I gripped my knees to the brown leather racing saddle, my breath hung heavily in the air with anticipation. I was crouched low on Roary, my thoroughbred racing dream. My tingling fingers clenched the rubber reins; sweat was binding on my palms. My aching knees were bent on the saddle against Roary’s sides. I muttered motivational words into his freshly clipped ear.
This was my first steeplechase. At last, the months of running mile after mile in the dark mornings to get fit would hopefully pay off and help me get to the end of two miles and one furlong and a dozen or so steeplechase fences. The steward in his smart tweed jacket and trilby raised his flag and called starter’s orders. My heart was beating furiously but Roary and I were ready.
The cheering of the crowds was blurry and unfocused to me as my attention was purely on Roary and the race. An excitable Roary jogged towards the start line. As we were forced between two arrogant horses, Roary started to barge, shuffle and fret in frustration. I could feel claustrophobia creeping up like a room tightly closing in on me.
It was our time. The steward was looking towards us all. We were in line, he dropped the flag and we were off. Roary sprang forward in desperation for freedom. I was jolted back in surprise at his enthusiasm. As he started to get into the rhythm of a full-on gallop, the first steeplechase fence came into sight. Roary surged forward, now fully concentrating. He took control. He jumped the first fence like a stag. The world was a muffled spinning blur. We were unbeatable.
The next few jumps didn’t faze us. But I might have spoken too soon about a chance of winning. There were 14 out of 20 jockeys left. All with ambitious horses. Jump number 11, the open ditch, was upon us but as I prepared for take-off, a loose horse swerved into our tracks.
Roary, being an honest jumper, took off but stumbled on landing and fell hard onto his knees. Blood rolling down his leg like a stream. I was thrown onto his neck. As I regained my balance, Roary used all his power and dragged himself up. We fought on. We had a battle to win. Powering down the mud-streaked track, we tore up the ground, and soared over the water jump.
We caught up. We were breathless, literally, but still strong. The finishing post was in sight. We pushed on. It was neck and neck. One last try. I closed my eyes, squeezed Roary and hoped. As I opened my eyes, applause and cheers boomed around us. We’d won! We’d actually won!
I collected the trophy. The winning sash hung proudly around Roary’s neck and the sponsor’s rug over on his back.
As I drew an astonishing breath in, a bellowing alarming noise rippled annoyingly around me. It was time to wake up for school…