13 December 2008. The day finally came.
Two years and ten months after I raised Doug’s hand in the Yearling Sales auction ring, paid my money, and brought the beautiful Elena home to Gerolstein ... two years and ten months of loving care, education, training and wondering down the road … today my ‘princess’ stepped on to a racetrack.
It wasn’t raceday, of course. We still have a way to go to get there. But it was her first experience of racing conditions: a four-horse ‘learners’ workout’ (with speed limits) at Rangiora racetrack.
The love, the education, the training have all been done: now it was time for the wondering to have some sort of answer. Wondering what? Why, is the lady fast enough, well-gaited enough, enthusiastic enough, just plain racy enough to be one of the limited percentage of standardbred horses who actually make it to the track as racehorses.
I’d like to be able to say that the answer was an unqualified ‘yes’. Dammit, I am going to say that the answer is an unqualified ‘yes’. Although driver Blair Rennie (‘she would have beat them easily’) must have a small reservation. Elena, you see, has a quirk. She is an adorable, loving, well-behaved girl 99 percent of the time. She seems to suffer a bit extravagantly when she gets in season, and whinnyingly clucky at the sight of other people’s babies, but that’s nothing. The problem is that when she gets a fright … she flings her heels in the air. She boots. When you have a sulky on your rear end, and a driver in that sulky, this is not a nice experience for them. I know, I’ve had it happen to me (not with Elena). She doesn’t do this often, but …
So. Today. Wendy geared our princess up in her brand new yellow quick-hitch harness, Blair donned the soft-boiled-egg colours that have yet to make it to a New Zealand raceday, and out Lélé went, looking a treat, pacing nicely .. until she came upon a large blue tractor tugging harrows along the track. Unfortunately, large blue tractors in your path are part of harness racing, but Elena doesn’t yet know that. So she booted. But Blair got her down quickly, and all was well. For now.
The four learners all began cleanly -- Elena designedly carefully for her first view of a zinging tape -- and she slotted in, as intended, to the rear of the Indian file. Sigh of relief. But then we got to big blue-tractorland – the first bend – and BOOT! By the time she got down, the other three horses were 100 metres or more down the track. Bugger. The day looked like turning to catastrophe. But, having done her act, Elena now put on her best stride and she set out after the others. You don’t make up 100 metres in a mile, but she was trying, pacing along like a veteran and looking glorious. With 800 metres to go the gap was down to 10 lengths, but, as blue-tractorland loomed, the leader galloped and Elena had to take evasive action while it re-found its feet and started going forwards again. Down the straight, she was still behind … with 100 metres to go, still several lengths last …
But blow me down, as the others raced for the line, Elena comfortably closed that gap and she finished along with them. The record shows she was 4th, beaten 2 ½ lengths. Our photo makes it a bit nearer than that. The record shows they ran their 2000m in 2mins 54, our stopwatch says 2mins 49.6. The official last half was 62.1, the last quarter 30.1. But whatever the first three ran, Lena effectively did 100 metres more … thus, probably, going faster than the ‘speed limit’ time for the heat. And her last half and quarter were done in many lengths quicker than the figures given. The film Wendy took (which I am trying so far unsuccessfully to attach here) times her final quarter in 28 seconds and bits. And that is racehorse time.
So, here is one owner who has come home a happy man after seeing his horse finish last, with an horrendous gallop to boot, in a learners’ workout heat.
Because there’s no doubt that the lady IS a racehorse. That she will be a racehorse.
After a small cure for blue-tractor-phobia and related reactions.