Many a good horse has been spoiled by an irritable or unsympathetic attendant. Bill the Gunner simply worshipped his horse and spent most of his time in his company, rubbing his head and talking to him, assuring him that he would lob in. Sensation repaid him with absolute trust and confidence, slouching contentedly down to the track and doing his work without getting excited or taking anything out of himself. On one occasion Sensation slipped down on his side while going fast round a slippery turn and Bill the Gunner came off him. Instead of galloping wildly about the place Sensation walked back to his fallen rider, apparently to see if he were hurt.
The more fiery English horse, Crusader, wanted his own way all the time. He was being worked into condition after a long spell. While he was fresh he would rear up and whinny to the other horses on the track, and get himself into a great state of excitement. When his work had sobered him down a little, he took to pulling very hard and wanting to race every horse that came alongside him. His trainer had to resort to the device of putting up one rider for slow work and, another for fast work. Crusader got to know that the stable-boy meant slow work and the jockey fast work; he would canter round contentedly with the stable-boy, but was into his stride like a flash when the jockey got on him.
Owing to a milder winter in France the French horse had begun his preparation earlier than Crusader and had a good deal of hard work “inside him,” as the trainers say, when he came over. Like most true stayers he was a quiet worker and his trainer did not hurry with him, keeping him at slow work and building muscle on to him every day. He was a laconic individual, this French trainer. Asked when he would begin to send his horse along he said in his own language that he would build him up first and fine him down afterwards.
To the initiated it was evident that the American horse was being prepared specially for the sprint race as he was sent for short dashes against the watch on almost every galloping morning, and was never allowed to take the edge off his speed by long gallops. When asked why he did not send his horse for long gallops his trainer replied: “Say, bo, that’s a job for a railroad train, this is only a hose.”
The course itself lay in the centre of a circle of hills with grandstands perched on one slope and with almost unlimited room for the cheaper spectators on a hill at the other side of the course. By way of gaining publicity, Mr Manasses had directed that this hill country should be thrown open free to spectators on galloping mornings and the place soon earned the nickname of the Tower of Babel.
At first the horses thought they were at a race-meeting and were inclined to get on their toes; but they soon quietened down and it had a valuable influence in getting them used to the crowds.
Among the most constant watchers on the hill were two small Latin-Americans and a burly Chinaman, the latter so muffled, up in wraps that it was hard to see anything of his face. Jimmy the Pat knew that if once his associates got to hear of the reward for his arrest, they would sell him out to the police or murder him for his share of the doping venture. So, every day the Australian horse galloped, the Chinaman asked all sorts of questions about Australia—where it was, and whether it was part of America. Not that Ramon and Dominic paid much attention to this babble. They never took their eyes or their minds off the horses.
Both were expert track watchers. After one good look at a horse they would know his hide on a bush, as Dominic put it. Also, they had followed the horses from the track to their stables and knew every move in their routine—when and by whom they were fed, and when they were bedded at night. Before making any move they wanted to get the general lay of the land: to see which horse really had a chance and which could be disregarded.
Then came the trial gallops, when the cracks were sent against their stable-mates and the two dopers watched every stride of these trials. Crusader was always a very free worker so he was usually sent with one mate for the first half of the journey and with another to bring him home. It takes a champion to beat off a fresh horse at the end of a mile-and-a-quarter gallop, but the jockey had hard work to hold Crusader back to the fresh horse at the end of each gallop.
Nudging Jimmy the Pat with his elbow Ramon pointed out one of these finishes.
“Say, guy,” he said, “you mightn’t know it, but dere’s not two horses in de woild could do dat. Dat hoss he beat won a big handicap at York last week wid top weight.”
Sensation was a problem to the track watchers. Not being allowed to have his own way with the horse, Bill the Gunner had decided to show his boss a point or two, and when riding slow work he had made a habit of shaking a stick at Sensation. He never hit him with it, and after a while Sensation would swing along without taking any more notice of the stick than a polo pony takes of a polo mallet. When the trials came on, and Sensation was asked to gallop with a stable-mate, Bill the Gunner would flourish his whip and appear to be riding hard but the lazy horse never responded and was constantly beaten by his galloping companions.
“Lynx” of the Sporting Argus, said that Sensation was a wash-out and should be running in selling plates, while “Searchlight” of the Racing Omniscient said that the horse was a false alarm and couldn’t beat a carpet. Sensation’s trainer was as much puzzled as anybody. When he asked Bill the Gunner what was the matter with the horse, the only answer he got was that the horse was all right and was home and dried.
“Perhaps he’s a natural slug,” said the trainer hopefully. “Did he always work like that in Australia?”
“I never rode him in Australia,” said Bill the Gunner, and walked away leaving the trainer more puzzled than ever.
With things in this state, all sorts of nasty rumours began to get about. The great International Meeting was a mere hippodrome; the owner of the Australian horse was living with Connie Galbraith or she was living with him, according to the taste of the talker; they would put their heads together and win with whichever suited them. The French and American owners were in their pay and would do as fhey were told; the good old public were due to get it in the neck once more; and so on and so on.
These rumours were not long in getting to the ears of Mr Manasses and he sent for Connie in a great hurry. He was too much upset to go through his usual pantomime of talking Yiddish:
“Connie, what’s all this! I’m not going to have all my work spoiled. They say you are living with this Australian and that you and he will fix up the races. What do you mean by it?”
“I’ve got him stayin’ with me,” said Connie. “He was bustin’ himself bettin’, and I pulled ’im out of it. Any ’arm in that?”
“No, but they say you are living with him.”
“Who says that?”
“Your brother-in-law for one.”
“That lobster. I’ll shut ’im up. Now lissen ’ere, Manasses. I’m gettin’ on, and it’s lonely livin’ by yourself. I been thinkin’ of marryin’ this Red Fred, a decent man, not one of these sham swells or hungry loafers that’d marry me for me money and leave me for some tart. I ain’t said nothin’ to ’im about it yet, but I’ll fix it up when I go back. ’Ow does that strike yer?”
Being absolutely impervious to shocks, Mr Manasses never batted an eyelid.
“Suit yerself, Connie. Suit yerself. But what about the races? This will make it worse than ever—husband and wife racing against each other. I’d believe it was straight; but thousands wouldn’t.”
“Damn the horses. I wish I’d never seen them. Wait a minit now, till I think. We must get some publicity out of it.”
For a moment or two Connie prowled about the room like a hungry lioness. Then she danced a few steps and gave a whoop.
“I got it, I got it,” she roared at the top of her voice, making Manasses jump out of his chair. “I got it. It’s a motzer. It’s a schnitzler. We’ll have to pack ’em in on the roof of the grandstand. What do the shows do when they can’t fill the house, Manasses? They do something for a charity. They offer to give half the house to a charity. You can always get a crowd in for a charity in England. Now lissen! You pick out two big charities, something the Royal Family is patrons of (just as well do it in style while we’re about it), and Fred and I’ll each hand over a horse to charity and the charity’ll get whatever the horse wins. Do yer get me? Each horse might win fifteen thousand quid and which ever charity gets the best horse’ll get the money. They can ’ave their own trainers and their own riders. Me and Fred’ll ’ave nothin’ to do with it. Ain’t that a wow of a notion?”
Mr Manasses, as a rule, adhered strictly to the proverb which says praise nobody till he is dead. He did not always praise them then; but Connie’s suggestion carried him off his feet.
“You’re a wonder, Connie,” he said, “a living wonder. Of course it will pull ’em in. I’ll pick out two charities, one for soldiers and one for sailors. We might get the King and Queen, to come. Then nobody’d be game enough to stop away. I’ll order ten thousand extra race-books and we’ll want them all. Have you spoken to Mr Carstairs about it yet?”
“Of course I ’aven’t. I only just thought of it. Anyway why should I ask ’im. Don’t be silly.”
“I only thought he would like to know that he might have to give away five or ten thousand pounds. Some of ’em don’t like it. What made you think of it?”
“To tell you the truth, I wanted to get level with the Lobster. If this goes over the way it ought—with a bang—the Lobster’ll go and drown himself for spite.”
Every paper in London, even the Tailor and Cutter’s Gazette, had a paragraph next day, unpaid and in the centre of the opening page.
ENGAGEMENT IN HIGH LIFE
The engagement is announced of Connie, Dowager Countess of Fysshe and Fynne, to the Australian millionaire, Mr Fred Carstairs, who has been staying with the Countess at her palatial seat in Newmarket.
Interest is added to the announcement by the fact that the Countess is the owner of the English champion Crusader, while Mr Carstairs owns the Australian horse Sensation, and the two are to run against each other at the forthcoming International Meeting. By way of celebrating their engagement the happy pair have decided to hand over their horses to run in the interests of two separate charities, one for soldiers and one for sailors. The charities will have the right to nominate their own trainers and riders if they choose to do so, and one or other charity is almost sure to benefit largely. When this news was conveyed to the owners of the French and American horses they at once expressed a desire to be allowed to follow such an admirable example.
Connie’s master-stroke changed the whole outlook for the International Race-meeting. The royal patronage was accorded to the affair, and people who had been industriously forecasting failure were now fighting desperately for tickets. In all countries of the globe there is a certain percentage of people who specialize in getting free tickets for everything. No matter how exclusive the affair, these people will get in, if the air can get into the room. Race-meetings are always happy hunting-grounds for the free-ticket fiends and they descended on Mr Manasses like flying-foxes on an orchard. From him, however, they got lots of civility but no free tickets.
Dominic and Ramon and Jimmy the Pat still attended all the morning gallops, weighing up the chances and waiting their time to strike. They knew that the really solid betting would take place after the first days racing, when the public had seen the horses; they also knew that the plodding French horse would cut but a poor figure in the six-furlong and mile-and-a-quarter races. Their associates had already secured a lot of money about him for the two-mile race and they meant to go in again, after the first day, and back him for all the money in sight. Then it only remained for them to “fix up” Crusader and Sensation, and they would win so much money that they could afford to eschew the sacking of racecourses and live cleanly ever after, if such a life had any attraction for them.
Watching the work, Ramon grew critical.
“He’s a cheese champion dis Australian hoss,” he said. “Why worry about heem? Even if we gave heem de fast stuff he wouldn’t beat de clerk o’ de course.”
“Not on your life,” said Dominic. “That guy on him is sore from hittin’ himself down the leg with the whip. Some day he’ll hit the horse by mistake and then you’ll see him breeze. That guy’s been feeding you on apple-sauce and you been fallin’ for it. We’ll fix the Englishman first and him afterwards. It’s no good sewin’ a thing up unless you sew it proper.”
Jimmy the Pat had watched all the work without saying anything. It did not suit him to let his associates know that he was a first-class judge of racing; but as chief of the gang it was necessary for him to give a decision.
“I think Dominic too right,” he said. “More better we make sure.”