They look comfortable enough together to put on some slow music and have a dance, make plans for dinner and go out for a movie together. He keeps gazing at her like he wants to read her some poetry: it’s a beautiful little scene.
He’s Redzel, two-time champion of The Everest, a big horse race that this year is on Saturday, October 19 at Randwick, NSW.
She’s Lauren Smyth, his strapper. No one quite knows a champion thoroughbred as intimately as a kind-hearted strapper.
She’s the one who feeds him. Washes him. Cleans him. Massages him. Cuddles him. Lets him roll in the hay. The sand. Ices his legs. Brushes his coat. Tickles his chin. Guides him to the track. Whispers encouragement. Starting time? Three-thirty in the morning. Every morning.
“Sometimes I wake at midnight and think: I just want to go to the yard now! I really want to go to the yard right now,” Smyth said at Snowden Racing’s Royal Randwick stables. “I just want to be here with him … It’s addictive. I just want to make sure he’s all right.”
Smyth has only been in the job for three months, initially fearful of the responsibility of caring for $15 million worth of equine* supremacy*.
“I was sick with nerves,” she says. “I was crying. I was on the phone to Mum: what am I supposed to do? What if he doesn’t like me? To start with, it was horrible … He didn’t want to know me. I was standing in there thinking: um, do I pat him? What do I do? Is he ever going to like me? I don’t think he’ll ever like me … he was so stand-offish. I saw how he interacted with people who had worked here for years, how they all messed about and played with him, but he would do none of that with me.”
The cold shoulder lasted about a month. “I’d go in and he was like: Oh, it’s you. Do what you have to do — and then leave,” she said.
“It was so awkward. Obviously I knew The Everest was coming up and I was thinking: this could be the worst few months of my life. Don’t stuff this up.
“But then the day after he won his first race, the Concorde (Stakes) in September, I was just sitting in his stable — and he came over and put his head in my lap. That was how he told me: we’re OK. I thought: we’re getting somewhere here. Ever since that day, he’s been brilliant.”
Smyth is a wonderfully cheerful soul. She keeps referring to Richie. I’m thinking: um, isn’t his name Redzel? Do we have the right horse here?
“I only ever call him Richie,” she grinned. “Redzel is his race name. Richie’s his stable name. His pet name. We don’t use race names here. There’s one called Land of Plenty. You don’t want to be calling out ‘come on, Land of Plenty’! So we call him Lappy. ‘Come on, Lappy!’
“I actually think at the start calling him Richie helped me get over the whole fear of caring for such an important horse.”
Smyth reckons Redzel knows when race day is. He kicks her bum gently as if to say: I know we’re on today!
“He has his head sticking over the stable door when I get here,” she said.
“He stretches out like a cat when he wakes up. And then he’s the first one on the track every morning. Quarter to four, he’s out on Randwick by himself. Richie wants it to himself.
“He really is Richie to me but then race day comes around and I think: Oh, Redzel!”
equine: to do with horses
supremacy: the quality of being the best
What are some of the tasks of a strapper?
How much is this racehorse worth?
What did Richie do the day after he won the Concorde Stakes race?
What does he do when he wakes up?
What time is Richie out on the training track each morning?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY
1. Another perspective
The article explains how the relationship developed between Redzel (Richie) and his strapper Lauren Smyth from Lauren’s perspective. Imagine you are interviewing Redzel about his relationship with Ms Smyth. Use your imagination (as well as information in the article) to help you retell this story from Redzel’s perspective. How did he view her when she first arrived? Why was he stand-offish? What made him change his opinion and then accept her? How does he feel about her now?
Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and Creative thinking
Although you probably haven’t met Redzel’s strapper, from reading the article you can get a sense of the qualities and characteristics that Lauren Smyth has. This ‘sense’ comes from both what is said and what is inferred. It can also come from prior knowledge you have about race horses and strappers.
Make a list of qualities you believe Ms Smyth might display in her work. Make a note next to each one why you believe this. Was it something that was said or inferred in the article? Or something you knew already about this industry?
For example: Persistent — She kept working there even though he initially didn’t appear like her.
Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Personal and Social Capabilities
With a partner see if you can identify all the doing words/verbs in this text. Highlight them in yellow and then make a list of them all down your page. Now see if you and your partner can come up with a synonym for the chosen verb. Make sure it still makes sense in the context it was taken from.
Try to replace some of the original verbs with your synonyms and discuss if any are better and why.
HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you like horses? Would you like being a strapper for a racehorse?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.