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Will you choose hope today?

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Hope

I’d LIKE to share with you the story of a horse; yes indeed, a race horse. A Turkish thoroughbred racehorse.

Now a legend beyond the hippodrome, Bold Pilot once again became the talk of the country late last year when the film Bold Pilot, our Champion brought this amazing horse and his equally legendary jockey Halis Karatas’s story from rags to riches to the big screen.

On the eve of the elections which will determine the course of the country for the next four years, you may be wondering why I am sharing with you the story of a horse from a faraway land. Bear with me.

Go out on to the streets of Istanbul or Ankara and ask the layman on the street the names of horses they remember from the ‘90s, you’re likely to hear the name Bold Pilot over and over again.

As racing experts have said time and again, neither his sire Persian Bold nor his dam Rosa Palumbo were exceptional horses.

Yet, years after he had retired from the track, when he made his final appearance at Veliefendi Hippodrome on June 30, 2013, thousands applauded Bold Pilot in a special ceremony to honour him and celebrate his career. So what made this horse so special?

Halis Karatas defined Bold Pilot as “a special horse with a big heart.” Soon after the two crossed paths in 1994, when Karatas was asked by one of Turkey’s leading horse owner Ozdemir Atman (whose last name in fact means Horseman) to pick promising colts to begin training them, Karatas laid eyes on Bold Pilot and didn’t bother look elsewhere again. So began the decade long love affair.

As Bold Pilot and Halis hit the racing track in 1995, Bold Pilot first became the top colt of 1995.

His place in people’s heart was carved out when he won eight championships out of nine races he competed in at the age of three, one of which was the main annual highlight of the Turkish racing calendar, the Gazi Race, which he finished in a record time of 2.26.22.

A record yet to be outdone by any other horse. He continued his winning streak that began on Oct. 15, 1995, until the Ankara Race, which it won on Oct. 13, 1996.

Bold Pilot was a champion who achieved the impossible by wining 11 top-level races within a year.

But it was beyond the continuous winning streaks which made this horse special. Anyone growing up in the ‘90s will have a more or less hazy recollection of the anchor’s words “And coming from behind fast in number 1 Bold Pilot!”

This was the ‘90s Turkey after all. Following two coups in the last two decades, years of strife and civil conflict, it was the dawn of the era of rising capitalism, populism, privatisation where the rich were getting richer, and the poor were getting poorer.

For the masses that poured into the big cities from the rural outback, with no streets paved in gold, and every day a struggle, Bold Pilot was not just a racehorse, he was the underdog.

The rebel that refused to enter the box at the starting line without kicking up a fuss first, so much so that thousands of people fell silent at the start of his races to make sure he was not distracted by the noise and got into the box without hurting himself, the horse that showed little promise at the start of the race, but quickened his pace at the final stretch, then passing the competition one by one, taking the lead and winning the race, anywhere between two to six lengths ahead.

For the poor and the hopeless, Bold Pilot became hope. The Turkish dream, so to speak. Masses came out in support because for them Bold Pilot was proof that they could make it.

“If Bold Pilot can, so can we” they’d say. They can rise from rags to riches, from the underdog to the champion, from the back of the race to the lead.

As for Nigeria, it seems today promises a race with two favourites, two veterans, two real contenders.

“In March 2015, as they prepared to cast their votes in a landmark presidential election, Nigerians found themselves facing a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea: Goodluck Jonathan, the then-incumbent whose administration was corrupt and largely inept; and Muhammadu Buhari, an erstwhile dictator known for his ethnoreligious biases,” writes Fisayo Soyombo on Al Jazeera.

“However, only four short years later, Nigerians preparing to head to the polls on Saturday once again found themselves between a rock and a hard place.

This time the choice is between Buhari, whose time in power has only served to embellish his unsavoury reputation, and Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president whose campaign has been undermined by repeated allegations of corruption,” he adds before asking, “So, how did Africa’s largest democracy end up here?”

Perhaps the time is now to find new voices, get behind new names, place our bets on the underdogs? When a nation needs it most, underdogs can come dressed in many shapes to bring new hope.

Sometimes it is a thoroughbred racehorse and his phenomenal jockey, at other times it’s the leader we least expected who can turn the fortunes of a long suffering country around.

Will you choose new hope today?


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