Love is in the air.
The week following Valentine’s Day is traditionally when the birds start pairing up and choosing their mates. However, the rooks are already building their nests below the church—they start early, so that they can feed their young on the eggs and fledglings of other birds—and the woodpecker has been drumming his hollow tree for the past fortnight to seduce his heart’s desire.
Despite the cold, the days are lengthening and preparations for the coming year are everywhere to be seen, nowhere more so than in the great thoroughbred studs across the country.
Every horse has its birthday on January 1, irrespective of when it is actually born and, in the flat-racing world, where horses race mainly as two- and three-year-olds, being born as early in the year as possible gives a foal a precious advantage over his rivals born in May and June. A horse’s gestation period is 11 months long and so, just to be on the safe side, the first coverings start on February 15. Some desperate romantics have been known to begin a day earlier, despite the fact that a foal born on December 31 would be almost worthless.