It’s nearly been a month and a half since the greatest steeplechaser of the twenty-first century heart-wrenchingly passed away at the tender age of only fifteen. It’s too young. It’s not fair.
I was brought up on, spoon-fed and enchanted by the races of the late noughties of the twenty-first century. These were not, Rip Van Winkle, Motivator nor Galileo or Authorized. These were not the bloodless victories of beasts bred for brilliance, nor ran as a sideshow to a social soirée for the arguably apathetic. These were fought for, blood, sweat and tears in the pouring rain or bone-chattering cold of December, January, February and March. These were the dreams of racing folk throughout the country, the world. To see equine superstars, not soulless machines of sequence, throw everything at spreading joy to all. To connect a community in excitement, intrigue and so much love. Never have I felt so connected than on a racecourse. Never have I felt so united than watching, talking or reminiscing about the horse we came to know as Kauto Star.
I admit it, I admit it freely. I liked Denman. I thought he would win the year he did indeed overthrow the champion. I love an underdog. A hamartia shared by my race, not just my community. But it didn’t matter that he’d won, it was what both of them had served us with; that sweet taste of electricity. Because a battle won is only as good as the battle fought. A battle of two supreme stars of steeplechasing a memory of which I will cling onto forever, ingrained in my hippocampus.
Then he came back did Kauto. He came back and fought like no other horse has ever done before. A golden age of steeplechasing and it was I, then only a secondary school student who witnessed it. Once on an old TV we found in the cupboard and once when illness coincided itself most fortunately with Cheltenham. Would I remember today what I had learnt those afternoons instead of skiving school for superstar spotting? Or do I wish my Saturdays were spent somewhere else than in front of the soft but richly enlightening tones of John Francome? Then I wouldn’t have that feeling of syrupy warmness when I look back, or when I visit a track with racing friends. There’s a racing bond between us all and those two tied the knots tighter than any that came before. Or did they? For me, it was my first exposure to its power. Those that came before, Dessie, Arkle, affected a different audience but the consequences was just the same.
Their retirement wasn’t too soon. Never could you feel hard done by as they both departed from the racecourse, you had had five years of a relentless and remorseless pair who only knew how to please. Still to this day do the hairs stand on edge and the goosebumps begin to flare when I hear the cheers and applause of a community, on a March day in 2012, saying “That’ll do, Kauto, that’ll do. Thank you”.
Between them, but among others, they lit a spark in me that has only grown with age. It may have been only that of a child’s heart that seeped out deep adoration for Kauto Star, but it will be an adult’s head that remembers and so strongly misses him. Horses allow you that luxury, to love them and act like children over them. A human glitch a designer may wish to brush out, but a glitch of pureness and, surprisingly, escapism. It however does leave you vulnerable to them, by removing that layer to love you also remove your protection and suddenly a four-legged dumb animal can knock you back without even knowing it.
It’s hard not to get angry. “Only the good die young” doesn’t cut it. It’s a complete annulment of our racing agreement. You have given us over half a decade of memories, a rollercoaster menu of emotions and a community we’ll have forever. We. Owe. You. This, now, is your time. It’s silly, trying to guess exactly what an animal wants, but it helps our heart to think we’re giving them back all the love they gave us. Three years is not a fair exchange.
I’m angry with the media, too. The non-racing media – I’ve spoken so much about it before – flippantly including his passing in their columns but failing to focus on his achievements, or the fact he passed after retiring from racing. Misconception spreads, again; we have to independently reassert facts as our hearts’ ache. Day in, day out. Go away. He’s our champion. He may just be a beast, a horse, hell, even a ‘figure’ for you but to us he gave us everything. But we’re guilty to. We didn’t give him the perfect life, the perfect long retirement we so yearned to give as our parting gift. And we have to live with that.
Thank you Kauto, but, sorry.