I shout a lot during big races. I always have done. You have to understand, horses just don’t perform unless I shout at them. I’ve tested this theory thoroughly. I once stayed quiet when I’d backed a 50-1 shot in the 2,000 Guineas and it finished nowhere. I reckon my support must be worth at least 10lbs in most Group races.
The first time my girlfriend witnessed my big-race-urgings was at Leopardstown. After the Irish Champion Stakes, when all had calmed, she looked at me and said in a slow, enquiring tone, "What exactly does, "Come on my son" mean?" Apparently, I’d been shouting repeatedly at the product of my loins, otherwise known as Giant’s Causeway, throughout the last couple of furlongs.
The experience has left its mark. One day last summer, when her parents were at Goodwood with us, she announced, "Just to warn you, Jack can sometimes get a little excited during a race." I felt like a child who is dropped off at a relative’s house and made to stand there as your parents loudly explain, "He’s a little prone to wetting the bed." (Not something I’ve experienced personally, you understand). Anyway, in this instance I didn’t really feel I could object, because, as she was saying, I did tend to "get a little excited."
Would today be any different? My parents and I are fulfilling lifelong ambitions by attending the 18th running of the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championship at Belmont Park. I think not.
Things haven’t gone too well up until now. Despite my encouragement, Noverre failed to sparkle in the Mile. Mozart left the gates last and never really dealt with the surface in the Sprint. But now it is all going to change. Vocal chords at-the-ready. We are all set for Johannesburg in the Juvenile.
Johannesburg breaks last from the gates, but quickly rallies and takes up a good position behind the duelling leaders. I start off with a quiet, almost whispered, "Come on Mick, Come on Johannesburg", building this up into a slightly louder, rhythmical chant as they come round the bend. By the time they hit ‘the stretch’, I’m in full flow, punching the air, screaming, "COME ON MICK, GO JOHANNESBURG". Mick switches him out to the right, finds a gap and quickens clear of the rest. "YES! YES! YES!"
I immediately look round to seek someone to share this joyous occasion with. Unfortunately, all I see are a mass of glum faces, not sharing my enthusiasm for the defeat of the mighty Officer. They probably feel that Johannesburg had an unfair advantage given my support. I feel embarrassed. More than that, I feel embarrassed for my parents. My Mum is seated behind me looking stunned and trying, unsuccessfully, to hide herself behind a large, half-eaten, knot-shaped pretzel.
I feel I need to apologise, but there is no time for that. I have to get down from my 4th floor perch and welcome the winner in.
Battling past crowds, I eventually make it to the walkway in front of the stands. There are two scrawny marshals trying to hold back the ever-increasing throng from the Winners Circle. Eventually, the seal breaks. The first few people seep through, quickly followed by the remainder.
In these few moments, I experience perfect happiness. A crowd that a few seconds ago had seemed manic and almost overbearing (John Magnier later compared it to a Rugby International at Lansdowne Road), now seems anonymous and almost invisible, as everyone focuses their attention on this one horse, and the small group of men who plotted this famous victory. Tabor, Magnier, Kinane and O’Brien stand in line, waiting for the photographers to take their pictures – fighting off the mass behind them for the few seconds required to line up the shot and press the button.
A guy next to me, a fellow pilgrim from the 4th floor, turns and asks me cryptically, "Are you part of the 1000-Man Johannesburg syndicate?" Someone behind shouts in velvet Irish, "We all are!"
And just as the crowd had so rapidly flooded in, it now starts to disperse. A path is cleared as Johannesburg is led back to the unsaddling enclosure amid more cheers and applause. The ecstatic connections are led up to a stage for the post-race interview. The eager American presenter grabs O’Brien – in blissful ignorance of the magnitude of the task he is about to take on. The presenter blasts out some typical interview-opener. Then comes Aidan’s reply.
Now, I’m quite an expert on listening to Aidan’s interviews. A few years of rigorous practice has trained my ear to pick out the salient points from the whispers he freely gives out post-race. But on this occasion even I struggle. I think I hear "…we just had to mind him." And there might be something about "…possesses terrible pace." But I can’t be sure. The look on the presenter’s face is priceless. He looks confused – "I thought they spoke English in Ireland", you can see him saying to himself. He wisely cuts it short with Aidan.
The excitement ebbs away. Most of the crowd has now drifted off. The interviews are over. The presenter moves off to find a stiff drink and suggest that they run the O’Brien interview with subtitles. Slowly I make my way back up to the 4th floor.
My Mum quickly gets up and makes her way to buy some more pretzels. She was telling me earlier that she didn’t really like them, "They taste a bit like salty, un-cooked dough", but now she assures me they are growing on her. I suspect ulterior motives – I think she might buy three or four to construct a sturdier shield around her head.
After all, she knows all too well that Galileo and Sakhee are yet to run in the Classic…