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追悼:エアグルーヴという宿病

私の好きな写真家の藤原新也さんは、かつて標高4000mのチベットのこれ以上青くしようのない、真っ青な空の下で暮らして以来、下界に降りて、いかなる土地に行っても空が濁って見えるという宿病を背負ったという。私もかつてエアグルーヴという牝馬と出会い、その競走生活を共に過ごして以来、牝馬のいかなる走りを見せられても霞んで見えてしまうという宿病を背負った。私の名牝の時計は、エアグルーヴから10年間、止まったままであった。

エアグルーヴの強さは、「古馬になってから牡馬と互角以上に渡り合った」ということに集約される。牝馬にとって、古馬の牡馬と戦うことは非常にツラいことである。牝馬と牡馬では威圧感がまるで違うため、ほとんどの牝馬は古馬の牡馬と戦うともみくちゃにされてしまい、3歳時の輝きは色褪せ、古馬になって全く走らなくなってしまう。苛酷な戦いによって、心臓発作や心不全を起こしてしまうことさえある。それほど、古馬の牡馬と戦うこと自体が、牝馬にとっては厳しいことなのだ。逆に言うと、古馬の牡馬と互角以上に渡り合ってこそ、最強牝馬の称号を得るに相応しいということである。

エアグルーヴが4歳時に勝利した天皇賞秋は、サイレンススズカが速く厳しいペースで引っ張り、長い直線でのバブルガムフェローとの叩き合いを制した激しいレースであった。充実期にあったバブルガムフェローを競り落としたことが衝撃的であった。しかも、牝馬特有の切れ味で差し切ったのではなく、最後まで牡馬の超一流とビッシリと叩き合い、競り落としての勝利であった。

それから11年後の天皇賞秋。ウオッカとダイワスカーレットという2頭の名牝によって、私の宿病はようやく癒された。7ヵ月の休み明けにもかかわらず、前半1000mが58秒7という淀みのないペースでレースを引っ張り、一旦バテたように見えたところから再び差し返してきたダイワスカーレットもさすがなら、古馬の牡馬たちを蹴散らし、勢いのある3歳のダービー馬との400m以上にもわたる叩き合いを制したウオッカの強さは鮮やかであった。霞が晴れた私の目には、ウオッカとダイワスカーレットの間を並んで走るエアグルーヴの姿が映った。3頭の最強牝馬たちはどこまでも駆けてゆく。

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