The Shearer’s Colt

Part II - Chapter XVIII

Second Day’s Racing

Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson

THE SUCCESS of the first day’s racing sent everybody off their balance. Even Connie, who was fond of saying that she would not bet on the sun rising, secretly rang up Mr Manasses and told him to put a hundred pounds on Crusader for her in the mile-and-a-quarter race on the second day. Her trainer had told her that she was absolutely certain to beat the American, equally certain to beat the Australian, and that it was ten to one on her beating the French horse. To which Connie replied:

“I’ve heard of them certainties before. I’ve ’ad some. I wouldn’t back a racehorse with bad money”—and then set off and rang up Mr Manasses as before said.

Red Fred, too, being under orders not to bet, was leading a double life and was betting through his valet de chambre. This latter gentleman was, to the naked eye, the acme of respectability; on the quiet he was an agent for a big starting-price bookmaker and received a commission of two shillings in the pound on all business brought in by him. A discouraging thought, this, to those who tilt at the ring, for a backer cannot have much chance when a bookmaker can afford to pay ten per cent to get his business.

But ten per cent or any other per cent meant nothing to Red Fred who had caught the punting fever for which the only cure is death. What with Connie’s homilies on the folly of betting and Red Fred’s sycophantic agreement therewith, Fitzroy felt that they would at least have him arrested as a lunatic if he said anything about his big double. He spent the Tuesday in keeping away as far as possible from human intercourse, and waited feverishly to see how the first leg of his double would shape on the Wednesday.

The way of the transgressor is hard and things were not made any easier for Fitzroy when Sensation’s trainer turned up at Newmarket Lodge full of mystery. As Connie was out he had an uninterrupted interview with Red Fred and Fitzroy and stated his case to them.

“There’s something wrong,” he said. “This boy of yours, this Bill the Gunner, isn’t getting your horse out. I’m certain the horse can do better. I’d like to put another rider on him to-morrow, and I think we might beat Her Ladyship’s horse. This horse of yours wouldn’t blow a match out after his gallops yet he’ll let anything in the stable beat him. Let me put O’Rourke—Jimmy the Butcher—they call him—on your horse to-morrow and if Jimmy the Butcher can’t win on him, we’ll let your boy ride him again on the last day.”

Red Fred was always ready to fall in with any suggestion made by anybody, but he trembled to think what Bill the Gunner would have to say to this arrangement. As usual he compromised.

“Well, you can put this butcher cove of yours up to-morrow if you like, but I won’t take Bill the Gunner off him altogether. Let your cove ride him to-morrow and Bill can ride him on Saturday. I don’t know what’s up with the horse meself. He could go like a blue-flyer kangaroo in Australia, but here he’s like a shearer’s horse—goes a long way in a long time.”

With that the trainer took his departure, and Fitzroy was left to conjure up pictures of this ruthless rider driving Sensation home ahead in front of Connie’s horse and settling the first leg of his twelve-thousand- pound double. It seemed to be all in keeping with the rest of his luck.

By request of the trainers the grand parade of the horses with musical accompaniment was cut out the second day. The horses had to run three hard races in eight days and the modern racehorse, temperamental to a degree, is easily upset by excitement. Crusader had not relished the first day’s parade, in fact it had upset him more than the race and his trainer would have no more of it.

“If you start ’em cake-walking and dancing the can-can again,” he said, “I’ll have to sit up to-night and drop oats into the stems of sow thistles to make my horse eat anything. We’ve had enough of the circus business and enough is too much if you ask me.”

This ultimatum was delivered to a committee consisting of Mr Manasses and several other gentlemen, some of whom had but the scantiest knowledge of the subject. As is usual on committees those who knew the least felt compelled to make suggestions, just to show that they were not altogether passengers on the voyage.

One of these worthies caught the word circus and hopped in with a helpful remark.

“It is a pity we didn’t know about this,” he said, “there’s a circus in camp just over here and we could have got them to give us a parade. Fine elephant they’ve got.”

“Look gentlemen,” said the trainer, “if you bring an elephant, or even a Bengal tiger, anywhere within scent of my horse I’ll scratch him.”

“All right, all right,” said Mr Manasses who was used to dealing with temperamental people, and saw that the trainer, for some reason or other, was getting quite excited. “We won’t have any parade. There’s nothing about it in the programme. They can’t ask for their money back.”

With these troubles adjusted, the first few races were run off and then came the signal for the great Mile-and-a-quarter International Race. The Americans wagered on their horse, trusting on his speed to pull him through, but the English public put their money behind the opinion that Crusader would “get him” in the last quarter of a mile. In the paddock Bill the Gunner, saying nothing as usual, glumly saddled Sensation and gave him a parting slap on the rump for luck as he went to the post. O’Rourke, who took the Gunner’s place on Sensation, was a very strong rider, a first-class man to handle an awkward or lazy horse, but he was no artist. As the barrier lifted Crusader and Clean Sweep jumped away together, but Sensation dwelt for a second and, instead of giving him time to strike his stride and get balanced, O’Rourke started to hustle him along. With his rider hard at him Sensation started to scramble, trying to take a fresh stride before he had finished the last. He did not get into his rhythmic swing till he had run nearly a furlong, and by this time Clean Sweep and Crusader had set up a four lengths lead, with the American horse holding his own rather easily with the English crack.

All were great gallopers and so easily did they move that it was hard to believe that they were going a pace which would have made the average horse look as though he were tied to the fence. For the first seven furlongs there was nothing between the two leaders, while Sensation and the Frenchman had not made up any of the ground. As they approached the mile the American rider began to niggle at his horse while Crusader, going straight as a gun-barrel with his ears pricked, began to draw away. Another hundred yards saw the end of the American and Crusader’s rider was able to ease his horse for a fraction of a second while waiting for another challenger to come along. Gamely the French and Australian horses struggled after him, but it was no race. They were never able seriously to challenge him and he passed the post an easy winner, going well within himself and looking as if he could go on for another mile if wanted. Sensation shook off the French horse in the straight and finished second in fine even style, with the American beaten off. Pandemonium broke loose. Connie waltzed with her trainer and the air was thick with hats. Away on the hill a Chinaman and two Latin-Americans watched the finish through their glasses and Ramon said “Gee, ain’t he a hoss? What a pity that he won’t run so well next Saturday.”

Dominic looked round to see that no one could hear and said: “What did I tell yer about the Australian? See him breeze when that butcher boy hit him? Give him time to settle down and he shakes ’em up. He ain’t got a five-cent chance of beatin’ this winner, but he might beat the others. We’ll take care of him, and, oh boy, what a diamond price we’ll get about the Frenchman next Saturday.”

At the settling next day Crusader was a warm favourite for the Two Mile International. He had won at a mile and a quarter so easily that it was hard to see anything troubling him in the long race—the last of the series. Fit and well, Crusader must win the remaining big race. When they finished their settling the bookmakers got to business on the two-mile race.

“Take two to one” was the cry. “Take two to one about Crusader.” Sensation was second favourite, while the Frenchman and the American were at long odds, but nobody wanted anything but the favourite. Before long, the books were shortening Crusader’s price and were trying to get money in on the others.

“Coom on now,” roared the Yorkshireman, “ah’ll stretch it a bit. ’Ere’s ten to one the Boy de Bologne. Ain’t there onny Frenchmen aboott”

No Frenchmen made their appearance. But Fitzroy’s little English commissioner friend began to drift round the tables taking a thousand to a hundred about the French horse from every bookmaker that would lay it. He got pretty well round the room before the ring-men woke up to the fact that a big commission was being worked. By the time that he had got round to the Yorkshireman, he had invested two thousand pounds at a steady price of ten to one, and then he put his notebook in his pocket.

Even a racing commissioner must talk sometimes, and when a friend asked him if he had backed the horse for himself he drew his friend to one side and whispered in his ear.

“You’ll hardly believe it,” he said, “but I don’t know whose money I’m putting on. Two Americans that I never saw before and a Chinaman—a Chinaman if you please—came to me and gave two thousand pounds and asked me to put it on the French horse for them. Can you beat that? I wouldn’t have touched it, only they gave me the money and the money was good, even if those birds weren’t. What do you make of it? The Chinaman told me he knew I was plenty good man and he’d give me two hundred if it came off. I never thought I’d take money from a Chinaman. But there’s not many men will give you two hundred for two minutes’ work, you know.”

“Do you think it’s got any chance?”

“Not an earthly, unless these chaps know something. I’d rather listen to two thousand cash than to all the tips in the world. They don’t put on two thousand unless they know something.”

With one leg of his big double safely home Fitzroy simply could not keep away from the settling. He saw Mr Noall across the room and thought that that amateur bookmaker might ask him to lay some of the double money back to him. But Mr Noall thought that the money was as good as in his pocket and had no idea of saving a single shilling. How could the Australian horse have any chance against Crusader?

Finding no hope for adventure, Fitzroy made for home, and he had to hurry, for during the afternoons he filled the position of watchman over Crusader’s box. With an automatic in his pocket he strolled up and down the yard, occasionally looking out in the manner laid down in police regulations. He did not expect that anything would happen, but it was just as well to be on the safe side, so he refused admittance to everybody, no matter how plausible their stories.

Cranks of all sorts are attracted by notoriety as flies are attracted by treacle; they haunt Chief Justices, Prime Ministers, and great racehorses with impartiality. Several such characters hung round the gates of Newmarket Lodge trying vainly to get in and to give the horse some miraculous specific that would make him run a mile in a minute. What with throwing these people out, and hunting for rats with the stable terrier, Fitzroy found the afternoon pass quite pleasantly. And he was delighted to receive a short-notice invitation to dinner and a theatre party with Moira and her father that evening. He determined to say nothing about the double, because there is many a slip between the first leg and the second; but he went to the dinner in a more cheerful mood than he had known for months. There was at any rate a chance that Sensation might get home.

Discarding his automatic and donning his dress clothes he spent a most enjoyable evening. And it felt like old times when he realized that the music-hall they visited was the place where he had thrown the chucker-out down the stairs. Moira’s attitude towards him was much more friendly since Connie’s engagement to Red Fred had been announced, and he was feeling quite bucked when he returned to Newmarket Lodge about midnight. It was a dark windless night, and the brightness of the stars turned his mind to Australia. Feeling inclined for a final pipe before he turned in, he decided to stroll down to the stables just to pass the time and to enjoy the fragrance of the tobacco in the open air. He let himself into the stable-yard with his key and walked up to speak to the night-watchman, who was sitting on a chair at the door of Crusader’s box with Sam the stable terrier at his feet.

Much to his surprise Sam did not run to meet him, nor did the night-watchman speak to him. He walked up to the watchman and found that he was to all intents and purposes a dead man. Fitzroy’s police training had taught him to distinguish between the effects of drink and the effects of drugs, and a hurried examination of the watchman showed that he had been drugged, and heavily drugged at that. The little dog lay as though dead, but there was no time to make any examination in his case. Springing to the door of Crusader’s box, Fitzroy threw it open and was relieved to find the horse apparently unharmed. Crusader knew him and greeted him with a cheerful whinny which showed that if anything had been administered to him it had not yet got in its work. It dashed through Fitzroy’s mind that the dopers must have in some way conveyed drugs to the man and the dog, and that they would come back as soon as the drugs had taken effect.

Entering the box, he felt along the wall till he found a flashlight torch that was kept on a shelf ready for emergencies at night. Then he spoke to the horse to give him confidence, and the big stallion came and nuzzled against his shoulder as though to say “We are all right, you and I.”

Feeling satisfied that the horse would not get frightened nor fly round the box, Fitzroy closed the box and waited there in the pitch darkness rubbing the horse’s head and listening for any sound. He heard nothing; but the doors of the box opened slowly and a flashlight was thrown into a corner of the box, evidently with the idea of getting the horse used to the light before flashing it full on him. So far, the visitors had seen only the corner of the box and the horse’s hind quarters, and it must have been a severe shock to them when Fitzroy switched on his light and flashed it in their faces. There were three men there, but only one that he knew. He found that he was holding the light within two feet of the face of Jimmy the Pat.

The horse sprang back to the far end of the box, but Fitzroy sprang forward, straight for the Chinaman’s throat, as he did so, Jimmy the Pat struck him over the head with an iron bar and Fitzroy went down among the straw with a fractured skull. Having one murder to his account, the Chinaman probably did not want another, but there was no safety for him while Fitzroy knew of his presence in England, and he stooped over Fitzroy’s prostrate form to finish his work.

But he had to reckon with an unexpected foe. A thoroughbred stallion is not without ideas of defending himself, and as the Chinaman bent forward Crusader reared up and struck out with his iron-shod front feet. One of them landed fair on the top of the head of Jimmy the Pat and crushed in his skull like an eggshell. Then the stallion jumped over the two prostrate figures and rushed down the yard, whistling and snorting in a fashion to awake the whole establishment. When the head lad and the stable-boys came flying down from their sleeping-quarters, they found the horse trembling with excitement in the far corner of the yard, and two apparently dead men lying in the box. The Americans had made themselves scarce.

A hurried call was sent out for the police, a doctor, and a vet. Fitzroy was rushed away to a hospital, the doctor saying that he had just a chance for his life, but Jimmy the Pat was beyond human aid. By heroic measures the watchman was brought round and the vet was just in time to save the life of the little dog. The police were thoroughly puzzled as to how the two men, one of them entirely unarmed, had managed to inflict such injuries on each other; and all sorts of theories were current until an examination of the Chinaman’s body at the morgue showed the mark of Crusader’s hoof clearly imprinted on his shaven skull.

The Shearer’s Colt - Contents    |     Chapter XIX - The Last Day’s Racing

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