And then he fell

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Valdez fell at the second-to-last while traveling strongly in the feature chase at Chepstow Saturday. Unsure to go short or long, he and jockey Tom Bellamy clouted the fence, slid, flipped over. That’s the facts. The emotions, well, they run deeper.

I have sayings during races – as we all do – “Come on, my son,” when the race is secure and you’re yelling for the joy of it, the tribute to your horse. “Get a jump. Get a jump,” when you need a big one or at least a quick one. “Just jump it,” when you simply need to pop and win. As Valdez rolled up to the outside of the two leaders, Bellamy sitting motionless, I said it, “Just jump it. Just jump it.” Then he didn’t. The birch parted, knees too low, head awkward, twisting…race over.

The perfect start to a long, arduous season of National Hunt racing – poof – gone. The perfect start to a long, arduous globe-trotting week – poof – gone.

Valdez rolls, then quickly springs to his feet, then stands, again awkward, one leg limp…Alan King and I start running. My phone is blowing up in my pocket, we’re running. I see the screens, ‘please be the reins, please be the reins, please be the reins.’ In the distance, it looks like his leg is caught in the reins, ‘please be the reins, please be the reins, please be the reins.’ As we cross the flat track, through the deep, wet grass, Bellamy grabs the reins and starts walking Valdez toward us. His big white face, like a buoy in the night, grass wedged in his bridle, up and over his ears, in his mane, across Bellamy’s saddle, down his chestnut rain-soaked back

Bellamy looks at us, then the ground, he winces, not from physical pain, “I’m sorry…” We are not mad. We are simply thankful our horse is standing, our jockey is standing.

It’s the game we play.

We walk back to the finish line, King and I consoling Bellamy, Valdez and his groom walking back to the barn, consoling each other. Nothing accomplished, but thankfully nothing lost.