If you have any romance in your racing soul you will get one or two lines of John Masefield’s “Right Royal” by heart. They will stay there until you and life do part. There we go : a rhyming couplet, albeit a far cry from how Masefield sees a loose horse ahead of the field:

“Then he tore down the course with a flash of bright shoes

As the race’s bright herald on fire with the news.”

There are some 700 rhyming couplets in this epic poem written by the future Poet Laureate in the battered, hopeful days immediately after WW1 and now republished with the wonderful, original Cecil Aldin illustrations. It may be idealised but it is utterly entrancing with the simplest and biggest story that steeplechasing can offer: on the eve of the National, dashing amateur Charles Cothill dreams his horse Right Royal says “it is my day to day.” With this vision our Charlie then punts his life on the former classic-reject now hunter-chaser to the despair of his fiancée whose father was ruined by gambling. The madness is quintupled when Right Royal is brought down at the third and Charles remounts in hopeless pursuit only to finally nail it in a six horse show down on the long run-in.

But it’s not the plot, it’s the words that will hold you all the way to the last couplet couplet: 

“For an instant they challenged, then they dropped and were done

Then the white post shot backwards, Right Royal had won.”

If you haven’t done, treat yourself to reading this book, if not in this glorious limited edition get it from a library or on Amazon. If you have ever taken inspiration from a gleaming chaser recite once, but better still memorize, the finest description ever penned in our mother tongue.


“And now as proud as a King of Spain

He moves in his box with restless tread

His eyes like sparks in his lovely head

Ready to run between the roar

Of the stands that face the straight once more

Ready to race, though blown, though beat

As long as his will could lift his feet

Ready to burst his heart to pass

Each gasping horse in that sea of grass.”








Far over his head with a whicker of wings

Came a wisp of five snipe from a field full of springs


Neck and neck, stride for stride, they increased as they neared it

Though the danger gleamed greyly, they galloped to beard it.


Then a man has a moment, if he strikes not too late

When his soul shakes the world-soul, and can even change Fate


All green was the plough with the thrusts of young corn

Pools gleamed in the ruts that the cart wheels had worn


So Charles flashed past them, those three men the less

Who had gone to get glory and had met with distress


Then rose in the morrish, with his man on his neck

Like a nearly dead sailor afloat on a wreck

With his whip in the mud and his stirrups both gone

Yet he kept in the saddle and made him go on.


Now they charged the last hurdle that led to the straight

Charles longing to ride, though his spirit said “Wait”


For an instant they challenged, then they dropped and were done

Then the white post shot backwards, Right Royal had won.


That is manful but a moment before it must pass

Like the stars sweeping westward, like the wind on the grass




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