The Shearer’s Colt

Part II - Chapter XIX

The Last Day’s Racing

Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson

IT TAKES a lot to stir up London. But London was thoroughly stirred up by the attack on Connie’s horse, the death of the Chinaman and the injury to Fitzroy. Occurring as it did about midnight, the news set sub-editors on a hundred papers tearing the formes to pieces and discarding Prime Ministers’ speeches, threats of war in the Balkans, and articles on the fishing-fleets in the North Sea. This attack on Fitzroy was front-page stuff, and many a weary stone-hand who had hoped to get home early, found himself in for the job of making up extra editions till daylight.

Flashlight photographers, when they were denied admittance to the Newmarket Lodge stables, erected step-ladders outside the walls and snapped away until the magnesium flares made the place look like a front line in Flanders. The newspaper people regarded it as a piece of luck that the affair had happened to Connie and Crusader, for they had numberless photographs of those celebrities; photos of Red Fred and Fitzroy would have fetched ten pounds per square inch. Every photographer in London was rung up from his slumbers, to see if by any chance he had a snapshot of the Newmarket Lodge party at the races. When one such photograph came to light, the newspaper that secured it put a reliable man on to watch it through every stage of reproduction. Crusader’s trainer disconnected his telephone to avoid answering inquiries as to whether the horse would be fit to run on the following Saturday. This availed him little as inquirers got in over his fence or through his back yard and hammered at the door till they got some sort of an answer.

Reporters claiming to be friends of the family got into Newmarket Lodge in dozens and were violently ejected by the staff. Finally a police guard was put round the place and the invading army moved on to the establishments of the doctor and the veterinary surgeon. As one Chinaman is much like another, several sons of the flowery land made good money by posing as the corpse of Jimmy the Pat. By the time that the last forme was locked up and the last linotype operator had put on his coat the Press felt that they had done the affair reasonable justice.

Neither Connie nor Red Fred went to bed that night, waiting on news from the hospital. Nor did they intend to go to the races on the last day though they had to run their horses under their agreement with the syndicate. Thursday and Friday passed without any appreciable change in Fitzroy’s condition. There was nothing to be done but wait, and at last came the winding-up day of the great International Race-meeting.

It was no wonder that, after such publicity, the huge racecourse was taxed to hold the crowd. People who had never been to a race-meeting in their lives determined to go out and see the horse that had killed a man. They shouldered and elbowed one another at the gates and as each lot got in they made straight of Crusader’s stall.

When they found that the horse had not arrived they did not go away. They stood there and waited, and more and more kept pouring in at every moment, massing round the stall. When Crusader’s trainer arrived he took in the situation and sought out Mr Manasses.

“Look, Mr Manasses,” he said, “what am I to do? I can’t take that horse in there. He’s terribly upset at home, pawing up the ground and snorting if a stranger comes near him. What he’ll be like here I don’t know. The crowd at the back will shove those in front and they’ll be forced right into the stall. There’ll be a lot of people killed, and the horse will go mad. Where can I put him?”

Though Mr Manasses did not know a great deal about racing he knew a lot about handling crowds.

“No matter where you put him,” he said, “they’ll find him, and we’ve got to give them some horse to look at, or they’ll tear the place down. That parade ring has a strong picket fence round it, and I’ll put a guard of bluejackets three deep all round the fence.”

“But that’s no good,” interrupted the trainer. “The horse’ll go mad in there.”

“I won’t put your horse in there,” said Mr Manasses. “I’ll get an old selling plater all rugged up with hood and necksweaters on, and walk him round and start somebody to pass the word that it’s Crusader. They won’t know the difference, and they’ll be pleased to see him so quiet. Don’t bring your horse in till it’s time to go to the post.”

So for an hour, the bluejackets strained against the picket fence and held the crowd back while the old selling plater, utterly unconcerned, strolled round and round. The ineffable London bobbies got to work at each end of the crowd and kept it in circulation with the monotonous order, “Now you’ve seen the horse, move on.” So well did they work that before long the crowd were marching past the old selling plater as though they were viewing the body of somebody lying in state. They were thoroughly convinced that such a terrible matter as killing a man had not upset the horse at all.

Meanwhile the French, American, and Australian horses had arrived almost unnoticed. The preliminary races were run off, and then the military buglers sounded the fall in and the four cracks stepped out on to the track. Crusader was very much on his toes and it took a little trouble to get him through the gate. Out on the track he snorted and shied if anybody so much as lifted a hand, and the starter’s assistant had to take hold of his bridle and lead him down to the post. The American horse had been thoroughly strung up for his race on the first day and was feeling the reaction. It is said that a horse can only be kept in supreme condition for about as long as a pear will keep at its best on a tree. He looked somewhat drawn and uneasy, but he gave no trouble. The other two slouched down as though they had not a care in the world and Bill the Gunner, restored to jockeyship, amused himself by pretending to whip Sensation while moving at a walk. The crowd laughed, but Sensation’s trainer caught a friend next him by the arm and said:

“Look at that. That infernal Australian thief has taught the horse that trick. I don’t believe he’s ever made him do his best on the track or in the race. If he beats Connie’s horse the crowd’ll have my life.”

“Better give me your watch then,” said his friend. “I could do with a good watch and it would be a pity for them to spoil it.”

Neither Moira nor her father would go to the races while Fitzroy was hovering between life and death in the hospital, so that the Honourable Captain Salter was the sole representative of the party that had come out from Australia on the Oronia. Captain Salter was hunting about the ring for information, as busy as a dog hunting for truffles, when he was accosted by a well-dressed stranger, perfectly turned out, and with a most charming manner.

“You don’t remember me, dear boy,” said the stranger. “But of course you wouldn’t remember everyone that you met at Government House, in Sydney. My name’s Dickson, Dickson of Australia I call myself because there are so many other Dicksons. I left my stations to look after themselves and took a run over here to see the racing. Great idea, isn’t it, dear boy, international spirit and all that you know. Splendid! I’ll tell you what you might do, dear boy, for a stranger in a strange land. You might give me a card to some of these bookmakers so that I can have a bet or two. I must have a little on the Australian horse, though I think Crusader’s the goods. What do you think your self?”

Captain Salter was flattered by this appeal to his judgment and felt that his late official position in Australia made it incumbent on him to help the inhabitants of that uncivilized country. Besides, Mr Dickson was obviously a prosperous man and might be able to put him on to some good Australian investments.

Without hesitation he pulled out his card bearing the name of a very exclusive club and handed it over, scribbling on it “Introducing Mr Dickson of Australia.” n “Here you are, old chap. Glad to do anything for an Australian. Had a ripping time out there, what! I saw Sensation run in Sydney, but he doesn’t seem quite up to this class, I’m afraid. They’re just going to the post so you’ll want to get on quick. Good luck.” With that the Honourable Captain Salter returned to the task of trying to get a point over the odds about the English horse.

Armed with the card, Mr Dickson of Australia cruised up and down the rails, booking a bet here and a bet there, producing the card each time and being received with the greatest civility and deference, a man sufficiently important to be known as Mr Dickson of Australia must be somebody of consequence; and the name of the club would have commanded credit in any part of London. It was noticeable that Mr Dickson made his bets at fairly wide intervals about the ring, but there was nothing remarkable in that, for when a man makes a fairly large bet with a bookmaker the ring-man on the next position is apt to offer shorter odds. Altogether Mr Dickson appeared quite satisfied with himself when he put away his note-book and climbed up into the stand to see the race.

And now they were at the post for the last great deciding event—the Two Miles International. Much to the dismay of those who thought they had seen him walking like an old hack in the parade yard, Crusader was in a lather of sweat, snorting, trembling, and refusing to stand still for a moment. His jockey tried to soothe him; the only result, was a snort and a vicious drag at the bit. In contrast to his excitement, Sensation strolled down with Bill the Gunner sitting on him with a slack rein. There is such a thing as a two-mile temperament, and the Australian horse had it with plus values, as they say in the bridge books.

The American horse had felt the strain of his two races, and it was just as well that he did not know what was ahead of him or he might have given a lot of trouble. The Frenchman’s racing had fined him down till he was about at his best, and it was generally voted that if Crusader should “blow up” the Frenchman might beat the Australian horse over two miles.

Off they went on their two-mile journey, with the American in the lead. His rider had a very faint hope that if he could dawdle along in front, and slow the others down, his horse might be left with a run at the finish.

Crusader’s rider tried to steady his horse but the English stallion would have none of it. Thoroughly upset, he kept his head down between his front legs and threw it from side to side, and his rider soon saw that the only thing to do was to let him go, as he might run more quietly if out in the lead by himself.

Unfortunately, the American horse went with him for half a mile or so, making him pull and fight worse than ever. Then the American rider decided that this was no good and that he had better wait at the back, so he took a pull and dropped back a few lengths. Meanwhile, the two stayers were swinging the ground under them, galloping contentedly side by side, their jockeys watching every move of the horses in front. Crusader’s rider tried to hold him back to them, but every time they closed on him, and he could hear their hoofs drumming on the turf, he made a fresh bound in the air, trying to get away again. No horse in the world can stand this sort of thing, so with a mile to go, Crusader’s rider let his horse stride out, and then for a while the spectators saw some galloping. With beautiful effortless strides he drew away and, opened up a gap of half a dozen lengths and the roar went up “the favourite walks in.”

It was time now for the French and Australian riders to go after him, and for the first time Bill the Gunner let Sensation have the whip in earnest. Just one cut awoke his fighting spirit and he bounded away from the Frenchman and went after the leader. But the Frenchman did not mean to be left behind and at five furlongs from home he was again up alongside Sensation, and the two of them were closing on Crusader. The latter’s rider had managed to steady his horse again and was trying to save up a run for the finish. As they swung into the straight the three of them were practically level, with the Frenchman forcing the pace. He could stay for ever, but was just a little bit short of speed and his rider knew that if it came to a short dash home he would be beaten. The English rider knew that if he could steady his horse even for a few strides, he could beat the others for speed, but Crusader’s temper was so thoroughly roused that he would not let a horse pass him while he had a breath in his body. Seeing the position, Bill the Gunner let his horse drop back a length, trusting to get the last run at the Frenchman and beat him for speed, and hoping that Crusader’s early contest with his rider might have left him without a finishing run. The English horse was feeling the strain, but he fought on and kept the Frenchman at top pace to live with him. A hundred yards from the post Bill the Gunner called on the staying power that his lazy horse had kept in reserve. With whip and spur he drove him up to the leaders and the three of them battled it out without flinching. They flashed past the post locked together, with whips going, and until the number went up no one could say what had won. The judge’s verdict was Sensation first, Crusader second, and the Frenchman third, with only half heads between them. The American was tailed off.

Fitzroy had won his double, but no double in the world seemed to be much good to him just then.

The Shearer’s Colt - Contents    |     Chapter XX - Red Fred’s Marriage

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