Whisky Galore and a Reluctant Racer
Stanley is standing next to the horse holding the reins in his right hand with all the horse’s luggage and feed piled nearby. His wife Clare is standing next to him although by no means still as she is clearly agitated. Mr Wagstaff’s brother is leaving, travelling slowly down the road in his four by four pulling his old, dilapidated horse box, his right arm extended out of the window attempting a goodbye gesture that lacks sincerity. Clare is wearing a dubious expression, the sort full of a thousand apposite questions which she is striving to arrange in a coherent order before enunciating the most important. She opened her mouth intending to speak, a frozen moment when just her jaw moved. She then turned and moved towards the open front door, slowly at first and then with increasing velocity until inside. Then she slammed the door shut. Not much had been said except, “what’s that?” to which Stanley had replied, “I think it’s a horse, at least that’s how it was given to me. As a horse.”
In Stanley’s left hand is a large brown manilla envelope containing a bill of sale, although no money has changed hands, and all the horse’s details. Its veterinary history and age for instance. Height is another thing. Stanley’s knowledge of anything equine is extremely limited to say the least, but he is aware of the basics although this extends mostly to their physical components. He does know, however, that their height is measured in hands which, to him, has always seemed a bit of a hit and miss calculation.
For instance Mr Morris, a massive man, a man who could move mountains if required although maybe not these days as he is getting on. He lives across the fields and has hands that spread out like camel’s feet. They are enormous, although still in appropriate proportion with the rest of his bulk and with great fat digits seemingly randomly stuck on. If Stanley’s horse, because it is his horse now, if his horse’s sixteen point two hands were measured by old Frank and you were not in visual range of the horse but were aware of the expansive width of Frank’s hands, you might imagine an animal the height of a giraffe. Similarly if Betty, the Betty of Postmistress Betty fame, who is the slightest and most lilliputian of ladies with the dantiest narrow hands, were to carry out the task, you might conjure up thoughts of a Great Dane size of horse.
Stanley has skipped through the contents of the envelope and discovered that the horse has a name, Reluctant Racer. He has also discovered its pedigree. This comes in the form of sired by so and so, out of so and so. In Reluctant Racer’s case a good staying steeplechaser who enjoyed paddling in mud and an eight furlong flat sprinter that could supply a good final burst of speed. Neither had excelled on the race course but had provided a reasonably constant return. There were also forms from the British Horseracing Authority allowing registration as a sole owner and details of a name change from Whisky Galore.
Stanley and Clare very much enjoy living in their peaceful, rural location, their four bedroomed detached cottage surrounded by farmland and pasture. Once part of a farm but sold off by the farmer to alleviate some of those financial stresses that farmers always purport to be under. They have a large back garden that more than satisfies Clare’s propensity for gardening and vegetable growing. Stanley goes to work everyday as a handyman and local fix-all at which he is multi-talented and successful, being constantly required to mend everything in the neighbourhood.
He had been repairing Mr Wagstaff’s roof which had been leaking profusely and rebuilding a dangerously leaning wall. The wall, brick built, about six feet high, not too long and standing on soft ground. A few weeks had been absorbed, it needing deep, new foundations that were quite costly. Mr Wagstaff is a very flaky person. A likeable enough chap but not the sort to be relied upon. Everyone thereabouts laughs at him. Not in a malicious or insensitive way but because he has a habit of completing some sentences with something almost whimsical mainly to cover up some deficiency in his normally disastrous actions.
On production of his invoice Mr Wagstaff had said, “I am so sorry Stanley but I have no money, My business has gone kaput and all my funds with it. I am only just about hanging on. Like a monkey in a tree with no bananas, only skins and on course for a slippery slope.”
Stanley replied, not laughing, “but if you knew you could not pay why did you employ me? I appreciate your dilemma but this is not very neighbourly. Is it?”
“I know and I feel very contrite but I was desperate. I can’t live with such a leaky roof and the wall could have killed someone. I can offer you something though that hopefully will make amends. You can take the horse that lives in my field as payment. I am sure there is enough value there to cover your bill. I cannot afford to keep it anyway. It eats me out of horse and home.”
“Well I don’t know. How do I know it’s worth anything?”
“I won it from Angus MacFury the horse breeder and trainer who bets on absolutely everything. There was a contest between the horse and my tractor. The horse refused to compete so I won by default. He swore it was a potential champion with an exciting pedigree. Absolutely convinced of it. It was called Whisky Galore on account of the fact that MacFury is a part time drunk but he changed its name when it refused to run races. It turned out to be a horse with attitude that dreams of winning without having the inclination to do so.”
“Well OK then I will give it a go if there’s no other option. I just hope Clare is accommodating. You will have to deliver it.”
So he is standing by the horse with Clare fuming inside the house. He notices RR looking at him with what he is sure is a friendly grin. He attempts an affectionate, patting stroke along his neck but being unpracticed and a bit reluctant, makes a very clumsy effort. RR though twitches his head and mutters something horsey with vibrating lips which Stanley hopes is approval. He takes him around the back letting him loose on the quite expansive lawn and closes the side gate in the knowledge that RR is quite safe within the fully hedged and fenced makeshift paddock. All the tack and RR’s effects go into the garage. A large bucket of water and an oat supper and he is confident that his new friend will survive the night.
With trepidation but determined to put on a confident, authoritative front, walking tall, straight and purposefully he goes into the kitchen. Clare is laying the table for dinner, it being six o’clock already, and the smell of her wondrous cooking as ambrosial as ever.
Without interrupting her preparations she says, ”much as I appreciate the free manure for my roses I hope you do not intend to house your creature on my lawn for too long. Also I might have been consulted about this acquisition.”
“No, it will not be there long. I have already had a conversation with Mr Perry who has said I can use the big field behind. I just need to make access. To suit you and your creation of course. He will suggest a charge in due course when permanence has been decided. I’m sorry I did not speak to you about RR but it seemed the horse or nothing, Mr Wagstaff is broke. RR was kind of foisted upon me rather than me deliberately buying him and I was not sure what words to use to tell you. I suspect I may have hoped you wouldn’t notice.”
“A large thing to ignore don’t you think? Anyway, I understand all that but I could have been asked if only to eliminate the shock of RR just arriving. RR that’s a bit Bohemian isn’t it? For a horse at least.”
“Well his name is Reluctant Racer but when I referred to him as RR - I had said to him, “come on RR let’s get you settled,” his ears pricked up. I think he liked it. Maybe he finds Reluctant Racer insulting even if it’s true. I would. Perhaps you'll grow to like him. Come and meet him properly tomorrow. He will like you, I know he will.”
“Well just don’t let him destroy the lawn too much, then we’ll see. I have to admit though RR is the most attractive of horses.”
And so Stanley felt he’d got a good break, got away with one so to speak and avoided what could have been a rare “wifely moment”. One of Clare’s many attributes, that he was very proud of, was her ability to quickly assess a situation, have a short, sharp fit if necessary and then shrug things off and just get on with it, the fit this time obviously having been completed by the time he went indoors.
Mr Perry is a lovely old-school, retired farmer with land to spare and a compulsive, exuberant manner. He quickly determined a peppercorn rent for two paddocks that back onto Stanley’s rear garden. Around ten acres of flat land with thick, lush, succulent grass, a paradise for any horse. Soft underfoot and a luxurious eat. From his extensive livestock related library he gave Stanley a book entitled, “Horse Management Made Simple”, which Stanley, being so ignorant, found quite complicated.
Fortunately after a productive next day interview, Clare was smitten and the shine RR had for her obvious from the sparkle in his eye. From the depths of her knowledge she drummed up extensive facts and requirements all learnt care of Mrs Dewbury’s “Stables for Posh Kids”, where she mucked out horses when in her teens. Between her and Stanley they converted part of the rear fence into a five bar gate and within four weeks had constructed a kit made stable, adapted to form a swanky house for RR, in which he was very snug, complete with water trough and tack room
Clare considered herself a competent rider, again skills learnt at Mrs Dewberry’s but, being used to ponies, was daunted by the height, scale and obvious power of RR, him being a pedigree racer. She contented herself with extended chats, grooming sessions and accompanying him on trots around his paddocks. Stanley, Clare and RR quickly became firm mates.
Two months later Stanley was cutting the front lawn when the deep, throaty roar of an accelerating V8 engine caught his attention. Around the corner came a bright red 1966 Sunbeam Tiger with its engine purring blissfully and looking the picture of health despite its age. It pulled up outside his house.
A stout man of about forty, dressed in country tweed, cloth cap, and tall, fancy, blue riding boots, stepped onto his driveway.
“Yes, and you are?”
“My name is Mark MacFury. I understand from Mr Wagstaff that you are the owner of Whisky Galore.”
“That’s correct. I have a bill of sale. Is there a problem?”
“Not at all. My father sadly passed away recently. One jump too many combined with one scotch too many and he fell off, over the horse’s head. I’ve been doing a bit of an audit of his records, breeding stock and so on, and came across Whisky Galore.”
“Reluctant Racer. Not Whisky Galore. But he responds best to RR.”
“As you wish. Now, I emphasise there is no question about ownership. Mr Wagstaff won the horse fair and square and has records to prove it and you of course now have legal ownership. I am here because my father identified... RR as a potential prospect and I tend to agree. I would like to offer you a proposal. I will train the horse, at my expense, at my yard and then enter him in a suitable race. All I would want in return is fifty percent of any prize money and the opportunity to buy… RR, should you be prepared to sell of course. Is this something you would be interested in?”
“I’m not sure, I will have to ask my wife. She is very attached to RR.”
“Have a chat with her. Think it over. This is my number, please call when you are ready.”
After a short discussion and walk with RR when they explained the situation to him, to which he made no real comment, they decided that Stanley should call Mark MacFury. Clare had said, “well I suppose it can’t do any harm and RR might like the change, he could treat it as a holiday. And we don’t have to sell him do we? I’m not sure I would want to sell him, we get on so well.”
So RR was collected and started a regime of training for the big day. Mark thought about three months should do it during which Stanley and Clare could visit whenever they wanted. Every day as it turned out, early evening, and the noisy, stompy greeting evidence of their eagerly awaited arrival. RR was registered with the BHA with Stanley as sole owner and was entered into a three mile steeplechase for four year olds.
It rained solidly for two weeks prior to the race and the course was described as heavy although thoroughly wet and impossibly sticky would be nearer the mark. RR stood at the start remembering Clare’s words, “RR, this is your great chance to show the world what you can do. We know you have a splendacious talent, let it out, don’t hold back. You make me proud to see you here looking so smart and sprightly.”
They bet on odds of twenty five to one, RR being an outsider with no form. The tape went up and RR was away in a hail of muck as his hooves tried to grip the soggy ground. No hesitation and no sign of a repeat of his previous refusals. The competition was tough, they all knew that, and it was not long before RR was trailing. He jumped well and was clearly enjoying the conditions. Over the last and quite a bit to make up but then with a very late surge and colossal sprinting effort he took the race by more than a length.
Euphoria hit the winner's enclosure. Clare was hugging and patting RR who was sporting his very best, toothy grin, a gleam no less, clearly immensely satisfied with himself. They both de-mudded him, brushed him and lavished him with words of praise then set off back to Mark’s stables. They also had a well done slap on the back for Mark. With their winnings and half of the prize money Stanley had just enough to cover his loss to Mr Wagstaff.
Two days later Mark was knocking on their door.
“I would like to buy RR and can offer you fifty thousand guineas which I think is a fair price.”
“I’m sure it is but I’m sorry Mark,” said Stanley, “we have talked this over, in anticipation, and have decided we will not sell at the moment.”
“Well that’s a disappointment.” replied Mark, “Anyway I would like to race him again if that’s OK and then make a revised offer which might be more tempting.”
A bigger race was thought more appropriate on a better course, where more people would be able to appreciate RR’s worth. The day arrived and RR was given the very best grooming and fancy hairstyles so he really looked the part. All snapped up horsey style. He strutted around the parade ring showing off and lapping up all the attention his new fame gave him. RR was loving it. Soaking it up. He trotted to the start with his head held high, looking at the crowds, making sure they were all admiring him. He lined up behind the start tape, waiting, his jockey poised. The tape shot up and the horses stormed forward. All except RR that is, who, despite frantic jockey efforts, would not be shifted. He simply stood, legs crossed, looking at the backsides of the field as they accelerated away.
Mark was furious, “well that’s that, isn’t it. I’m glad you refused my offer. That would have been money thrown away. Wouldn’t it? At least most of my costs were covered with the prize money. That’s one dumb horse you have there. A really lazy, dumb horse.” And he stormed away, delivered RR back to their house never to be seen again.
RR was restored to his home. He had never really been settled with Mr Wagstaff and had desperately wanted a change. He was glad to be back that was clear for anyone to see. He inspected his house with care and shuffled and whinnied appreciatively at the way it had been prepared for him. He knew he was not lazy and dumb. What an insult. He had merely wanted to show the world what he could do. Make Clare and Stanley proud of him. Earn them some money to show his appreciation. He was more than aware of his potential but was a modest horse and like modest people did not feel the need to “show off”. He had a calm, philosophical, laid back attitude to life, and life with the Gibsons was going to be one long, loving holiday. Of that he was quite sure.