(begin quote) Reading The Catcher In The Rye, many Britons nod instinctively when Holden Caulfield remarks: “A horse is at least human, for God’s sake.”
This might explain, to bemused foreigners, why today’s newspapers are so brimming with news of the death of the great steeplechaser Desert Orchid.
Every decade or so, in a process almost as mystical as the emergence of a new pope, the name of a thoroughbred escapes the cloistered world of racetrack bookies, and of punters hunched in betting shops tearing up betting slips scrawled with the names of nags so slow that they were beaten to the finishing line by the groundsman cutting the turf for the next meeting, to become as familiar to the general public as Lester Piggott’s tax returns.
Desert Orchid belonged to this elite stable, which stretches from Arkle — reckoned to be the greatest steeplechaser of all time — through Nijinsky, the last horse to win the English Triple Crown, Red Rum, the only one to win the Grand National three times, Shergar, the kidnapped winner of the 1981 Derby, and the explosively fast Dancing Brave, to Best Mate, the first steeplechaser since Arkle to bag three successive Cheltenham Gold Cup wins.
These are names as well known to most Britons as Silver, the Lone Ranger’s mount, Roy Rogers’ Trigger or Boxer, from Orwell’s Animal Farm.
We have measured out our lives in great horses. There is now a vacancy. (end quote)