The Last Newspaper in the World
11 September 2014
12 AMBER’S GOLD
Dreams come from the strangest places. As Christine nudged the car around the bends to the lakes on our way to Rotorua, I fell back asleep. I dreamed I was walking along the water’s edge with Angelique. Holding hands, bliss-filled as the water streamed in from a small surf at the beach. As we walked, I could feel the current pulling at our shins but when I looked over I saw Angelique was submerged up to her neck in still water. When I looked down hurriedly I saw that I too was neck-deep. I sensed the water smelled less than fresh, but can you smell in dreams? Looking back at her, I saw Angelique was again stepping through the freshness of a sea surge. Looking down I could see water wrapping around my feet as the tide pulled away. Letting go of Angelique’s hand, I turned and ran into the sea’s incoming waves. She laughed. The sun shone.
I awoke to a steady rain fall and the rotten eggs smell that is Rotorua’s signature.
‘It always rains on race day at Rotorua,’ Christine said as an attendant in a white coat waved us through to the official parking area.
‘How do you do it?’ I asked her. ‘You know, come out to dumps like this on days like this?’
We pulled into a parking space on the grass adjacent to the race track. Christine reached over to the back to pull over her bag bulging with race-reporter gear – the binoculars, the form guides, pads, pens, and pencils for the wet. She was close to me as she leant over and turned so she was right in my face.
‘I could ask the same question of you Bill. How do you go out into the storm sea just to surf some crummy waves?’
I’d forgotten I’d seen her riding her horse at low tide along the beach one recent morning. She was all business now as she quickly checked the contents of her bag, and then looked at me.
‘Right, you know what we’re going to do?’ Christine said, suddenly in charge.
‘Yep, Harry wants me to get a pic of Pat O’Rourke and his horse.’
‘For some reason.’
‘For some reason,’ I said and nodded.
‘Okay, why don’t you stay with me until we find Pat and take the pic.’
We exchanged phone numbers. I pulled the camera bag out. The rained seemed lighter than it had felt in the car. We heard the announcer calling the three minute warning to the start of race two. We ran through the rain, showed our passes to another attendant outside the members’ only part of the stand. The rain stopped as we climbed the stairs to the front of the stand. I could see the horses being loaded into the barrier on the far side of the track.
‘Is there something from home in this race?’ I asked Christine as she took in the race start through her binoculars.
‘Nah, I just wanted to see you running.’
I turned around with my back against the rail and looked at the crowd in the stand. Well, it was almost a crowd. Harry obviously hadn’t been to the races for a long time, at least not a midweek meeting in Rotorua. I think I was the only guy with a tie on in the whole place, apart from a few official looking men. The stand was split in two, with members, trainers and assorted types on the side closest to the finish line and the paying public on the other side. It made for an unusual feeling of living in a semi-detached with neighbours who were the same as you but different only because of the ticket you had slung around your neck. Near where we stood, a young couple sat watching the race intently, the guy holding a baby in one arm as he urged his horse on with the other. Over the barrier, a group of young women had dressed up for the occasion, one or two even going so far as to adopt the fascinator hat-style more used to metropolitan cup days. They were in their delightful fantasy, smiles on their faces as they cheered and held up glasses. We are having fun at the races, midweek, midwinter, in Rotorua.
‘Come on,’ Christine said, nudging me. The horses were coming back to the birdcage after the race. As we left the stand she pointed up the top of the stairs where cameras were televising the event and told me to look up there or down below around the birdcage if I wanted to find her later.
‘You really are a watcher aren’t you?’ she said to me as we walked across pavement to the horse stalls behind the stand. Trying to avoid puddles, I agreed with her.
‘You know you need to get a life Bill.’
‘What do you mean? There’s nothing wrong in taking an interest in people around you.’
‘That’s not what I mean and you know it. You might’ve been looking at sparrows balancing on a branch.’
I shrugged, again.
‘Oh, there’s Pat,’ Christine said pointing to a stall where Pat was making final preparations for his horse to be led out.
‘Hey 20 cents, are you winning?’ I called out. Pat looked up sharply on hearing his old nickname being called out but he smiled when he saw us and came over to the fence. Like most of the others, he was casually dressed with a course bib pulled over his wet weather gear. He gave the horse a pat on the neck.
‘Harry said you might come. I must be going to win today,’ Pat said as we shook hands. ‘Don’t quote me on that,’ he said, turning to Christine.
‘We do need to get a pic of you and your horse in action,’ she said.
‘Okay but after the race. I’ve got to go and take him around to the birdcage,’ he said, gesturing towards the horse stall.
‘Haven’t you got a groom to do that for you,’ I asked, observing most of the other trainers sending off youngsters to guide their horses around to the front of the stand.
‘Usually, but not today. It’s not worth it with just one horse here.’
A tiny attendant read out numbers as the horses were led out through a gate.
‘27/7, 15/7, 12/7, 24/7,’ he called as he checked out the brand number and the age of the horses.
‘So these are all three year olds, right?’ I said to Christine as Pat took his horse through the gate.
‘Right, and Pat must think it’s got a chance to bring just one horse here today, even though it’s not done much.’
‘What’s the name of Pat’s horse again,’ I asked Christine as we walked back to the stand, our gait slightly faster. I stopped at the TAB counter to put on a bet before we went through to the birdcage.
‘Quite the big time punter aren’t you,’ Christine said as she saw me putting $10 for a place on Amber’s Gold.
‘Yeah, what do you think?’ I looked over and she smiled, then turned and walked through to the birdcage. The horses were filing in by this stage and jockeys came out from under the stand. The colours of the silks gave the area something of circus feel on this dull provincial day. I half expected them to start doing somersaults and back flips, or maybe build a pyramid in the cheerleader style. But the other half of me knew that knew that many of them had starved themselves and manipulated their bodies to reach the weight and retain the strength needed to ride their mounts. Then again, maybe they were like cheerleaders. Male and female riders were virtually indistinguishable, their small frames upright as they strode forward to spring on their mounts. Some exchanged banter with owners and trainers whose wishes most would be forced to ignore in the course of their work. Pat legged up a jockey who had looked like a kid who wanted to go back to bed when listening for his instructions. On board now, his eyes suddenly widened as he guided Amber’s Gold into line with the others making their way out on to the track. The announcer called the horse’s name, including the information that he was being ridden by a local wonder boy who had been making a name for himself around the tracks. I looked over at the screen showing win and place estimates. Amber’s Gold had been at $15 to win when I had put my bet on and $4.60 for a place. Now he was down to $9 and $3.20. I looked over and saw Pat was talking a guy who looked like a Chinese cowboy, wearing a smart winter jacket and tight jeans tucked into expensive boots. They turned away and walked up the stairs into the stand. Pat saw me as he went by but just gently shook his head and continued on.
‘That’ll be the owner,’ Christine said. I gave a little start, as I had been engrossed in my thoughts.
‘Oh, yes of course. Do you know him?’
‘No, not really. Come on, I’m going up to watch the race but I want to you go down the fence with those other photographers, just in case.’
‘Okay, I’ve got to do something first.’
‘Don’t you dare miss this race, and look for Pat’s green and gold colours,’ Christine called after me as I headed through the stand to the tote. A queue had grown since I put my place bet on and suddenly I found my nerves winding upwards. I added $5 to win on the bet and hurrying back to the birdcage I started assembling my camera, adding a longer lens for luck. The announcer was just going through his patter like a hip-hop dance leader winding up his crew as the final horses were entering the starting gate. It all seemed very orderly.
The Last Newspaper in the World
By Mick Stone
Published by BMS Books
An imprint of Business Media Services Ltd
The Last Newspaper in the World
Copyright © 2012 Mick Stone
All rights reserved.
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