John Fish B.Sc. Publishers of Tenby in Wales (UK)


Silks & Saddlecloths


Barry Wass

e-mail: Barry Wass










Chapter One

Melbourne Cup Day and Victor Barnes experiences an ill fated journey home from Canberra only to discover that his family has been killed in a motor accident. He wins $12,000,000 in the lottery.

Chapter Two

In an effort to get him out of his drunken misery, Victor's brother-in-law, Dan enlists the help of American race horse owner, Harley. Harley offers Victor a trip to England to buy some horses. He also asks him to investigate his trainer, whom he believes is cheating him.

Chapter Three

Victor and Harley attend a horse sale in England. Victor buys a rogue horse, Arcadian Steel.

Chapter Four

Victor goes to Lingfield races and buys a steeplechaser, Pride of Tintagel from ex-jockey Charlie Frazier.

Chapter Five

Victor meets computer whiz Billy who is instrumental in tracking down Harley's horses. He encounters the crooked trainer Colin Oxford for the first time.

Chapter Six

Victor rents Seven Oaks, a house in Cornwall. He meets out of luck trainer Mick who agrees to take on Pride of Tintagel for the Grand National.

Chapter Seven

Victor employs a house-keeper for Seven Oaks and an old Cornish french polisher to restore a four poster bed he found there. He meets female jockey Mary Collins, daughter of trainer John Collins. Mary agrees to ride Pride of Tintagel.

Chapter Eight

Arcadian Steel arrives at John Collins' stable. The horse is barred from racing until the Jockey Club is satisfied with its behaviour.

Chapter Nine

Pride of Tintagel runs its first race. Victor discovers the possibility that Harley's horses are being doped. Mary Collins makes her feelings for Victor very clear.

Chapter Ten

Harley and Victor learn that Colin Oxford is indeed cheating with his horses.Pride of Tintagel wins at Cheltenham. Jockey Jason Carter attempts to ride Arcadian Steel.

Chapter Eleven

The four poster bed is restored to its former glory. Oxford's wife confesses to Victor how her husband is cheating Harley. The relationship between Mary and Victor begins to blossom.

Chapter Twelve

Arcadian Steel wins at Doncaster. Jason Carter attempts to rape Mary Collins.

Chapter Thirteen

An attempt is made to put Arcadian Steel out of action to prevent its Derby run.

Chapter Fourteen

Victor pulls Harley's horses out of Oxford's stables.

Chapter Fifteen

Pride of Tintagel races in the Grand National ridden by Mary. She is thrown but remounts to finish the race with a broken collar bone.

Chapter Sixteen

Victor decides to buy Seven Oaks if Pride wins the Scottish Grand National. Colin Oxford has his licence revoked.

Chapter Seventeen

Arcadian Steel wins at Newbury. Jason Carter experiences a bizarre payback for his attempted rape on Mary Collins.

Chapter Eighteen

Victor buys Seven Oaks. Arcadian Steel runs in the Derby. Victor is forced to make a choice between his love for his dead wife and his feelings for Mary Collins.




Sample Chapter

Chapter Ten

The following Tuesday morning Victor was once again at Heathrow Airport in order to meet Harley's plane. This time however, the American had no trouble with the Customs or Immigration. Within twenty-five minutes of the flight landing the two men were speeding down the motorway. After some discussion, they had decided that they would go and see Colin Oxford and confront him. They needed to know whether or not he had entered either of the horses in any race in the not too distant future. Pulling off the motorway at Newbury, they agreed that they would have an early lunch before going on to the stables. Parking the car, Victor led the way into the bar of the inn where he had stayed on his last visit to the town. Moving through into the Lounge bar, he was a little surprised to find Billy behind the counter. " Hi there Billy. I thought that you only worked in here on race days?"

" Yeah, but Becky's old man had to go to London for some meeting or something so he asked me if I would fill in for a while. You know me, I'll do anything for a few readies. Have you come for lunch or do you just want a drink? It's Toad in the Hole today, good stuff. I can't wait for mine." Harley could scarcely contain his amusement.

" Hey don't tell me that you Limeys eat toads? I know that the French eat frogs' legs, but eating TOADS! Really Victor, tell me that he is kidding."

" Very funny Harley. Just for that we will both have it thanks. By the way, this is Harley. You know, the Yank who owns those horses that you ran through the computer for me. Harley, this is Billy the computer whiz that I told you about."

" Pleased to meet you Billy. Victor here told me what a great job you did for him on my horses. I am impressed. I might be able to put some work your way if you are interested. I want to build up a database on all my business holdings. Horses, properties, shares etc. Do you reckon that you could handle something like that?"

" No worries. I can do it whenever you want. I will just need your files or at least access to them but right now I will go and order your lunches. Are you serious about the Toad in a Hole? There is also gammon steak if you prefer that."

" No. You've got me intrigued with this toad stuff. If Victor says it's good then it's fine by me," Harley said with a laugh. " But before you go Billy, you had better give us a couple of beers." Billy poured their drinks and then disappeared to order their meals.

A short while later a young girl brought out two plates from the kitchen and set them down in front of the two men. Harley's mouth gaped open at the sight of four, thick, juicy sausages, nestling in a bed of golden brown batter. A rich, onion gravy had been poured over the sausages and had overflowed into the accompanying peas and carrots. The girl then returned with a bowl of apple sauce and placing it on the table, then disappeared back into the kitchen. " Are we supposed to eat all this?" Harley gasped in amazement. Victor, however, was too busy tucking in to his to answer him with anything more than a muffled grunt.

Their lunch over, the two men continued on their way to the stables, Harley having arranged with Billy to meet the next day to discuss job prospects. By the time that they reached Palladian Lodge, it was almost three o'clock. Victor parked the car and they walked up to the house. Harley grasped the brass horse and rapped sharply on the door. No one answered so next he tried the bell. Still not receiving a reply, Victor led the way around to the office at the rear. Peering in through the glass wall, the two men observed a young, dark haired girl typing at the desk. " That looks like his daughter," said Victor as he lightly tapped on the glass. The girl took no notice of them but continued with her typing. He tapped again, harder this time and slowly she looked up. After a moment's hesitation, she got up and opened the door. " Hi, it is Lilly isn't it?" he queried, flashing her a smile. She nodded. " I don't know whether you remember me? I was here a couple of weeks ago to see your father." He pointed to Harley. " This is Harley Klugman. Your father has two of his horses here. Is he around at all? There was no answer at the house when we knocked." Lilly looked at Harley. " Aren't you the lucky one then? No he has gone to Southwell: we had a couple of runners there. He won't be back for hours yet."

" Is there somewhere that we can go and have a chat Lilly? Harley here is a little concerned about his horses. He would like to know what exactly your father has planned for them. Perhaps there is somewhere nearby where we can get a cup of coffee. I am afraid that I am not too keen on your father's blend." The girl giggled and a complete transformation came over her. The sullen look vanished and she actually smiled. " Yes I do remember you. I am sorry about the coffee but if you would like to come up to the house then I will make you a proper cup. You caught me on a bad day. Dad had been particularly spiteful that day and I am afraid that I took it out on you. I am very sorry. I assure you that it was not aimed at you personally."

" I did rather get the impression that all was not well between you. Do you want to talk about it? It sometimes helps and Harley here has shoulders broad enough to cry on." Victor said grinning at his friend.

" You seem like nice people. Come up to the house and I will tell you what has been going on. I do really think that it is time that I told someone. I can't keep this all to myself much longer." Victor looked at Harley who merely shrugged and raised his eyebrows. They followed Lilly back to the house.

A short while later they were all sitting comfortably in the lounge and drinking coffee which Victor found to be a vast improvement on the one that he had had on his previous visit. Lilly seemed to be nervous so the two men waited patiently until she was ready to talk without them prompting her. Eventually she took a deep breath and started.

" Dad and a friend of his, John Cassidy, are working some kind of fiddle with most of the horses that we have stabled here."

" This John Cassidy is my so called manager." Harley muttered.

" I am sorry but he is involved up to his neck," Lilly said.

" What exactly are they doing, do you know Lilly?" Victor asked her. The girl shook her head. " No, I think that they must be doping the horses somehow but I am not sure. I have noticed several times that some of them are very lethargic when they arrive back from a race. Naturally a hard race takes something out of them but their eyes seem glazed and there is no spring in their step. If you want to know more about what they are doing then you will have to talk with my mother. This is the reason that she left. I heard her and Dad have a blazing row one night. She told him that she was not going to put up with his dirty dealings any more. She said that sooner or later he was going to get caught and she was not going to be around to take the blame with him. He was in it on his own."

" Why didn't you go with your mother Lilly?" Harley asked her gently. Tears came to her eyes and she started to shake as she said hoarsely. " He wouldn't let me go. He said that he couldn't stop Mum from going, but he could me."

" How was he able to do that Lilly? Surely you are old enough to be able to go your own way aren't you? Victor asked in a puzzled tone.

" It is because of my brother Jack that I have to stay." She sobbed.

" Your brother? Does he work here as well then?" Harley asked. Lilly was crying quite hard now so the two men just sat and waited.

" He used to, although he hated it. Jack was terrified of horses and wanted to be a writer. Dad insisted that he worked for him at the stables and told him that he could waste his own time on his writing. Then one day Dad made Jack take out one of the horses because one of the boys was sick. Jack was absolutely petrified with fear. He had never even ridden a horse before. He only mucked out in the stables. They were riding out in the lane and a bird flew out of the hedge and startled his horse. Jack of course did not know how to control it and it threw him. Right in front of a passing car. He was lucky that the driver was one that slowed for horses, you would be amazed how many don't. Even so it was still going at a fair speed and Jack had no chance. He broke his back so it means that now he is a permanent invalid and needs s full time nurse to care for him. Mum has to go to work to support them so she can't look after him. So Dad pays for the nurse just as long as I work for him. If I leave then the money will stop. " She finally managed to get her story out. Harley and Victor looked at each other. " The bastard! Victor we are going to have to do something about this guy." Harley said vehemently.

" I agree, but how do we go about it?"

" I am not sure at the moment. I will have to think on it for a while."

" There is one thing that still puzzles me though. What is he hoping to achieve by doping the horses? Surely he can't expect to run them all in good races and get good odds? People would start getting suspicious." Victor said.

" That is where John Cassidy comes in. I know that some owners have got fed up with their horses not doing as well as they expected and Cassidy has sold them for them. Usually to the same guy, but the owners are never told that of course. They are just happy to be able to recoup some of their money back." Lilly explained to the two men. Harley stroked his chin. " Hmm that's very interesting. I wonder who the mystery buyer is? Also what does he do with the horses once he has bought them?"

" I think that he must be a Frenchman. At least he sounds as though he has a French accent when he speaks."

" Does he now? A Frenchman eh, that could explain a lot." Victor looked at him.

" I don't follow you. You are losing me Harley."

" Just think for a moment Victor. How many people would think of looking in France for their horse? Look what happened to me? Mine won four races there and I had absolutely no idea that they were even running there. He might not stop at France; he could run them in Italy or Germany, who is to know? If the horses that they have stopped here in England have any real form, well then Oxford and his cronies can buy some class animals at bargain basement rates. They then race them on the Continent on their proper capabilities and clean up. This guy seems to have more fiddles than a string band. I am sorry Lilly, I realise that he is your father but....." The girl shook her head angrily.

" He is my father in name only. He has never done anything for me. How can you stop him though? If you should succeed and put him out of business, what will happen to my brother Jack?" Victor reached out and gently took her hands in his.

" Don't you worry yourself about Jack. I promise you that if you help us then your brother will be well looked after. Harley and I will see to that, won't we?"

" You betcha! Now if you could just let us have your mother's address, then we will get out of your hair and leave you in peace." Harley stood up.

" What about your horses?" Lilly asked. " Don't you want to see them?"

" Not today," the American shook his head. " I think that we are better off leaving before someone sees us here. I can check on the horses another day." Lilly went over to the dresser and taking out a pen and some paper, wrote down her mother's address for them. Silently she handed it to Harley who glanced at the piece of paper and then stuffed it in his pocket. Victor turned to the girl. " There is one thing that you can do for us if you will. That is make up a list of the horses that Cassidy has sold to this Frenchman. Also if it is at all possible the names of the original owners in case we have to get in touch with them."

" That shouldn't be too hard as I have to do all the office work for Dad. What do I do with this when I have it?" Victor took the pen and paper that she had been using and wrote down his address. " You can send it here and don't you worry about Jack, we will take care of him. I give you my word. Now I think that we had better go before your Dad comes home." Lilly walked the two men to the front door. They shook hands with her and she stood aside to let them pass. " For once I feel as though things might go right for a change. Thank you both."

As they walked back to the car, Victor asked Harley what he intended to do about Dalmore. " At the moment Jenkins is still looking after him until we can get this mess sorted out. I laid out too much money on that colt for someone like Oxford to stuff him up. Hopefully we might be able to give him a run in another week or two. I will keep you posted on his progress anyway." The two friends then got into the car and headed back towards Newbury. Victor dropped Harley off at the Inn where he had decided that he would stay at least the night. He wanted to get something sorted out with Billy about his proposed database and get that underway. He invited Victor to stay and have dinner with him but the other declined. A short time later he was well on his way back to Cornwall.

The next morning, Victor was up bright and early. Josh had still not finished doing up the bed and Victor was beginning to think that he had made an error in judgement by asking him in the first place. If it hadn't been for the fact that it would have to be broken up in order to even get it out of the bedroom, he might have discarded the idea of renovating it. He had been very tempted merely to buy himself a new bed. As long as he had come this far with it, he thought that Josh might as well finish it.

After making himself a light breakfast he quickly ate it and then started out to drive to Cheltenham. He was looking forward to seeing the course. Mary had told him that it really was the home of National Hunt Racing and quite spectacular. Her father had told him how to get there. All that he had to do was to get onto the M5 and follow it until he reached junction 10. Keeping an eye on the signposts as he drove, he passed 11A and 11. He then discovered to his dismay that the next one was not 10 as he had expected, but 9. He was later to discover that for some inexplicable reason there was only an outlet 10 on the southbound side of the motorway. Cursing, he pulled off the road and consulted his map. Eventually he managed to find his way to the racecourse and parked the car. He then realised that he had come in from the opposite direction that John Collins had imagined that he would. Consequently he had to walk up the hill in order to reach the gate where he was supposed to meet the others.

By the time that he managed to reach the top, he was short of breath and somewhat short tempered. The way that things had gone so far did not augur well for the rest of the day. He pulled his coat tight around him in an effort to protect himself from the bitterly cold wind that was blowing. It was halfway through March but the Country was experiencing a very cold snap and it made Victor think once more of home. It would be Moomba Week, he thought to himself and decidedly warmer than this. He used to enjoy watching the water skiing on the Yarra and went down there most years to see the world stars in action.

" Dreaming of what you are going to do with your winnings Victor?" A female voice broke into his thoughts and he turned round to see Mary and John watching him.

" No actually, I was thinking that nobody in their right mind would come out to watch a horse race in weather like this. If I was at home right now, I should be dressed in shirt and shorts." Mary giggled. " What's so funny may I ask?" She put a hand on his arm. " I am sorry Victor. I was just picturing you in shorts with knobbly knees and all." She laughed again and Victor found that in spite of himself, he had to smile too. With the smile his good nature also returned and he kissed her on the cheek affectionately.

" I suggest that we make a beeline for the bar and get out of this wind," John Collins said as he watched this interaction between his daughter and Victor. " I believe that Mick was driving the horse box today so he won't be here for another half an hour at least, I predict."

" Yes the guy that he had hired as his regular driver had some family commitment, so he gave him the day off." Victor said. " As you suggested let's talk inside though, this wind is freezing."

Minutes later in the warmth and comfort of the bar, the three of them ordered hot coffees and sat down at a vacant table. As they settled, Victor turned to Mary and asked, "What is this jockey like that you got to ride for me? Mick said that he had never heard of him."

" I guess that could be right. He is an Amateur too but I can assure you that he is very good," she added hastily. " He is from South Africa and I have raced against him several times at point to points. He was due to ride in Somerset on Saturday but his horse is lame. He was thrilled at the prospect of riding here at Cheltenham. Most of us point to point riders never get the chance to race at the National Hunt Headquarters." Victor looked her straight in the eye. " How many times has he beaten you?"

" He has never beaten me but he has come fairly close." Mary smiled sweetly. "The last time Dad just managed to grab the whip in time." Victor looked at her blankly for a moment hen he too laughed as he realised what she meant. " Neither has he ever ridden a horse past me at the winning post," she added with a laugh.

" How do you manage to put up with her John?"

" She makes my life a pure misery I can tell you. I can't wait for the day that she meets a man who'll marry her and take her out of my life. Do you fancy the job Victor? She is house trained and can cook up a reasonable meal when called on." Mary jumped to her feet, flushing a bright red. " Dad!" Victor was highly amused to see her embarrassed for a change and reaching out he pulled her back down on her chair. " If Pride jumps as well as that this afternoon, then we have the race in the bag, wouldn't you say John?"

" You two are impossible! I am going to see if I can find Mick and Sally. At least the horse can't talk back to me." Her father reached out a restraining hand to her.

" Calm down Sugar, anyway they have just walked in the door. So you can relax." So saying John got to his feet to greet the new arrivals.

They all watched the first two races on the closed circuit monitors as the weather had worsened and now rain was coming down in buckets. The favourites duly obliged in both cases but none of the party had even bothered to have a bet. Finally Mick got to his feet. " Well, I suppose that I had better get down there and get this horse saddled up. Why don't you all stay here in the warm and watch the race? There is no point in us all getting soaked to the skin. I will see you after he has won." Victor shook his head.

" No way. I have driven all this way so I am at least going to watch from the stand. How about you Mary, are you coming too?"

" Just you try and keep me away, besides the rain will stop for us. You wait and see." They all made up their minds that they would brave the elements but as they walked out of the door, to everyone's amazement the rain did indeed stop. " See. I told you so." Mary said. " Come on Victor I want to go and have a bet." She grabbed his arm and half dragged him down towards the bookies. Pride of Tintagel was showing odds of 5-1 on most of the boards when they arrived. " Gee, I thought that we would get better odds than that," Mary said, the disappointment showing in her voice.

" Yes but don't forget it was a good run of his at Newton Abbott," Victor said. " I think that I am going to back him on the Tote, he is 9-1 there." They all decided that they would back the horse on the Tote and Victor coupled it up with two rank outsiders in the quinella. " Just for an added interest," he told them. Not wanting to be outsmarted Mary followed his example and backed the same horses. They then made their way to the mounting yard where she introduced them to Hans, her South African friend who was going to ride Pride. When the horses started to make their way out onto the course, they all wished him luck and left him to receive last minute instructions from Mick. The four of them then wandered towards the cover of the Grandstand.

The rain started to fall lightly again as the horses were pulled into line. The tapes flew up and they jumped off. Pride was slowly away and Victor's heart sank a little. Hans seemed to be having a little trouble getting the horse settled but eventually managed to take control just before the first jump. Pride of Tintagel sailed over the first fence and landed a good half a length in front of its nearest rival. The pace was fairly slow and by the time that the horses had traveled about a mile, Hans had managed to work his way up into fifth spot. They completed the first circuit and by now horse and rider seemed to understand each other better and were travelling quite easily. With seven fences left to jump, the favourite, Kindergarten, took the lead. Behind him Pride of Tintagel drew level with two other horses. At the sixth Pride jumped well and landed clear of the other two horses but then started to drift out towards the Grandstand side. " Hans! What are you doing? You are letting them catch you again." Mary cried as she leapt to her feet, clutching at Victor's arm. He shook his head. " No, I don't think so. I would say that the going is better there and he is giving himself a chance of running Kindergarten down in the straight." The second last loomed up and Kindergarten sailed over it with Vixen two lengths behind him and Pride a further length away. At the last Kindergarten and Vixen took off together, landing almost the same way but the favourite faltered and Vixen took the lead. Pride of Tintagel landed half a length away.

" Come on Hans! Come on!" Mary was jumping up and down with great excitement. Victor's palms were sweaty as he silently urged his horse on. John and Sally too were on their feet shouting their encouragement. Slowly but surely, Hans drew level with Kindergarten. The jockey on the favourite urged his mount onward but the heavy going was beginning to take its toll on the top weight and Pride passed him. Vixen looked to have the race in his grasp when Hans gave his horse a slight tap with his whip. Pride seemed to find something extra and caught Vixen on the post. The two horses crossed the line locked together and a great roar went up from the crowd. " Oh my God, a photo!" Mary shrieked. " Dad! Did he get there or not?"

" I am not sure," her father replied hoarsely. " It's as close to a dead heat as you could get. I wouldn't like to say either way. What do you think Victor?"

" I don't know. I am just keeping my fingers crossed that's all." The PA system crackled into life. " The winner by a short, half head, number 5. Pride of Tintagel. Second number 7 Vixen and third number 1 Kindergarten." Mary let out a loud shriek and grabbing Victor, kissed him full on the mouth. When she eventually released him she looked at him and said huskily, " Grand National, here we come."

" Before that happens I suggest that we go down and congratulate Hans on winning this one," her father remarked drily. He looked at Victorand there was the merest hint of a smile about his face as he said, " It looks as though you have found yourself a winner there Victor." Victor's face coloured and they all laughed and started to make their way down to the unsaddling enclosure. As they descended the steps, Victor took Mary's arm and pointed. " Look, those two outsiders that we took with Pride are just coming in now. So much for a big forecast payout," and laughed. Mary looked up to see the two horses that he spoke of, trotting in, both riderless. " Well at least you would have had a good win," she said, " how much did you bet on him?"

" Enough to pay for the dinner that I have planned for us all tonight. I booked a table at the Llandoger Trow in Bristol."

" The Lan what?" Mary asked, her face creased in an amused smile.

" The Llandoger Trow. It is an old Inn in the centre of Bristol, near the river. Not far from The Old Vic. They say that it is the inn that was used by Robert Louis Stevenson in his book Treasure Island. I haven't been there for years of course but from what I remember of it, the food was very good."

" Arr, Vic me lad, shiver me timbers and all that yo hoing stuff." Mary almost doubled up with laughter. Hearing all the noise Sally called out to them. " Just what are you two up to?" Mary turned and through her giggles managed to tell her what Victor had said about booking for dinner. " Gee Victor, you must have been very confident about winning." Sally remarked solidly. He shook his head in disagreement.

" I thought that we would go there whatever the outcome. I must admit though I am far happier going there as a winner. Come on though, if we don't hurry Hans will have gone to weigh in," he urged them.

They finished clambering down the steps and quickly made their way to the unsaddling enclosure. Mick was already there with Hans and was in the process of unbuckling the saddle. Victor went up and patted Pride on the muzzle and watched as Mick threw a blanket over the horse's steaming back. " I had better go and see to him and then I will join the rest of you in the bar, I would imagine?" Mick said briefly then he flashed a smile at his wife and led the horse off towards the stalls. Victor went up to Hans and shook him warmly by the hand. After offering his congratulations to the jockey he told him about the evenings arrangements. " That is very kind of you Sir but I am afraid that I must head off home. I already had my evening mapped out before Mary asked me to ride your horse," he replied with an apologetic air. " Some other time perhaps, no doubt I shall see you again."

" Well that is too bad, we would have loved you to come along. Our success today is mainly due to your good judgement. If you had not pulled over to the better going I think that he would have been beaten. Anyway I will get your address from Mary and there will be a present in the mail for you. Mary says that you are also an amateur rider and I would hate to compromise you in any way here. You never know who is watching you. Once again, thanks indeed. You rode a great race and I am very pleased that Mary was able to get you."

" You have a very good horse there," Hans said modestly. " It was a treat to ride such a creature. I wish you luck in the National, Mary told me that it was entered. I think that with a little bit of good fortune it will have a very good chance. He is such a beautiful jumper and with Mary on board, well anything can happen."

" Yes indeed, how right you are. With Mary around anything can happen and usually does." Victor agreed drily. He patted Hans on the shoulder and the jockey strode off leaving Victor alone with his thoughts for a brief moment. John Collins walked over to him and took him by the arm. " Why don't just you and Mary go out tonight on your own? We all would understand."

" No, no, " he protested. " You have all helped with this and I would much prefer if we were all involved in the celebrations. Besides that," his face broke into a broad grin,

" I would feel a whole lot safer with some company around." John gave a hearty laugh.

" Yes, I must admit that she can be a shade overpowering at times. Okay then, we will all go, but right now I am going to collect my winnings. I took your horse with Vixen in the forecast but don't tell Mary. She might think that I am having a go at her."

Later that evening the five of them had finished an excellent dinner and were enjoying their coffee and brandies when the conversation eventually drifted round to Arcadian Steel. " We actually gave him a trial run over a mile and a half yesterday. I am a little surprised that Mary did not tell you." John remarked.

"I thought that you might like the satisfaction of doing so Dad. After all I had enough to talk about with Pride and today's race." Mary said coyly and they laughed.

" Anyhow, how did he do?" Victor asked anxiously. John didn't answer immediately but took a swallow of his cognac. Then looking at Victor said slowly and in a low voice. " He did it in 2 minutes 25." Victor absorbed this for a moment then gave a low whistle. " That's not too bad is it?"

" Victor! You are the master of understatement. That is bloody good my friend. You have to look at it in perspective though. I mean Lando won the Japan Cup back in '96 in 2:24 but the track there is a lot easier than at Epsom. Epsom only has a very short run in and is a very undulating track to boot. If you are racing at Ascot, which is quite a stiff course with an uphill finish, then, your horse is most likely going to be several seconds slower over the same distance. All that being true, you still have a very smart horse there Victor." Having explained all that John then sat back and drained his glass. Victor digested all this for a moment before he spoke. " Yes I had forgotten that. I suppose it is like comparing the tracks back home. Moonee Valley for instance is a very tight course and a lot of horses aren't suited by it. Yet when they race at Flemington, they seem to find an extra leg. Now how about that jockey that Mary was on about, has he ridden him yet?"

" Jason is coming tomorrow morning to try him out. Why don't you stay with us tonight and then you can meet him? After all it's a fair drive back to Cornwall." He hesitated for a moment then nodded and he was sure that Mary's eyes suddenly shone. At the same time Mick stood up. " Well Victor, that was a great meal but Sally and I ought to be making tracks. Some of us here have a living to make."

" Sure, I understand but wait a minute I never thought to ask, what happened to the horse? You drove him up here, surely he isn't still at the track?"

" As if I would do a thing like that." Mick looked pained. " No, one of our neighbours came up today to watch a friend's horse run. I told him that Pride was a good thing. Apparently he had five hundred pounds on him, so he was more than happy to drive him home for me. He will leave him in one of his paddocks tonight and I will pick him up in the morning." Sally looked at her husband with her mouth wide open. He saw her look and laughed. " Yes, he actually took my advice. We must be on our way back." His wife got out of her chair and walked round and gave her husband a big hug. " Oh Mick, I am so glad. Maybe your luck has changed at last." She kissed him and then turned to Victor. " We owe it all to you Victor. We can't thank you enough for bringing Pride to us in the stable and pride back in our lives." Victor shook his head.

" You owe me nothing. Mick is the one who is training the horse and I was more than repaid today, I assure you."

" As a matter of interest Victor, exactly how much did you bet on him?" Mary asked but before he could answer her father broke in. " I think that is really his business Mary, don't you?"

" But I want to know," his daughter answered a trifle petulantly. " Go on Victor, please tell us. Don't worry we won't be hitting you for a loan or anything." He hesitated for a fraction of a minute then said quietly," Well if you really must know, I had five thousand pounds on him." There was a gasp from everybody. They were all silent for a moment and then John said, " I know that you have a lot of money Victor, but you must admit that you took an awful chance. You must have been very confident in both Mick and the horse?"

" I was," he replied simply.

" Well seeing as how you won all that money, I am going to have another helping of desert. It was delicious." Mary piped up and signalled the waitress. Mick looked at him in silence for a moment then said softly, " As much as I admire your confidence in me, I sincerely hope that you don't bet like that on the National Victor. For one thing I am not sure if he will last the four and a half miles. It is a very tough race and don't forget a lot can go wrong in that distance."

" With Mary riding him he wouldn't dare not to last," quipped Victor and then had to duck quickly as she swung a punch at him.

It was still dark the next morning when Victor was awakened by a knock at his bedroom door and Mary came in with a cup of tea. " Come on sleepy head. It is five-thirty and Jason Carter has already arrived. Dad says that he will be ready to take Samson out at six, so you had better hurry." Putting the tea on the chest beside the bed she beamed at him and left the room. Victor sat up and shook his head in an effort to try and clear it. He was still a little hazy as to how the last night had ended. He remembered coming back to the house and downing a couple of John's excellent cognacs, but details after that were a trifle blurred. He swung his feet out of the bed and managed to get himself dressed. Drinking his tea he then found his way to the bathroom and eventually staggered downstairs. As he reached the bottom he met John coming out of the dining room. " You look a little bleary-eyed this morning Victor. Did you sleep well? We will have breakfast after the trial. If you want I can arrange for a bacon sarni or something to keep you going." John's cheerful voice and the offer of a sandwich did nothing to improve his disposition and with a low groan he struggled to put his coat on. With John's laugh ringing in his ears he made his way to the front door thinking that he was in no mood to meet an arrogant jockey.

Once outside, the sharp nip in the morning air worked wonders for him and by the time that they reached the stables, his head was almost clear. There were half a dozen horses being prepared for their morning exercise as they arrived but Victor couldn't see Samson among them. What he did see however was a bright, red Maserati parked at the top of the yard. Lounging against its door, smoking what appeared to be a small cheroot, was a thin, blond haired youth with a sharp angular face. As Victor approached the young lad turned towards him and cast sharp, blue eyes insolently over him for a brief moment then his gaze flickered back to the group around the horses. Taking a deep breath, Victor marched up to him and offered him his hand." Good morning. You must be Jason Carter." The youth did not answer him for a moment but instead continued to smoke his cheroot. Finally, he turned towards Victor and stared at him. " Maybe, who wants to know?" Victor understood instantly why John Collins did not like this man and mentally sided with him.

" I am Victor Barnes and I own Arcadian Steel. I must say from the outset that I am not sure that I like your attitude. I am the one who will be paying you to ride my horse so you could at least be polite when you are spoken to."

" Is that a fact Victor? Well from what I have heard you need me far more than I need you," the youth drawled, blowing a smoke ring into the crisp air. Victor could feel his anger rising. Taking a deep breath he said icily," You still have to prove to us that you can actually stay on the horse Mr Carter. Many have tried."

" There is not a horse racing that I can not ride." Carter boasted. Victor was spared from making another comment by the arrival of Mary with her father in tow. " Well now, if it isn't the delightful Miss Collins. When are you going to let me take you out Mary? You don't know what you are missing." By now Mary was at Victor's side and felt him bristle. She smiled sweetly at Carter and said, " I am afraid that I am spoken for at the moment Jason." She took Victor's hand and gave it a squeeze.

" So, that's how the land lies is it? Well don't forget when you want someone to show you a real good time, you know how to find me. You really don't know what you are missing Mary, so don't leave it too long."

" Thank you Jason, I'll remember that. Now how about us getting on with the reason that you are here, shall we?"

" I heartily agree, we can't spend all day exchanging niceties there is work to be done." John barked. " Cliff, is Samson saddled yet?" he called to his head lad. " If so bring him out so that Jason can get a look at him." The man nodded and went off to check on the horse in question. He reappeared a few minutes later leading Samson who appeared to be quite docile. As they approached Jason stood up, carefully stubbed out his cheroot and ambled over to the horse. Taking the bridle in one hand, he ran the other down the horse's neck, shoulder and withers. He then walked around to face the animal and taking its head in both hands, looked it squarely in the eyes. He remained in this position for a few moments then releasing the head, he stepped back. " This is a fine horse that you have Victor," he said grudgingly. " Now where do I get changed?" Without a word, Cliff pointed to a room at the end of the stables. Opening the boot of his car, Jason took out a canvas bag and without another word, swaggered off to get changed. The others watched him in silence for a moment.

" I wish to Hell that we could find somebody else," John said with a deep sigh. " He is such an arrogant prig, that one. Still beggars can't be choosers; right we had better get on. You can lead them out Jimmy, just a brisk canter until his Majesty deems to join us. We may as well give them all a good gallop over a mile this morning. You and Tom can then try and catch Samson over the final four furlongs. Cliff you can come with us."

None of the other lads seemed very keen to ride off, a couple of them dismounted and made the pretence of checking their mounts' girths and surcingle. Mary watched them with amusement and finally laughed. " They are all waiting to see if Jason can ride him. You might as well let them Dad, they won't go until he is aboard Samson."

" I suppose that you are right. Okay boys mount up but you can just trot them around until Super Jock is ready. " John called resignedly. Victor gave Mary a wide grin.

" I can't say that I blame them. Nothing would give me greater pleasure at this moment than to see Samson throw him." A sudden thought struck him. " What's this that you were telling him about you being spoken for?" However, before she could answer, Jason strode back into the yard. Even in his work clothes he made an imposing figure. He was dressed all in white, including boots, which Victor surmised correctly were made of soft kid. His helmet was a snow white and even his goggles had white frames and straps.

" Good God! He looks like a bloody advert for a soap powder commercial." Cliff's guttural tones could be heard clear across the yard and the comment was followed by several stifled laughs from the other boys. If Jason had heard Cliff, he took no notice but marched over to where Samson was standing. Taking a hold on the reins he then turned to Cliff. " Give us a leg up old man." Without a word Cliff placed his hands under Jason's boots and tossed him lightly into the saddle. Everyone held their breath. Nothing happened and a small sigh of disappointment could be heard issuing from Jimmy's lips. Jason stretched his arm out and patted Samson's crest and then gave him a gentle kick with his heels. The horse reared suddenly and its front hooves thrashed the air. The move was so sudden and unexpected that Jason almost came off. He managed to save himself by grabbing at the mane and twisting his fingers through it. The horse settled back on all fours again and stood there. Jason patted his neck and gave the reins a flick. Arcadian Steel remained immobile. His rider waited a few seconds and then gave him another gentle kick. The animal started to rear once more but this time as he started to lift his front legs, the horse suddenly dropped them again. His head dropped with them and at the same time he turned his body in a vicious sideways twist and bucked Jason clean over his head, to land in a crumpled heap in front of the Maserati. Nobody moved or said a word but watched with bated breath to see what Jason would do next. He got up very slowly and dusted himself off. He then walked over to the horse that was standing quietly, watching him. Jason took a hold of the reins and rubbed the animal's nose gently, with his knuckles. Silently Cliff walked over to them and without a word held out his clasped hands once again. Jason put his foot into them and the other man heaved him back into the saddle. Samson immediately reared again but Jason was ready for him. He then tried to buck again but this time Jason was prepared and managed to stay on. Samson reared once more and then bolted. He raced out of the yard and down towards the track. His rider lowered himself along the horse's neck and waited patiently for the animal to slow.

He was not prepared for its sudden prop however and once again he found himself flying over its head. He hit the ground hard and this time he was not so quick in getting up. John and Cliff started to run towards the fallen figure. " Jimmy, you and the others ride on down to the track but go around the back. We don't want to spook the horse." Mary shouted with enough authority in her voice for the other riders to obey. Victor too, started to run towards Jason but then changed his mind and grabbed Samson's reins. John reached the crumpled heap first and knelt down anxiously beside him. As he did so, Jason stirred, then sat up gingerly. " Shit! That Hurt!" he yelled out in anger.

" Come on Jason, we had better get you back to the house. That was a nasty fall." John said. Jason shook off the hand that John had put out to help him and glared at him.

" No way! I came here today to ride a horse and ride him I will." So saying he scrambled to his feet and this time did not even bother to brush himself down but strode purposely towards his waiting adversary. The horse eyed him warily but grabbing the reins from out of Victor's hands he led the horse down to the training track. Upon reaching the track, he stopped. Taking a tight hold on the reins this time he pulled himself up onto the horse's back. Once in the saddle he leaned and patted the animal on the neck. He then stroked its ears and finally to everyone's amazement started to sing to it. The horse gave a half-hearted attempt to rear once more, then settled down and started to trot around the track quite peaceably.

" See Dad, I told you that he had a way with horses," Mary whispered to her father. John looked at her for a moment and then smiled. " You are right as usual my girl. I don't know what I would do without you." He kissed her gently on the forehead and then waved to Jason to join them. He cantered over and stopped expectantly. Samson dropped his head and started to chomp on a tuft of grass growing at the side of the track.

" Jason, I owe you an apology. I thought that you were an arrogant bastard but you redeemed yourself in my eyes here today, well and truly. That was a great piece of work. I have never seen anything quite like that."

" Thanks, but I don't think that you should blame the horse. Obviously it looks as though someone has had him at some time and when they couldn't ride him, has beaten him. He was always waiting for me to belt him." Victor then walked over to him and held out his hand. This time Jason shook it warmly. " This horse and I are two of a kind," he said. " We both have a reputation but it is really a front. With me, you need something that will give you an edge over the other jockeys. If owners think that you are tough they also tend to think that you possess a killer instinct that will give you extra winners. So they think that they have more chance with me riding their horses. That way I am always in demand as I freelance."

" Well, I for one am impressed Jason. I must admit that when I first met you this morning, I too thought that you were arrogant. To be honest I was more than pleased when Samson threw you the first time. I was concerned that you might have been hurt the second time though. The way that you responded and consequently treated the horse, has won my respect. I can't say that I would have altogether blamed you if you had hit him after that second fall. I was very pleased when you didn't. If you can get him cleared by the Jockey Club, you have a Derby ride if you want it."

" The Jockey Club! A piece of cake! Now let's see how this horse of yours can run shall we?"

Later that morning after the horses had been returned to the stables and hosed down, they were all sitting in the kitchen, just having finished breakfast. The topic of conversation, naturally enough, centred on that morning's trials. Arcadian Steel had swept past both Blue Bayou and Pepperpot leaving them floundering in his wake. He ended up beating the two home by a good nine lengths. Jason was in raptures over the horse. He declared him the best that he had ever ridden and how it would take a real champion to beat him in the Derby. In all of this animated discussion, John Collins alone, remained quiet and thoughtful. He didn't join in the chatter very much at all. At last Mary could stand it no longer and turned to her father. " Dad, for goodness sake, what is the matter with you? I would have thought that you would have been over the moon by that performance this morning. Most trainers would give their back teeth to have a horse like that entered for the Derby. I truly can't understand you."

" Yes John, you are rather quiet. " Victor observed. " Are you afraid that he will not pass the Jockey Club's trial? If that is the case then don't you worry. If it does happen not to pass, well I knew that was a possibility when I bought him. However, Jason seems to think that he will be fine and get through with flying colours." The latter nodded his head in agreement and then returned to his own conversation that he was holding with Ginger. John gave a big sigh. " No. It's not that at all, I have every faith in Jason's ability. I am just wondering how I am going to face my friends. I have to tell them that their very expensive thoroughbreds have been made to look like a pair of second rate hacks by your horse. It is bad enough your horses being beaten by a rival stable. When the challenge comes from your own, well I don't know what to say." John somewhat dejectedly poured himself another cup of coffee and slumped further down in his chair.

" Dad, you are a worrier so. You know as well as I do that they will be only too happy for you. You have won enough races for them in the past and besides that you know full well that they only bought those horses to offset their taxation bill. They will most likely back Arcadian Steel and make a killing that way." Mary winked at Victor and motioned towards the door. Shaking his head he pointed to Jason. Puzzled, Mary looked at him, so in desperation he tapped Jason on the arm. " What is going to happen now Jason, any idea?"

" Well I have to go to Wolverhampton on Saturday but we can most likely tee up an inspection by the Jockey Club for some time next week. When is your horse due to have his first run?" he drawled, forgetting himself for the moment and lapsing slightly back into his alter ego. Victor looked across at John who thought for the moment and then said, " I had him entered at Doncaster next week, then Newmarket. I must admit that I hadn't planned too far ahead in case he er, um, in case he...."

" In case we were not able to get a rider for him." Victor laughed. " That's fine John, you can say it. I won't be offended."

" What are you riding at Wolverhampton Jason? Anything worth us having a dabble on?" Mary asked politely, not wanting to be left out of the conversation. He did not answer right away but pulled a notebook from his pocket and rifled through the pages. " I honestly don't know yet. I got a call from this trainer who said that his regular rider had taken a fall. Apparently the doctor has given him a week off so this guy was looking for a jockey to ride in a couple of races for him. As you know I am a freelance rider and wasn't engaged for anything."

" Okay then, who is the trainer so we can look up the form on his horses?" Jason was still busily skipping through the pages of his notebook. " Ah, here he is, a Colin Oxford. I must admit that I am not familiar with the name. Do you know him John?" he asked. John and Victor looked at each other across the table. " Well I know of him. Never met the man mind you, but I certainly have heard a lot about him. Victor here has met him though, haven't you Victor?"

" Yeah, I've met him all right. Actually he was hoping that I would place Arcadian Steel with him. You should be on your guard with him Jason, some of his methods are a trifle suspect to say the least." Victor commented quietly.

" Well he needn't think that he can play silly buggers with me. If he is not straight down the line, then I don't ride. I have too much at stake to try anything the least bit dodgy." Jason was very adamant.

" I shouldn't think that he would try anything with a stranger though. If he is pulling a stroke he should have enough sense to wait until his regular rider was back. The jockey would have to be in on the act too." John remarked.

" I think that it is about time that I was off." Jason stood up. " It was nice meeting you Victor and more importantly, your horse."

" You see Victor, your horse rates higher then you with Jason." Mary laughed and even John had to chuckle. " I don't have to be told when I'm not wanted. I think that I will head back home too." Victor also stood up. " Thank you for your hospitality John. It has been quite a couple of days."

" Oh, you don't really have to go do you? I was hoping that we might have gone for a drive somewhere." Mary pouted. " You are welcome to stay as long as you like. Isn't he Dad?" Mary turned to her father with a pleading look.

" Of course he is but I am sure that he knows that."

" Thanks but I really think that I should be getting back." Victor said. " For one thing I want to catch this old guy who is supposedly restoring my bed."

" Your bed? What on Earth do you mean?" Mary asked intrigued. So Victor explained. " A genuine four poster, I should love to see that."

" Maybe you can if Josh ever manages to finish it I am sure that Rome was built in a far shorter time than this guy is taking."

" I have never slept in a four poster bed," Mary said rather wistfully. " I wonder what it would be like?"

" The same as sleeping in an ordinary bed, I'd imagine." Her father said drolly. "You can't see anything different with your eyes closed."

" Oh Dad, where is your sense of Romance?"

" I think that I am getting a little too old for that sort of stuff." John replied "Anyhow I think that you had better let these boys go if they have to. I am sure that you will get to see Victor's bed at some time or the other."

" Oh I hope so Dad. I sincerely hope so." Mary replied with a wicked grin at Victor who could feel the colour rushing to his cheeks again. " Mary Collins! Have you no shame Girl?" her father asked in an embarrassed tone.

" I am out of here. I will see you all later." Victor said as he strode towards the door with the sound of Mary's laughter ringing loudly in his ears.

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Silks & Saddlecloths by Barry Wass