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Concerning a Steeplechase Rider
by [?]

These remarks serve to introduce one of the fraternity who may be considered as typical of all. He was a small, wiry, hard-featured fellow, the son of a stockman on a big cattle-station, and began life as a horse-breaker; he was naturally a horseman, able and willing to ride anything that could carry him. He left the station to go with cattle on the road, and having picked up a horse that showed pace, amused himself by jumping over fences. Then he went to Wagga, entered the horse in a steeplechase, rode him himself, won handsomely, sold the horse at a good price to a Sydney buyer, and went down to ride it in his Sydney races.

In Sydney he did very well; he got a name as a fearless and clever rider, and was offered several mounts on fine animals. So he pitched his camp in Sydney, and became a fully-enrolled member of the worst profession in the world. I had known him in the old days on the road, and when I met him on the course one day I enquired how he liked the new life.

“Well, it’s a livin’,” he said, “but it’s no great shakes. They don’t give steeplechase-riders a chance in Sydney. There’s very few races, and the big sweepstakes keep horses out of the game.”

“Do you get a fair share of the riding?” I asked.

“Oh, yes; I get as much as anybody. But there’s a lot of ’em got a notion I won’t take hold of a horse when I’m told (i.e., pull him to prevent him winning). Some of these days I’ll take hold of a horse when they don’t expect it.”

I smiled as I thought there was probably a sorry day in store for some backer when the jockey “took hold” unexpectedly.

“Do you have to pull horses, then, to get employment?”

“Oh, well, it’s this way,” he said, rather apologetically, “if an owner is badly treated by the handicapper, and is just giving his horse a run to get weight off, then it’s right enough to catch hold a bit. But when a horse is favourite and the public are backing him it isn’t right to take hold of him then. I would not do it.” This was his whole code of morals — not to pull a favourite; and he felt himself very superior to the scoundrel who would pull favourites or outsiders indiscriminately.

“What do you get for riding?” I asked him.

“Well,” he said, looking about uneasily, “we’re supposed to get a fiver for a losing mount and ten pounds if we win, but a lot of the steeplechase-owners are what I call `battlers’ — men who have no money and get along by owing everybody. They promise us all sorts of money if we win, but they don’t pay if we lose. I only got two pounds for that last steeplechase.”

“Two pounds!” I made a rapid calculation. He had ridden over eighteen fences for two pounds — had chanced his life eighteen times at less than half-a-crown a time.

“Good Heavens!” I said, “that’s a poor game. Wouldn’t you be better back on the station?”

“Oh, I don’t know — sometimes we get laid a bit to nothing, and do well out of a race. And then, you know, a steeplechase rider is somebody — not like an ordinary fellow that is just working.”

I realised that I was an “ordinary fellow who was just working”, and felt small accordingly.

“I’m just off to weigh now,” he said — “I’m riding Contractor, and he’ll run well, but he always seems to fall at those logs. Still, I ought to have luck to-day. I met a hearse as I was coming out. I’ll get him over the fences, somehow.”

“Do you think it lucky, then, to meet a hearse?”

“Oh, yes,” he said, “if you MEET it. You mustn’t overtake it — that’s unlucky. So is a cross-eyed man unlucky. Cross-eyed men ought to be kept off racecourses.”