His life and books
The Prize He Won
By Nat Gould.
“We never seem to have any luck at Kempton, Guy; always running second or third. Don't know how it is, I am sure; the course is splendid, the horses fit, and yet we manage to be placed only,” said Hector Brough.
It was Jubilee Stakes day, and Hector's horse, Black Boy, had just finished second in the big race - a tantalizing position, especially as the horse had been heavily supported.
“We all have our lucky courses, “said Guy Spencer . “Epsom is mine; I generally win there; which is yours?”
“So far Ascot has been a regular mascot to me. Two years I won a pot of money there; I lost it afterwards, and a lot more. I want a good win badly," Hector added, his eyes, fixed on Alys Spencer as she moved across the members' lawn.
Guy saw the direction of his glance and he was aware his friend was very fond of Alys, and wished him luck. She was a charming girl, in her twentieth year, tall, with an almost perfect face and figure, an abundance of shining brown hair, and eyes that did much execution among her
brother's male friends.
“Second again,” he said to Hector. "I wish you could win a big race."
“So do I,” laughed Hector. "Funds are sinking; I'm like Consols, on the down grade.”
“Ascot is Hector's mascot,” said Guy.
“Then we must look out for a win there next month,” said Alys.
“I shall enter Black Boy for the Hunt Cup: the course ought to suit his long stride, and he'll breast the hill like a lion,” said Hector.
“It's to be hoped he won't roar like one,” laughed Guy.
Hector was called away, and Guy said to his sister:
“He's a real good fellow, Alys. Do you like him?”
“I think so,” she answered quietly.
“Not quite sure?” asked Guy.
“No, not quite,” she replied; “at least, not in the way you mean”.
“He is very much in love,”said Guy.
“My charming sister.”
Alys laughed as she said, “How did you find out, clever boy?”
“I recognised the symptoms.”
“What are they? Enlighten me.”
“No need to do that in your case,” he answered, laughing.
Hector Brough had money - at least, he had sufficient for his present needs, but since he had met Alys Spencer he wished for more.
“There's enough for me, but not for two," he told himself, and wondered how he could make a rise.
His trainer, Sam Donovan, was not altogether satisfied with the result of the Jubilee Stakes. Questioned by Hector, he said, “Black Boy is a good horse; he's one of the best four-year-olds in training. If the going had been good, he would have won. I know what he ought to go close for.”
“So do I,” said Hector. “The Royal Hunt Cup.”
“That's it - the very race for him,” said Sam.
“He'll get a biggish weight.”
“He can carry it,” said Sam.
Black Boy was entered for the Hunt Cup. The handicapper allotted him eight stone, and Sam Donovan was satisfied.
“It's quite as much as he has earned - a trifle more,” grumbled Hector.
“It's a handy weight,” said the trainer. “You can put a good jockey up.”
Between Kempton Jubilee meeting and Royal Ascot Hector Brough made good use of his time with Alys Spencer.
After the Derby, when he had a decent win, he made the plunge and asked her to marry him.
Alys hesitated. She knew his financial position was none of the best, but she liked him, and had no wish to lose him.
“Would it not be rather rash on my part to accept your offer?” she asked, with a pleasant smile.
“Then you will consider it?" he said eagerly. “Why would it be rash?”
“Guy said you would probably marry a rich woman.”
“Oh, did he? Then he's very much mistaken. I never intend to many for money,” said Hector.
“Having sufficient for two yourself, I suppose?”
Hector hesitated, then said, “I'll be candid with you. I am not well off, but I hope to have a big win at Ascot - my mascot, you know.”
Alys laughed, merrily. “That is an uncertain prospect. Hadn't you better wait and see whether the mascot helps you?”
“Black Boy will win the Hunt Cup,” he said.
“You said he would win the Jubilee; he ran second.”
“He'll be first next time, I'm sure of it. Promise to be my wife, Alys,” he said earnestly.
“And trust to luck,” she said cheerfully.
“That's about what it amounts to.”
“Risky, very risky,” said Alys.
“Promise”, he said eagerly.
“Not yet; wait and see how Black Boy runs at Ascot,” said Alys.
“If he wins?” said Hector.
“Ask me again.”
“If he loses?”
“Ask me,a ll same,”' was her reply.
Black Boy's trial for the Hunt Cup proved satisfactory; he did all his trainer asked and his owner wished.
Hector Brough was going for heavy stakes. He backed Black Boy until the bookmakers became wary of laying him; and the week before the race he stood at the head of the quotations. Fred Sutton was engaged to ride him, and this made the horse a popular favourite.
“Hector's plunging on Black Boy with a vengeance,” said Guy to his sister. “I hope he'll win; he can do with it.”
“I thought he had plenty of money,” said Alys, as a feeler.
“'He has a few hundreds a year, that's all.”
She put on a disappointed look, and Guy said:
“What's the matter; does it make any difference?”
“He has asked me to marry him.”
“What answer did you give him?”
“Told him to wait until after Ascot.”
“I see. If Black Boy wins he stands a chance?”
She nodded, and Guy said:
“And if he loses, what then?”
“Time will tell,” she answered, laughing.
It was a glorious Ascot; the June sun shone brilliantly, the picturesque course shimmering in the hot dazzling rays. An ideal Ascot; the royal enclosure resplendent in glowing colours, the costumes of the beautiful, high-born women showing to perfection, marvellous creations of art, rich
beyond compare, wonderfully blended hues, a scene to be remembered for many days.
Vast crowds on the course, in the enclosures, life, bustle, noise, glare everywhere; even in the paddock a subdued murmur was heard, the sound of many voices.
Hector noticed, with a glow of satisfaction, that Alys Spencer wore his colours - pale blue and pink - her costume was perfect in its harmonious shading.
Black Boy was still favourite for the big race - the Hunt Cup - for which there was a field of 24 runners.
Sam Donovan was saddling the horse, with Hector and his friends looking on, and a large crowd gathered round. The horse's black coat shone like satin, he was as handsome as a picture, perfectly trained, his condition timed to the hour.
He looked a winner. More than one good judge expressed this opinion, and decided to back him.
It was known that the crack jockey, Fred Button, was particularly fond of his mount, and thought he would win.
Hector Brough made no secret of his confidence in the black horse. He told questioners that it was "a good thing,"; also that Ascot was his lucky course. He was reminded that Ascot had seen the downfall of many hot favourites, that it had often proved a bad course for the plunger, and that sundry "black Mondays" had followed in its wake.
He laughed the croakers to scorn – he would have none of their hints at possible disaster. To all and sundry he said: “Ascot is my mascot, and Black Boy will win.”
Alys was anxious. She, too, hoped Ascot would be her mascot, for she acknowledged to herself that she loved Hector Brough, and, win or lose, her answer to the question would satisfy him.
She patted Black Boy's shining neck. The horse was in the best of tempers, he felt so fit that the coming race, which he knew was close at hand, was anticipated with positive eagerness as an outlet for his energies. He pushed his velvety nose against Alys, looking at her with his big eyes.
“You're going to win, old boy, I know you are,” she said, stroking him; and the horse tossed his head, proud in the knowledge of his strength and speed, soothed by the touch of her small band.
Fred Sutton, wearing a new jacket, pale blue body, pink sleeves and cap, joined the group.
Black Boy saw the colours, and became eager to leave the paddock. “He knows all about it,” said Fred, smiling. “There's not much you can tell a thoroughbred about racing; they're cute, clever, up to everything. Sometimes I fancy they almost speak.”
“Ask Black Boy if he's going to win?” said Alys.
“You hear, are you going to win?”said Fred, laughing.
Black Boy tossed his head up and down vigorously.
“That's 'Yes', sure enough,” said Hector.
It was time to mount, and Fred Sutton was assisted into the saddle.
“Come along, or we shall not see the race,” said Guy to his sister; and they left the paddock.
Hector saw his horse on to the course, and then went into the ring.
Black Boy had hardened, the best price on offer was 4 to 1; it was very short odds in a field of 24.
Hector heard a cheer. Looking towards the course he saw Black Boy dashing along, revelling in the going, pulling hard to get his head loose.
He was proud to be the owner of the favourite for the Hunt Cup - it was a race with a history, one well worth winning.
He had invested heavily; but Black Boy's victory meant more than money to him, much more - it meant Alys and happiness, and money without them would be dross indeed.
Several horses were heavily supported. Frontier was a good second favourite, Simmer and Gay Bird were well backed; there was a run on Sir Paul, and a tip by the sharp division was The Crane; Land Rest and Friction had many friends.
Nothing, however, shook the position of Black Boy, his victory was eagerly anticipated by thousands of people; his win would be a blow to the ring.
Hector Brough had thousands at stake. There was more thin thousands, he fancied, depended upon the result – there was Alys.
* * *
A great shout, a movement of excitement, all faces turned in one direction; the horses were off, another Hunt Cup had begun.
Where were they? Where were all those bright jackets?
Hidden below the hill, in the dip, with the leafy trees showing a dark green background, in a moment white, yellow, red, green, pink, blue, all colours in caps would be seen rising over the top of the slope, then the jockeys and horses would come into full view, twenty four of them, racing at top speed: a dazzling spectacle, thrilling, wonderfully exciting, moving the huge crowd as masses are never moved by any other sight. A few moments of breathless suspense, then a sound like a huge sigh, gradually deepening into a shout of “Here they come!”
Alys saw the pink cap, or a pink cap – it must be the particular one - and her heart beat fast. No, she had made a mistake, it was a red cap, worn by the jockey on The Crane. Black jacket, red cap. She remembered it now. A friend had told her, in a mysterious whisper just before the race, that The Crane was “a certainty”' sure to win. She scouted the idea, indignantly.
Yet the red cap was in front, the black jacket conspicuous; The Crane, not Black Boy, in the lead.
The 24 came over the ridge like a regiment of soldiers, with one or two leaders in front - officers heading the charge.
The line, however, was quickly broken. There were stragglers even in this early stage, soon to be hopelessly beaten off.
Thousands of people stretched their necks in the vain hope at catching a glimpse of the colours they wished to see prominent.
Hector Brough had a good view of the Race. By dint of much pushing, he succeeded in reaching the top of the stand, the only spot from which the start is visible. Singling out Black Boy, he watched every move. The pale blue jacket and pink sleeves occupied a place in the centre of the second batch as they came in sight over the rise.
“What's that leading?” asked someone standing near.
“The Crane,” came the reply. "They say he can't lose."
Hector thought with satisfaction that what “they say” is generally wrong; but The Crane was going well, making a dash for the winning post in great style. There was a long way to go, and plenty of time for Black Boy to catch the leader.
Half the distance was passed, and still The Crane held the lead, his light weight giving him an advantage, and he was a powerful horse into the bargain. Frontier was going well, the colours of Gay Bird, Sir Paul, Simmer, and one or two more were prominent.
“Can you see Black Boy?” asked Alys anxiously.
“Yes; he's in the centre. Wait a bit, then you'll see Sutton bring him with a rush,” answered her brother.
“I wonder where Hector is?” said Alys.
“Keeping to himself until the excitement is over. He'll have a good view of the race, I'll be bound; he knows the likely spots at Ascot,” said Guy.
They were coming up the rise, gradually drawing nearer to the stands; the uproar increased.
The Crane was leading by several lengths, the sharp tip looked about to come off; the handicapper must have been caught napping.
Hector Brough wished this mysterious horse far enough. The Crane troubled his peace of mind; he did not disguise from himself that the black jacket and red cap looked uncommonly dangerous. Was his lucky course, Ascot, the mascot, going to fail him this time, just when he hoped fortune
would smile upon him? Was the glorious uncertainty of the great game once more to be demonstrated to his disadvantage?”
“There, I told you!” exclaimed Guy. “See he's creeping np, there'll be a change soon.”
Alys saw the blue and pink gradually singling out from the batch, and a thrill of excitement passed through her – her body quivered with it like
an electric shock.
Henry Roberts, a popular lightweight, was on The Crane. He had an old head on young shoulders. There were few of the older jockeys who could beat him for judgment of pace and skilful handling. The Crane was in front, he meant, to keep him there to the end, if possible. He had been promised a large sum if he won; already he felt sure of victory, but did not mean to throw away a chance.
Frontier was after the leader, followed by Gay Bird, Sir Paul, and Simmer, then came Black Boy in the centre. The wide course gave ample room, and the field looked straggling as the horses drew near to the winning post. There was, however, some distance to go, and the race was far from being won. Great changes take place in the last quarter of a mile; even in the final 30 yards, or less, much may happen.
Fred Sutton had vast experience. He had won at Ascot before, one Hunt Cup, a Gold Cup, and minor races. He knew he had a good horse under him.
Just before he mounted, Sam Donovan said:-
“You can depend upon him to finish well; the last two furlongs will astonish the crowd if you leave him for a fast run home.”
Fred knew The Crane was going at a great pace in the early part of the race; he also knew that the finish at Ascot is punishing, and a “little bit up the sleeve" comes in useful then.
He did not go in pursuit of The Crane; he fully expected the mysterious horse of the race to fall back.
As furlong after furlong was passed he became anxious. Two furlongs from the judge's box, and still The Crane had a commanding lead. It was time to make a move, there must be no delay. Black Boy was a good finisher, he must show what he could do now.
Frontier joined Gay Bird and Sir Paul, the trio raced after the leader.
Black Boy came next. For a moment the blue jacket and pink sleeves stood out by itself, then it caught up to the three in front, and all raced after The Crane.
Already there were shouts for The Crane to win, and Alys became nervously anxious. Above her, on the roof of the stand, stood Hector Brough, and he was anxious too.
The Crane was still going well. Roberts was riding comfortably, as though he felt he was on the winner, was sure of his mount. Black Boy was going well, so were Frontier and Sir Paul. It was a pretty race; there was a prospect of a good finish, although The Crane had a big pull.
On they came, the leaders far ahead, a long tail of beaten horses behind.
The followers of the "certainty" were jubilant. The Crane was owned by a member of the ring, and a good many of the fraternity were on it
“Where's the favourite?” was a question anxiously asked.
“There he is. There. Don't you see? Pale blue, pink jacket, bang in the centre of the course. He's going well. Fred's coming with a rush. Here he comes. Hurrah!”
Such were the disjointed words Alys heard around her as she fixed her eyes on Black Boy.
They were at the beginning of the lawn now, The Crane still in command, going splendidly, sweeping up the incline as though he revelled in his work. There was no shirking - at least, not at present.
“The Crane! The Crane!”
The shouts rang in Hector's ears. There was no answering response; the vast crowd was waiting for something. The tension was great, the familiar cry was on hundreds; nay, thousands, of tongues, ready to burst forth in one mighty roar.
Black Boy was creeping up. The pale blue jacket, the pink sleeves, the pink cap, were all clearly visible, standing out boldly, and Alys gasped as she clasped her bands.
“He's coming, he's coming, Guy. He'll win. He'll win.”
It was almost a cry, an entreaty, and many people looked at her, wondering what she had at stake.
Guy was absorbed in the race; he hardly heard her; he felt the critical moment at hand.
Hector Brough's hands trembled as he held his glasses tight. In a few moments the tension would relax. He would know whether his horse answered the call made upon him, for he saw Fred Sutton's face was set and determined.
Black Boy left Sir Paul and Simmer behind. He was within three lengths of The Crane.
Was there time? Would he get up?
Sam Donovan's face was a study. He did not move a muscle, but there was a sparkle in his eyes denoting confidence and satisfaction.
A momentary hush, like the calm before the storm, thousands waiting, ready to burst forth in a mighty shout.
It came at last. The deafening sound was a sweet music in the ears of Hector Brough and Alys Spencer. It came with tremendous volume, the grandest sound of all, the triumph of the many over the few.
“The favourite wins!”
Black Boy, encouraged by his rider, strode gallantly forward, his great reach enabling him to face the hill in splendid style.
On came the favourite amid a hurricane of cheers. Gradually he gained on The Crane, who still led, and the judge's box was perilously near.
“The favourite! The favourite wins!”
“The Crane! Crane wins for a hundred!” came from the ring.
“Black Boy has it!”
“Good old Fred!”'
What a scene, sensation upon sensation crowded into a few seconds of time. Black Boy reached The Crane's girth, both jockeys rode their best, the man and the boy struggled for mastery.
Neck and neck, now not a visible space separating them, and it was the favourite gaining gradually, wearing the outsider down.
Hector Brough shouted - he could not help it.
“He wins! He wins! Black Boy wins!”
In another stride Sutton had shot his mount to the front. Alys saw the blue and pink forge ahead, and turned pale; she clutched the back of a chair, her head swam, for a moment she felt faint; but this soon passed. Joy swept all weakness away, she waved her handkerchief and cried:-
“Black Boy wins!”
The Crane made one final effort and drew level; for a second the race hung in the balance, then the strain told – the black jacket fell back, the blue and pink took the lead.
The favourite, Black Boy, held on to the end, and won an exciting race by a little over a length.
It was a great victory, and Hector Brough won a big stake. Congratulations were poured upon him; all his friends had won.
He sought out Alys Spencer, and found her in the paddock with her brother. They were looking at Black Boy, who seemed none the worse for the great race he had just won.
Alys smiled as Hector came up.
“I begin to believe in mascots now,” she said.
“Ascot's mine; I always win here. This is the best win I ever had,” said Hector.
“Oh, you men, how you do love money,” said Alys.
“It's useful,” laughed Guy.
“I have won more than money, I hope,” said Hector.
“Fame. You are enrolled among the owners of the winners of the Royal Hunt Cup,” said Alys.
“More than fame,” said Hector, looking at her in such a way that her colour rose. “Alys, will you give me an answer now?”
“Here, in the paddock at Ascot! How can I?”
“Do, please; I can't wait. Let me know my fate.”
She bent towards him and said softly:-
“The answer is 'Yes.' Now are you satisfied?”
“Alys, you have indeed made me a happy man. This is the most gloriously successful Ascot I ever had.”
“Ascot, the mascot!” said Alys, smiling.
“It is indeed," answered Hector Brough, thinking, as he looked at her, what a prize he had won.
The Prize He Won by Nat Gould was published on 13 July 1918 in The Journal (Adelaide, Australia), and on 20 November 1930 and again on 21 September 1933 in the Central Queensland Herald (Rockhampton, Australia).