Break In, p.1Dick Francis
Books by Dick Francis
THE SPORT OF QUEENS (autobiography)
IN THE FRAME
LESTER: The Official Biography
COME TO GRIEF
TO THE HILT
FIELD OF THIRTEEN
THE DICK FRANCIS LIBRARY
an imprint of
Published by the Penguin Group
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in Great Britain 1985
Second impression May 1993
Third impression June 1998
Fourth impression December 2005
Copyright © Dick Francis, 1985
The moral right of the author has been asserted
All rights reserved
Without limiting the rights under copyright
reserved above, no part of this publication may be
reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system,
or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior
written permission of both the copyright owner and
the above publisher of this book
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
With love and thanks
to my son
NANCY BROOKS GILBERT
Blood ties can mean trouble, chains and fatal obligation. The tie of twins, inescapably strongest. My twin, my bond.
My sister Holly, sprung into the world ten minutes after myself on Christmas morning with bells ringing over frosty fields and hope still wrapped in beckoning parcels, my sister Holly had through thirty years been cot-mate, puppy-companion, boxing target and best friend. Consecutively, on the whole.
My sister Holly came to Cheltenham races and intercepted me between weighing room and parade ring when I went out to ride in a three-mile steeplechase.
‘Kit!’ she said intensely, singling me out from among the group of other jockeys with whom I walked, and standing four-square and portentously in my way.
I stopped. The other jockeys walked on, parting like water round a rock. I looked at the lines of severe strain in her normally serene face and jumped in before she could say why she’d come.
‘Have you any money with you?’ I said.
‘What? What for?’ She wasn’t concentrating on my question but on some inner scenario of obvious doom.
‘Have you?’ I insisted.
‘Well… but that’s not…’
‘Go to the Tote,’ I said. ‘Put all you’ve got on my horse to win. Number eight. Go and do it.’
‘But I don’t…’
‘Go and do it,’ I interrupted. ‘Then go to the bar and with what’s left buy yourself a triple gin. Then come and meet me in the winners’ enclosure.’
‘No, that’s not…’
I said emphatically, ‘Don’t put your disaster between me and that winning post.’
She blinked as if awakening, taking in my helmet and the colours I wore beneath my husky, looking towards the departing backs of the other jockeys and understanding what I meant.
‘Right?’ I said.
‘Right.’ She swallowed. ‘All right.’
‘Afterwards,’ I said.
She nodded. The doom, the disaster, dragged at her eyes.
‘I’ll sort it out,’ I promised. ‘After.’
She nodded dumbly and turned away, beginning almost automatically to open her shoulder bag to look for money. Doing what her brother told her, even after all these years. Coming to her brother, still, for her worst troubles to be fixed. Even though she was four years married, those patterns of behaviour, established in a parentless childhood, still seemed normal to us both.
I’d sometimes wondered what difference it would have made to her if she had been the elder by that crucial ten minutes. Would she have been motherly? Bossy, perhaps. She felt safer, she’d said, being the younger.
I walked on towards the parade ring, putting consciously out of my mind the realisation that whatever the trouble this time, it was bad. She had come, for a start, one hundred and fifty miles from Newmarket to see me, and she disliked driving.
I shook my head physically, throwing her out. The horse ahead, the taxing job in hand, had absolute and necessary priority. I was primarily no one’s brother. I was primarily Kit Fielding, steeplechase jockey, some years champion, some years not, sharing the annual honour with another much like myself, coming out top when my bones didn’t break, bowing to fate when they did.
I wore the colours of a middle-aged princess of a dispossessed European monarchy, a woman of powerful femininity whose skin was weathering towards sunset like cracked glaze on porcelain. Sable coat, as usual, swinging from narrow shoulders. Glossy dark hair piled high. Plain gold earrings. I walked towards her across the parade-ring grass; smiled, bowed, and briefly shook the offered glove.
‘Cold day,’ she said; her consonants faintly thick, vowel sounds pure English, intonation as always pleasant.
‘And will you win?’ she asked.
Her smile was mostly in the eyes. ‘I will expect it.’
We watched her horse stalk round the ring, its liver chestnut head held low, the navy rug with gold embroidered crest covering all else from withers to tail. North Face, she’d named it, from her liking for mountains, and a suitably bleak, hard and difficult customer he’d turned out to be. Herring-gutted, ugly, bad-tempered, moody. I’d ridden him in his three-year-old hurdles, his first races, and on
The princess and I had stood together in such a way in parade rings more often than one could count, as she rarely kept fewer than twenty horses in training and I’d ridden them constantly for ten years. She and I had come to the point of almost monosyllabic but perfectly understood conversation and, as far as I could tell, mutual trust and regard. She called me ‘Kit’, and I called her ‘Princess’ (at her request) and we shared a positive and quite close friendship which nevertheless began and ended at the racecourse gates. If we met outside, as occasionally happened, she was considerably more formal.
We stood alone together in the parade ring, as so often, because Wykeham Harlow, who trained North Face, suffered from migraine. The headaches, I’d noticed, occurred most regularly on the coldest days, which might have been a truly physical phenomenon, but also they seemed to develop in severity in direct ratio to the distance between his armchair and the day’s racing. Wykeham Harlow trained south of London and very seldom now made the north-westerly traverse to Cheltenham: he was growing old and wouldn’t confess he was nervous about driving home in the winter dark.
The signal was given for jockeys to mount, and Dusty, the travelling head-lad who nowadays deputised for Wykeham more often than not, removed North Face’s rug with a flick and gave me a deft leg-up into the saddle.
The princess said, ‘Good luck’, and I said cheerfully, ‘Thank you.’
No one in jump racing said ‘Break a leg’ instead of ‘Good luck’, as they did in the theatre. Break a leg was all too depressingly possible.
North Face was feeling murderous: I sensed it the moment I sat on his back and put my feet in the irons. The telepathy between that horse and myself was particularly strong always, and I simply cursed him in my mind and silently told him to shut up and concentrate on winning, and we went out on to the windy track with the mental dialogue continuing unabated.
One had to trust that the urge to race would overcome his grouchiness once the actual contest started. It almost always did, but there had been days in the past when he’d refused to turn on the enthusiasm until too late. Days, like this one, when his unfocussed hatred flowed most strongly.
There was no way of cajoling him with sweet words, encouraging pats, pulling his ears. None of that pleased him. A battle of wills was what he sought, and that, from me, was what he habitually got.
We circled at the starting point, seven runners in all, while the roll was called and girths were tightened. Waited, with jockeys’ faces turning pale blue in the chilly November wind, for the seconds to tick away to start-time, lining up in no particular order as there were no draws or stalls in jump races, watching for the starter to raise the tapes and let us go.
North Face’s comment on the proceedings took the form of a lowered head and arched back, and a kick like a bronco. The other riders cursed and kept out of his way, and the starter told me to stay well to the rear.
It was the big race of the day, though heavier in prestige than prize money, an event in which the sponsors, a newspaper, were getting maximum television coverage for minimum outlay. The Sunday Towncrier Trophy occurred annually on a Saturday afternoon (naturally) for full coverage in the Sunday Towncrier itself the next morning, with self-congratulatory prose and dramatic pictures jostling scandals on the front page. Dramatic pictures of Fielding being bucked off before the start were definitely not going to be taken. I called the horse a bastard, a sod and a bloody pig, and in that gentlemanly fashion the race began.
He was mulish and reluctant and we got away slowly, trailing by ten lengths after the first few strides. It didn’t help that the start was in plain view of the stands instead of decently hidden in some far corner. He gave another two bronco kicks to entertain the multitude, and there weren’t actually many horses who could manage that while approaching the first fence at Cheltenham.
He scrambled over that fence, came almost to a halt on landing and bucked again before setting off, shying against coercion from the saddle both bodily and clearly in mind.
Two full circuits ahead. Nineteen more jumps. A gap between me and the other runners of embarrassing and lengthening proportions. I sent him furious messages: Race, you bastard, race, or you’ll end up as dogmeat, I’ll personally kill you, you bastard, and if you think you’ll get me off, think again, you’re taking me all the way, you sod, so get on with it, start racing, you sod, you bastard, you know you like it, so get going…
We’d been through it before, over and over, but he’d never been worse. He ignored all take-off signals at the second fence and made a mess of it and absolutely refused to gallop properly round the next bend.
Once in the past when he’d been in this mood I’d tried simply not fighting him but letting him sort out his own feelings, and he’d brought himself to a total halt within a few strides. Persevering was the only way: waiting until the demonic fit burned itself out.
He stuck his toes in as we approached the next fence as if the downhill slope there alarmed him, which I knew it didn’t; and over the next, the water jump, he landed with his head down by his feet and his back arched, a configuration almost guaranteed to send a jockey flying. I knew his tricks so well that I was ready for him and stayed in the saddle, and after that jolly little manoeuvre we were more than three hundred yards behind the other horses and seriously running out of time.
My feelings about him rose to somewhere near absolute fury. His sheer pigheadedness was again going to lose us a race we could easily have won, and as on other similar occasions I swore to myself that I’d never ride the brute again, never. Not ever. Never. I almost believed I meant it.
As if he’d been a naughty child who knew its tantrums had gone too far, he suddenly began to race. The bumpy uneven stride went smooth, the rage faded away, the marvellous surge of fighting spirit returned, as it always did in the end. But we were a furlong and a half to the rear, and to come from more than three hundred yards behind and still win meant theoretically that one could have won by the same margin if one had tried from the start. A whole mile had been wasted; two left for retrieval. Hopeless.
Never give up, they say.
Yard by flying yard over the second circuit we clawed back the gap, but we were still ten lengths behind the last tired and trailing horse in front as we turned towards the final two fences. Passed him over the first of them. No longer last, but that was hardly what mattered. Five horses in front, all still on their feet after the long contest, all intent on the final uphill battle.
All five went over the last fence in front of North Face. He must have gained twenty feet in the air. He landed and strode away with smooth athletic power as if sticky bronco jumps were the peccadillo of another horse altogether.
I could dimly hear the crowd roaring, which one usually couldn’t. North Face put his ears back and galloped with a flat, intense, bloody-minded stride, accelerating towards the place he knew was his, that he’d so wilfully rejected, that he wanted in his heart.
I flattened myself forward to the line of his neck to cut the wind resistance; kept the reins tight, my body still, my weight steady over his shoulders, all the urging a matter of mind and hands, a matter of giving that fantastic racing creature his maximum chance.
The others were tiring, the incline slowing them drastically, as it did always to so many. North Face swept past a bunch of them as they wavered and there was suddenl
One could feel sorry for him, but he was a gift from heaven. North Face caught him at a rush a bare few strides from the winning post, and I heard his agonised cry as I passed.
Too close for comfort, I thought, pulling up. Reprieved on the scaffold.
There was nothing coming from the horse’s mind: just a general sort of haze that in a human one would have interpreted as smugness. Most good horses knew when they’d won: filled their lungs and raised their heads with pride. Some were definitely depressed when they lost. Guilt they never felt, nor shame nor regret nor compassion: North Face would dump me next time if he could.
The princess greeted us in the unsaddling enclosure with starry eyes and a flush on her cheeks. Stars for success, I diagnosed, and the flush from earlier embarrassment. I unbuckled the girths, slid the saddle over my arm and paused briefly before going to weigh in, my head near to hers.
‘Well done,’ she said.
I smiled slightly. ‘I expected curses.’
‘He was especially difficult.’
‘There’s a trophy.’
‘I’ll come right out,’ I said, and left her to the flocking newsmen, who liked her and treated her reverently, on the whole.
I passed the scales. The jockey I’d beaten at the last second was looking ashamed, but it was his own fault, as well he knew. The Stewards might fine him. His owners might sack him. No one else paid much attention either to his loss or to my win. The past was the past: the next race was what mattered.
I gave my helmet and saddle to the valet, changed into different colours, weighed out, put the princess’s colours back on, on top of those I would carry in the next race, combed my hair and went out dutifully for the speeches. It always seemed a shame to me when the presentation photographs were taken with the jockey not wearing the winner’s colours, and for owners I cared for I did whenever possible appear with the right set on top. It cost me nothing but a couple of minutes, and it was more satisfactory, I thought.
The racecourse (in the shape of the chairman of directors) thanked the Sunday Towncrier for its generosity and the Sunday Towncrier (in the shape of its proprietor, Lord Vaughnley) said it was a pleasure to support National Hunt racing and all who sailed in her.
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