The Thoroughbred

“Who knows why they call the horse Shy Vampire, but it is expected to run and worth an each way at least.”

“Not shown much form yet. Still early days to tell what’s what, though. What made you think of it just now? Not running this week as far as I can remember.”

The two men talking were in deep coats, so deep you could hardly see their heads or their feet, and you could hardly hear what they said through the buttonholes of their collars.

And one could hardly hear the other each way.

A third figure soon arrived with a woman’s voice and a woman’s coat, but still a deep one. It had a piece of paper sticking out of one long sleeve without sight of the fingers holding it. This betting slip was passed to the man who had mentioned Shy Vampire. These were the days when there was a certain illegality about gambling — and any deals were done under cover rather than in the later new-fangled bookmakers. There were even bets about coming last as well as first, and which would fall or tip off its jockey and at which precise moment in time.

The third figure spoke some words unheard and left the scene with unseen heels click-clacking into the misty echoes of the night.

Long odds that Shy Vampire was running tomorrow as a late unofficial replacement for another ride from the same stable. That’s all that could be gathered as the two men shambled off in different directions from each other and from the earlier third figure.

In those days, jockeys also wore deep coats. But short coats were still deep when jockeys wore them. And several of them could now be seen making short hurried strides across the end of the terraced road, before they too faded out into the white night: white through its icy mist not its lack of darkness.

I was now alone with my own thoughts. Kicking up my hind- legs, rubbing the nap of my coat against a lamp-post. Wanting to race but nobody to race such sport against … except perhaps against myself. The only course walkover with an uncertain result.

I flinched and hinnied – scared within by my own blood and the blinding night.