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Letter: Hope and expectation that turned to despair.

Byline: Howard Spooner

I SET out from my home in Hertfordshire on Sunday, January 14, leaving for the airport at about 7.15am to catch the 9.05am to Dublin, full of anticipation and excited about the prospect of my horse Breathing Fire - named by my three daughters Frankie, Alex and Gaby - running in one of the biggest races of the year in Ireland, the Pierse Hurdle.

It was about 10.15am when I strolled into Dublin airport to be greeted by Johnny Harrington, husband of trainer Jessica. I have met Johnny only about five times, but every time I am impressed with his humour and his whole attitude to life.

We set off for Leopardstown and, after a lively journey - I am sure Johnny will not mind me saying his 'other' job is not as a taxi driver - we arrived at the track at about 11.30am, albeit with a couple of horns ringing in my ear!

Straight into the owners' and trainers' bar for a pint of Guinness and surrounded by bonhomie and friendliness.

Full of hope and expectation, we progressed from the bar to the dining room, where the rest of Jesse's family were waiting and Maxine and Graham Cowdrey joined us, Max enthusiastic as ever, assuring me that Fire was all ready to run a big race. At that moment, I really thought he could win, or at very least be placed (obviously the Guinness was working!).

At about 2pm we followed Jesse down to saddle him up. He looked great, more alert than normal, as he had always been a fairly laid-back character, and then we were through with the preliminaries and up into the stand to watch the race.

From then on everything seemed to happen in slow motion . . . the run to the first, and then Max saying, "oh he's gone". And then the other runners were gone and Breathing Fire was lying there clearly badly, fatally, hurt - I knew, I could tell by Jesse's reaction.

I felt I was in a bad dream' that it was not happening. The screens went up and they had to miss out that last flight as he was still down. Johnny took me away, and then we were back in the bar.

By now I knew for sure that Breathing Fire was not going to get up' Eammon, Jesse's head lad, had departed without the horse, a tell-tale sign. The horse that Willie Musson had bought me four years earlier and who had brought Jessie and me together had gone in such cruel circumstances.

I love this game, and at times like these I question myself, but I know that, although it is perhaps a slightly guilty cliche, he died doing what he loved, and he also died loved - happy, I would say.We will never forget him and as I made my way home that night my thoughts turned to his empty box, his lass, Ewa Pawlik, who loved him and was away on holiday, to return to no horse.

I had the easy part, and would like now to thank all those involved in turning him into such a fantastic horse, who was poignantly entered to run in the Champion hurdle when the entries came out on Tuesday. As Jesse said, he had the ability to finish second in the Champion, but the head to finish second in a seller at Plumpton!

Finally, a prayer that I had to read at a friend's funeral, who died far too early as well, late last year, who also loved this racing game. I have read it again for Breathing Fire.

You can shed tears that he is gone,

Or you can smile because he has lived,

You can close your eyes and pray he'll come back,

Or you can open your eyes and see all that he's left,

Your heart can be empty because you can't see him,

Or you can be full of the love that you've shared,

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,

You can remember him and only that he's gone,

Or you can cherish his memory and let it live on,

You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back,

Or you can do what he'd want, smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

On to Cheltenham . . .

Howard Spooner
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jan 21, 2007
Words:725
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