L. The Fat Man Takes His Ticket 365
LI. Old Mat on Heaven and Earth 374
LII. Putnam’s Once More 376
THE GIRL AND THE FOAL
The Spring Meeting at Polefax was always Old Mat’s day out. And it was part of the accepted order of things that he should come to the Meeting driving in his American buggy behind the horse with which later in the day he meant to win the Hunters’ Steeplechase.
There were very few sporting men who remembered the day when Mat had not been a leading figure in the racing world. For sixty years he had been training jumpers, and he looked as if he would continue to train them till the end of time. Once it may be supposed he had been Young Mat, but he had been Old Mat now as long as most could recall. In all these years, indeed, he had changed very little. He trained his horses to-day at Putnam’s, the farm in the village of Cuckmere, over the green billow of the Downs, just as he had done in the beginning; and he trained the same kind of horses in the same kind of way, which was entirely different from that of other trainers.
Mat rarely had a good horse in his stable, and never a bad one. He kept his horses in old barns and farm-stables, turning them out on to the chalk Downs in all seasons of the year with little shelter but the lee of a haystack or an occasional shed.
“I don’t keep my hosses in no ’ot-house,” he would say. “A hoss wants a heart, not a hot-water bottle. He’ll get it on the chalk, let him be.”
But if his horses were rough, they stood up and they stayed.
And that was all he wanted: for Mat never trained anything but jumpers.
“Flat racin’ for flats,” was a favourite saying of his. “‘Chasin’ for class.”
And many of his wins have become historic; notably the Grand National in the year of Sedan—when Merry Andrew, who had three legs and one lung, so the story went, won for him by two lengths; and thirty years later Cannibal’s still more astounding victory in the same race, when Monkey Brand out-jockeyed Chukkers Childers, the American crack, in one of the most desperate set-to’s in the annals of Aintree.
There is a famous caricature of Mat leading in the winner on the first of these occasions. He looked then much as he does to-day—like Humpty-Dumpty of the nursery ballad; but he grew always more Humpty-Dumptyish with the years. His round red head, bald and shining, sat like a poached egg between the enormous spread of his shoulders. His neck, always short, grew shorter and finally disappeared; and his crisp, pink face had the air of one who finds breathing a perpetually increasing difficulty.