Friday, May 09, 2014


In the previous chapter, I looked ahead to our trip to Kempton and observed that a second consecutive late night would be easy enough to swallow if the horse ran well.  Well, um ... early in the evening on Wednesday I observed to someone that, although it was a very long time since we'd had a winner, it was also a fairly long time since we'd had a horse finish out of the first four - but that's now shot to bits, as Roy ran a dismal race at Kempton, travelling well for about nine of the 12 furlongs before knocking up very badly, finishing a dismal and distant last in the 9.15.  So Thursday (which, thanks to being spent in great company, was a hugely enjoyable evening at the races in every respect bar the performance of the horse) turned out to seem a very, very late night!

However, it was all put into perspective towards the end.  The journey home was a good one as the roads were more or less devoid of traffic from start to finish (which ought to be the case when one starts a journey at 10.20 pm, but often isn't, particularly when much of the first half of the journey is spent on the M25).  The empty roads, the snooze I'd had earlier in the evening, and an Abba Gold CD meant that the journey home was a piece of cake - until we turned into Exeter Road just before midnight.

I'd passed the Catholic Church and was heading down towards the bottom of the road, with Rayes Lane opening up on my right.  I spied a brown object in the middle of the road, which could have been a horse dropping or a crunched-up cardboard box, or just some other piece of litter.  I was getting closer and - oh sh*t, it was a hedgehog!  I slammed on the brakes, which I felt rather bad about because Roy used to be a really, really bad traveller in a truck, but is now really good and we hadn't heard a peep out of him on either journey, so an emergency stop was hardly a fair reward for his improved behaviour.  However, desperate situations call for desperate measures, and at least we were probably only doing 10 mph at the time.

Anyway, I was 95% sure that I hadn't run over the hedgehog, and was pleased when I got out to check under the truck that there clearly wasn't a run-over hedgehog down there.  However, I was still feeling slightly uneasy as I couldn't see a living one either - and then I saw him/her scuttling off around the corner into Rayes Lane.  Big relief - and big reminder too of the fact that it's not actually the end of the world when a horse whom one had expected to run well has run badly and come home uninjured.  A disappointing run such as we got on Thursday evening takes the gloss off the day - but running over a hedgehog, as I had cause to reflect when narrowly avoiding doing so, wouldn't just take the gloss off the day: it would take the gloss off the year.  And I'm not saying that lightly.

Roy's run was particularly disappointing.  I bred him, part-own him and train him.  My partners in him (Larry and Iris McCarthy, and in spirit the late Joe McCarthy) are lovely people, some of the nicest, most supportive patrons any trainer could ever have, and people who deserve good results.  Roy's now a four-year-old maiden, and his three runs this season have all been disappointing.  The investment in him in time, money, effort, thought, hope and emotion is huge, and a disappointing run from him is more than just a disappointing day.  I'd love to see him come good for many reasons, and it is worrying that he's continuing to disappoint.  But, hard to swallow though it was seeing him run so poorly and so far below expectations, that was nothing compared to the despair I would have felt if I'd run over that hedgehog.

One day last August I was walking around the stableyard after dark before going to bed when I was alerted by the animals to a very welcome visitor: a hedgehog (seen in a couple of this chapter's illustrations, with Natagora checking him out in one of them; while the other illustrations are of Roy in the parade ring on Wednesday, plus three views through Fen Flyer's ears this morning).  On that summer night I was so pleased to see him/her making himself/herself at home on the property - which made the discovery of a dead hedgehog, almost certainly the same one, out on the tarmac in Exeter Road a day or two later really upsetting.  Anyway, upsetting though that was, my close call at midnight on Wednesday has made me realise that I'd have been many, many times more distraught had I been the *&@%*" who had run one over.  Which in turn served as a useful reminder that a horse running disappointingly but no lives being lost isn't such a disaster after all.


Jason Coote said...

Hi John,

What a beautifully insightful post. It makes me realise I am not the only person who when walking through country lanes after rain keeps an open eye of snails making their way across a usually quite stretch of tarmac. If only there were more people who noticed those, too.

Best wishes to you and the team,

John Berry said...

Thanks Jason. Kind words - much appreciated.
With best wishes

Fiona Moate said...

I really enjoy your blog.
Very pleased the hedgehog was okay.
A few years ago my partner saw a mother hedgehog and five little hoglets on our lawn when he came home from working late.

I grew up in a rural area and one night there was a terrible and indescribable noise beyond the French doors. It sounded positively satanic. My Mother gingerly shone a torch to reveal hedgehogs mating!