The Winners 2016 Under 15 Winner

Stillness. Not a sound or fidget as liquid eyes view each other and thoughts unspoken flow. Stillness broken as a small, still tender, brown young hand reaches up and caresses the mare's velvet muzzle.

"Today is your day. You have to do it," Muhammad murmurs to his horse. "You have to win."

So far from the racing stables of Newmarket and the billiard green track of Ascot, this horse and these stables represent the ambitions of the Middle East. No scent here of soft summer rain or fresh straw bedding but the smell of heat and sand. The sounds, too, are different: of course a whinny here or there and the clatter of hooves translates across the cobbles, but the mosques with delicate minarets that look like icing sugar amplify the sound of the Mullah as prayers lyrically ebb and flow across the beautiful, fountained stable yard.

This is the home of Muhammad, a young orphan plucked back to life by a Sheikh whose dreams of horses and trophies drive his every waking moment. This is where the young boy, still tiny but of 14 years, tends his horse every minute of his day.

His story is not so strange out here in this dust-laden country. At the age of six, his village was destroyed by fanatics. Few survived and Muhammad was amongst those shattered lives that came back from the death of broken buildings and broken bodies.

Taken to the far-off home of the Sheikh, Muhammad was nursed back to a life that revolved around horse racing. His job? To carry water that seemed as heavy as he was and to groom, and groom, and groom again.

One day, seemingly no different from any other, a trailer arrived and down its rusting ramp, with fear and dread, came a foal. Flecked with sweat and nostrils wide, her untethered journey had bumped her into a terror unknown to the human mind. Two men shake hands and the deal is done. Muhammad dashes forward as his name is sharply cracked into the still air.

"Take her," orders his boss. "She's yours". No other words - for this is the way - and the young boy hesitantly takes the rope. The foal can't move. Splayed legs planted, head held high and wild eyes showing white, she snorts and signals her distress to her unknown home.

Time moves slowly in this languid country. Boy and horse share their lives, where they sleep, wash and eat. They also share unspoken words of loss and sadness. As time moves on, the foal fills out and grows into a fine and fast filly, ready at last to race.

That she can win, and be a champion, is never doubted. The Sheikh, like a hawk, follows her daily progress and Muhammad is at last allowed to ride her out at exercise. She grows ever faster with him on board, ready to give her all to her boy.

But this day of all days is the one that counts. Time does not wait forever - and a win today means a life at stud for this big-hearted horse. She will travel far from the scorched ground of the Middle East to the lush pastures of England. Anything other than a win means a move somewhere too awful to contemplate, a place where horses are quickly broken in spirit, if not body. For the yard is ready to empty and re-fill with the next batch of colts and fillies that will bring new glories.

And so Muhammad, who has lost so much in life, now faces losing the only thing he loves. He prays with all his heart that his horse wins -in more ways than one.


Back