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Jane Badger Books

Hazel M Peel: Night Storm the Flat Racer (eBook)

Hazel M Peel: Night Storm the Flat Racer (eBook)

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Ann and Jim have bred a wonderful black colt who looks as if he could be a Classic winner. But nothing is straightforward: Night Storm has a furious temper and is difficult to ride. There are questions about whether he'll ever get as far as a racecourse, let alone race. And once he does race, there are people around who want to stop Night Storm in his tracks.

Part of the 1960s Leysham Stud series, where a couple fight to establish a prize-winning stud.

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THE BLACK COLT halted, switched his tail, and reared. With forelegs waving, he teetered on his hocks, thudded down on to the short grass, and bucked.

The stable-lad swayed in the saddle. His small hands lost contact with the colt’s mouth, his shoes slipped out of the stirrup-irons, and his trousers flapped as he leaned forward and grabbed the black mane for balance.
The colt bucked again, muscles tense under his skin, nerves quivering, tail flailing. Four black feet ripped the grass in jagged divots; four black legs with white socks stamped in fury. Flattening his ears, the colt lifted his head and for two seconds stood still. The white blaze on his head shone out, a furrow of brilliance against the gleaming black hairs; the intelligent eyes rolled in anger at the discipline of bit and rein; the silky hairs of the black tail fluttered in the breeze like a flag.

The colt grabbed the bit to fight again, but the stable-lad had taken advantage of the lull. His feet were firmly home in the stirrups; his knees gripped the saddle-flaps; and his fingers and wrists transmitted orders along the reins.

Arching his neck at the poll, the black colt walked forward. His stride was arrogant, his body full of pride, his senses alert for the slightest inattention from the lad. For a second the small ears came forward and the horse’s head lost its fierce, almost savage look. Flaring his large nostrils, he ground on the bit, white flecks of foam flying backward over the lad’s trousers.

The eight racehorses moved forward together in an uneven line towards the tape to practise racing starts. The trainer nodded to his headman, and the tapes rose.
This was too much for the black colt. The cold nip in the air, the nervous tension flowing from the lad on his back, and the close proximity of seven other fit and excitable thoroughbreds together made an explosive situation.
The final spark to detonate the equestrian bomb was applied when the lad touched the colt’s flank roughly with his right shoe. The heel nudge was electric—the bomb exploded.

Night Storm, the fiery black colt from the Leysham Stud, reared high, clawing for the early-morning sky. He stretched upright like some giant ballet dancer, then launched himself up and out in a fly-jump. He crashed back down to earth, bucking hard, muscles, nerves, and tendons united in the effort to remove the lad from his back.

The boy fought to retain his seat, but the colt’s actions were too quick. Flinging out his right arm, the boy let go, sailed through the air, then crumpled heavily and rolled on the grass in a breathless heap.

Free at last, the black colt thrust down with his hocks and bolted. The empty stirrup-irons clanged at his flanks; his flowing gallop was punctuated with sideways kicks of delight.

Henry Matthew, trainer and former flat-race jockey, sat on his well-trained hack eyeing the crestfallen lad for possible injury. His small jockey’s body was only just starting to run to fat, but his face was lean and free of wrinkles. He wore thick trousers and jacket against the morning cold, his hands protected by string gloves and his slightly balding head covered with a brown peaked cap. It was his face and eyes that held people: brown, stern eyes which rarely smiled, and a red, severe face with thin, tight lips and pinched nostrils. He looked down in annoyance at the lad as he scrambled to his feet, then turned and looked at the dancing thoroughbreds which constituted his first string. Always excitable, they were even more upset now after the black colt’s display of fight. The trainer swung round in the saddle, raised an inquiring eyebrow at the girl by his side, and said:
“Would you like to catch him, Mrs Henderson?”

Ann Henderson’s face was red with excitement. She had become cold sitting on her horse and longed for some activity. Her thick, fawn jodhpurs, brown jacket, and boots had not been sufficient to keep her warm, and she was shivering. Her blue eyes sparkled at the trainer’s question, and when she nodded a fair curl bobbed from under her riding-cap. She was a tall girl, long-legged, with a good figure, and an open, honest face. At times her blue eyes could stare with distracting coldness, but now, at the prospect of fast riding, they shone warmly.
She released the reins of Pilot, her piebald gelding and Grand National winner, and they galloped after the colt. The great piebald’s eyes flattened as his iron legs hammered the grass. His massive shoulders slid like well-oiled pistons as the famous horse released his body into the superb gallop which had won him the crown of steeple­chasing.

Ann’s fair hair whipped round her cap as she stood in the stirrups, weight out of the saddle, her body swaying in time to the horse’s gait. Her sensitive fingers gripped the red nylon reins, the dull gold of her wedding-ring gleaming in the sun’s first rays.

The air was still frosty, and tears came into her eyes as she breathed quickly and, leaning forward, spoke to the horse. One ear twitched in acknowledgment, and the gelding accelerated even faster. Looking down Ann could see the grass only as a blur, as the horse’s legs thrashed the turf in a low rumble. Ann’s lean, fit body crouched lower to minimize wind resistance, until girl and horse were fused into one incredible running machine.

The two-mile stretch of turf ended, and, sitting back in the saddle, Ann felt on the reins, touched the horse with her calves, and the piebald obediently decreased his speed. Ann halted her horse and looked over at Night Storm.

She swung out of the saddle, looped Pilot’s reins over a bush, and walked towards the colt. The black colt raised his head higher and snorted dubiously, the white blaze brilliant, the eyes bold and wary. The small, delicate ears flickered uncertainly, the nostrils flared, then he caught the girl’s scent. The ears pointed forward in interest, the head lowered, and he nickered.

Ann stood still and spoke to the animal while she slowly removed some lumps of sugar from her coat pocket.
The colt eyed the girl for another few seconds, then made up his mind. The sugar lump was too tempting, and he stepped forward. Apart from the bribe, he also felt the strong pull of affinity which existed between himself and the girl—the gift that some fortunate people have, and which horses recognize instantly.

Night Storm stepped up to Ann, gently removed the lump of sugar, and rubbed his head against the girl’s arm. Ann caught the reins, patted the colt’s velvety nose, and led him back to Pilot.

Night Storm followed. During his three years of life he had known nothing but firm kindness from the girl and her husband. Their scents were associated with food and warm stables, with petting and understanding. The Hendersons’ patient, unhurried handling had meant that a proud animal had been broken and backed without loss of spirit.

The strict training and discipline of the flat-race trainer’s yard were not connected with the Hendersons. The black colt, potential flat-race horse and proud fighter, placidly waited while Ann swung herself back into the saddle. Then he trotted smoothly alongside the piebald gelding.

The trainer narrowed his eyes as the girl and the two horses approached, and he examined the colt from poll to tail for any injury. When satisfied about this he turned his attention to Ann. He appreciated her upright carriage, her gentle hands, the tilt of her head, and the obvious communion between herself and her horse. She did more than ride a horse; in some strange way she seemed to fuse with him. Now, if only some of his stable-lads rode like that!

Page length: 164

Original publication date: 1966

Who's in the book?

Humans: Ann and Jim Henderson, Henry Matthew, Charles Barton, Mike, Susan and Robert Barton, Miriam, Tom, Pat O'Hara, Bill Garner
Equines: Night Storm, Pilot

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