Five little words that signify catastrophe

Darcy trod on a screw, which may have put paid to my Grand National delusions

Real Life

03 Mar 2016

Darcy trod on a screw. Five little words which, if Darcy was anything other than a thoroughbred horse, might signify nothing more dramatic than a rummage through the medicine cabinet and the application of a plaster.

But of course Darcy is a thoroughbred horse. And I did end up mothering equine and not human children. Remind me, please, why I did that? Oh yes, something about me never quite working out how to do life like normal people do it, and finding myself, as middle age bore down on me, only able to commune with creatures possessing four legs. Four very delicate, finely balanced legs in Darcy’s case. An expensive way to carry on one’s emotional life. But we are where we are.

Darcy trod on a screw. She had been going reasonably well for her first season in training. We had been aiming for a maiden point-to-point in the next few months.

She was schooling well over fences. Shortly after Christmas, the trainer piloted her over a scary-looking set of 4ft 3in chase fences in the jumping field.

Then there was a passable outing to Lingfield in which I managed to cling on for a circuit and a half of the all-weather track, purely with my knees. All other parts of my body had taken on the consistency of Rowntree’s jelly.

No signs of blistering speed. But the girl was doing well and enjoying the work. Darcy, I mean, not me. I was getting home every evening and gobbling my way through a packet of Voltarol, then rolling myself out of the bed on to my knees the next morning and crawling about on the floor until the anti-inflammatories unlocked my lower back and I could clamber aboard again.

There were setbacks and annoyances. The famous female cyclist who’s busy turning herself into a jockey with lavish sponsorship is annoying. We don’t mention the P-word around the racing yard or I fly into an indignant rage about how I will top myself if she beats me to becoming the first woman since Velvet Brown to win the Grand National. In all likelihood, I don’t suppose either of us will, but that’s hardly the point. In my mind, I’m going to be the first female rider to win, and Darcy is going to be the first mare to win since Nickel Coin in 1951. Obviously. Keep up. I haven’t been pouring tens of thousands of pounds into a racehorse for four years without basing it on a firm delusion.

All was going as well as can be expected, which is to say no better than averagely well while ripping up £50 notes in the wind, when the trainer suspected the possible beginnings of a slight tendon strain.

When I say that, I mean he could feel something so slight, and so undetectable to the untrained hand, that even he said he was being overcautious.

‘I’ve got clever fingers. I thought I felt something that might possibly be something very slight. Possibly. But probably not.’ So on that basis we rested her.

Darcy luxuriated in five-star indolence waited upon by room service for a few weeks and then, as she was brought back into work, reared magnificently on the end of the rope while being taken to the walker.

I didn’t attempt to ride her on her first day back on the track because this usually results in the jockey being catapulted 20 feet into the air to land on his back in the mud. I’ve seen it.

So one of the other jockeys did the honours and Darcy was duly exploded back into work. She had only been going out for a few days when she suddenly went very lame on a warm-up hack through the woods.

The trainer examined her and pulled a screw out of her foot, probably the result of her treading on the remnants of some traditional Surrey fly-tipping.

The screw came out whole, the wound was clean. And we waited. After one day sound, she went lame, as expected. The foot was poulticed. And we waited.

Well, the trainer waited and I started itching to open my wallet. ‘How about an X-ray?’ I suggested. ‘Then we could be absolutely sure there isn’t anything still in there. And we could get the scanner run up that front tendon while we’re at it!’

‘You like throwing your money away, don’t you?’ he said. ‘Well, isn’t it traditional?’ I asked. ‘For the owner to panic and run up vet bills at every opportunity?’

But Darcy started to come sound and even the vet told me to calm down when I rang him. ‘Is there heat?’ he asked. ‘No.’ ‘Is there swelling?’ ‘Only in the vein on the side of my head.’

‘Well, then,’ he said. ‘It all sounds perfectly normal.’


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