1. Bibliographical notes
FRANCIS, D., For Kicks, 1st ed., New York, 1996, 250 p.
Daniel Roke looks into an English horse-doping scandal.
A couple of years ago, there was a great deal of trouble with the doping of racehorses in England. National Hunt Racing tested the first four horses in many races, to stop doping-to-win, and every suspiciously beaten favourite for doping-to-lose. But all the results were negative. Especially eleven winners were looking stimulated, but nothing showed up in the tests. Although had those horses a fairly high adrenaline count, but you can’t tell whether that is normal for that particular horse or not. You also have to know that these horses were calm and cool when they went to the starting gate. Horses which have been stimulated with adrenaline are mostly pepped up at that point.
That’s why Mr. October, a member of the body which governs National Hunt Racing, asked Daniel Roke, who runs an Australian stud Farm, to come over to England to find out what’s going on. After a while, Daniel Roke decided to take the job.
To do the investigation, Mr. Roke had to infiltrate in the English horseracing world. For that October had arranged a job as a lad in his own stable, which is governed by Inskip, an honest man. Over there he had to take care for 3 horses, one of them was called Sparking Plug. Every Saturday, Daniel had to ride out with October’s daughters. Next Sunday, Daniel went to the races with Sparking Plug in Bristol. The sleeping quarters over there were, to some of the lads, like the Hilton hotel, because they were so nice. In the canteen the lads had a discussion about doping. They all said they had never given ‘something’ to a horse. During the discussion, Daniel said that he wouldn’t object to point out a horse for some money. Because of that, someone came to him next morning to ask him if he was really interested in pointing out some horses. So a few weeks later a man came to him and said that he could earn hundred and fifty pound if he gave ‘something’ to Sparking Plug, so he couldn’t win the next race at Leicester. Daniel agreed with it.
Every evening after his work, Daniel read several doping-reports to do his investigation. He noticed that seven of the eleven suspicious winners were once be owned by Humber or Adams. They started to interest him. That’s why Daniel quitted his job with Inskip and stared to work in Humber’s stable. It was a real hell for the lads over there. They had to sleep in beds without a mattress and pillow, their kitchen was a stable furnished with a table, a couple of chairs and a washbasin and they had almost no food. However they were better paid than in other stables. Over there, Daniel found out that Paul Adams and Hedley Humber started collaborating in a scheme for ensuring winners about four year ago, when Adams bought a house in Northumberland. Also Jud Wilson and Cass, both lads were involved, but none of them does as much stable work as their jobs would normally entail, although they are well paid. Both own big cars of less than a year old.
Adams and Huber’s scheme is based on the fact that horses learn by associating and connect noises to events. Like dogs who would come to the sound of a bell because they thought it meant feeding time, horses hearing the feed trolley rattling across a stable yard know very well that their food is on the way. If the horse is used to a certain consequence following closely upon a certain noise, he automatically expects the consequence whenever he hears the noise. If something frightened were substituted – if for instance, the rattle of the feed trolley were followed always by a trashing and no food – the horse would soon be fear the noise, because of what followed.
Fear is the stimulant which Adams and Humber have used. The appearance of the ‘doped’ horses after they had won – the staring, rolling eyes and the heavy sweat – was due to their having been in a state of terror.
Fear strongly stimulates the adrenal glands, so that they flood the bloodstream with adrenaline and the effect of adrenaline is to release the extra energy needed to deal with the situation, either by fighting back or by running away. Running, in this case, at top speed. The noise which triggered off their fear is the high note of whistle used for training dogs. Horses can hear it well, thought to human ears it is faint. This fact makes it ideal for the purpose. They frightened the horses using a fire-spitting apparatus.
Adams and Humber chose horses that looked promising throughout their careers but had never won. They bought them cheaply one at a time, instilled into them a noise-fear association and sold them again. Having sold a horse with such a built-in accelerator, Adams and Humber waited for it to run in a race. When the horse then was lying fourth or fifth in the last furlong, Adams and Humer blew the whistle to let him win. Because of the fact that these horses were actually losers, they had very long odds and so Adams and Humber could earn much money.
Because Humber and Adams found out that Daniel knew about their scheme, they wanted to kill him. They had already done this with a journalist who also knew about their plans. Although during the fight between Adams, Humber and Daniel, it was Adams who had been killed by Daniel. That’s why he landed in jail. But with the help of National Hunt Racing he was let off and because he had done his job so well the British government asked him if he was interested in working as a spy for them. He said yes and it changed his life.
6. Main Characters
Mr. Roke has two sisters, Belinda and Helen and a thirteen-year-old brother, Philip. Belinda wants to go to medical school, Helen to art school and Philip wants to become a lawyer, if he is still of the same mind when he grows up.
He is a member of the body which governs National Hunt Racing – that is to say, steeplechasing, jumpracing – in England.
Mr. October has also two girls, Elinor and Patricia and a boy. One daughter is at university and the twin boy and girl have recently left school.
7. Evaluation and appreciation
It’s one of the best books I have ever read. Maybe it’s also because it’s about racehorses and in my spare time I work with racehorses myself. For Kicks is very thrilling. Normally I read such a book in month, but because I couldn’t wait to know the end I have read it all at once.
Some other comments
- The New York Times Book Review -
- Current Literature -
Dick Francis was born in Pembrokeshire, South Wales, in October 1920. As a youngster, Dick Francis was a keen horseman and won many 'best boy rider' awards at all the major horse shows between the wars. In 1940 he joined up in the RAF and finished the war as a Lancaster bomber pilot having initially trained on Spitfires. On demobilisation he returned to the saddle, becoming a steeplechase jockey. He was Champion Jockey in the 1953-54 season and is perhaps best known for riding the luckless Devon Loch, owned by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, when he came so heartbreakingly close to winning the 1956 Grand National when Devon Loch slipped up just 40 yards from the winning post when well in front.
Important happenings during his life:
Andere boeken van deze auteur:
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