A very small one, but hey! a girl has to start somewhere ..
New Year’s Eve, and out we went. But not to some midnight party … we went racing, to the Rangiora Harness Club’s floodlit meeting at Addington Raceway, the HQ of New Zealand harness racing.
I went first, to do the meeting, greeting, hand-shaking of winners bit which I (as a now ex-committee member of the club) do when I am in New Zealand, and Wendy followed a few hours later with the float and our Elena. For Elena was drawn to start in the very last race on the programme. I was hopeful rather than Hopeful of a first-four placing, partly because our girl was lustily in season, partly because she had drawn number seven, near the outside of the mobile gate, with the hot favourite inside her, and partly because there were a number of horses in the race with fair form. Our best to date was a fifth.
But it isn’t now.
Starting from the outside, she had no chance of getting to the front – where she loves to be – and John had to drop her back. As I had feared, she was not on her best and most concentrated behaviour, but with a mile to go the pace slowed, and John zoomed her around the field to sit parked outside the leader. Into the final straight, she was still there, but when it came time to move up a gear and have a crack at the favourite, today that gear change didn’t come. She fought on, though, as she always does, and she passed the line in fourth place. Her first cheque! And a ‘bit of form’ which will help her get into other races.
Back in the big new stable block, she stood calmly dripping... I’ll tell you what, in spite of the millions that the brand new place cost, I certainly wouldn’t be calm in it. It is hellishly noisy and reverberating, and each box is equipped with chains with which to tether the horses. ‘Coaster’ Howe, in the box next to us, tidily clipped the chains back when he released his horse. A hundred other people just let them drop: result a continuous volley of explosive slap-shots (as the chains fell and slammed their clips against the wall) that goes right through your head .. I couldn’t stand it for more than ten minutes, I don’t know how the horses do…
Also, if you are unlucky enough to get the box next the wash-down, you end up with sodden gear-bag, sodden everything that's at floor level..
But the inconveniences and unpleasantnesses of the Addington barn were last night all forgot. Elena had her cheque.. $250 less deductions (which I imagine will be about 40pc, we shall see ... it’s a long time since I won a cheque in New Zealand!) .. I downed a small whisky in celebration, and then headed back to Gerolstein..
It was 11.30pm when we slumped into our cosy chairs, and ‘our’ Australian trainer was just running up the winners on the TV. So we saw the New Year in, with a very small bottle, and a couple of re-viewings of the night’s race, as we began to plan our next Elena outing…