How We Beat The Favourite

“Aye squire” said Stevens, “they back him at evens”
The race is all over, bar shouting, they say
The Clown ought to beat her, Dick Neville is sweeter
Than ever – he swears he can win all the way

“A gentleman rider – well I’m an outsider,
But if he’s a gent who the mischief’s a jock?
You swells mostly blunder, Dick rides for the plunder
He rides too like thunder, he sits like a rock.

“He calls ‘hunted fairly’ a horse that has barely
Been stripp’d for a trot within sight of the hounds
A horse that at Warwick beat Birdlime and Yorick
And gave Abdelkader at Aintree nine pounds

“They say we have no test to warrant a protest
Dick rides for the lord and stands in with a steward
The light of their faces they show him – his case is
Prejudged and his verdict already secured.

“But none can outlast her, and few travel faster
She strides in her work clean away from The Drag
You hold her and sit her, she couldn’t be fitter,
Whenever you hit her she’ll spring like a stag

“And perhaps the green jacket, at odds though they back it
May fall or there’s no knowing what may turn up
The mare is quite ready, sit still and ride steady
Keep cool and I think you just may win the cup

Dark brown with tan muzzle, just stripped for the tussle
Stood Iseult, arching her neck to the curb
A lean head and fiery, strong quarters and wiry
A loin rather light, but a shoulder superb

Some parting injunction bestowed with great unction
I tried to recall but forgot like a dunce
When Reginald Murray, full tilt on White Surrey
Came down in a hurry to start us at once

“Keep back in the yellow! Come up on Othello!
Hold hard on the Chestnut! Turn around on The Drag!
Keep back there on Spartan! Back you, sir, in tartan!
So, steady there, easy,” and down went the flag.

We started and Kerr made strong running on Mermaid
Through furrows that led to the first stake and bound
The crack, half extended, look’d bloodlike and splendid
Held wide on the right where the headland was sound

I pulled hard to baffle her rush with the snaffle
Before her two thirds of the field got away
All through the wet pasture where floods of the last year
Still loitered, they clotted my crimson with clay

The fourth fence, a wattle, floor’d Monk and Bluebottle
The Drag came to grief at the blackthorn and ditch
The rails toppled over Redoubt and Red Rover
The lane stopped Lycurgus and Leicestershire Witch

She passed like an arrow Kildare and Cock Sparrow
And Mantrap and Mermaid refused the stone wall
And Giles on The Greyling came down at the paling
And I was left sailing in front of them all

I took them a burster, nor eased her nor nursed her
Until the Black Bullfinch led into the plough
And through the strong bramble we bored with a scramble –
My cap was knocked off my the hazel tree bough

Where furrows looked lighter I drew the rein tighter –
Her dark chest all dappled with flakes of white foam
Her flanks mud bespattered, a weak rail she shattered –
We landed on the turf with our heads turned for home

Then crash’d a low binder and then close behind her
The sward to the strokes of the favourite shook
His rush roused her mettle, yet ever so little
She shorten’d her stride as we raced at the brook

She rose when I hit her. I saw the stream glitter
A wide scarlet nostril flared close to my knee
Between sky and water The Clown came and caught her
The space that he cleared was a caution to see

And forcing the running, discarding all cunning
A length to the front went the rider in green
A long strip of stubble, and then the big double
Two stiff flights of rails with a quickset between.

She raced at the rasper, I felt my knees grasp her
I found my hands give to her strain on the bit
She rose when The Clown did – our silks as we bounded
Brush’d lightly, our stirrups clash’d loud as we lit

A rise steeply sloping, a fence with stone coping –
The last – we diverged round the base of the hill
His path was the nearer, his leap was the clearer
I flogg’d up the straight and he led sitting still

She came to his quarter and on still I brought her
And up to his girth, to his breast plate she drew
A short prayer from Neville just reach’d me, “The devil”
He mutter’d – lock’d level the hurdles we flew

A hum of hoarse cheering, a dense crowd careering
All sights seen obscurely, all shouts vaguely heard
“The green wins !” “The crimson !” The multitude swims on
And figures are blended and features are blurr’d

“The horse is her master !” “The green forges past her !”
“The Clown will outlast her !” “The Clown wins !” “The Clown !”
The white railing races with all the white faces
The chestnut outpaces, outstretches the brown.

On still past the gateway she strains in the straightway
Still struggles, “The Clown by a short neck at most,”
He swerves, the green scourges, the stand rocks and surges
And flashes and verges and flits the white post.

Aye ! so ends the tussle – I knew the tan muzzle
Was first, though the ring men were yelling “Dead heat !”
A nose I could swear by, but Clarke said, “The mare by
A short head.” And that’s how the favourite was beat.

Adam Lindsay Gordon