Alcantra

A man, a horse, and a mysterious jockey

The weeks that followed our purchase of Alcantara—I could never teach Tobias not to accent the second syllable—were uneventful except that I soon discovered which half of Alcantra I owned. I was in firm possession of the forward end, the end that was fed. Each month I received mounting bills for grain, as well as for strange accoutrements with which I was not familiar. Each month Tobias calculated to a penny, and sent me a note for an exact half of the expenses.

I did not see much of Alcantara, but Tobias reported progress, and he seemed satisfied with his pupil. For some reason he did not care to appear before the world as even half-owner, and he allowed it to think that I owned the horse and that he was in my employ as trainer. I attributed this, at first, to Tobias's natural modesty, but I soon learned that there were the best of reasons why Tobias did not wish to appear to have any possessions of any character. So I assumed the entire responsibility of ownership with all its attendant glories and inconveniences.

One morning I was told that Alcantra was right. He had been moved to a large training stable, and Tobias had been working him over the jumps for some time. The expense of keeping him here was considerably greater, but, as Tobias pointed out, this was unavoidable if I meant to do the right thing by the horse. He never said 'we'; he always spoke as if I had sole authority. 1 was flattered by this, and soon came to regard myself as a full-fledged owner. I read the racing papers and followed the exploits of other horses. I knew their records and the details of their age and class.

Upon being asked to visit the horse, I brushed aside all business matters and went to the scene of action. It was an extensive and beautiful estate used entirely for the care and schooling of horses. By some means, unknown to me, Tobias had secured admission, and was using the schooling fields. There was a steeplechase course laid out for schooling, and it was over this that Tobias intended to give Alcantara his first serious work, and he wished me to witness it.

Tobias greeted me and led me to the stable. If Alcantara had been a thing of beauty when I first beheld him, he was a thousand times more so after weeks of care and attention. He was led out for his owner's inspection. I could not conceal my admiration, bad form as I knew it to be to express it. Tobias pronounced him to be fair, but added that further improvement was possible. Tobias mounted, and assumed that curious crouching position affected by jockeys. To me it always seemed the most perilous of ways to ride a horse. Alcantara held a high head, and used his feet daintily. As he trod the yielding turf he was the personification of beauty, strength, grace. He pranced and whirled restlessly at the starting line, and Tobias gently moved him along to the point lip wanted. At a prearranged signal Tobias let him go. He passed me—a blur of shining satin, and thundering hoofs. I watched him through my glasses as he gracefully cleared barrier after barrier, and approached a water jump at the far end of the course. At this point I saw him swerve from his course and disappear. Long and patiently I awaited his return. Finally, far off on the horizon, a tiny speck appeared. It was Alcantra returning home. Tobias was crouched on his back, and as he passed me I caught a glimpse of a face as expressionless as the back of my hand. If Tobias was ill at ease he did not betray it.

After the details of Alcantara's toilet were attended to Tobias joined me.

'What happened?' I asked.

'He ran away,' Tobias replied, and that was his sole comment.

I returned to the city and left Tobias to solve the difficulty of making Alcantara go in the right direction at the right time. I felt sure that if this could be done, and if he proceeded with anything like the rapidity he had shown that afternoon, there was not a living horse that could pass him.

From then on Tobias worked in secret. I saw no more trials and had only meagre reports from the training field. Tobias and I had a few conferences at which we decided to play for high stakes. We elected to let the minor race-meets go, and to enter Alcantara in the Bedford Steeplechase. This was described as an open steeplechase for gentlemen or professional riders—about three miles of natural country, over post and rails and brush.

Then followed detailed statements as to weights and other restrictions. The prize was a small purse and a piece plate—but immense prestige. We knew the field would be large and the quality good, and the winner would jump in value and reputation. Both Tobias and Alcantara were found to meet all the requirements of the committee in charge. Tobias attended to all the details and I signed the entry bIank and paid the minor expenses. It was necessary for us to appear under colors. This I left entirely to Tobias, who acquired, at my expense, appropriate garments to wear on the eat day. His taste in this connection was not what I could have wished it to be. He chose a tunic of pure white with sleeves slashed with lavender, and a lavender and white striped cap. It was bit more conspicuous than the modest extent of my racing stable seemed to testify, but here I felt that Tobias shouldould have his way, as he was to appear in the garments, not I.

The week before the race I saw little of Tobias. He spent all his time with Alcantra, or else in moody cogitation. I found business affairs irksome and could not seem to keep my mind off the pending trial of speed. The sporting sections of the newspapers were a solace until they began to discuss the race and estimate the contestants. Scant attention was paid to Alcantara by any of the writers. Only one referred to him at length, and then merely to enlarge on his bad behavior during training. As the day of the race approached, however, many strange stories began to appear. Not only were his bad manners discussed, but there were hints of lack of condlition, and innuendo as to physical blemishes. I was enraged by this and sought Tobias to see what could be done to stem the tide of misstatement. Tobias professed never to have heard of any of it, and as he was evidently deeply engrossed in more important matters, as well as suffering from a severe attack of melancholia, I decided to accept his dictum that the less said, the sooner mended.

At last the fateful day came. I was early on the field, and felt strangely nervous and ill at ease. I read the entry list a thousand times, and recovered my composure a little when I saw the name of Alcantara, and my own as owner. Details of Alcantara's age, sex, and color were given, as well as my racing colors, and T. Starkweather was announced as the rider. The field was all that could be desired. It included the best the region could produce, and I recognized some horses who had substantial reputations.

Tobias sought me out and again assured me that the horse was right. He suggested that a small wager on him might be profitable. I am not a betting man, but the last weeks had affected me strangely. I had begun to feel a large catholicity of spirit toward all the details of horse ownership and horse racing, and I allowed Tobias to conduct me to a flamboyant young man, who placed a modest sum for me at the surprising odds of 30 to 1. Again I sought Tobias to learn the reason for the odds being so against Alcantara. The incident had shaken my faith in him, and I began to think my visions of possible victory empty dreams. Tobias felt that the odds were probably the result of the unfortunate items in the press, but he pointed out that they meant larger profits if we won, which seemed to me a sordid point of view.

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