of gut wrenching laughter.

Getting back to the morning in question, My father and I were cooling our heels still waiting for this jockey to arrive. Cooling our heels was right, it was bloody freezing. My father was huffing and puffing, pacing around, totally infuriated with this apparent ‘no show’ jockey. My mother would later say that Dad’s temper and rash deeds could’ve been disastrous to him and our family. I’ll never forget the dressing down she gave him. It was one of the numerous arguments they have shared during their forty-five years of marriage, concerning our horses and Dad’s tendency to flip a lid.

I stood there with Paragon Prince, stroking his mane watching my father pace up and down. He was mad, real mad. I didn’t see it as the end of the world. We could just unsaddle the horse, take him back to the stable and go home. Tomorrow was another day. Dad could ring our jockey and give him right blasting for not showing up. If he didn’t have a hangover, he certainly wouldn’t feel too good after Dad was through with him. I was not going to be bold as to suggest it. Why make my father more furious than he already was.

Suddenly, Dad stopped pacing and walked over to the horse, with an expression on his face that spoke volumes, that look one gets when they think they have a brilliant idea, but in reality the notion is moronic. This was one of my father’s idiosyncrasies that I have long learnt to fear. He untied the horse and began to fiddle around with the girth and stirrups.
‘Oh no!’ I thought to myself, not fully certain what he was about to do.
“What are you doing?” I protested, a feeling of dread gripping my stomach.
“What does it look like?” He snapped at me, leading the Paragon Prince onto the racetrack.
“Dad.” I protested again. “What the heck?”
Suddenly comprehending what he was about to do. Dad was going to ride the flipping horse himself.
“If this lazy jockey ain’t going to show up son, then I’ll ride track work.” Came his immediate retort.
“You can’t.” I argued.
“I can so, it’s my blasted horse.” He shouted stubbornly. I didn’t argue, that would have been useless. You didn’t argue with Dad when he was like this, he was not kidding.
I wasn’t even sure if he could ride or not. I had never seen him mount a horse.
“Dad.” I yelled, feeling just a bit cheeky, “Can you even ride?”
“How hard can it be?’ He asked me, meanwhile hauling himself into the saddle. He turned the horse and guided him out onto the course, not the training track, but on the course proper which was forbidden territory for track work galloping.
“Oh My Lord!” I cursed to myself, thinking that there are a million reasons why he shouldn’t do this. He’s not wearing a hard hat, just a stupid blue floppy thing. He can’t ride, obviously. Mum is going to be livid and will probably kill him, if he doesn’t kill himself in the process. Thoroughbreds are mad at the best of times, but with my crazy father, with his erratic irish temper who couldn’t ride a horse to save his life on a nervous thoroughbred, this was not going to be constructive track gallop.
“Damn!” I muttered to myself. Where was my mother when I needed her? If she were witnessing this, she would have a cow. A total melt down.
“Dad, you can’t!” I shouted, but it was too late. He couldn’t hear me anyway, it was a futile attempt. He walked Paragon Prince around to the 1200 metre starting area and gathered up the reins. He lent forward, giving the horse an unnecessary sharp kick in the guts and they took off at a flat out gallop. Dad just clung on for dear life, grasping at handfuls of mane and reins. I guess he was hoping the horse would just carry him to the winning post. They galloped around the corner into the straight, heading for the winning post. I ran down towards the straight and stood at the rail watching, still expecting the worst to come. Then all of a sudden, Dad saw it, I saw it and the horse saw it. The piece of metal wire that had been placed across the track to prevent idiots - like my father, galloping their horses on the course proper. My father tried and tried to pull him up, but to rein in a thoroughbred without warning, traveling at around sixty kilometres per hour is virtally impossible. He leaned back and dragged on the reins using every ounce of strength he possessed, but it was hopeless and he knew it. I stood there rooted to the spot, thinking for sure that my father’s number was up. He didn’t have a chance in hell of stopping Paragon Prince before they reached that metal wire.

All of a sudden, Dad did the only thing he could do under the circumstances; he bailed. He just plain jumped out of the saddle on to the ground still holding the reins and it was the funniest thing you ever saw; my crazy father running alongside this horse, which he somehow managed to pull away from that lethal looking piece of wire across the track. Don’t ask me how he did it. It was all so fast, but he did it. I sighed in total exasperation and relief, leaning against the rails. Dad walked over leading the horse behind him.
“Well.” he said, trying to catch his breath, his expression giving away nothing, “That was hairy.”
I said nothing, thinking that his words were a huge understatement and also knowing full well if I even opened my mouth Dad would be right in my face, justifying his actions. I decided then and there to just shut up and agree with him. I decided leave this task to my mother. Mum would and did lock horns with him later, she literally had him for breakfast and then some. As for the ‘no show’ jockey, well did he cop a well deserved dressing-down from both Mum and Dad. I don’t recall him ever riding for us again after that day. I assume my father had to go before the turf club officials over that incident and furthermore, he probably got into an abundance of trouble over it. I’m not really sure, I was only about twelve at the time, so I don’t recollect all that eventuated after that day. However, when I witness that determined, stubborn, cantankerous expression on Dad’s face, I know the ever -dependable hissy fit is just around the corner and to hell with the consequences. As far as I know, after the events of that morning my father never again attempted to ride a horse.

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