My fiction can be found on kdkworkadaywriter.com
Below is one of my racing based short stories. Possibly the only one that does the sport justice. There is no conclusion to the story as anyone who knows anything about racing knows the outcome. Indeed the knowledgeable reader will know the outcome the moment the subject matter is realised.
The rain strikes the car without pity. All hope is washed away. He turns off the engine and slumps down into the seat. This day was supposed to be the culmination of a life-long dream; it was confirmed in nearly all of the newspapers. When he had turned out the bedside light last night everything seemed perfect. Now he wishes he was somewhere else. Now he wishes they had taken a different decision.
He looks back at the dogs. They are oblivious to the rain, to the consternation dancing a reel of horrible consequence upon the heart of their owner. They only see open space and the certainty of fun and intriguing scent. For half an hour he has kept them waiting, ignoring their canine persuasions.
The rain methodically transforms into snow, vanquishing the last scintilla of hope.
Eventually he succumbs to duty, to positive action. Half-heartedly he replaces his shoes with wellington-boots, buttons up his old greatcoat and pulls on woollen gloves. It is time to move, time to exercise judgement, time to be brave. The others rely on him, which is his awful obligation. He is their spokesman. He is expected to be better informed. They will expect knowledgeable advice, especially if David leaves the final decision to them.
He opens the car door and steps into a puddle. He reaches back into the car to remove the ignition key. Noticing his binoculars on the passenger seat he decides to take them with him. Not that he will be able to see very much with or without them. The visibility and his mood are so sparse he might be about to wing-walk on clouds. He slams the door but does not bother to lock it.
The dogs bound from the car with the enthusiasm of a summer romp. For once their joie de vivre fails to raise his spirits. Head down he walks across to the course, calling the dogs to follow. The snow settles on his shoulder, on the rails, on the fences. As he ducks under the plastic running rail a featherweight of the white menace finds its way down his neck. He shivers at its death-like touch and senses that it must be an omen. As he digs his heel into the turf he finds himself praying for it to be frozen, for fate to make the judgement call for him. It is soft, very soft.
“Bit grim,” someone comments, passing hurriedly by. “I shan’t be running mine,” he adds almost cheerily.
“Hey,” someone else shouts from the hurdle course. He looks up and recognises the face beneath the flat cap but cannot put a name to it. He waves in acknowledgement and smiles weakly, suddenly aware that he is not alone, that his plight is shared by trainers, jockeys, racecourse staff and other owners. “The Gold Cup in April, couldn’t be better for you, jammy sod,” the man shouts across to him, adding. “They’ll abandon, run the race at the April meeting. They’ll have no other option if this stuff keeps falling.” The man brushes snow from the running rail with his bare hands and throws a snowball at an acquaintance passing in the opposite direction.
His spirits are raised. “The stewards will abandon, of course,” he tells one of his dogs. “There will be no need for a decision.” The weight lifted he straightens his back and stares up at the leaden sky, up over the second last and toward the grandstand. Lights pierce the gloom, the famed panorama thick with silent grey foreboding. Carefully he looks around him, at the men and women inspecting the ground, assessing the situation and taking decisions on behalf of their connections, hoping to
spot the clerk of the course or a steward.
Someone comes up from behind and slaps him on the shoulder. “Mine will love it. Been waiting for ground this heavy all season. Them bookies are in for a right skinning.”
“But they will abandon, surely,” he argues, committing the heresy of verbally suggesting the Gold Cup should be postponed.
“No, why should they? The horses will gallop through this. It’s just wet. Anyway, this is the Gold Cup. They will race if they damned well can, mark my words.”
He calls the dogs, looking around him to see where they are, his optimism torn in half. They are at a workman’s hut, begging for food. He strides across to them, cursing their effrontery, apologising to the groundsman. “Shame about the weather, eh? I should think you are pig-sick,” the man says, snapping a digestive biscuit in two and sharing it between the dogs. “Wrong course, wrong way round, wrong distance and now the wrong ground. You got the full set, congratulations. And it’s been beautiful all week. If it doesn’t stop snowing in the next hour we can all go home and get warm.”
As he makes his way toward the grandstand, toward the fateful meeting with his father, the other owners and more importantly David, people, professional and racegoers alike, offer their opinion and their condolence at the abrupt, unforecasted, change in the weather. The professionals are unanimous that they, or he, should withdraw. The racegoers, though, maintain the faith and urge him to run.
A television interviewer with a cameraman and sound crew in tow begs a few minutes of his time. Doubtfully he agrees. “Does he run, sir?” It is a polite question and the viewers at home, the fans, deserve an answer. He stares at the microphone as if it was a Kalashnikov and digs his heel once more into the snow-topped turf, unable and unwilling to commit to running or not running. “The ground is against you,” the interviewer needlessly reminds him, wanting to get a scoop for the one o’clock news. Raising his hands to the cruel heavens he mutters ambiguities which place the burden of decision at the feet of David. “You would not be upset if the stewards abandoned the meeting, I dare say?” the interviewer hastily continues, adding to the agony of the ambush interview.
Back at the car the snow has mercifully called a halt and a pale sun blinks through the murk. He rubs the dogs’ dry, offers them water and returns them to the car. He cannot put off the moment any longer; he must go and talk with his father and David.
On his way he rehearses in his mind what to say. The horse must be withdrawn. There will be no argument about it. It is the decision they would take on any other day. It will be unpopular with some and to others it will be a grave disappointment. But for the true fans, those with only the horse’s best interests at heart, it is the only acceptable decision. No one will want to see him vanquished, pulled up or worse. They might be accused of cowardice, of wrapping the horse up in cotton wool. But it is not a case of winning and losing. It is about caring. And there will always be next year.
“There you are. Let’s go and have a reviver. We have to talk.” It is David, unworried, as ebullient as ever. David is not the man he wants to see. It is his father he needs to talk with, to form a united front to defeat David’s blind optimism. They are going to disagree; he knows from the expression on his face that David still wants to run.
“Now let’s have that drink before you lot get together and frighten yourself stupid.”
He leans against the weighing room door, unwilling to be pummelled by David’s infectious logic. He needs his father; he needs his fellow owners to help safeguard him.
“I know the ground is on the soft side but let’s not worry over that,” David assures him.
He feels his jaw drop at this adjustment to his usual opinion. But he steadies himself. He knows he must concentrate. David might be indulging in one of his wind-ups.
“Our horse is the best balanced horse in the race. On this ground that will be worth lengths to us. Trust me, we can’t be beat.”
He is too bemused to reply. His well-rehearsed acceptance of the twist of fate is now worthless to him. David has sprung a reason for running which had not for one moment crossed his mind.
A journalist joins them, only for David to take him by the arm to lead him away. “If you bastards start on him we will never agree.” The journalist, sniffing disagreement between owner and trainer, pursues the matter. “No,” David answers him, opening the weighing room door and pushing the journalist inside. “There is no difference of opinion, so stop fishing. We both want what is best for the horse. And when he agrees with my opinion we will have come to a decision whether to run or not.”
“Have you collared David yet?” It is his father, standing outside the owners and
trainers marquee. The weather has improved, though it remains cold and dismal. “The bugger’s hiding from me. I keep spotting him walking in the opposite direction.”
He is told David’s upbeat ‘trust me, we can’t be beat’ speech. “So he has collared you.” His father laughs out loud, slapping his son on the back, demonstrating togetherness. “Let’s have a drink. You look like you need one. After all said and done, we still have the favourite for the Gold Cup and we never thought that would happen a few years ago. And I suppose as we normally leave the difficult decisions to David we might just as well leave this one to him. And to be honest, and you know how hard this is for me to admit to, but the bugger gets it right more times than he gets it wrong.”
David’s logic is beyond reason, beyond what is written in the form book. Yet without David’s expertise where would they be? He cannot accept that it is correct to run the horse on ground he has always hated but at least they have the option of pulling up if it is too much for him. The public will understand. Their love of the horse will be strong enough to accept the disappointment.
He smiles. His father smiles. They all agree. Though only David believes they will be lifting the Gold Cup. Quite possibly David is the only person in the country who believes the grey horse cannot be beaten.
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.