THE RIDE OF HIS LIFE
It was a chilly, crisp morning at racetrack. The sun was just beginning to come up over mountains in distance as Dad and I led one of our thoroughbreds out of stables and out towards training track. We were waiting to start track work with one our best gallopers, Paragon Prince, but unfortunately, once again jockey had forgotten to show up. The particular jockey had tendency to spend many a night out with boys getting on booze and hangover that ensued next morning, inevitably led to his unreliability.
“Damn that blasted jockey.” cursed my father, rubbing his hands together, attempting to warm them. “He’s not going to show.” I tethered our horse to rails and studied my Dads face, thinking this was going to be another one of those interesting mornings. He was extremely irate and angry and when my Dad got irritated with horses or situations connected with stable and coupled with Dad’s way of managing things, any sign of frustration in my father, usually meant trouble. In all his years of training race horses, I had lost count of number of times Dad had flipped out. “What are you staring at.” Dad suddenly snapped at me. “Nothing.” I said quickly, turning back to Paragon Prince, checking over saddle, bridle and straightening up saddle cloth. I slid my hands under his long thick mane, attempting to warm them, and avoided eye contact with my father, anything to not to incur his wrath. I felt even more strongly now that Dad was about to lose his temper and it was not going to be a pleasant morning.
I guess I should explain why I was so worried about my fathers temper. In all our years dealing with horses, trainers, owners, jockeys and like, there had been many an occasion where things had not worked out way Dad had envisioned. Therefore he would quite often lose his temper, spit dummy and do some really off wall stuff. Let’s face it, racing game and more importantly thoroughbreds can be very unpredictable creatures and things can invariably go awry and my father could be usually seen, should I say throwing some kind of hissy fit. Like time, a few years ago, when he couldn’t catch one of our brood mares. Granted, this particular horse could be a prize bitch when she wanted and this particular day was no exception. She really didn’t want to be caught that day and after two hours of my Dad and I trying out every plan that we had hatched night before, she (the mare) decided to go into paddock dam and stay there. My father was infuriated with this blasted horse, as he called her as well as few other strong expletives and suffice to say began to hurl stones at her. The mare just stood there, with an expression of complete arrogance, regarding my father with absolute contempt. The mare was not going to budge. She had won this round, and my Dad knew it. Anyone watching this little performance would have considered my Dad to be quite mad, but that was just his way of doing things, not necessarily right way, but Dad’s way nonetheless. This particular story and many others involving our thoroughbreds have been told and re-told to family and friends, ending with everyone rolling around in fits of gut wrenching laughter.
Getting back to morning in question, My father and I were cooling our heels still waiting for this jockey to arrive. Cooling our heels was right, it was bloody freezing. My father was huffing and puffing, pacing around, totally infuriated with this apparent ‘no show’ jockey. My mother would later say that Dad’s temper and rash deeds could’ve been disastrous to him and our family. I’ll never forget dressing down she gave him. It was one of numerous arguments they have shared during their forty-five years of marriage, concerning our horses and Dad’s tendency to flip a lid.
I stood there with Paragon Prince, stroking his mane watching my father pace up and down. He was mad, real mad. I didn’t see it as end of world. We could just unsaddle horse, take him back to stable and go home. Tomorrow was another day. Dad could ring our jockey and give him right blasting for not showing up. If he didn’t have a hangover, he certainly wouldn’t feel too good after Dad was through with him. I was not going to be bold as to suggest it. Why make my father more furious than he already was.
Suddenly, Dad stopped pacing and walked over to horse, with an expression on his face that spoke volumes, that look one gets when they think they have a brilliant idea, but in reality notion is moronic. This was one of my father’s idiosyncrasies that I have long learnt to fear. He untied horse and began to fiddle around with girth and stirrups.