When people asked what my Dad did, what his job was, I always had the same response: "Racehorses. He works with racehorses."
Respect ensued, usually with a hint of curiosity and scepticism. Despite the slightly dangerous and rough image that racing sometimes projected to the world, it still remained "The Sport of Kings" and my classmates and friends were always impressed to hear my Dad was associated with the Kings themselves, the mighty Thoroughbred horses.
We went to the races sometimes, me and my Dad. We would always arrive early. It gave us plenty of time before the first race to stroll around and have a good feel of the racecourse, the weather and the day that was in it. We believed this was really important; it gave us a better chance of winning.
Spotting Dad's horses in the parade ring was always easy. They were usually the same sort. Big, plenty of muscle and enough energy to be prancing around and sweating up well before the race. He liked the ones that wanted to win and showed off to the crowds.
"Aren't they wasting their energy?" I asked, once.
"If a horse is going to win, it's going to win, honey."
Looking around at some of the other horses, heads down and focused on their task, I wasn't always sure that my Dad was right. Surely a horse covered in sweat before the starting gate would be more likely to run out of steam on the home stretch? But what did I know? I knew very little of racehorses and, what I did know, I only knew from my Dad. He was the expert after all.
With jockeys finally mounted and tension building, we ran out to the bookies. It didn't matter that my Dad only ever backed his horses and that he knew what he would be betting on before he got up in the morning. He always left it until just before the race. This was lucky as well. We could never have too much luck.
My Dad named his horse, his bookie named his price and then the race was off.
The entire crowd held its breath as the horses sprung from their cages like Olympic sprinters. Digging their hooves into the turf, they searched for the power and speed to push themselves ahead of the horse beside them. Their muscles began to work and stretch as they worked out their position in the pack. The jockeys were seated quietly, not pushing or pulling. Not yet.
Seconds of silence as the horses made their way down the back stretch and into the home turn. Five out, I could feel my Dad tensing up in anticipation of the final dash to the finish line.
"Here they come."
They wheeled onto the home stretch. Jockeys let them have their head. They stretched out.
One furlong out, my Dad's horse was in front by a length. The jockey was still urging him on, but I could feel Dad's excitement, and his apprehension. The horse beside his was looming on his inside, gaining with each stride.
No, I thought. Then I whispered it. Then I yelled it.
My Dad was shouting and yelling like a mad man, his true colours showing as he willed his horse home. We yelled out with the rest of the crowd as they approached the winning post.
They crossed the line together.
I looked at my Dad. He still stared out at the track, replaying the race in his head already. His eyes were focussed and yet they were still a million miles away. I knew he didn't notice me staring at him, taking in his relief and fear.
This was the bare version of my Dad which I only saw at the races. As the horses crossed the winning post, my Dad’s response was uncalculated. This was the moment, immediately after a race, where he was unprotected and exposed. In that moment, he could have been a king.
When my Dad's horse lost, especially when it was as close as a photo finish, we didn't speak much about it. Instead, after a few moments’ silence, we would leave the stands and go look at his next horses as they, too, pranced around the pre-parade ring. They knew nothing of their predecessor’s failure and we pretended we didn't either.
"What does your Dad do with racehorses?" someone once asked.
"He chooses which ones will win."
"How does he do that? Does he train them?" they questioned.
"No, he doesn't train them."
"He doesn't ride them, does he?" they continued.
"No, he's too heavy. And too old."
"So what does he do? Own them? Aren't they expensive?"
"Yeah, they are expensive. He doesn't own them, not really. He just chooses the winners and tells the bookies. Then they pay him."