The Racing Post Chase day at Kempton excited my whole family, especially as our horse Eleazar would run in the first race over hurdles. All week, the anticipation built and, by 21st February, I was feeling extremely optimistic, which I am told is common among connections of horses!
We arrived early at Kempton but already there was a carnival atmosphere, and the superb weather added its sparkle to the surroundings. Admiring all that we saw, we made our way to the Panoramic Restaurant via all sorts of disused areas marked “Private” in bold letters – my father was determined to re-live his university days and, to my embarrassment, he refused to follow the correct signs. Thankfully, following the James Bond route, and to the surprise of the waitress who was not expecting guests to spring from a secret hatch, we arrived safely! We and some great friends, the Robinsons, who share Eleazar with us, shared a family table with its own television overlooking the course.
It was soon time to view the horses and down we trooped to the pre-parade ring. Infuriatingly, children are not allowed into here or the paddock, so Patrick Robinson, my sister Susie and I hovered outside while our parents, who now only had eyes for their four-legged child with the gleaming coat, watched him rather more lovingly than they watched us. As he left the paddock with Dominic Elsworth in the saddle (very handsome, Mummy thought – lucky her to get close enough to see!), Daddy took us to make a bet. As he placed my £4 at 25 to 1, the Tote lady glared at him and muttered so that we could hear, “Betting for children – Disgraceful!” Hearing all this, I longed to be 17…
As we waited in the Owners’ Stand, I could hear my own heartbeat. There was Eleazar lining up looking magnificent in Daddy’s red colours with the black braces. I said a secret prayer for him to come home safely and to do his best.
The horses were running and Eleazar was immediately on the rail in 4th. As they passed us, he looked wonderful, full of zest - didn’t they all? I couldn’t let myself think that he might win. When the commentator, still not saying Eleazar’s name quite right, announced the halfway point, he was still holding his position and looking just as confident, but other horses were starting to make their move and soon five of them were in a line with two others ahead. Was this going to be a lucky day?....
The home turn now. Eleazar was tucked behind the leaders and I felt nervous. Every jockey was working hard – every jockey except one, that is, for Dominic was still sitting in a quiet position not having to move a muscle. Somehow, by magic, he and Eleazar had edged their way to the front, chased furiously by 14 horses who thought they were hounds and he was their fox. Dominic switched his whip to his other hand but instead of a thwack put his hand back on the rein, and now, at the last, a small mistake, and yet carried by our crazed shouting, he sped merrily and effortlessly past the winning lollipop. I kept thinking of the money I was going to collect from the cross lady at the Tote. Rich at last!
Thinking back, it seems rather corny to have a horse who runs and you are so excited and then it wins, but that really is how it happened!
I am pleased to say that the grown-ups had forgotten all about health and safety now, and could only think of things like kissing each other and champagne, so we three children sped past the nice man who was in charge of keeping children out, and into the winner’s enclosure, hoping to be on television – rich AND famous! Eleazar was puffing but his ears were pricked and so were his lass Vicky’s! Last year she won the Stable Staff Award and she worships Eleazar as if he was her own child. Mrs Wadham looked very relieved and everyone was talking about the amazing training performance after 511 days off.
Later, in the Panoramic Restaurant, the Eddis and Robinson families settled down for lunch when Mr Robinson tripped with his newly-filled and rather large glass of red wine. He elegantly thrust it towards my sister’s pale pink jacket, and it was such an accurate throw that we did not even have to ask the waitress to help mop up, as every drop had been absorbed by Susie and her clothes. As Mrs Robinson gently took Susie off to the Ladies, the rest of us collapsed with giggles, except Mr Robinson who was adamant he did not know how it had happened.
A typical day’s racing, and yet we may never have another one like it.