Two-hundred and twelve miles outside London, at Aintree Raceway, near Liverpool, Seth Jarret waits in line holding two drinks, while celebrating another win, his fourth. On the fifth, and main event race at The Grand National, and with a field of thirty-three horses, he is betting it all on number-ten, ‘Red Pig Flying.’
Red Pig comes from a family with a Thoroughbred history, but not all who race here are Thoroughbreds, and when it comes to the gruelling steeplechase, none is more well known, honoured and loved than, ‘Red Rum,’ a Thoroughbred.
The Grand National champion, Red Rum, won in 1973, 74, and again in 77, while coming in second in 75, and again in 76. He came from thirty lengths back, to win the 73′ race and was world-renowned for his jumping abilities and perseverance, and he never fell in over one hundred races, which in itself is a record.
This is a jumping and durability race and not a speed race like the Kentucky Derby. There, the winners try and break the land speed record and sound barrier by galloping as fast as they can from start to finish in about two minutes, around a flat mile-and-a-quarter track without obstacles.
But the Grand National is about a nine-minute race on the grass with obstacles, and timing is important, as jockey’s need to manage their mounts in an effort to survive its extremely difficult and tiring, four-and-a-half-miles.
Steeplechase is considered by many to be the ultimate test of a horse’s courage and the jockey had better hold on because these Thoroughbred’s and ‘other than’s,’ all have an attitude. They are high strung and spirited just like women shoppers on the day after the Christmas sale. Each jockey is determined to ride a smooth and smart race beating all others across the finish line, especially with a purse nearing £547,247 for the winning owner and jockey.
The National usually takes place in April, but this year has been postponed till mid-July, because of renovations to the track and stadium. Three thousand vendors have set up shop for selling food, t-shirts and everything else. A capacity crowd is expected.
Security is tight, and pickpockets and other criminal types will be working the crowd for ill gotten items of value, and to prey on their unsuspecting victims in any way possible. Every dodge and jugglery in the world will be tried and tested today. Three hundred thousand race patrons are expected to attend Saturday’s main event, The Grand National.
Seventy-five groundskeepers have worked day and night in preparing the track, softening the turf so as to prevent injuries to horse and rider. The head groundskeeper, Mr Baker, from Liverpool, is the best in the business and has left no turf blade unattended.
Soil preparation is the key along with water monitoring, and hourly records and detailed reports are kept then studied inside and out. Computer stations help survey every inch of this two-mile grass track, which the horses will travel around twice, covering four miles and eight hundred and fifty-two yards, in just under nine minutes.
There are sixteen gates and barriers, fourteen are jumped twice and some as high as five-feet-two-inches and have drops of up to six-feet-nine-inches, on the other side. There are thirty fences in total which each must jump. Each day Mr Baker and his crew walk the entire track in search of unwanted debris and trouble spots.
Mr Baker has not missed anything, except, what Mr Baker could not foresee was the torrential downpour in the early morning hours making it a swamp, on race day.
Now, years later after Red Rum’s brilliant career, it is ‘Red Pig,’ who carries the torch. His stride is also graceful and like Michael Jordan, can hang in the air for what seems like hours. Water barriers’ are like puddles to Red Pig. This horse can jump. This dragster on four legs runs like a cheetah and flies like a dragon with jet engines, and he has never lost a race.
At Aintree Raceway, it’s two o’clock and the sun is beyond hot, but it still struggles to dry the track and rain set off in the distance with uncertainty. Tropical rain, arriving in droves like squadron planes, had pelted everything earlier in its downpour, and now it is the sun’s turn to crank up the heat by turning on its afterburners.
Shorts and long skirts are the dress of the day and loose tops fall open and smart, with some falling overboard. Rescue attempts by gentlemen are sometimes met by alluring eyes. Some are green, soft and full of life, wondrous and brave. Some are silky and sincere, delightful and dangerous, naughty and inviting. But some are cold like witches on brooms, bad and nasty, full of gossip and arthritic resentment, like river stones in winter. Some men have sunglasses readied to avoid witches…
Panama hats tip more than not, and feather fascinators float on a breeze, while glasses toast in midair and a few bottles of champagne fall, bouncing, bubbling, and overflow into the mouths of gorgeous babes.
“Rupert works well on a sloppy track.” Comments an old man to Seth.
Seth just nods, then glances at the odds board. ‘Number thirty-three, Rupert, at twenty-two to one- odds.’
“Don’t waste yer money. He does rather like the mud sir, but that was when he was in his prime.”
“Think of the money son when he wins, and his owner agrees.”
“Forgive sir: but just look at the odds, he’s too much of an outsider. Every other horse would have to stay in the stable for him to win. I tell ya he’s not a winner anymore. I know that horse. He runs now like he’s got hobblers on.”
Seth sips and waits to place his bet. His mind still swirls over his loss of his prized Bugatti, ‘The Alice,’ back in London.
The lines are long and the crowd shifts like a river with unseen sinkholes and rapids. Seth’s impatience seeks diversion and soon finds an attention grabber in the form of a woman, directly in the back of the old man. Their first encounter happens as the line surges like an oceans riptide, and he reaches to support her stance. ‘What pretty eyes. She’s a knockout!’ She smiles and gives a thank-you nod.
The old man in the back of Seth just doesn’t let up and keeps going on and on about horse thirty-three, the odds on non-favourite running in the fifth race. Rupert’s odds have now jumped to fifty-to-one. Seth knows the horse from previous bets, but after examining the board once again disregards the man’s conversation as stupidity, about the same as going over Niagara Falls, without water or a barrel.
Number 10 ‘Red Pig Flying’ still looks good to Seth as he is the odds on favourite, but the trouble is he doesn’t pay enough to win, and Seth is looking for a big score.
“The horse runs well on a sloppy track and as you must bloody well know, it’s sloppy out there.”
‘Oh great!’ Seth thinks. ‘I’m stuck in line listening to an old fart with memory loss.’ Again he looks up at the odds board and sees that Rupert is now `ninety-two-to-one, and climbing. But Seth had always bucked the odds at almost everything, plus he is way beyond desperate, near broke approaching drunk would be a more accurate term.
Rupert was no nag, and could keep up with the big boys, but not as of late. He is also a Thoroughbred.
“Pardon me sir, you say that Rupert’s owner, old Jack Howard, is betting heavily on his own horse? But, look at the board. Only a fool would bet that horse. There’s no bloody way Rupert can win. But, what puzzles me is Jack? This makes no sense to me at all. He never bets on his own horse. Ever. And, I’ve known Jack for years.” Seth waits for a response and begins listing to the side, like a sinking boat.
“A fool does not listen to his conscience, but where a wise man acts upon it, given time, he is rewarded by what he sees with his faith and sometimes his eyes. Let me show you the rules of the mind, the same as I pointed out to Jack.”
Both men have a clear view of the track and the parade of horses.
“Don’t pay attention to the odds board lad, but instead study each horse in turn. Does any horse clearly stand out to ya?”
There’s no need for Seth to view all the horses.
“My Goodness, that horse is going to win and he knows it! He’s got his fire back!”
“You bet your money he’s going to win and so will you. You’d be a fool not to trust your own eyes. Trust me son. Today, Rupert has traded his hobblers in for running shoes..”
Seth sobers a bit as he realizes the man’s delivery of words to be with authority and definition.
Upon closer inspection, Seth guesses the old gentleman’s age to be seventy or eighty with an aristocratic air about him. The nobility of some sorts he surmises. Well-tailored white trousers fall gracefully to a pair of black and white Oxford shoes. His hair is white and woolly. His eyes are bright emerald in colour and contain a depth of unassailable wisdom.
A wooden umbrella encased in leather-like material sits latched over his arm. Its carvings are labyrinthine, unbelievable in detail, very unique with what appears to be Blood Rubies and green Jadeite embedded. A shoulder bag is slung across his chest and rests upon his left hip. His skin is healthy, with stout veins and rippling muscle beneath. Compassion and wisdom sit solidly in the gentleman’s foundation with backbone, not usually seen in everyday life. His black and white Oxfords slowly shuffle on the cement as Seth stands intrigued and respectful.
“Seth Jarret’s the name.”
“Hello Seth, I’m Merlin G Wildhaber, from Goosenham.”
“Like, the magician? I can tell ya right now it’ll take some magic for that horse to win. I say, I’ve never met anyone from Goosenham? You’re from there ah?”
“Well of course I’m from there. Only the enlightened would bet on such odds,” he chortled and continues, “the magician and I, are one and the same.”
“I always thought Goosenham was full of the gipsy’s an odd story but excuse me, sir, ‘Merlin the Magician?’ Well, perhaps with a bit of your magic you can help me locate me car. It’s gone missing.”
“Gypsies and odd stories do you hear, ah. We send out such tales so that we might be left alone and once again, yes, I am the famed magician my dear friend. So you seek a car do ya.”
Closing his eyes Merlin rubs his hands together in a slow circular pattern, mumbles in a low tone for half a minute, and opens his eyes. He then claps so loud it echoes throughout the track. Stunned, people in the reviewing stand stop their chattering for a moment and look about wondering, then carry on where they left off. Seth nearly falls over from the shock wave.
“You seek what is yours that has been given away; Goosenham holds your car with a woman’s name.”
Seth is nearly floored by the comment. “How did you know that? I mean about the Alice.”
“I am as I said, Merlin.”
“What more of the Alice? Goosenham? The American’s, are they there? How are you sir, able to… ”
“Stargaze boy, stargaze. Magical views if you will come in moments of stillness. Sad to say most travel way too fast to absorb the essence of a mere moment. In time you may find in the town of Goosenham, the motorcar surrounded by a moat. Sorry, but it was all I was given to see.”
“May find? Me cars in a moat? What? That’s it?, That’s all? Any more?”
“Relax, boy, relax. It’s a start lad.”
A gulp of cognac brings fire into Seth as he stands a little less sceptical and a bit more drunk.
“Let me give you a little bit more of a show, Seth, of what I do. In exactly ten seconds, Rupert will take a bow. Then he will walk backwards for ten feet and bow again.” Not disbelieving and not believing Seth sips his other drink slowly thinking ‘Well this will be one to see. Me cars in a moat?
“You mean to say Mr Wildhaber that horse is going to… well, good night nursing little fishes. I’ll be. How’d ya do that?”
“If you are quiet, the future is within sight and the command of minds, even horses, is yours if the will is virtuous.” Notes the old man nonchalantly. “This is what I do.”
“Excuse me,” pipe’s in the woman behind Merlin.
She has smooth pearl white skin and a smile which drive men batty. Her breasts are set up for display on this hot summer’s day and she has eyes like Elizabeth Taylor’s. She’s wearing a long flowing green dress that when pushed by a light breeze, reveals everything a woman is known for. Her hair is a deep chestnut red, full of life and wild like a stallion. Seth’s eyes brighten, ‘the knockout.’
“But do either of you know on to which horse I should place my bet?” She says. “I’ve never been to a race before.”
The old man nudges Seth into responding.
“Well.” Stumbling with his manner of dress and his unkempt slouched stance Seth straightens almost every bone in his body as his eyes look into hers, although tunnel vision keeps pulling him down onto, ‘her luscious purple lingerie, supporting those gorgeous sweltering bosoms.’
“The horse I’m thinking about picking is a tit… bit of a long shot. He use to be one of the breast jumpers… the best jumpers! “Oh,” he sighs. He’d be a risky bet.”
Thinking to himself, ‘breast? Risk? Come on man? I must be insane! Pull yourself together…’
“Forgive me. What I’d be trying to say is… I wouldn’t want you to get a bad taste for the races just because of my passion. If I were you I’d bet the odds on favourite number-ten, Red Pig, who is a dandy of a horse, just to be on the safe side, since this being your first time at the races.”
“Oh, I like taking chances. Especially when it comes to passion.” She comes close, pushing them up against Seth and whispers warmly into his ear. “My mom always said, keep yer knockers up and your lips moist and passion will always follow.” Pulling back, her eyes flirt so fast that Seth’s teeth begin to chatter while the other remaining bone in his body awoke and begins thinking hard. He shoots down the remaining drink.
The three then step to the side per Seth’s directional hand movements.
“I’ll show you how to place your bet and if you would allow me to buy you a drink?”
“Oh, I’d love that, by the way, my name is Susan!”
“Susan, it certainly is my… deepest,” he crossed his hand over his heart, “deepest pleasure to meet you, I’m Seth Jarret.”
“The famous race driver?”
A blush comes to his face just before his chest crests to its limits. “At your service.”
“And I, my fair lady, am Merlin G Wildhaber, from Goosenham. ”
“You mean ‘the Goosenham,” as in weird, strange? Ah, like ‘The Magician? She laughs. Well, I guess it’s possible, who’s to say?”
“Yes, and as my good friend, Seth said. At your request, I wait to be of service.”
“Well, what better company could I ask for? Both of you are my hero’s! A legend in my own time and, please forgive, but one way, way, way before my time.” Merlin did not find it unflattering but pretended to act as such.
Interlocking her arms with the two gentlemen the trio once again advances towards the ticket booth, just like Dorothy, as the line turns into rushing walkways, taking mere seconds. Seth feels the power of her breast brushing against him as they move towards the window. Just like a kid at the movies with his first date, his pulse races and companionship, once lost, hangs so close. They’re next in line at the ticket booth.
That feeling of importance is once again causing his steps to bounce and while he places her bet of £100. Seth throws in an extra £100. She rewards him with a tighter hug.
“How nice of you Seth,” kissing him on the cheek.
The clerk shakes his head as Seth places his wager whispering over the counter, “Seth. Seth? I’m your friend. Are ya sure you want to do this? That horse is a goat!” Seth just nods, having set his £552 down with confidence.
Susan’s arm reaches over the counter adding the exact same amount as Seth had bet. “Add this to yours.”
Turning, Seth’s eyes met Susan’s, and before he could politely reject her more than generous gift she puts a finger to his lips and says, “Please Seth doesn’t say a word, you deserve to win.”
Knowing full well it would do no good to argue with this fiery red hair beauty, Seth reluctantly accepts her gift and then overturns it once more. “Susan, I can’t accept this.”
“And why not?”
Seth sees a glow in her eyes and connects with her immediately like a friend that he’s known for years.
As Susan and Seth go back and forth in a playful argument, Merlin has just placed the largest bet of the day, £52,000 on Rupert. The clerk is beside himself and closes his window afterwards and heads for the stadium’s pub.
“Okay Susan, I accept. But I owe you… more than just a drink.” Susan just wets her lips.
Merlin walks over and pats Seth on the back while craftily placing his own ticket inside Seth’s jacket. Susan’s ticket is already there.
“Ladies and gentlemen there will be a short delay of about thirty minutes for the next race,” rang out from the speakers. Mr Baker and his crew need to once again sweep the course because when it comes to the main event, all their ducks need to be in a row and every detail just right.
“What perfect timing. If you could be so kind Seth. I’ll take you up on that first offer of a drink.”
The threesome makes their way to the bar and after a couple of rounds and a conversation filled with craziness, about how Merlin attended the very first-race back in 1839, has Seth and Susan giggling like teenagers and throwing napkins and ‘get-out-here’s and ‘stop it’s,’ in a constant assault on their brains.
Merlin also does a few levitation tricks, with a few items around the bar lifting off tables, and a hat rising off the head of a woman sitting across the bar. Seth and Susan are almost on the floor with laughter each begging Merlin to, ‘stop it I can’t take it anymore, and how’d you do that?’
More questions about Alice are answered, and sketchy directions to Goosenham with turn right then left, left again over the bridge, lay on the rock, pull the lever and so on, is given. Seth’s business card is presented, and phone numbers are written on table napkins and passed around.
“Well, it looks like it’s time. Shall we,” continues Seth, “or should we just stay here, and forget everything else. This, is so enjoyable,” pausing and looking at Susan, as she at him, “but I guess we should go.”
They all now leave and take a good vantage point as the race is about to start.
The horses are set in a row like RiverDancers, and are jammed at the elastic barrier stretching across the track, and…
“They’re off! And they’re away!” Applies to all.
All that is, except for one… Rupert.
The glue seems to stick to the hooves of the horse Seth and his group had picked to win, like tar on a warm summers day, pinning Rupert, ‘the wonder horse,’ to the starting line as all the others galloped on their way towards the finish line. Rupert refused to run, let alone trot.
“Come on horse! What’s he waiting for?” questions Seth.
Seth, bug-eyed, looked at the pack and gulped, his heart nearly stops. “Bloody, #@%^ing horse!”
Seth looks around and see’s that his two new friends have disappeared much faster than this future glue factory Thoroughbred, Rupert. Rupert now lops along in a playful almost absurd action like he’s on a picnic.
Seth’s eyes were not on the finish line or his friends at this point but the how and why of it all, as his hands cover his face. Of all the times he’d won and of all the places on earth to be, he was stuck here betting £552 on an old nag named Rupert, which at this point looked like a cartoon character wobbling down the field; as for ‘Red Pig Flying?’ He really is flying, leading all others in his quest for the top purse. Seth should have known better he thought than to trust any horse with a name like Rupert but; then there was that old man?
“Why’d I listen to him? That Bastard!” He shouts, looking about for ‘that old goat.’ All traces of the couple have left Seth standing without support. ‘Susan,’ he thought.
Seth has worked hard all his life scraping his way upward, slowly building a small fortune in the auto world. Fame as a racing driver bought his garage and kept it growing for years on end. The horses supplied him with spending money and a place where he could hang his hat. Seth was thrown off course by the death of his father and the big boobs of a red hair beauty by the name of Alice, whom he married then later divorced. Long lonely days built one after the other as time crawled for a period of years. Then the depression came along with those mounting bills and the drinking drained him dry of his fortune and life.
Seeing his dreams dashed by his own stupidity at the races, Seth slumps forward as his polished black shoes begin to move like a prisoner heading for the gallows. Tucking his ticket in his jacket he leaves the track completely despondent. He heard the crowd gasp but knew it was not in his favour. For days he would not find out the outcome of the race as the bottle and Leigh, his young assistant, will be his two best and only friends.
Perhaps the sun is in Seth’s favour, or maybe the old man’s powers are at work, but on this day the sun becomes so blinding near Waterway, the first jump, as all riders broke to be out front hitting its fence at about the same time, ten of the horses fall and are out, two less than in the 1952 Grand National. A tangled mess of leather straps and fancy coloured jockey silks looks like a huge quilt, crunched up.
The same happens at the second and third losing three more riders. All remaining riders make it through fences four and five. The ground is slippery with the grass almost floating. Only a mudder runs well on a sloppy track. Rupert is a mudder and loves soft ground.
The notorious first turn, which is fence six, leading left, proves to be exit time for five more riders with its six-foot-nine-inch drop on the backside, as some hit the ground like sacks of flour or water balloons, while others become fallers in its brook, another refused the jump, but propels the jockey over, as he is almost trampled, almost a goner.
Rupert is still behind, but beginning to make progress having leapfrogged the first fence and then soars over the second and third with ease at a faster than normal pace as he heads for fence four. He then stops completely, then breaks in the air like the Lone Ranger’s horse, Silver, leaping up like a Lipizzan stallion and then shoots down the course like the SR-71 Blackbird with afterburners, full throttle…
The crowd in the stands and infield go nuts and begin cheering for the long-shot, Rupert.
At fence number seven, two riderless horses take the jump with ease, while other jockeys stand muddied and climb their way out of ditches, using their riding crops like light-sabres, striking the wet ground repeatedly.
Rupert is on the move after easily clearing fences one through six. He’s in a fast gallop.
When Rupert finally did break free of his stickiness the roar of the crowd became so loud that the leading jockeys turned, distracted, their forward steam yields to a crawl as each take their turn falling into the ditches and barriers and become lodged in its spruce hedges like brooms.
At the eighth fence, two riders collide like china plates and lay sprawled on the wet grass like snow angels while their mounts head for parts unknown.
With the bolt of a champion, Rupert lit past those still remaining and is in hot pursuit of Red Pig and others have made about twenty yards at each fence. At fence number fifteen know as ‘The Chair’ a six-foot ditch lies before the jump and the backside is six inches higher in an effort to slow the horses down. Rupert whittles “‘the chair’ down to size before heading to fence sixteen, the water jump.
Playtime is over for Rupert’s jockey, Frances, and she kicks him into high gear as they fly over the water like a dart to the bulls-eye. Three other jockeys should have brought soap and look like decoy ducks floating on the surface.
They have all rounded the track once. There are twelve horses still standing and six take a powder on front side with two of them being fallout’s. Three more nose dive at fence twenty-two, also known as Becher’s Brook, another again refuses the jump when hounded by a loose horse and its rider is a faller. At fence twenty-two, Frances sits back in the saddle using her body weight as ballast to counter the steep drop and picks up speed. Captain Martin Becher, whom the jump is named after, fell in the 1st Grand National ending up in the water and later said, “water tastes disgusting without the benefits of whiskey.”
With a starting field of thirty-three horses, only two horses remain, Red Pig and Rupert, which is not common, but not unheard of either. Since the Grand National beginnings in 1839, only one other time in 1928, has this ever happened.
Red pig is out in front by forty-lengths with three fences to go, his jockey, Terence Hickey, eases the reins playing it safe, saving Red Pigs energy for the gruelling dash, of four-hundred and ninety-four yards, after the last jump, around the elbow, then on to the finish line.
Rupert is closing fast as his jockey uses every shortest angle to her advantage while gaining ground. Rupert is now ten-lengths back and Frances eases Rupert’s reins too. Both horses have just jumped the last fence and Red Pig’ is wandering a bit, as Frances, takes advantage of guiding Rupert as straight as a rail. With less than two-hundred-fifty- yards to go, they are nearly sided. Rupert back one stride nearing the sharp turn known as ‘the elbow.’
Leather and boots and mud and crud are flying everywhere. Whips are being used like a maniacal swatter of flies on a pig farm. Both jockeys’ goggles and clothing resemble those of mud wrestlers on ladies night, and as Rupert pulls alongside, Frances shouts to Terence Hickey, “see ya,” and breaks for the lead, leaving Red Pig in the watery dust.
Rupert crosses the finish line first, and three-hundred-and-four-thousand-two-hundred-and-twelve, racing fans,’ go ape shit.’
At ceremonies the female jockey Frances was ecstatic and praises her horse for his robust finish with just one line.
“Rupert, just loves the mud. Cause, he’s a mudder!”
Maybe, just maybe, the time had come for Rupert to move back into the win column and have this one last race for the man that had stood saddened in the stands with his two new missing friends’. There is only a handful of winning tickets and Seth is holding one, two and three.
On the other hand, the drive back home for Seth is a long and lonely one. He takes the shuttle train back to Liverpool then a Virgin train back into London. The confusion of the traffic becomes all jumbled once in London and his mind collides with every passing motorcar, while his past hounded him. He thinks about Susan, and places the napkin with her phone number between the pages of a Bible, on his nightstand, and wonders about her whereabouts and says . ”there’s something special about her,” he sighs and falls off to sleep.
Upon waking, about ten the next morning, he will gather Leigh Montgomery Piazza, his assistant, and go in search of the car. His one and the only hope left or so he thought.
‘The Alice,’ is like no other car. Its beautiful lines sweep all others off the road. All of Britain knows of its fame. Trophies adorn Seth’s walls to the point of being overstuffed. A picture of the Queen seated comfortably behind the driver’s wheel is not only here at Seth’s garage but has been lithographed and sell in poster shops throughout Europe with every bit of the money earned going to charity.
But for now, Seth’s shop is left standing held together with strings from the past, and an adorning friendship from people that he’s touched over the years. Seth has earned respect by the good deeds done giving prize money to many needy causes. Lending a hand to just about anyone who had crossed his path has always been his style.
This champion from the past has shown what with character and hard work one could achieve dreams built on honesty, without cheating or stabbing another in the back. He’s never been that way.
Throughout all of his tough times, his friends stay loyal. It is the drinking that keeps them apart; most are waiting just around the corner keeping a close eye on their friend, Seth Jarret.
He didn’t seem to want anyone’s help: but his friends refused to leave. Period!
“Susan, I saw in your eyes child a fondness for our friend Seth.”
“Yes father, I liked him.”
“And I too as well-child. He’s a good man. I’ll work on him.”
And so, as the sun begins setting, Merlin, and his daughter Susan, relax behind the privacy glass of their Rolls-Royce, as they travel back to London.