[Editor: This is a chapter from The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia (1895) by Kenneth Mackay.]
The day before the National.
Ever since the postponement the weather had begun to mend, the day before the meeting coming in with a clear sky and a fresh, drying wind.
In paper quotations Sardius held nominal pride of place for the big jumping event — partly because he represented Victoria, partly from the reason that he would be steered by the brilliant amateur, Jack Brewster. Still, in doubles Io was coupled with everything, and during the week a steady stream of money had ‘trickled on to her’ in the shops. The night before, in ‘the Rooms,’ a commission from Victoria, and the backing of two or three local horses, had enabled the ring to make a slight demonstration against the mare. But, rallying round their champion, the Queenslanders had stayed the ‘rot,’ and she left off only a point behind the first favourite.
There was one horse, however, who troubled Johnson and Hatten far more than the much-fancied Sardius.
Keenly alive to every move of the game, they had noticed that, although scarcely mentioned in the quotations, the books treated Satan with veiled respect, and that while no inquiries worth mentioning seemed to be made, a well-known old commissioner, with the square-toed half Wellingtons and white Newgate shave of a bygone age, quietly snapped up all fancy shots with unobtrusive regularity.
On the track, Satan had done nothing worth remembering; but then, as Johnson remarked, ‘that was no line; perhaps they preferred keeping it in him for the race’; anyhow, the old boy could probably show them nothing they hadn’t learnt long ago.
From the quaint, wizened mannikin who combined the offices of trainer and jockey, nothing was to be learnt. As a tout exclaimed after an hour’s chat: ‘D——n him! when you’ve spent a quid moist’nin’ his blooming old sucker, blow me if he ain’t too dried up to pump anything but wind outer.’ Of the latter commodity there was always an unfailing supply — but unfortunately he would blow on any point but the right one. On the hoary age and amiable domestic characteristics of ‘the old ’orse’ he was communicative to a degree, but when asked about his possible present chances, he would invariably remark sadly: ‘Yes, he’s been a hold dinger in ’is time at shearers’ meetings, but that’s gone by these many years. Amn’t he a pore hold cripple?’
‘Then why the devil do you bring him here?’ Johnson asked one day.
‘’Cos it’s the boss’s orders.’
‘Who is the boss?’
‘A cove as lives up Grabben Gullen way,’ retorted the old trainer.
‘He must be a d——d fool!’
‘Maybe,’ the old man answered shortly; ‘I never axed him meself .’
During the morning Hatten drove out to Randwick and had a look at the mare.
‘She looks pink, Billy,’ said the owner, as ‘Billy the Kid’ pulled off her sheet and exposed to view a shining mass of muscle and condition.
‘My oath!’ retorted the six-foot slab to whom this nickname of bygone light-weight days still clung.
‘Had a good night?’
‘On her feed?’ asked Johnson.
‘She’s never off it; stokes like a gin after a killing.’
While questioning Billy, Hatten had run his fingers over her tendons, and noted that his favourite’s eyes and coat were both bright and lustrous. Io’s lean, game head was set on the neck so as to give the windpipe full play, while a wither fine as a cutwater rose above the sloping shoulders. Her short, straight-backed, roomy barrel, well ribbed up, and terminating in quarters always sturdy, but now a concentrated mass of lifting power, rested on timber lithesome as steel, and sound as the day she was foaled. For though her hind-legs bore the marks of a rap or so against the rough split rails of ‘Out Back’ courses, she had run the gauntlet of the iron-bound tracks of the North without break or blemish. Just under sixteen hands, and black as night save for a star on her forehead, the mare looked a mistress to whom one might entrust both life and honour. Stepping again through the fresh, white-stemmed straw that rose about her fetlocks, Hatten glanced into her feedbox. As he did so, Io rubbed her soft muzzle against his coat in friendly greeting.
‘She knows me, Billy,’ said Dick, stroking the velvet nostrils.
‘You bet!’ Billy replied with great animation.
As they walked towards their cab, Hatten said somewhat anxiously: ‘I must win to-morrow, Billy.’
‘My oath,’ grunted the trainer.
‘But,’ went on his master impatiently, ‘do you think I can? If the mare goes down, every penny I have goes with her.’
Stopping, Billy remarked fervently: ‘Gor bloom me!’ then, after a pause, added: ‘Look here, Mister Dick, d’ye mind that day on the Flinders when you met me with Matilda up, pig-jumping over them blooming sand-hills, leading my blooming water-bag?’
‘When you were on the wallaby, you mean?’ said Dick, with a laugh.
‘Yes, per boot. Well, you gave me a lift on the pack-horse and a pull at your flask, and we ain’t parted since, ’ave we?’
‘An’ I’ve won you a lot o’ goes?’
‘You have, Billy.’
‘Well, I ain’t worked off that good turn yet, you take it from me.’
‘I suppose that means you’re going to send the mare out a winner to-morrow?’ said Dick in a tone of positive relief.
‘My blooming oath!’ remarked Billy, expectorating solemnly.
Kenneth Mackay, The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia, London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1895, pages 55-58