Spaniel Racing & Doggy
------------ Sidney the Racing Spaniel by Tim V -----------
What is the best form of racing on earth? Some say
it's Formula One: the thrilling high-octane roar of
powerful cars speeding past in a blur of colour. Others
wax lyrical about the thunder of horses' hooves on the
lush green turf of Ascot or Cheltenham. Yet more find
their pulses quickening at the thought of yachts crashing
through the ocean waves in pursuit of the Admiral's
Cup. Although all these sports can indeed be marvellously
exhilarating for both competitor and spectator alike
really there is nothing that can match the global appeal
or the sheer majesty of top-flight, competitive ...
The highlight of the Spaniel racing calendar, the Blue Riband
event, was always of course the Lewes Arms 'Annual Spaniel'
race. And when Spaniel-racing veterans gather together
to discuss great races of the past it's not long before
the classic 2005 event becomes the main topic of conversation.
If ever a dog was destined to win it was Sidney - or
Kenilworth Goldenspark III to give him his full Kennel
Club name. In the Parade Area before the race he stood
aloof, his magnificent undocked tail standing proud
and looking like a cross between the plume on a knight's
helmet and a whiplash aerial on a 1970s Ford Cortina.
His sleek golden coat was shining in the afternoon sun
and such was his demeanour it appeared that he was expecting
a coronation not a competition. 'Who here can beat me?'
he seemed to be saying, 'who here truly believes they
can outrun the Golden Legend?' The smart money was certainly
impressed; bets of thirty, forty, even fifty pence were
being placed with wild abandon. Even Murphy, Sidney's
younger brother and training partner, was merely expecting
to contest second place.
The crowd grew and the excitement slowly mounted as
race time approached. The teams exchanged banter with
each other whilst secretly eyeing up the competition
and at the same time trying not to let the nerves show.
Eventually it was time to go. Sidney's racing support
team, like all the others, split into two: the 'Setter
Off' took Sidney up to the starting line whilst the
'Caller In' took her place behind the finish. If the
other dogs were apprehensive they were hiding it well,
there was the odd nervous bark, a quick final scratch
and then they were under Starter's orders. This was
it. Sidney had won the sprint in the 'Spaniel Stroll'
at Stanmer Park but this was The Big One. Now we would
see if all the hype was true. Now was the time to deliver.
"Go!" shouted the Starter. The Setter Off
released his hold on Sidney's collar and he was away.
Oh what a sight it was! Dozens of thoroughbred racing
Spaniels pounding their little paws on the hard road
with Sidney out in front like a canine Linford Christie.
His clear purposeful eyes were fixed on his Caller In
whilst his long golden legs ate up the yards in what
looked like record-breaking time. With his ears flapping
like sails in the wind he powered towards the finish
leaving all the other dogs snapping and yapping in his
wake. As predicted it was turning into a procession
rather than a race and with the crowd roaring him on
and victory only a few paw lengths away there was surely
nothing that could stop the Brighton Barker from joining
the pantheon of racing greats... And then disaster struck.
With the finishing line in sight and the competition
blown away the great golden hope of British Spaniel
racing suddenly stopped, turned round and ran the other
"No, Sidney darling this way, come on!" shouted
the Caller In in desperation as Sidney stopped to sniff
one of the walls, but it was no use, the race was lost,
lesser dogs streamed past him and Sidney's chance to
join the racing immortals had vanished.
Why did he do it? Why in the moment of triumph did
he literally turn his back on glory and fame and throw
it all away? Was he finding it too easy? Did he feel
that by suddenly retiring in mid-race he'd been seen
as an enigma and not as a mere race winner? The inquest
was long and vociferous and perhaps we'll never know
the true reason.
There were dark mutterings of course. Shadowy Far-Eastern
betting syndicates were mentioned and there was talk
of someone rustling a packet of crisps to distract him
but maybe, just maybe he did it because he's terminally
stupid and actually prefers running round in circles.
Whatever the reason for months afterwards the locals
would gather over pints of Harvey's in the Lewes Arms
and mull over the great Sidney Spaniel Race Disaster.
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