Let Us All Soar Like Altior
Sometimes life is just not so good. Sometimes days don’t feel worth living. People let you down, mistakes drive you down the wrong path, or your mind just can’t seem to switch on the light. You try to sleep it off, move on, and forget about the darkness.
But don’t forget those days, ‘cause they make the good ones so much sweeter. We can feel awful one day, and on top of the world the next. It’s the ebb and flow of your life’s homeostasis; keep me warm and keep me cold, remind me of the lows because their depth accentuates the highs.
One cold day last December at Prestbury Park, we hit the top. We’d been catching the bottom of the well for too long. It had been 1399 days, almost four years. I’d been to Australia and back.
It was so damn satisfying. My Tent Or Yours, brushing away his demons like we do every day. It might not have been third-time lucky, but it’ll come. Perseverance, bravery, all those motivational words embodied in one anthropomorphic act. He’s a legend, a star, but also in that moment the cause of my evanescent ecstasy. The crowd didn’t throw their papers in the air, but I was soaring on a cloud far above the reach of the human arm. Awe does not need to be shared. I was floating in my own personal bubble, unaware of any dissident opinion or emotion floating nearby. When all your body can feel is warmth and joy, it’s so hard for wretched empathy to come. Rest in peace, Starchitect.
My Tent Or Yours ends his career a champion. He stared his demons in the face and defeated them. He conquered human as well as equine champions; poor AP couldn’t get the cheeky character up that hill in front. Tongue-out, he did it on his own day. Literally, his day. Odd that we’ll remember that delightful International more than either of his G1 wins. Perspective, I suppose.
From Ludlow to Aintree, I was there at his first, and I was there for his last. Fitting for his number-one fan.
On that day at Cheltenham, horse racing was so intimate, so personal and so individualised. Yet it can be so unifying. Cheering home a horse whilst buried amongst a sea of similar sheep can evoke parallel euphoria. Horse racing at the highest level is like discovering that the cherished novel you loved as a child is adored by thirty-thousand other people, too. And they want to scream and shout about it, just like you.
On Saturday, we did just that.
Rocked by conditions familiar to only Noah and his herd of paired creatures, Sandown was a state in the final few minutes before the big one. Desperate to hide from the rain, but equally frantic to keep both eyes on the horse attached to the jockey in black, the crowd crushed into the stands. They blocked the view of those seated, catalysing the usual British uproar only seen on these shores: annoyed murmurings and dodgy side-glances. Yet, with the drop of a flag, that all stopped.
We’re off. Roar. Drenched yet enthralled, every pair of eyes watched four chasers dart around the soggy track. Altior fluffs the second, but remains. Hopes remain intact. Off down the back, there goes Un De Sceaux. He leaps like a tiger. Roar. It’s on, it’s really on. Altior glides over the last railway. Here we go. A length in it. The cameras cut to a side angle, and that’s when we see Altior come back on the bridle. A tremendous roar: ‘He’s going better!’ Jump in unison at the last, but Altior is stronger, and the hill is his home. Glorious.
RUN. Get to the winner’s enclosure as soon as you can, swim with everyone else in a sea of everyone else; dive right and left to overtake the slowcoaches. Unleash you inner Sole Power and get there in time to cheer on the victor. One cheer, two cheers, any random cheer. We clapped him in, clapped him out and we clapped him again. Whoever you were that day, whether old or young, you were simply a human united with the crowd over the love of the game. The racecourse will never die with stars like these; shared euphoria is as addictive as any drug. The pictures on the screen didn’t portray it like I felt it. You should’ve been there.
In racing as in life, you have bad days and you have amazing days. You have days where it’s so personal, and you have days where it’s so mutual. Don’t fear the ever-changing equilibrium. Because days like these? They’re just awesome.