“Well, are we on?”
No such thing as “Hello” or “Lovely to see you” when you enter Nana’s house. All I am greeted with every Saturday morning is the usual question, “Are we on?”
“Yes, Nana, we’re always on”, clearly though, in this statement, I really only mean her.
Nana was never the best at backing horses, but ever since her now deceased husband brought her out to a cold crisp day of racing at Navan in 2009, everything changed. She backed against the really short priced favourite ‘Oak Tree’ in the Maiden Hurdle and went for a horse of Paddy Kinsella’s called ‘Road Trip’ at a price of 12/1. Remarkably, heading for the last, Road Trip and Oak Tree were neck’ n neck 10 lengths ahead of the other runners, but disaster struck for most punters when Oak Tree hit the flight hard and unseated his jockey, John Brotherton. This left Road Trip, with Pat Smith on board, to canter on up to the line, sending Nana into ecstasy in the stand.
Ever since that day in Navan, no matter where the race meeting or the price of the horse, Pat Smith is the man for Nana. Every Friday night, I receive the phone call to list out all Smith’s rides the next day. She then picks out her three fancies and I head down to the bookies to put €10 on each horse. Every time I reach the local bookmaker’s shop, I’m met with the question “So which ones today then?” by James behind the desk. He knows the weekly routine.
“Alright, come on; let’s get that TV on, five minutes before we’ve our first winner”, says Nana. The racing this particular day is from Haydock Park, with Pat aboard a horse called ‘Beatrice’ in the first. Unfortunately, for Nana anyway, Beatrice was pulled up in the back straight, which meant that Pat Smith’s run of races without a win is stretched to 242. Nana remains determined. Unsurprisingly, his two other runs that day produce no luck and it was yet again another Saturday where Nana is left €30 down.
“Next week we’ll get them”.
“Yes, Nana we will. I’ll see you later. Bernie will be around later at about 5. I met her this morning eagerly awaiting this week’s racing story”.
Bernie had been Nana’s helper ever since she had the stroke. Nana suffers from a lot of the side effects, but I just find it remarkable how she remembers me and my phone number. She sees Bernie every day- something a woman with dementia would remember- but that she is able to remember me is amazing.
The following Friday it reached 9 o’clock without any sign of a phone call, which meant something was up. “Has she forgotten me?” I thought to myself, sitting in my arm chair reading the following day’s runners on my phone. I decided to cycle down and check up on her.
I arrived and went into the kitchen. There I met Bernie. She looked down on me with her eyes wide open and I could tell by her facial expression the news was not good. “She’s in there”, Bernie told me, pointing to the front room, which was usually the cathedral of racing on Saturday afternoons. She was lying on the couch looking as beautiful as ever.
I looked down on my Nana knowing she was gone from my life forever. I turned to the fire place, my eyes watering, my face startled, my body shaking, looking at the only picture on the mantelpiece. My grandparents, pictured together at Navan races in 2009, six months before Granddad died and now six and a half years before Nana died.
As I walked by the bookies the following day, I decided I would head in to announce the news to James behind the counter. He greeted me with the usual “Which three today then, Bosco?”, but he quickly realised by the redness of my eyes that something was very wrong. James and I had a great chat. “She will be dearly missed”, James said to me, shaking my hand as I was leaving.
When I was walking out something on the newspapers stuck to the wall caught my eye. The 1.55 at Leopardstown. Number eight was the one, a red jacket with white sleeves and a white cap: the colours of none other than Road Trip, trained by Paddy Kinsella and ridden by Pat Smith, his first run for almost a year. I couldn’t resist the temptation of having €10 on it.
I made my way to Nana’s house, which was full of close family and friends, all gathered in the front room where Nana lay. I turned on the TV.
“He’s back!” I said, “Road Trip! He’s there lying second”. All of a sudden I realised the whole room was tuning in to watch. They all knew the story of this so called ‘wonderful’ horse from Nana, one of her few lasting tales.
They turned for home. Road Trip was still second with Pat Smith on his back. The room was roaring, the commentator was going mad, my heart palpitating. The pair jumped the last flight in front, and Smith went for the whip. Road Trip put his head down and fended off all challengers, just like he did that day at Navan when he was a young horse. The room broke into a state of ecstasy, very like Nana in the stand that day.
Pat Smith’s losing streak was over. James was delighted when I arrived to collect. I made my way back to Nana’s and into the front room. I stood at the foot of her coffin and, with her looking as beautiful as ever, I stuck the winnings into her pocket. She finally got her winner, at a price of 12/1.