Nat Gould

His life and books

Caught Napping

"Was I ever caught napping?" said Holt, the crack jockey of the Silverton Stable. "Yes, I was, on one occasion."

"Tell me how it happened," said Fred Banks, nephew of Harold Banks, the owner of the Silverton Stud.

“It will be giving myself away if l do", said Holt with a smile, "because there's not a soul, bar myself, that does not believe that Diadem beat Field Marshal on his merits."

"You don't mean to say you lost the race on Field Marshal?” said Fred, in surprise. Everybody says Diadem is the better colt and is sure to beat Field Marshall next time they meet."

"Then everybody's wrong, as usual," said Holt.

“How did it happen?" said Fred Banks.

“You recollect the race well, I suppose said Holt.

Fred Banks nodded assent. So do I. Sha'n't forget it in a hurry. If ever I lost a race through being certain to win, I did on Field Marshal in the Hawkesbnry Handicap.

"It was in this way," went on Holt. "Mr. Banks told me Field Marshal had been tried to beat Fairfax, the Derby winner, at level weights, and as Field Marshal was in the Hawkesbury with only 7st 61b, it looked a real good thing for him."

"So we all thought," said Fred, "and lost our money accordingly."

"Then I'll tell yon how to get it back again," said Holt. “Back him to beat Diadem the first time they meet."

"I shall not forget," said Fred; "but the governor"- he always called his uncle the governor - "will be very much surprised to hear Field Marshal ought, to have won.

" I have not dared to tell him," said Holt, "I'll leave it to you. He'll let me down light if you tell him the story."

Fred Banks promised he would do so, and Holt continuing, said:

“You recollect what a number of false starts there were” - it was before the days of the starting machine in Australia had done away with all this - “Diadem was very restless at the post, and knowing he was the hardest horse I had to beat, I was very well pleased, more especially as Field Marshal was as cool as a cucumber and only broke away once. Williams was on Diadem, and he was terribly cut up at the colt pulling himself about so. He was on the rails, and I stood next him on Field Marshal. 'This will lose me the race,' said Williams, and I believe he meant it. At all events, he knew the breaks away must have taken a lot out of his mount. I said Diadem looked all right; but I knew better, for no horse could have stood the knocking about he got. You may think this in Diadem's favour the next time he meets Field Marshal; but I can tell you that instead of losing the Hawkesbury by a neck I ought to have won easily by more than a couple of lengths. When the flag went down Diadem shot off quickly. I knew he could never last at that pace, so kept a keen lookout on him in the rear. The field went at a great pace for the first half-mile, and then I saw Diadem was coming back. I can assure you it is a pleasant sensation to see a dangerous horse that has been leading at such a pace fall back. In the first place it shows your own judgment was right in not going after him, and in the second place you begin to feel you have that particular animal settled at any rate. I always take careful note how horses run in a race. It comes in precious handy on future occasions. I never despise the chance of any horse in the field, not even the rankest outsider, at the commencement of a race. I note the horses that fall back beaten, and I also take particular notice of the jockeys who do not seem over anxious to reach the winning post. I have won many a race all through taking mental notes of how horses are ridden. I once won a mile and a half race on a non-stayer that did not seem to have much chance, because the other jockeys did not think I had a 100 to 1 show, and I knew they were holding my mount too cheap. However, that's not here nor there, as the saying goes, and I will stick to my tale," said Holt.

Fred Banks smiled. He knew when once Holt was wound up and set going, he must be allowed to tell his story in his own way. Holt saw the smile and said,

“I know I'm apt to run a bit wide when pitching a yarn, but I'll keep within bounds this time."

"All right," said Fred. "Go ahead, and let me hear how you ought to have won."

"When Diadem fell back he got alongside my mount. It was a real case of coming back to the field, and no mistake, I thought. Williams is a smart jockey, and to give him his due, I have a notion he had more to do with Diadem's coming back than the horse had. 'Beaten,' I said to Williams, when he was near enough to hear me. 'He's about done, mate,' said Williams. I took a particular good look at Diadem, and 1 didn't think he was so done hut that he might still be dangerous at the finish if he was eased a bit at this part of the journey. Field Marshal had plenty of running in him, so I thought it time to go towards the front. It is a curious course at Hawkesbury, and if you don't get a good place round the railway side and into the straight, there's not much chance for you. At this point Diadem was just behind Field Marshal, on the inside berth, and as I gave my mount a gentle reminder, not with the whip, you don't catch me at that, but with a pressure of the knees, he thoroughly understood, and soon forged ahead. I held a fine position as we came into the straight, and at the distance I had the lead, and felt I was riding a long odds on chance, and should win easily. I don't often make the mistake of easing a horse unless it is a certainty. In this instance, knowing what Field Marshal had done in his trial, I felt I could take liberties with the field, more especially as Diadem had fallen back beaten. I took matters comfortably, and was thinking how easily Field Marshal was going, and what a good horse he was, when there was a shout in the grand stand enclosure. I heard a voice I recognised say, 'Look out, Bill, Diadem's coming again.' That woke me up a bit, you bet; Diadem coming again. Old Jack must have made a mistake in the colours, I thought. It must be some other horse. I could not believe that Diadem could possibly get up again. Then all of a sudden it flashed across me that Diadem had not looked beaten when he fell behind me. I looked to my right, but saw nothing near me on the rails. But on the left I saw a horse's head drawing nearer and nearer. In another moment I saw Williams, with a grin on his face, and I knew he had hoaxed me. We were close to the winning post. It is not often a fellow feels he is too close to the winning post when his horse's head is in front, but I did. I wished the winning post had been a furlong away, for I knew Williams had caught me napping, and that I could not get Field Marshal going again."

"But Field Marshal seemed to be trying his best all the time," said Fred Banks.

"Maybe he did from the stand," said Holt, "but I was on his back, and knew different. I had to use the whip then, it was my only chance; but you may take it from me that Field Marshal ought to have won, and no whip ought to have been necessary. Anyhow, Diadem drew level, and just as we reached the post shot his head and neck out and gained the verdict. Williams was pleased above a bit. He tried to pump me after in the jockeys' room, and asked me how much I ought to have won by. I said Diadem beat me fair and square, and I seemed so much in earnest, that he at last believed me, and said, “I thought I'd caught you napping. It looked a good deal like it.' He had caught me napping; but I was not going to let him know if I could help it. That's the truth about the race for the Hawkesbury, Mr. Fred, and you just tell the governor about it, and say the Rosehill Cup is a 'cert.' for Field Marshal."

Fred Banks did tell his uncle, and the governor, whose vocal ammunition could be fairly strong at times, expressed himself freely about Holt's riding. It took all Fred's persuasive powers to induce his uncle to let Holt ride Field Marshal in the Rosehill Cup, but at last he consented. Diadem was a hot favourite for the race, but he never had a chance with Field Marshal, who made a sorry example of his field and beat the favourite by four lengths. People grumbled and said it was an extraordinary reversal of form. The Silverton Stable was, however, above suspicion, and Field Marshal was put down as an uncertain customer, who would only try when in the humour.

Holt did not explain that it was not Field Marshal who was at fault in the Hawkesbury Handicap, and very few people, with the exception of the followers of the Silverton Stable, knew that when Diadem beat Field Marshal by a neck that the latter's jockey was "caught napping."

Caught Napping by Nat Gould was published in Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News on 8 August 1896.