By BARRY LICHTER
They say a picture is worth a thousand words and this image of Nicky Chilcott saluting to the heavens as Reign hits the winning post at Cambridge is a perfect illustration.
In what Nicky later described as the most emotion-charged moment of her nearly three decades in the sulky, the expression on her face was enough to tell a remarkable story.
It came just four days after part-owner Cliff Thomas died at the age of 90 and was on the eve of his funeral.
The fairytale win with a trotter who had been battling to find form released all the grief she felt from losing a lifelong friend.
And the acknowledgements from her fellow drivers of ‘good on you Nicky’ were enough to keep the tears flowing.
Never mind a thousand words, you couldn’t have got 10 out of Nicky as she ungeared the horse, praying nobody would come near her because she knew she’d start bawling.
“I’m not a religious person but it’s actually spooky how often this happens,” she forced out later.
“One of the first things that went through my mind after we crossed the line was how this exact same thing happened with Reign’s mum Landora’s Jewel.”
Nicky wore black armbands for Jewel’s first win in May, 2012, to mark the death of her co-owner and breeder Graham Chisholm.
Just seconds after Reign, out on his feet after leading throughout, managed to stave off late runs from Safrakova and Sir Henry Castleton, Nicky heard the siren go.
“I was desperately trying to think back on the race wondering when I might have done something wrong.”
The inquiry surrounded the home stretch break of fourth-placed Flying Scotsman who was later disqualified.
Nicky said she wasn’t surprised Reign was legless near the finish - he even knuckled over badly 100 metres from home - but she never drew the whip, instead urging him with both reins.
“I knew he was doing his best and it was his first start for two months after he had a foot abscess then caught a bug.
“I’d been so careful with him, not working him too much because he was still coughing a bit.
“But I thought I’ll try to get the front and roll along. When I looked at the clock we were going quicker than I thought - he’s quite deceptive the way he gets over the ground.
“Down the back I got the hood off and early in the run home I couldn’t hear anything coming. Then I heard David (Butcher) yelling and I knew his horse Sir Henry Castleton had a sprint on him.”
Reign, however, seemed to know what was at stake and held on to score by one and three-quarter lengths, dragging his feet over the line in a 62.1 last half.
“I’ve obviously had bigger wins but none so important for me,” Nicky said.
And watching a video replay of the finish at Cliff’s service the next day the tears returned as service MC Dennis Trotter declared nobody but Cliff could have organised his send-off to such a perfect degree.
“You’re going to need his,” Nicky whispered as she lay the Cambridge racebook on Cliff’s coffin alongside RSA poppies and sprigs of rosemary.