Viewed and jockey Blake Shinn, just after The Cup win.
This is the face of a horse who knows.
Despite being an instant legend by virtue of winning the "Race That Stops A Nation" (the Melbourne Cup), Viewed never really got to show us all he could be. Undeniably a great champion, having won near enough to 6 million dollars in prizemoney and having beaten many great horses to do so, but not quite a legendary champion for the ages. Yet he could have been. He was not yet back in work after some health issues when he died - this spring would have seen his last campaign before going off to make babies at Think Big Stud, where he has now been buried standing up as a sign of special honour, next to the flag pole where his winning Melbourne Cup flag sometimes flies. Today, presumably at half-mast.
Why do I care? Especially since it was him that singly ruined my chance of a Trifecta on the day? (He says, fondly.) I guess the answers are a little complex.
My father grew up very close to Randwick racecourse in Sydney, and must have had a real thing for the gee-gees, because of the few stories he told about his childhood, racing stories were pretty high on the agenda. He worked in the stables as a schoolboy, and later in life developed a little 'thing' for going to the track. He certainly recognised his potential as a problem gambler, so his answer to this was quite simple: he didn't. Back in my childhood the races were much more a part of everyday Aussie life than they are now. You'd be watching maybe some cricket on TV on a Saturday afernoon and every 40 minutes or so it would be suddenly be interrupted by a live cross to a race at Randwick, or wherever the races were on that day. I'm told it was the same in Melbourne too. It was great.
Racing at Royal Randwick.
I got busted by the school deputy in high school for running a Melbourne Cup sweep (the main issue was that I was in fact running it as a for-profit venture) when I was 12 or 13. To his credit, he allowed me to carry on, and donate the proceeds to the school's charity work. It was the year Kiwi won, I remember that.
Non-Australians wouldn't understand the Melbourne Cup thing. Indeed many Aussies may not credit just how much our entire post-invasion cultural history has been shaped by racing and betting on the nags. It really does stop the nation almost entirely. I recall one year when I was managing a motel in the picturesque NSW town of Mudgee. I was the only one on duty (the Cup runs on the 1st Tuesday in November) and with a few minutes to go the roads fell silent. I had the TV on in the back office. Meeta was upstairs watching in our manager's flat. The horses are all loaded in........and they're off. Now being a staying race (that means a long-distance race - the Melbourne Cup is 2 miles) it takes 3 minutes or so. Would you believe the bloody door to the motel opened?
Quandary. Can I ignore them safely, even though they can hear the TV and could just stick their head in the office door? No. I know, of course, they must have lost track of the time! (Trots out front)...
Here's Me: "Hi! Quick, the race is on, they've just jumped, you can watch it in here!!"
The Guy: "What is your rate for 2 nights please?"
Damn. Poms. No idea. Attitude, you can tell from the faces. If she speaks, you just know it will be some cutting put-down in disguise. Solution?
Here's me: "Just a moment" (Disappears)
2 minutes go by while TV sound very incrementally goes down until just barely audible by me (giggling quietly) until Makybe Diva (subsequently the greatest mare ever to grace the thoroughbred ranks in Australia, perhaps the world) wins her first Melbourne Cup.
Impressively, they just completely ignored my disappearance and we carried on as if nothing untoward had happened at all. Anyone else would have done the same or similar, I can assure you. The Cup is just that important.
Viewed just holding our Bauer (the grey) to win the 2008 Cup.
Horses like these know exactly where the finishing line is.
So anyway, all of this is just to illustrate how I was always a bit fond of horseracing, and horses in general. I was lucky enough to have had some horse friends as a kid, to have ridden just a very little, oh, and the sucker punch - as a very tiny little kid, I picked the winner of three consecutive Melbourne Cups. Gold and Black, Arwon, and Hyperno. Maybe my ego is inflating my memories, but I'm sure about the first and I remember them all very clearly. I was 7 years old when Gold and Black took the honours.
Then I fell in love with Meeta.
It is good.
But importantly for this story, she is a bona-fide racing tragic. Nature and nurture have combined to make her a true aficionado of all things Equus ferus caballus, and most especially of the Thoroughbred. She is a diligent, artful, and amazingly good thoroughbred pedigree analyst, among other talents.
So I entered into another whole level of immersion. As with anything, you take what appeals and works and leave the rest to one side. The encyclopaedic and technical breeding stuff is so deep and huge I'm just left far in its wake but the 'vibe' side, the near-numinous, mysterious and energetic, I'm right into.
I've come to understand a whole lot more about horses through Meeta. I am going to say here that she is in fact part horse, and just hope that you all understand I mean this as a deep compliment to her and the equines equally. Through more exposure, and reading the likes of Monty Roberts and Linda Kohanov and of course Meeta's tutelage, I have been able to get into the whole horse thing much more wholly. In a shamanic sense, I suppose. I don't really remember the point at which I felt confident in knowing what a horse is feeling or saying, but it did come. And with it, or (allowing for the possibility of correlation rather than causation) at some point on my accelerated journey of the last half decade especially, came a visceral love of horses.
I think we all have it. I think that it's in our species memory. I think that since not long after horses chose to partner with us in life, we have taken a piece of each others' souls and like quantum-paired particles, we get each other.
Man and Horse, painting by Maria Grazia Repetto.
This big ramble tells you a bit about me and equus. Which of course in part explains my small and tender grief at Viewed's passing. Who was Viewed to me?
He was a champion, sure. But more than that, he was an exemplar of the type of racehorse we are (happily) seeing more and more of lately - one who just loves his life in racing. Bart Cummings (his trainer, another champion and legend and part-member of equus right there) thought him a wonderful personality - he really liked him. I'm sad for Bart and Dato Tan Chin Nam, Viewed's owner. Bart and Dato are both getting on a bit now, and have a longstanding friendship and business partnership. Dato seems to be one of the few who can bring Bart out of himself when there are other humans nearby. They've lost a friend.
Bart Cummings. Horse Jedi.
The phrase is "an honest horse." That's what they say about some horses, but not many. It's a horse that is truly partnered in to the endeavour. One that gives his or her all to the moment, every single time. Who, just like the humans we often most admire, will shrug off niggles and pains not because we ask them to, but because they want to be involved in this great thing that is racing. It's true that there are still horses going around that don't and they simply should not be there. They need a different life and it is flat-out wrong to ask them to do something they don't want to. Wrong because they'll do it out of loyalty to us, to their herd. They almost never make great racehorses.
But every now and then a classy, honest horse like Viewed just quietly comes along, and does his thing. Impressing those who see him, nonplussed about fame or glory, just pleased to win. Pleased to share the win. They race in nature, you know. Many times, a stallion can pass this quality of spirit and temperament on. We need more noble horses like Viewed, but we shall never know now.
An honest horse.