I don’t know why, but yesterday I found myself suddenly remembering a racehorse I followed nineteen years ago. Not a Classic-standard world beater, but a modest campaigner that seemed to come from nowhere – in more ways than one – to enjoy a brief spell of (relative) prominence.
It was called My Gallery, and to be honest I can’t remember what I saw to make me bet on it the first time. It was ridden by a female jockey named Angela Gallimore who had a 3lb claim, and as a virginal and wishfully-thinking nearly 21-year-old I pictured her as young and stunningly beautiful, and she may well have been, although I never really got to see her up close.
In fact, I couldn’t usually see her nor the horse at all for 90% or more of the races they ran in. They would hide somewhere beyond the recognition of cameraman and commentator alike, either way out the back or in the middle of a bunch. The name would never be mentioned and I would peer at the screen in vain, trying and failing to spot the colours (I was chronically myopic in those days – I suppose I still am, only now I wear glasses), and wondering if my selection was taking part at all. And then, when I was on the verge of tearing up my slip, there would be a blur of acceleration in the background as the camera tracked the leaders, as My Gallery first closed in on them, and then swept passed them as if they were standing still. It was an exhilarating sight.
Three times in a row I backed My Gallery and won, collecting increasingly large financial rewards along the way, but following this horse was more about the joy than the money. First time it happened I simply gawped in amazement, the second I thought, “Nah too far behind, can’t do it again,” and was delighted to be proved wrong, but the third time I was ready. I’d advised pretty much everyone in the betting shop where I worked to put some money on it, and those that had were glaring at me in increasing anger as they appeared to see their investment fail. “Be patient,” I assured them with what must have been infuriating confidence and smugness, “Any second now…”
And then there they were, Angela and her steed, slicing through the field and leaving all opposition in their wake, a now-familiar sight for myself but a revelation to everybody else. “I love watching this horse run!” I yelled, summing it up as simply and perfectly as I’ve ever expressed anything.
It wasn’t the horse that won me the most money ever. That honour would go to Sharpical, The Horse That Saved My Life*, who would later switch to hurdles and pocket me another substantial sum in the Tote Gold Trophy. Mind you, I did bet a lot in those days, and had something of a succesful streak in 1996: one day my mother found £10,000 and half a dozen badly rolled spliffs in a holdall under my bed, and assumed I was a drug dealer. I explained that the former was gambling proceeds, and the latter purely for recreational purposes. Besides, I couldn’t have made ten bob selling those loose, papery monstrosities, let alone ten grand. Needless to say, I moved away from home as soon as possible thereafter.
Strangely, I never heard of horse or jockey again after that, even though I always considered myself pretty diligent at scanning the racecards, but I’ll never forget them. I loved watching that horse run.
* = That, admittedly, is something of an exaggeration.