How We Beat The Favourite

A Lay of the Loamshire Hunt Cup

Original Text: 
Poems, ed. Robert A. Thompson (London and Melbourne: A. H. Massina, 1920). Sydney Electronic Text and Image Service (SETIS), digital text sponsored by AustLit: http://setis.library.usyd.edu.au/ozlit
2    The race is all over, bar shouting, they say;
3The Clown ought to beat her; Dick Neville is sweeter
4    Than ever -- he swears he can win all the way.
5'A gentleman rider -- well, I'm an outsider,
6    But if he's a gent who the mischief's a jock?
7You swells mostly blunder, Dick rides for the plunder,
8    He rides, too, like thunder -- he sits like a rock.
9'He calls "hunted fairly" a horse that has barely
10    Been stripp'd for a trot within sight of the hounds,
11A horse that at Warwick beat Birdlime and Yorick,
13'They say we have no test to warrant a protest;
14    Dick rides for a lord and stands in with a steward;
15The light of their faces they show him -- his case is
16    Prejudged and his verdict already secured.
17'But none can outlast her, and few travel faster,
18    She strides in her work clean away from The Drag;
19You hold her and sit her, she couldn't be fitter,
20    Whenever you hit her she'll spring like a stag.
21'And p'rhaps the green jacket, at odds though they back it,
22    May fall, or there's no knowing what may turn up;
23The mare is quite ready, sit still and ride steady,
24    Keep cool; and I think you may just win the Cup.'
25Dark-brown with tan muzzle, just stripped for the tussle,
26    Stood Iseult, arching her neck to the curb,
27A lean head and fiery, strong quarters and wiry,
28    A loin rather light, but a shoulder superb.
30    I tried to recall, but forgot like a dunce,
31When Reginald Murray, full tilt on White Surrey,
32    Came down in a hurry to start us at once.
33'Keep back in the yellow! Come up on Othello!
34    Hold hard on the chestnut! Turn round on The Drag!
35Keep back there on Spartan! Back you, sir, in tartan!
37We started, and Kerr made strong running on Mermaid,
38    Through furrows that led to the first stake-and-bound,
39The crack, half extended, look'd bloodlike and splendid,
40    Held wide on the right where the headland was sound.
42    Before her two-thirds of the field got away;
43All through the wet pasture where floods of the last year
44    Still loitered, they clotted my crimson with clay.
46    The Drag came to grief at the blackthorn and ditch,
47The rails toppled over Redoubt and Red Rover,
48    The lane stopped Lycurgus and Leicestershire Witch.
49She passed like an arrow Kildare and Cock Sparrow,
50    And Mantrap and Mermaid refused the stone wall;
51And Giles on The Greyling came down at the paling,
52    And I was left sailing in front of them all.
54    Until the Black Bullfinch led into the plough,
55And through the strong bramble we bored with a scramble --
56    My cap was knock'd off by the hazel-tree bough.
57Where furrows looked lighter I drew the rein tighter --
58    Her dark chest all dappled with flakes of white foam,
59Her flanks mud-bespattered, a weak rail she shattered --
60    We landed on turf with our heads turn'd for home.
62    The sward to the strokes of the favourite shook;
63His rush roused her mettle, yet ever so little
64    She shortened her stride as we raced at the brook.
65She rose when I hit her. I saw the stream glitter,
66    A wide scarlet nostril flashed close to my knee,
67Between sky and water The Clown came and caught her,
68    The space that he cleared was a caution to see.
69And forcing the running, discarding all cunning,
70    A length to the front went the rider in green;
71A long strip of stubble, and then the big double,
72    Two stiff flights of rails with a quickset between.
74    I found my hands give to her strain on the bit;
75She rose when The Clown did -- our silks as we bounded
76    Brush'd lightly, our stirrups clash'd loud as we lit.
77A rise steeply sloping, a fence with stone coping --
78    The last -- we diverged round the base of the hill;
79His path was the nearer, his leap was the clearer,
80    I flogg'd up the straight, and he led sitting still.
81She came to his quarter, and on still I brought her,
82    And up to his girth, to his breastplate she drew;
83A short prayer from Neville just reach'd me, 'The Devil!'
84    He muttered -- lock'd level the hurdles we flew.
85A hum of hoarse cheering, a dense crowd careering,
86    All sights seen obscurely, all shouts vaguely heard;
87'The green wins!' 'The crimson!' The multitude swims on,
88    And figures are blended and features are blurr'd.
89'The horse is her master!' 'The green forges past her!'
90    'The Clown will outlast her!' 'The Clown wins!' 'The Clown!'
91The white railing races with all the white faces,
92    The chestnut outpaces, outstretches the brown.
94    Still struggles, 'The Clown by a short neck at most,'
95He swerves, the green scourges, the stand rocks and surges,
96    And flashes, and verges, and flits the white post.
97Aye! so ends the tussle, -- I knew the tan muzzle
99A nose I could swear by, but Clarke said, 'The mare by
100    A short head.' And that's how the favourite was beat.

Notes

1] How We Beat the Favourite: possibly Gordon's most famous poem. It is an account of a steeplechase: horse-racing on a racecourse having ditches and hedges the horse must jump.
Loamshire Hunt Cup: fictional name of a steeplechase prize. Back to Line
12] Warwick, Aintree: Australian racecourses for horse-racing. Back to Line
29] unction: manner of expression arising from, or apparently arising from, deep emotion. Back to Line
36] down went the flag: an expression signifying that the race has begun. Back to Line
41] snaffle: a simple bit, typically a jointed one, used with a single set of reins. Back to Line
45] wattle: the common name for Acacia, a group of flowering plants common in Australia, especially in arid or semi-arid areas. Back to Line
53] burster: a "heavy fall; a 'cropper'" (OED). Back to Line
61] binder: possibly a "long pliant withe or branch used in fencing" (OED). Back to Line
73] rasper: "high fence which is difficult to jump" (OED). Back to Line
93] straightway: a long, straight stretch on the racecourse. Back to Line
98] dead heat: a tie between two or more horses for first place, or for one of the other finishing positions. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1870
Publication Notes: 
Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes (1870)
RPO poem Editors: 
Cameron La Follette
RPO Edition: 
2012
Rhyme: 
Form: