Simon Barnes in The Times

A Victory

Quixall Crossett is the worst horse in racing. ‘Well, he isn’t,’ Ted Caine, his owner, trainer, work-rider and mucker-outer said. ‘People like to say that, but he isn’t.’ Just the 87 races so far in his career.

And he has not won a single one of them. He’ll probably be having another crack over the Easter weekend.

There has never been such a bad racehorse, in terms of figures, anyway. The previous worst was Amrullah, with 74 successive defeats.

Quixall Crossett has taken losing into a new dimension.

He lives with three almost equally dodgy horses in the North Yorkshire Moors: start from Middlesbrough and take a road that goes winding between the tops and hang a left into High Crossett Farm. Fine spring morning, lapwings dancing their courting dance in the sky above. Caine is a permit trainer, has been for 20 years, barring a single year out of the game. Permit trainers have a licence to train their own animals. He has had a nice horse here and there in his time: Cavalier Crossett won eight times – ‘but that was a once-in-a-lifetime, that was.’ Quixall Crossett, however, runs and runs and never wins. And neither Ted nor his wife, Joy, will hear a word against him. They will, when pressed, admit that he is a little on the slow side, ‘but he always quickens up towards the end of a race. You’ll see.’ So the video cranks into operation. A narrow-bodied bay, jockey in purple sleeve , and leading. That’s Quixall – but the favourite passes him as if he was stuck in second and cruises 20 lengths ahead. Ah, but wait, wait, wait for that famous second wind.

And Quixall starts to eat into the lead, stride by stride. And the Caines watch, rapt. How many times have they watched this video, how many time have they been rapt? They are in their fifties, eyes shining with the naive delight of it all. Two out and a terrible jump by the leader, the jockey staying on by happy or unhappy chance. An audible sigh from Joy: if you watch this video enough, surely one time the leading jockey might just slide – painlessly of course, not an ounce of malice in this household – to the floor.

Even at the last, the leader puts in a poor jump and Quixall is behind him, jumping neatly and accurately. Come on, Quixall!

But no, the winning post comes, Quixall has lost again. Only by two lengths, and second place isn’t bad, and Quixall has been placed 18 times, and has been second once before, and there’s glory for you.

The Caines bred Quixall themselves, a stallion fee of £50. He was named for Albert Quixall, the footballer: ‘He was a blond inside forward and so was I.’ Quixall the footballer joined Manchester United after the Munich air crash; Quixall the horse joined the Caines 14 years ago. ‘Such big feet he had,’ Joy said. ‘It was as if all his strength had gone to his feet. It was like he had wellington boots on.’

‘I was really pleased with the name,’ Ted said, ‘and I kept wishing I’d saved it for a good ’un.’ A walk round the yard does not take long: a run of four roomy boxes, all occupied, with Quixall in the star’s box by the entrance. Where do you exercise them? ‘We just do bits round the farm. Up on the moors. Sometimes we go to the beach.’

There is a real, well, niceness about the pair of them, their uninhibited pleasure in their horses. They are far from humourless: they take a shy delight in Quixall’s burgeoning celebrity status. Quixall gets his own fan mail. A typical example applauded his sterling efforts and had a couple of quid Sellotaped to the card: ‘Ask Mr Caine to spend this on carrots for you.’ But still I didn’t understand.

Many people would have got rid of the wellington-booted Quixall, but the Caines believed that he would improve (he could hardly go the other way, after all) and at just about the age of nine he grew into himself. In Flat racing, a late developer is one that matures in the autumn rather than spring of his three-year-old season, but the Caines are as generous with their time as they are with the cheese and malt loaf.

They have taken other dodgy horses, horses that no one else wants. ‘We’ve taken them out of the rubbish bin.’ One of the four, Triana’s Hope, was a chronic rearer when he came to them; no longer. What did you do to cure him? ‘Nothing really. Just bits around the farm. A bit of time. No pressure.’ Quixall is a decent, sensible horse that can jump. He is the right sort of animal to be schoolmaster to an apprentice, or easy companion to an amateur. So they run the horse mostly in apprentice and amateur races, which is also cheaper. It is a good deal all round. ‘And you don’t give up when he’s enjoying himself,’ Caine said. ‘We will keep going as long as he likes it. He jumps round, he enjoys it and he comes back sound because he knows how to look after himself. So we think about the next race.’

But what about that year off, why did he give up training for a year? ‘Oh, that was when our son was killed.’ A sweet and friendly smile. ‘I didn’t feel like training then, but I took out a licence again the following year. ‘ Malcolm, their son, was killed in an accident on the farm; Malcolm who was going to take the place over, in the fullness of time.

Joy was the one who found him. Devastation such as this destroys the survivors – but the Caines have not been destroyed. ‘Well, it was Quixall that kept us going, really.’ And suddenly this dotty pilgrimage around the racecourses of the North makes sense.

Suddenly I can understand the delight in the occasional place, the real pride in the two seconds. ‘We enjoy going to the races more than ever,’ Caine said, ‘and we’ll keep going. As long as he likes it.’ And it becomes clear that Quixall Crossett has seen the Caines through a period of the most unspeakable grief. Life: that is what horses are good at. That is what horses give. Also, they require so much looking after, what with feeding and watering and mucking out and exercising, that, even in despair, you have the business of life to deal with: the lives of the horses in your hands, their life-affirming nature to live with, the sound of munching in the dark, the whickering as the feed bucket clangs in the yard, the feel of horse beneath you at morning exercise.

And so the Caines take Quixall to the races, again and again, and he gives the amateur a nice day out and the apprentice a good lesson and it is all pure gold for the Caines. ‘He’s not fast,’ Caine conceded, albeit reluctantly, ‘but he’s a survivor.’ And so are they: kind people with a horse of almost impossible generosity.

Quixall has had 87 races without victory. Quixall and the Caines are undefeated.

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