It was the eyes that said it. All of them. Staring, glancing, pointing: full of accusation, of presumed guilt, of condemnation. He didn’t need to see them to know, his own heart told him that, but the eyes wanted their say, their moment in time. They wanted him to know that he was transparent, as naked as he would be in the showers, if he only had the strength to get that far. Sportsmen understood one another, like soldiers on a battlefield. With experience came understanding of the ebb and flow, the movement of the game, the race, the appreciation of other’s skills. Jockeys understood one another better than most. By its sheer existence it was a battle of small men. Small in stature, big in heart. His father had schooled him for it, to follow in his footsteps, before the car crash that claimed his life. Always keep your weight down, he had told him. Work your arms, your thigh muscles, but don’t bulk up too much. Muscle was weight. There was only two sports in the world that the competitors were followed at pace by ambulances, he’d said, pipe clenched between his teeth. Horse racing and motor racing. We haven’t got the money or the know how for the cars, he’d said, but we’ve got the nous and the balls for the nags. Tommy thought of his father as he looked across the shower room. As he looked at the other jockeys talk quietly between themselves, occasionally glancing in his direction. He thanked a God that he didn’t worship that his father couldn’t see this, the suspicion, the knowledge that he’d thrown the race. It was written in their faces, in those same eyes. The eyes of men that he’d laughed and joked with throughout his teenage years and into his early twenties. The same men that had wished him luck before the race. The same men that had shunned him since the finish, and in the weighing room. There were no words that would win them back, no wool to pull over their eyes. They knew when it wasn’t right. They knew. He was looking down at the monotonously tiled floor, seeing patterns that only he knew were there, when he felt a presence close to him. Looking up warily, he saw that Declan had moved onto the bench next to him, stripping off his silks and hanging them up. Declan was old school, having started riding when Tommy’s father was still in the saddle. He was one of the few links to the past. Declan didn’t get many rides now, only no hopers when there wasn’t anyone else, but it was all he knew. Tommy felt some relief that Declan would change next to him, even if the others had moved away. He saw the older man glance at him, looking as though he would say something, before pulling his shirt over his head. Tommy looked at the scars on the man’s body, the kicks of the hooves when he had fallen, the smashes into the fences and the side rails, the ribs that he knew had often been cracked and broken. The shirt dropped onto the bench, and he saw Declan open his mouth to speak. He found himself dreading what was coming: “The fools amongst us say you couldn’t get the run, lad” came the softly spoken words, the brogue strictly Donegal. “But I’ve seen it head on, and that’s not the case is it? I heard the crowd, I’ve seen the other lads, but I thought I’d look myself first.” The boots were pulled off and dropped on the floor. “That’s Sid O’Reilly’s lad, I thought, he wouldn’t have done that.” Declan turned to face Tommy, hands on hips. The younger man looked up at him, looked up at an ageing throwback to the old days, a man that he had looked up to, despite his lack of height. A man that struggled for rides now, to make ends meet. A man that he had betrayed. “You could have got a bus through there, lad, but you never let her go. Never let her off the bridle.” He pushed his face closer to Tommy’s. “Jesus lad, do you not realise what you’ve just done to yourself, to us? This isn’t Hexham on a foggy day, it’s bloody Cheltenham, lad!” The older man shook his head. “Aye, it’s a killing you’ll have made, right enough, but the punter will never trust you again, and neither will we. You’ll never ride a big race again.” Declan picked up his towel and walked away, his shaking head fit to drop. Tommy watched him go, feeling the wetness of his eyes, his gaze dropping to the floor. They’d come to him three days before. He knew they were trouble, as soon as they’d appeared. The tall one had spoken with a London accent, but it was his greased back hair that had put Tommy off the most, that and the long nose. His back up was real trouble. Squat, heavy, not unlike a potato with close-set eyes, staring evilly. Eyes that wanted to inflict pain. Everything in Tommy’s life seemed to revolve around eyes at the moment. The London nose had explained the problem, and how Tommy could help them solve it. Davy, Tommy’s brother, owed the wrong people money, big money. Despite various deadlines passing, he hadn’t produced it, and the people that the nose represented, well, their patience had run thin. A phone was produced and a number dialled. A tearful, near hysterical Davy appeared on the line, confirming what had been said. Tommy’s heart was beating loudly inside him, amazing him that he was the only one that could hear it. It was explained how he could remedy the situation. He balked. Don’t see it so much as throwing a race, said the nose, more as keeping a brother. He had started to say that it was impossible, that it wasn’t like the old days, the exposure was too great. His mouth had opened but the words hadn’t appeared, not after the potato had stepped forward, cracking his knuckles. That was the problem with jockeys, no weight for a fight, unless it was amongst their own. He had tried to put forward logical reasons why it couldn’t work, but the inference was clear. His brother would be a dead man, and he himself would know too much. The nose had given him a mobile phone, pre-paid, thoughtful of him. We’ll be in touch he’d said, and they’d walked away, grinning. Tommy had thought of little else that long, sleepless night and into the next day, dreading what might happen but hoping childishly that if he ignored it, it might go away. He was walking back to his rooms when he felt the vibration in his pocket, ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ being the ironic ringtone. He’d answered with shaking fingers and an even shakier voice, and he was told that the problem was here to stay. Be ready, the voice said, the call will come on the morning of the race. Thoughts had begun to drift through his mind of how he could do it, how he could lose the race and not damage anything. He’d ridden The Tempest for three years, unbeaten at different grades, until it had reached the top tier. There had been a lot of pressure on the trainer to employ a more experienced jockey as the accolades increased, but the trainer was a wise man. The owner’s daughter was the stable girl, and she’d always had a soft spot for Tommy. Her father had gently suggested McCoy or Ruby, but the girl wouldn’t hear of it. Her father knew it would break her heart, and so had asked the trainer to keep Tommy in the saddle. With no defeats, it wasn’t a problem, but Tommy knew it would have been a much harder decision if Sam Waley Cohen and Long Run hadn’t run their race ahead of him. Tommy told himself that a defeat was coming, and it wasn’t a crime. If he could somehow get boxed in, then he could argue there was no chance of getting through and home. It had to be good, he told himself, as everyone knew the engine on the horse, and the plaudits he had received from seemingly being able to second guess his movements were going to be hard to let go. He wondered idly how the people behind all this could win. After all, he could lose the race, but how could he influence who won? Tommy wasn’t a betting man. He was naïve. Hope and Glory had sounded out again on the morning of the race, and Tommy’s world collapsed. No unlucky defeat could be argued, not after what they’d said. Losing wasn’t enough, he had to manoeuvre The Tempest into a winning position. A position that he was unable to lose from, with his previous record, engine and will to win. A position that, although odds-on favourite in the books at the off, had seen him shorten to around 1.2 on the exchanges. Then, simply, he was to lose. They didn’t care how, they said, they just wanted him up there, three or four fences from home, at worst level, but preferably in the lead. How was he supposed to do that, he bleated, hearing the whinging desperation in his own voice. How could he know the odds? Just get up there, he was told, three or four from the line, a position that he had always been so strong in before, but far enough out to allow the money to get on in-running. Remember, they’d said, there was a five second computer delay on the exchanges, so it had to be early enough. He knew the trip was ideal, and he knew that they knew the horse well. He was cornered, snookered, call it what you like. He was finished if he did it, and both he and his brother were dead men if he didn’t. Hobsons choice. The start line was a blur. He had seen the odds in the parade ring, eight to eleven on, five to one the field. Massive favourite. Now he understood. The greed, the temptation, the hook. He had felt physically sick in the ring, Katie leading the horse, bouncy, joyful and supremely confident in both mount and jockey. He could do no wrong in her eyes, and he had often wondered if he could get somewhere there. Her father watched proudly, walking alongside, winking at Tommy, stroking the horse’s mane lovingly. A lower ebb it was impossible to imagine. The horse hadn’t sensed anything, seemingly, motoring around the first circuit like a Rolls Royce. Such a smooth ride, it was as though Tommy was sitting on a cushion. Even then, in his soon to be darkest hour, he appreciated the grace and splendour, the power on lift off, the balance on landing. He tried to enjoy it, knowing he wouldn’t do so again. As he passed the Tattersalls the roar grew like an approaching wave, taken up in the Best Mate enclosure as they turned again for Cleeve Hill. He moved progressively through the field from where he’d sat, until he was level in a cluster of four. He saw McCoy glance to his left, take him in. He saw the legend’s jaw set. Ruby was there, and so was Llewellyn. Men that would have money on them, but nowhere near as much as if the power of The Tempest wasn’t in the race. Tommy, an amateur, favourite of them all. Supposedly his hour had come. Ruby hit the front in an attempt to draw The Tempest’s fire. Tommy felt him tense beneath him, between his legs, all power, muscle and sinew. He wanted to go. He knew he could take them now, hit the front and lead them round and up the hill. That dreaded, sapping, Cheltenham hill. Walsh’s horse started to flag. McCoy was there, Llewellyn in just behind. The time had come. Tommy gave the horse a little squeeze, and he hit the front. He then, as deftly as he could, steered in towards Walsh. Too close, and the professionals wouldn’t like it, but he was a young amateur, and he could see that Ruby’s horse was spent, and wouldn’t scale the hill to win. Tommy held the reins tight, in a hand that he knew would be shaking if he tried to hold it steady, and he watched McCoy draw level. He saw the man glance across, then hit the front and Tommy could only see the mans arse in the air. Llewellyn went too. Tommy could only hear hooves, thundering wind and the taste of flying mud, but he could sense the groans from the stand. He didn’t need to hear them. He trailed in fourth, the horse’s energy and rhythm gone. The horse knew, he had no doubt. McCoy won, but as Tommy watched he saw the man didn’t celebrate much. McCoy dismounted and walked alongside his horse towards the winner’s enclosure, not riding as was customary, unless the jockey felt the horse was exhausted. McCoy knew, as did Ruby from the glances across, talking from the saddle with Llewellyn. Tommy could see that Katie had been crying as she took the reins to lead the horse away. She tried to smile but couldn’t, dropping her eyes. Her father looked beaten. Not angry, which Tommy would have preferred, but older somehow, greyer, as though he had seen a dream shatter before him. It had. McCoy’s horse was trained by Nicholl’s, and as Tommy passed him he saw the man shake his head and look away. No celebration there either. They knew. Those that run the race, always do. Tommy sat in the locker room after the others had gone. When Declan had returned from the showers, he had moved his clothes to another bench, dressing there. Tommy wondered if the phone would ring. It didn’t. Tommy wept.