This Winter, Anne Hambleton, former eventer, steeplechase rider, pony clubber and now devoted fox-hunter, published her first novel, drawing on her life-long love of horses and riding. Anne’s book, Raja, the Story of a Racehorse, begins at a stud farm where the handsome, black foal with aristocratic genes stands out among the others. With a Kentucky Derby winner as his sire, a great name is needed to seal great expectations; he is named “Raja”, meaning “hope” in Arabic, and “king” in India, by the owner’s daughter.
As is the case of many modern thoroughbreds, his life is marked by changes, both minute and catastrophic, that take him from a safe, caring and respectful environment where he is “special,” to places where he is but one of many and “not so special”. Woven through this “first-horse” narrative are the voices of his dam and the Arabic princess who had named him but who is pulled from his life by the exigencies of the 911 attacks. His dam told him, “Remember this always; even when life is hard, never, ever give up.” Princess Ayesha told him, “You’re the most perfect thing in the universe and I will always love you.” He will need the strength of these memories to pull him through because, as the farm manager reminds us, “racing is a business, plain and simple. It’s a beautiful sport, but you can’t be sentimental if you want to win at the highest levels.”
Anne Hambleton’s commitment to riding and horses has continued unabated throughout her varied academic and business lives. During the years that she was a steeplechase jockey she was working full-time at her home in Vermont and commuting to the Delaware Valley of Pennsylvania on weekends to race horses. When she left steeplechasing, she picked up three day eventing and continued the commute. These days she is still commuting from her farm to foxhunt with Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds. She has taken the sum of these experiences to author Raja.
In 2002, she rode her horse Holtzman, who is the model for one of the characters in Raja, at Mr. Lady’s Manor Races in Monkton, Maryland. The trip to the races, about two hours from the barn where Holtzman was trained in Unionville, Pennsylvania by Lilith Boucher, brought along fellow jockey, Don Cochran, as friend, as well as two grooms, brother and sister Gina and Brian Korrell. When a horse goes to the races, or any other event for that matter, there are many more people behind the success of the horse than just the rider.
Anne arrives early and walks the course with fellow jockey Don Cochran.
Anne fills the pad with lead prior to weighing in.
Weighing in with boots on and tack in hand.
After weighing in, back to the holding barn to do some last minute braiding.
Besides the rider herself, the horse has been accompanied to the races by the trainer and two grooms, here, Gina Korrell fixing the flash.
Trainer Lilith Boucher applies hoof polish.
Brian Korrell finishes the bandages with tape.
Brian Korrell places the anti-slip pad, then the saddle....
... then extends the front legs to stretch.
Holtzman, led by Gina, leaves the holding barn for the paddock.
Checking the tattoo against the entry.
Pre-race in the paddock.
Moments before the race are time for reflection.
Brian and Gina give Anne a leg up.
Led to the start by an outrider.
Horses get a look at the first jump before the flag falls for the start of the race.
Racing in the meadow, a half mile from home.
Anne is first to the last fence.
Over the last fence.
Landing, then off.
Heading to the finish line.
Anne's husband, Dave, her most ardent supporter, helps remove her helmet.
Off to weigh in after the race.
Between the last fence and the finish, Holtzman lost the momentum and came in second. Anne got a congratulatory hug from the eventual winner anyway.
Gina takes Holtzman back to the holding barn for a bath.
Hotwalking and the occasional sip of water before the bath.
Trainer Lilith Boucher bathes Holtzman.
"You are the most perfect thing in the universe and I will always love you."
Anne and Holtzman
Putting on the shipping bandages.
Rest and relaxation, grass for Holtzman, before loading up to ship home.
I was struck, as I prepared these photographs ten years later, that every person who made an appearance in this photo-essay is still active in steeplechase, still supporting each other in the pre-race paddock and most importantly, imparting the love of the sport to the next generation.
These days, Anne grooms for Maggie Buchanan who is busy checking the program before the Small Pony Race at The Cheshire Races.
Leading Maggie in the paddock, pre-race.
Gina Korrell groomed for her sister-in-law, trainer Elizabeth Korrell at the 2010 Brandywine Point to Point, where Elizabeth's husband, Brian, was the jockey.
Gina on the way to the paddock.
Brian, about to weigh in prior to the race, chats with Don Cochran, who still rides as a jockey in the races and now gives of his time as a member of the Delaware Valley Point to Point Committee.
Off to the start on Voice of Power.
Over the stonewall, half-way through the race.
This years Cheshire Races finds Brian riding his wife's horse again.
The paddock is a family affair. Elizabeth Korrell and her daughter chat with the groom on the way out to the course to watch the race.
Brian, over the stake and bound, heading to the final lap.
Brian, in green, ten yards from the finish line.
Don Cochran prior to the 2012 Cheshire Heavyweight Race.
Don Cochran, to the left, on Armed Brat, a horse he has campaigned for several years.
Don Cochran heads for home.
With the publication of Raja, Anne has synthesized the details of her rich life in horse sports with the elements of a terrific and engrossing story. As in the book, the same people appear and re-appear in her life providing continuity and community. She has lived the life she conjures in the book and continues to come to the races as spectator and mentor.
Her novel is so well crafted it is appropriate for a young reader and captivating enough for an adult. I couldn’t put it down.
For More information, or to order a copy of Raja, please visit the website: