Nat Gould

His life and books

The Second String. An Australian Story


By Nat Gould

It was a beautiful spring morning at the latter end of October, as Harry Marple and his friend Reginald Fear walked down to the stables at Mordialloc.

The sun was shining brilliantly, as it often does in Victoria at this season of the year, and the faint murmur of the rippling waves could be heard as they curled up slowly on the white sandy beach. Mordialloc is a charming little place, not far from Melbourne, and during the spring meetings at Caulfield and Flemington is in great favour with trainers from the Sydney side. There are three large racecourses handy to it, and the galloping is generally good. In addition to this there is a nice long stretch of sand to exercise horses upon, and also to give their legs the benefit of salt water bathing.

Harry Marple was a well-known and popular Sydney owner, and had a plentiful supply of cash at his command. He had speculated in mining shares at Coolgardie and been fortunate, and he spent the money he had acquired freely. He was a non-betting owner - that is he did not gamble on his horses - although he generally had a “pony” or so on for luck, as he called it.

His friend Reginald Fear was engaged to his sister, and although not a rich man, he was comfortably off as regards worldly goods.

“What made you pick upon Mordialloc, Harry?” Asked Reginald Fear. “You were partial to Caulfield as a training ground in previous years.”

“For one thing it is much quieter here,” Harry replied, “and Daredevil is a curious sort of animal. The colt does not take to his work kindly on a crowded track, although it makes no difference to him in a race. Then the sea bathing does him good. You know how anxious I am to win the V.R.C. Derby, and I never had a better chance than I have with Daredevil.”

“I wish you luck with the colt,” said Reginald. “I know Mabel is very sanguine of your success.”

“She is,” said Harry, but strange to say she does not fancy Daredevil. She prefers the chance of my second string, Shotbolt. Why I really don't know. A woman's whim I suppose.”

“Mabel is a good judge,” said Reginald.

“As a rule she is,” said Harry, “but she's a long way out in this case. Shotbolt is all right for a mile, and he'll make the pace hot for Daredevil, the first part of the journey.”

“So Shotbolt is to act as pace-maker”, said Reginald. “I am afraid that will extinguish his chance of winning. Are you quite certain Daredevil is the better horse?”

“Sure of it,” said Harry. “He always beats Shotbolt badly in his work. They have had a gallop this morning. We will hear what Shaw has to say.”

Harry Marple's team, five in all, were in private stables about half a mile from Mordialloc Station.

The boxes were in a retired spot, surrounded by sandy ground, and in a hollow not far from the beach.

When the two friends reached the stables the horses were undergoing their morning toilet after walking on the track. Isaac Shaw, the trainer, was a careful man and took great pride in the Derby colt Daredevil, and was as sanguine as Harry Marple that the son of Malua would win the blue ribbon. He was attending to the colt himself, and looked up as the visitors arrived.

“Hard at it,” said Harry. “It will not be for want of care on your part if Daredevil fails to win.”

“He's a colt as wants a lot of looking after,” said the trainer, “but he's worth it. Look at him now!” he said, as having given Daredevil's shining coat a finishing touch he stepped back and contemplated him with pride.

There was no mistake about Daredevil being a gentleman to look at. Every inch a thoroughbred. He was a dark bay with black points. His powerful back and loins told plainly enough that weight would not trouble him much. His head was well-shaped and his neck muscular and set on to perfect shoulders. Quarters that possessed great propelling power, and taken all round, a model of a Derby colt. The sun shone in at the open door of the loose box, and made Daredevil's coat gleam like satin. The colt seemed perfectly at his ease, and merely glanced round in an inquiring sort of way to see who was paying him a visit of inspection.

“He is a beauty,” said Reginald enthusiastically. “It will be hard to find a fault in him.”

"He's as good as he looks," said Shaw. “He did a splendid gallop this morning. I don't know what there is to beat him. What's favourite this morning? I haven't seen a paper yet.”

“Daredevil is favourite at three to one,” said Harry. “I have the satisfaction of owning the favourite at any rate.”

“I'd sooner see you lead in the winner,” said Shaw.

“Which is Shotbolt?” asked Reginald.

Shaw looked at the speaker with a smile on his face. He knew Reginald Fear was engaged to Mabel Marple, and he also knew her predilection for Shotbolt.

Harry saw the trainer's smile, and said with a laugh, “Mr. Fear is, l am afraid, partial to Shotbolt. He has heard several arguments in favour of that animal, Shaw.”

“Probably,” said the trainer. “Miss Marple is a great admirer of Shotbolt. He's not a bad colt by any means, but he's not a patch on Daredevil. Come and see him for yourself.” Shotbolt was certainly not as handsome as Daredevil, but there was a wear and tear look about him that Reginald liked. The colt was as dark as Daredevil and resembled him in many respects, but, as Reginald said, there was not the finish on him that had been put on Daredevil.

“He carried 8st 101b this morning,” said Shaw, pointing over to Daredevil's box, “and this fellow had a stone less, and Daredevil beat hint easily. Shotbolt will be in front for a mile, but when it comes to racing home he'll never be in it.” Harry Marple and his friend remained at the stables for an hour and then returned to Melbourne by train. Mabel was anxious to hear how the horses were, and also to have Reginald's opinion as to the respective merits of Daredevil and Shotbolt.

“As far as looks go, Mabel,” he said, in answer to her question, “Daredevil is decidedly the better colt, but there is a wear and tear look about Shotbolt I cannot help liking. I think Harry is fortunate in having two such good horses in the race.”

“If Harry would take my advice he would not sacrifice Shotbolt for Daredevil. Of course if Shotbolt has to make the running for Daredevil it will reduce his chance. What do you think Harry has done ?”

“Anything dreadful?” laughed Reginald.”

“Yes,” replied Harry. “Something very rash and desperate. I have promised to hand over to Mabel my interest in the Tarabla mine if I win the Derby."

“Isn't he a good fellow?” said Mabel. “I consider the shares as good as won already.”

“If you do win them, Mabel, you will have to thank Daredevil for it,” said her brother.

“Or Shotbolt,” she replied smiling.

“I am afraid he is a very forlorn hope,” said Reginald. “Shaw gave them a good gallop this morning, and Daredevil gave Shotbolt 110 end of weight and beat him.”

“Trials are not always reliable,” said Mabel.

“Horses are something like ladies,” said Harry smiling. “Before finding out their real merits you have to wait until their engagements are over.”

“Harry, you are incorrigible,” said Mabel laughing.

The owner of a Derby favourite is an important man in Melbourne the week before the race. It is surprising to him to discover how many friends he has who are all anxious to be amiable and obliging.

Melbourne the week before the Derby is an extraordinary place. Everybody talks about the coming meeting and endeavours to pick the double for the Derby and Cup. The names of the horses are familiar as household words to the majority of people. The waiter as he brings your breakfast anxiously inquires, “Have you been on the track this morning, sir? Was there anything good done.” The owner of a favourite is buttonholed at street-corners and at the club, and before the day of the race arrives he is well nigh driven to distraction. Harry Marple was an even-tempered man, and he was proud of owning the Derby favourite. But he had two horses in the race, and consequently he suffered martyrdom at the hands - more correctly speaking, tongues of the inquisitive.

There are some racing men, unfortunately, who can never credit an owner with straight dealing. As Harry had two horses in the Derby, some of these individuals came to the conclusion that, as Daredevil was at such a short price, Mr. Marple must be going to back Shotbolt and secure the longer odds.

When Daredevil beat Shotbolt in a gallop, Harry heard rumours to the effect that “The trial was all wrong. Not likely the stable would let the public into the know. Shotbolt carried a heap more weight than Daredevil, don't you know. That Ike Shaw's a cunning fellow,” and so on. Job was credited with possessing a fair supply of patience, and Harry Marple had no pretensions to be placed in the same class as the suffering martyr alluded to. Consequently his patience gave way, and he answered his tormentors abruptly. This did not hinder them in their pursuit of information. Harry Marple commenced to talk more vehemently than usual.

“You ought not to run two horses, Mr. Marple,” said one man. “f you happened to win with Shotbolt the public would think it was a plant.”

Harry expressed his opinion of the public, also of this individual in particular. The dissatisfied vendor of gratuitous advice at once went to the Club, and proclaimed that Mr. Marple had informed him that the public might go to Geelong or some other place, and that he did not care a hang what the public thought or did.

“This is abominable,” said Harry to Mabel. “I might be an unmitigated scoundrel, by the way some people talk.”

“Take no notice of them, Harry,” said Mabel. “I only hope these scandalmongers will lose their money.”

“They are not very likely to do that,” said Harry, “because the bulk of them are on Daredevil.”

“I shall take a peculiar delight in seeing their faces when Shotbolt has won,” said Mabel smiling.

“How you do cling to that absurd idea,” said Harry irritably. “He's only my second string. I've a good mind to scratch him. It would stop all the talk.”

“Please do nothing of the sort,” said Mabel earnestly.

“Why?” said Harry. “What difference can it possibly make to you?”

“Because I've persuaded Reginald to back Shotbolt,” said Mabel.

“And he's done it?” asked Harry.

“Yes,” said Mabel.

“Dear me!” said Harry, “what fools men make of themselves when they are in love.”

“Harry, you are rude,”said his sister. “f owning a Derby favourite makes men boars, I hope Reginald will never be placed in such a position.”
“Don't mind me, Mab,” said her brother, "I'm out of sorts and bothered. If Reginald always follows your advice he won't go far wrong. But you should leave horses alone, Mab, you see I know more about them than you.”

Mabel smiled as she said, “Wait until after the Derby, Harry. Then we shall see who is right.”

“Strange how she harps on Shotbolt winning,” thought Harry. “It would be a surprise if the second string won; but there's no chance of that. It's all nonsense.”

Flemington on Derby Day is a sight worth seeing. The headquarters of the Victorian Race Club is a magnificent course. It is a great contrast to the scene on Epsom Downs, and so Reginald Fear thought as he stood on the lawn with Mabel Marple. It was a brilliant picture. The long lawn, whose soft, springy turf felt to the tread like a luxurious Turkey carpet, was verdantly green. The flower-beds were gay with many- coloured plants, and the deep borders of orange marigolds looked like long strips of cloth of gold. Up the trellis-work climbed ivy-geraniums, blossoms of pink, scarlet, and white showing amidst a profusion of dark-green leaves. Goldfish darted and splashed in the water at the base of the fountains, hiding under green leaves of water-lilies, then flashing for a moment in the sunlight like a meteor.

Exquisitely-dressed ladies promenaded on the lawn, the light spring costumes affording a contrast to the surroundings of nature. Thousands of people were present, but there was room and to spare for all. On the hill at the back of the stand was a vast mass of people, and on the flat there were thousands more. It was an orderly, well-behaved crowd. In the luncheon arbours the more favoured few sat beneath hanging vines and clinging creepers of many colours.

“What, a glorious scene,” said Mabel.

“It is,” replied Reginald. “I have seen nothing in England to compare to it.”

In the paddock the horses were being put to rights in the sheds, and the people strolled about under the shade of the high elms. It was an anxious moment for the owners and trainers of Derby colts. The saddling bell had sounded and the jockeys weighed out for the race. Round Daredevil, the favourite, a large crowd of admirers collected. The colt looked in perfect condition, and Harry Marple felt proud of him. Isaac Shaw saddled the favourite himself. The handling of Shotbolt was left to the head lad, Shaw just trying the girth to make sure all was right.
Cecil Dean was to ride Daredevil, and he quickly appeared in the light blue jacket of Harry Marple. Fred Smith was given the mount on Shotbolt, and he wore the second colours, light blue and white cap. Very little notice was taken of Shotbolt, about whose chance long odds could be obtained in the ring.

“Make the pace hot, Fred!” said Harry to the jockey on Shotbolt. “The faster it is the better it will suit Daredevil.”

“Then my mount has not much chance,” said Smith.

“No,” said Harry; “you can win on him if you have a chance,” he added smiling.

“I'll do my best,” said the jockey.

“And if you do,” said Harry to himself, “it will insure a strong pace for Daredevil.”

Shotbolt was the first horse to appear on the track, and as Mabel saw him, she said: “Shotbolt is first out, Reginald. I hope he will be first home.”

Daredevil quickly followed his stable companion, and the pair galloped down the track together. Both moved well, but the favourite attracted most attention. There were ten starters, and in addition to Daredevil the public had backed Firefly, Madcap, and Lead On, freely. There was very little delay at the post. The starting machine was used, and as the barrier flew up the horses moved in line.

Obedient to orders Smith took Shotbolt to the front, and as the field raced past the lawn and stand, Harry Marple's second string led by three lengths. Round the bend this lead was increased, and at the back of the course Shotbolt was a dozen lengths to the good.But no one took much notice of Shotbolt. He could never last long at that pace, and 100 to 1 was offered against him without finding a taker.

Daredevil was lying well in front of the remaining horses, with Madcap and Firefly close up. The Favourite was going well. Already people were commencing to commend Harry Marple's judgment in having such a pacemaker as Shotbolt to cut out the running. Right well was Shotbolt making the pace, and Smith felt his mount was going easily. As they passed the four-furlong post, and a mile had been covered, Shotbolt was still far ahead.

“He's making it hot for them,” said Harry.

“Too hot,” said Reginald. “I'll tell you what it is, Harry, they'll never catch him.”

“He'll stop directly,”said Harry. “Look they are going up to him now.”

It was evident Daredevil's rider felt it was time to go after Shotbolt. Dean shook his mount up, and closely followed by Madcap and Firefly, Daredevil raced for the lead.

“They'll never catch me,” he thought to himself; “I'll win my first Derby sure.”

It now dawned on the vast crowd of people was still far ahead and going well. “They'll never catch him!” “The favourite'll not get up in time!” “Blest if the outsider won't win!” and such like remarks could be heard.

Mabel was excited as she saw Shotbolt still in front, and said, “He'll win, Harry. Daredevil will never catch him.”

On they came down the straight, and Shotbolt was well ahead.

“Well, I'm blest,” said the trainer to himself. “We shall be first and second and win with the wrong 'un.”

How the ring men shouted! The layers of odds were jubilant. All but one man; he had laid the full extent of his book against Shotbolt, and Reginald Fear had taken the odds.

Dean rode Daredevil hard, but he could not make up the lost ground. It was an error of judgment on his part to let Shotbolt get so far ahead. Daredevil finished well and gained on the leader so fast that at last there were shouts of “The favourite wins!” For a moment Daredevil looked like catching Shotbolt, but it was not to be, and as they went past the judge's box the outsider was a couple of lengths clear of his stable mate.

Harry Marple was pleased at his success. But he would have preferred to see Daredevil the victor.

He led Shotbolt in on to the lawn, and Lady H., the governor’s wife, placed the blue ribbon round the colt's neck, and patted him.

There was not much enthusiasm over the result, but Harry's friends congratulated him heartily. He soon discovered after the race who his real friends were.

Mabel chaffed him about winning the Derby with his second string.

“It is just as well to have two strings to your bow, Harry,” she said laughing.

“I wonder what Reginald would say to that,” he replied.

Isaac Shaw was proud of his success; but when Harry asked him how he accounted for Shotbolt lasting out the race he said: “I give it up; I can't explain it; if you tried them again next week, Daredevil would win.”

Harry Marple realised his ambition and won the Derby, and it was not his fault that with two horses in the race he pulled it off with “the second string.”

This story by Nat Gould called The Second String. An Australian Story was published on 30 May 1896 in Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News.
It is not the same as the full-length Nat Gould book titled simply The Second String published in 1904 by Everett.