By: Girl Bard
firstname.lastname@example.orgDisclaimer: I don't own Xena or Gabrielle. But these girls are mine.
Subtext: Yes. J
Summary: What can I say; I'm a horseracing nut who has Derby fever. This story is the result.
Feedback: Pretty please with a cherry on top. email@example.com
Dedication: My beta readers and fans are a constant source of support and encouragement. I appreciate all your time and effort!!! I also thank my girlfriend for just being herself. I'd still be living in crappy Ohio if it weren't for you.
"Riders' up!" The shrill voice of the paddock announcer rang through the crowded space. My stomach immediately tightens as the groom boosts me onto the tall back of the horse. I'm riding a big gray 2-year old in the first race called Far Away and we don't stand much of a chance. The horse is talented but lightly raced and large splotches of nervous perspiration cover his body; a sure sign he is using most of his energy in the paddock rather than on the track.
The ring smells of sweat and tension. I gather the reins in my clammy palms and clear my throat nervously as the trainer approaches. Bill Lewis is one of the most successful in the business and I'm thrilled just to be riding for him. My agent called me just this morning to tell me I was needed to fill in for Lewis' normal jock that was in a spill yesterday. I have mounts for the first two races, one of them the favorite in the race.
"Don't lose." Lewis speaks clearly, his voice firm. Laughing, he pats my leg, a fake smile appearing on his face. "Lighten up girl, you're making the horse nervous. Break quick and keep him in front."
"Yes sir." I reply, nodding briskly. The lead rider on horseback trots over and gathers Far Away's rein, directing us onto the track for the warm-up. I rise in the stirrups, posting to the big gray's graceful trot.
"Easy mister." I tell the horse as he pranced across the track, his hooves sinking into the deep mud. It has been raining for the past few days, leaving the track muddy and slow. It won't suit my gray well; he is large and long-legged, making it more difficult for him to run in the slop.
Easing the horse into a canter, I take a moment to observe the other horses in the race. It is a small field of seven, all of them youngsters who haven't won a race. Although my jockey experience is limited, I still know that this situation is the most dangerous. A bunch of babies with little racing experience on a muddy track is as unpredictable and unsafe as you can get.
"You okay miss?" The attending rider questions and I swallow nervously.
"I'm fine." I reply, forcing a smile on my face.
'Calm down!' I berate myself internally. 'Mr. Lewis is right; you're making the horse more nervous by acting this way. Remember to breathe and keep everyone safe.' It doesn't matter how many times I go to post, it still makes me nervous, every time. I've asked more experienced jocks if they still feel the same way, even after riding for years. They've all told me that something was wrong if I wasn't nervous. Somehow, that really didn't make me feel better.
The ride to the starting gate seems too short and I brush back the loose tendrils of blonde hair escaping from my helmet as we prep to load.
"You're up first, Dietz." The starter calls as Far Away is led easily into postposition one. Grateful for his compliance, I pat the gray's damp coat as we wait for the other six horses to load.
Only a few put up a fuss, and for a brief second all seven horses stand unmoving in the starting gate. I take a sharp inhale of breathe as the bell sounds and the gates spring open.
Far Away lunges out of the gate and I am thrown off balance as the big gray struggles to find his footing in the mud. The other horses are sliding all around us and for a moment I honestly think we are all going down. Panicked, I grab onto a fistful of the gray's mane and push myself upward back into position using the gray's neck.
Somehow, all of the horses stay on their feet and begin surging down the track. Far Away thankfully finds his stride and I choose to keep him slightly off of the inside rail where the track is at it's most dangerous.
As they round the first turn, we are fourth, blocked from advancing by two frontrunners and a horse directly to our right. I know I am not following Mr. Lewis's instruction to keep the gray in front and desperately I search for a hole to slip him through without using the deep inside rail.
The pace is slow, almost maddeningly so. With a half mile left to go, I know I have to make my move. Far Away is becoming angry at the mud flying in his face from the horses in front of him and he begins to pull on the reins, almost jerking them out of my wet hands.
I can't make out anything except the cloudy forms of the horses in front of us. Using my shoulder to rub my goggles clean, the gray uses this to his advantage and yanks his head to grab the bit between his teeth.
In full control now, he surges forward, coming dangerously close to clipping the heels of the horse directly in front of him. I yell a warning, my scream drowned out by the resounding thud of the horses' hooves in the mud. Sawing the reins in my hand, I desperately try to dislodge the bit from the gray's teeth. He throws his head in anger and I have no choice but to yank him to the inside rail.
Two furlongs to go, and the gray has a clear path to the wire. I let the reins slip through my hands and Far Away flies past the two front-runners. As soon as we are safely in front of them I directed him back to the firmer part of the track. We are now all alone, and in front.
The roar of the crowd fills my ears, and for a second I actually think we might win this race. Urging him forward with my hands and voice, my legs pump frantically at his sides. I hear the thud of the hoof beats behind us and know the closers are making their move. Far Away responds gamely and as the muddy head of the number four horse appears at the gray's hindquarters, my horse kicks into another gear and begins to pull away. I wave my whip at my gray, and as the wire grows closer I don't think we can lose. And then the gray quits.
Like a car out of gas, he staggers and it seems as if we are moving backwards. The other horses surge past him and I bring my whip down on his flanks once, knowing it is to no avail.
I put her whip away. It will do no good to continue to hit him, and instead I concentrated on just bringing him home safely.
Far Away gallops under the wire, beaten by all but two horses. I pat his sweaty neck as I let him cool out, taking careful notice for any irregularities in his long stride. A good jockey should be able to tell even the slightest problem with their horse.
It wasn't the gray's fault, I know. He was too worked up before the race began, and the track wasn't to his liking. After riding him, I think the race was too long for him; he is a sprinter and should race no longer than a mile. Those facts combined with the bad break from the gate, and it was no wonder he lost.
The lead rider meets me on the track and once again takes the gray's reins. "What a mess." He comments to my mud-covered form, and I smile.
"Yeah, doesn't suit him well." I'm relieved the race is over as I pat Far Away's neck, adding; "He tried."
"That he did. Nice job keeping him out of trouble." The rider responds as we arrive back at the paddock.
As soon as Far Away's groom takes hold of the horse I dismount and whip my mud-covered goggles off. Smiling at the groom I give the gray one last pat before he is led away.
"What the hell happened?" Mr. Lewis asks, appearing in front of me. Looking up into his angry face, I answer him honestly, telling of the bad break, sloppy track, and the too-long length of the race.
"You dumb-assed girl jock! Don't you dare give me excuses! I told you to get him out front and stay there. What part of that didn't you understand?" His raises his voice and I feel my face turn red with humiliation.
It isn't unheard of for jockeys to be bawled out by trainers, it happens everyday. Trainers blame jockeys for losses and jockeys blame trainers.
"I'm sorry, sir. I felt I would danger the horse by following your instructions." I reply meekly, but I can feel my anger radiating out of my entire being.
"I don't give a shit about the horse, I give a shit about winning!" The trainer shouts. "You get your head together for the second race, and don't even think of disappointing me again." He finishes, storming off to the barn.
"Jerk." I mutter to his back as I watch him walk away.
"Nah, jerk isn't the right word for him." A low voice responds from over my shoulder. Turning toward the sound, I see a tall dark-haired woman standing behind me. She's beautiful and dressed elegantly, and I don't really know how to respond.
The woman smiles, continuing, "I'd say he's an asshole."
I laugh, feeling the mud on my face crack. Wiping it off self-consciously, I smile my thanks to the tall woman.
"I really needed that." I mention.
"Looked that way." She responds, extending her hand. "I'm Dena Santoro."
My mouth goes dry as I realize whom I am speaking with. I really shouldn't be bad mouthing Lewis in front of anyone. I wipe my mud-covered hands on my silks before returning her handshake. "Gen Dietz, but you can call me dumb-assed girl jock." I add, smiling.
Dena's smile grows. "So you're the Dietz I've been hearing so much about. Rumor has it you're the hot new talent Lewis scooped up."
I blush, ducking my head. "I don't know if I'd call me the hot new talent after that ride." I answer.
"Nonsense." She chides gently. "Believe me, Lewis is an asshole who doesn't know anything about his horses. His horse shouldn't have even run today, the race is far too long for him and he can't handle the mud. He should be thanking you that his horse didn't break his neck." Dena pauses, smiling again. "Or yours either."
"I guess." I respond, feeling like an idiot. Here I am talking to a trainer, a potential boss, and I can't even think of anything intelligent to say. I see my dirty reflection in her mirrored sunglasses and realize just how disgusting I look. "I've really got to be going, I'm up in the second race."
Dena grins. "I know. You're racing against my best filly. Take it easy on her, okay? She's my future Derby winner."
I can't help but smile back at her; she's just so beautiful. "Future Derby winner, huh? You're not aiming her for the Oaks instead?" I question, knowing that in the 129 years the Kentucky Derby has been run, a filly has won it less than ten times. Most trainers aim their fillies for the Kentucky Oaks, a race run a day before the Derby.
The tall trainer gives an enigmatic smile, shrugging her shoulders. "Who knows? Every girl has her day, right?"
I nod my head; completely entranced by the way her round lips caress each word. "Yeah. Good luck." I tell her before practically running to the jockey's room.
The entire way there, Dena Santoro dominates my thoughts. I've seen her around the track from afar, but never realized how beautiful she is. She's not well liked by many of the other trainers; her methods of training are a bit unconventional and she's very outspoken in her beliefs. But I like what I've heard about her, she's humane and always puts her horses first. I guess she's ripped a few jocks a new one when she thinks they've ridden her horses too hard during a race. From what I've seen of in her icy exchange with Lewis, I certainly wouldn't want to be on her bad side.
In record time I strip off my soiled silks and pull on the fresh ones neatly laid out for me. Snapping the thick rubber bands around my wrist to keep my sleeves from becoming bunched, I secure my helmet and pull on my tall boots.
The weigh-in goes smoothly, and I easily make my weight. I'm lucky in the fact that I'm naturally small and can make the lightest weights, unlike some of the bigger male jocks. They spend their days in the steam room trying to squeeze off those extra pounds.
Soon I am nervously standing in the paddock waiting for my horse and I sneak a look to where Dena is saddling her impressive filly. She's a small horse, smaller than most Thoroughbreds I've seen, but there's something about her that is commanding. She's a bright bay, a fiery auburn color with a coal black mane and tail. What is most striking are the large amounts white that splash her legs and face. She's beautiful.
Dena moves with a fluid motion as she saddles the filly. The filly, in turn, stands perfectly still observing the crowd. She doesn't seem excited or worked up, but the brightness in her eyes conveys she knows exactly what will happen today. The filly's name is Foxfire, and I think it suits her perfectly.
Inwardly I groan as I see Mr. Lewis approach. I plaster a smile on my face as he walks up to me, hoping to avoid any conflict about the last race.
"Ready?" He asks me as my horse is led over. I nod and am boosted into the saddle. I really like my horse, I've seen him run a few times and was surprised by his speed and determination to win.
"This is the best horse you'll ever ride, girl." Lewis tells me rudely. "He breaks slow, but likes to run at the back of the pack. Keep him there until two furlongs remain and make your move. There isn't a better horse in the field, you should win easily."
At his words, I glance to Dena's filly. The two horses are complete opposites, the filly small and brightly painted, and my colt big and plain. But looks don't matter in horse racing, speed does.
"How will the race play out, sir?" I ask as I straighten myself in the saddle.
"The filly will break fast and go to the front, the rest of the horses will be bunched together. You should be behind all of them." He answers abruptly, already turning away.
If there's one thing I hate, it's rudeness. And Mr. Lewis is just plain rude.
At the gate, I wait patiently on my chestnut colt, Foghorn. He is quiet and stands still, but I can feel him shaking. I talk softly to him and pat his long neck, trying to ensure him that I'm his friend.
Dena's filly has drawn the inside rail post, a lucky draw for a front-running horse. Victor Gomez, a legend of a jockey is up on her and I know he'll break her quickly and then steer her just outside of the deep mud at the rail. They will be hard to beat if the filly is as good as Dena says.
It's a big field today, twelve horses total. Everyone has Derby fever, and trainers are struggling to look at their stable of three-year-olds to find a potential Derby horse.
The starter nods at me and calls my name. I encourage Foghorn in the gate as the assistant starters push his haunches in. A few horses load after us and I rise in the saddle, giving Foghorn ample rein for the break.
"And they're off!" The voice of the track announcer calls, as we break cleanly from the gate. Already the crowd is cheering, even though they are in the stands far away and cannot see the first few furlongs of the race. But these are three year olds, possible Derby horses, and to them, it's exciting enough.
As expected, Dena's filly has burst from the gate and is leading the pack. The other ten horses are bunched in front of us and despite Foghorn's attempt to run with them, I take his rein in and place him dead last in the field.
He settles nicely as we round the first turn. Unlike my gray in the race before, Foghorn has no trouble covering the muddy track. He is completely relaxed and confident in the mud.
This is what I love about being a jockey, the feeling of utter freedom combined with the adrenaline of the entire race. It's like being on a runaway roller coaster but in control the entire time. It scares me to death, but in a good way I guess.
Three furlongs to go and I start looking for a path to slip Foghorn through. The horses bunched in front of me are tiring, except for a few that are still being held on a tight rein. Seeing an opening, I steer Foghorn to the right. He complies and effortlessly squeezes through the hole. I'm chanting 'good boy' over and over to him, letting him know I appreciate his effort.
I maneuver him once again to the right and he bumps shoulders lightly with the outside horse that immediately drops back. We use the opening to our advantage and are now at the near front of the bunched pack. Directing Foghorn over closer to the filly running just off of the rail, he stretches out into a ground-covering stride.
Foxfire whips past the two-furlong marker, and I know now's the time. "Yah!" I yell to Foghorn as I let the slick leather slide through my hands. He responds with a burst of speed that almost throws me backwards.
In a few strides we are at the filly's side. Her jock looks over and at me and smiles. Then, Gomez leans in closer to his filly and lets her run.
I've never seen a horse with such speed. The filly switches into another gear and easily pulls away from us. Foghorn valiantly increases his speed and his long strides pull us almost abreast with the filly.
One furlong to go. My stomach is dancing with anticipation as I use my crop on Foghorn. The taps are enough to remind him of his job and he sticks his neck out in front of Foxfire's. The wire grows closer, and I encourage Foghorn with everything I have. He is trying his heart out for me and when out of the corner of my eye I see Gomez give the filly full rein, I know the race is over.
With a burst of speed the filly bolts by us, gliding under the wire and winning by a length. I stand fully in my stirrups after we cross and ask Foghorn to slow down.
He does, and I pat his sweaty neck, praising him for his hard work. The crowd is going wild, and I know we've given them a good show. My horse is good, very good, but today the filly was better.
We ride up alongside Gomez, who is galloping the filly out. She looks like she's not even raced, her eyes bright and her breathing almost at normal rate. "Good race." I tell him and he grins.
"Thought you were gonna steal it from me." He answers in heavily accented Spanish as he pats his filly. "But she is something, eh?" He smiles proudly.
"You did good." Gomez mentions as he rides away. Surprised by his compliment, it is my turn to smile and I'm beaming all the way through the weigh-in and the ride back to the paddock.
Until I see Mr. Lewis' face. He looks livid, his skin red and splotchy. I dismount from my chestnut, patting him with sadness as I realize I'll probably never ride him again. He has a lot of class, and if Lewis trains him right he could easily be a contender in the Triple Crows races.
"What is your problem? Do you not know how to ride?" He begins as I strip off my filthy helmet and goggles.
I decide not to answer him, knowing whatever I say will piss him off more.
"Answer me, girl!" Lewis yells in rage as he forcefully grabs my arm.
"Now, now Bill." A familiar voice calls from behind me. "That is no way to treat a lady, you should know better."
Lewis releases my arm, and I try to rub the stinging pain away.
"Shut up, Dena. Stay out of this, it's none of your damn business." He growls as I turn to see the tall trainer standing next to me.
"Oh, but I think it is." She replies coolly, a smirk on her face. "My employees are always my business."
I look up at her questioningly, wondering what she's talking about.
"Your employee?" Lewis answers, laughing. "What in the hell do you want with her?" He finishes, pointing at me.
"Wouldn't you like to know?" Dena says smoothly as she looks down to address me; continuing, "Have your agent call me and we'll work out the details." She smiles rudely at Mr. Lewis. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to get to the winners' circle."
I'm speechless as I watch her begin to walk away.
"Fuck you." Lewis spits at her back and Dena turns, the same cool smile on her face.
"Not on your best day." She replies and I bite back laughter.
Mr. Lewis looks at me, obviously expecting me to say something. I know I should disregard what she said about wanting to hire me and apologize to him. He has a huge stable full of horses and I know I can always earn enough to live by continuing to ride for him. To snub such a prominent trainer so early in my career would be stupid. Not to mention how it would look if I left his barn to ride for Dena, where I will have even less job security and practically blacklist myself with everyone else in the business. But Gomez rides for her and he has no trouble getting mounts. Then again, Gomez is such a great jock that he could get whatever horse he wanted.
"Well?" He asks, a cocky look on his face like he already knows what I'm going to say.
Shrugging my shoulders, I smile sweetly at him. Oh well, I never said I was smart. "I'll see you around. Good luck in the Derby." I wave and his face turns completely red with anger.
Before Lewis can say anything else to me, I run to the jockey's lounge to change. I leave my silks folded in front of my locker and head for the showers.
I'm still reeling from the conversation. Did Dena Santoro really just offer me a job? What did she mean, a full time position as one of her backup riders or as an exercise rider? Or what if she just needs a stable hand? I don't know what I'll do if I just gave up a job riding with the best trainer to muck out stalls. For some reason, it just doesn't seem to matter.
I hurry through my shower and pull on clean clothes. After wearing the tight silks, it feels so nice to be in jeans and a t-shirt. I decide to head over to Dena's barn, calling my agent on the way to tell him to give her a call. He tells me I'm crazy and ruining my career, but he'll get right on it, and I hope he does.
Still, I want to go and see how the filly cooled out. She ran a tough race, but it didn't seem to faze her. She sure ran like a Derby winner, and I wonder how serious Dena is about aiming her for the big race.
Enjoying the warm weather, I make the walk to the barns where the horses are stabled. I've heard that Dena doesn't rent space to keep her horses here at Saratoga, but owns a barn a few miles away. A few days before the race she has her horses shipped up and soon after they run they go back home.
It's a beautiful sunny Florida day; warm enough to eventually dry out the muddy track, but not so hot as to be uncomfortable. I can't seem to get used to spending February in a t-shirt rather than bundled up in a winter parka. My home state of Wisconsin probably has two feet of snow right now.
Arriving at Dena's space in the barn, I'm greeted by one of her grooms. He looks at me questioningly, and I grin at him.
"I'm Gen Dietz, Ms. Santoro kind of hired me today." I offer as an explanation and the groom smiles.
"Nice to meet you, I'm Charlie." He offers his dark hand to mine and I shake it forcefully. "You a jock, or just underfed?" Charlie questions, his dark eyes twinkling.
I chuckle, immediately taking a liking to this easy-going man. "I'm a jock, I was just up on the horse that couldn't beat Foxfire." I explain, and Charlie's eyes light up in pride.
"No one can beat her." He tells me. "She's under my care and I've been in this business twice as long as you've been alive. I've never seen better." Charlie states.
"Can I see her?" I ask and he nods, leading me over to her stall.
The filly looks even smaller than I remember, and when Charlie opens the stall door she immediately pops her head up and affectionately nuzzles his chest.
Her inky forelock obscures one of her eyes and the groom pushes it back.
I offer the filly my closed hand to sniff, allowing her to become accustomed to my scent before patting her. She searches for treats, and when she realizes I have none she turns her attention back to her groom.
We both laugh at the filly's actions, especially when Charlie reaches in his pocket and offers her a peppermint. The filly crunches happily and then allows me to pat her silky coat.
"You spoiling her again Chuck?" Dena's smooth voice calls from the end of the aisle. "That horse is going to have the freshest breath this side of the Mississippi."
I grin at Dena as she walks up and she returns my smile easily. She takes off her sunglasses to adjust to the dim barn and for the first time I see her cerulean blue eyes. They are stunning, and I get so lost in them I hardly realize she's talking to me.
"Glad to see you here Dietz, I've just got off the phone with your agent. Want to ride over to the farm with me and I'll show you the ropes?"
Snapping back to attention, I nod eagerly. After saying a quick goodbye to Charlie and the filly I follow Dena to her truck.
I notice as drive out of the crowded track, Dena merrily waves to trainers as we pass. For the most part, they glare at her or mutter under their breaths rather than return her friendly wave.
"I'm not well-loved around here, Dietz." She mentions; her silky voice filled with mirth. "Some might just say you played career suicide." Her mouth curls in a faint grin as she turns her amazing eyes to mine.
I shrug in response. "I didn't like Lewis anyway, but his chestnut I rode in the last race was pretty good." I tell her honestly.
"He's got talent, but he's been raced too much in his young life. I hope Lewis stops running him every few weeks and lets him rest a bit." She responds. "How did my filly look?"
"Damn good." I answer, causing a full laugh to emerge from the trainer's tall form.
I like the sound of it, and I laugh along with her as we speed down the road.
As a horse lover, I'm impressed with Dena's farm. It's clean and has wide-open pastures for the horses in training to romp in. I think this is probably where she differs from most trainers; Dena allows her horses to live as naturally as possible, outside all day were most other trainers stable their horses on the track and never allow them to be outside without a rider on their back.
I've always thought the life of a racehorse was a sad existence, and I always battle with my conscious about being in a field I both love and hate. As a kid, I used to plaster myself to the TV and watch every race I could, I loved the excitement and the sheer beauty of watching Thoroughbreds battle each other. As I grew older, I realize the negative aspects of the sport, the thousands of horses killed or injured each year by negligent trainers or just bad luck.
But Dena seems different, and maybe she can influence the racing world for the better. I would love to be along for that ride.
Speaking of, I really need to ask her why she hired me and for what. Trainers usually don't hire a jockey outright, so I have no idea what my arrangement with her will be.
"Ms. Santoro, can I ask you about the position you offered me?" I ask her in mid-tour.
"Sure, Ms. Dietz." She grins. "By the way, don't call me that, Dena is fine. You'll find that we're very casual here."
"Okay, Dena." I tell her, rolling her name around on my tongue. "You can call me Gen." I add.
"I meant to ask you that before, is that short for Jennifer?" The trainer questions and I shake my head.
"No, it's G E N." I respond. "Short for Genevieve."
"Genevieve, huh?" Dena questions. "That's pretty." She winks at me. "So, anyway, you want to know what you'll be doing here."
Is she flirting with me? I wonder to myself, and quickly erase the thought from my head as I look at my attractive new boss. "Yes." I say distractedly in response to her statement.
"Well, I do things differently, and I've been looking for a jock who can adapt to my way of training and work for me full time. I liked what I saw of you in the two races today." Dena states and I tilt my head in confusion.
"But I lost." I state and she smiles.
"It doesn't matter." Dena responds. "In the first race, when your gray horse quit, most jocks would have beat the crap out of him, trying to salvage place or show money. You didn't, you knew he was done and you didn't break his heart just to place. The same when you were on Foghorn, you might have been able to beat my filly if you used your crop more and got after him. Most riders would, but you were content to encourage him when it was right and let him be when it wasn't. It impressed me."
"Oh." I answer, completely at a loss for words.
"So, in answer to your question, I would like you to ride the majority of my horses as well as help out around here at the farm. We all wear several hats here, and I'll plan on you completing daily chores and exercising horses. I have a spare room at the house that you're welcome to stay in and I'll pay you weekly rather than a percentage of what you win at the track. It's not a glamorous offer, and you won't get great career advancement like you would if you were a free agent riding for Lewis or any of the other big trainers." Dena states, and I think about what she's said in my head, sorting out the pros and cons.
"Will I get to ride the filly?" I ask, grinning to show her I'm kidding.
"Sure, I'll put her on your exercise list each morning." She responds easily and I think back to how effortlessly Foxfire pulled away to win today.
The memory of the filly's blinding speed and the intense blue gaze from Dena's eyes make my decision.
"I'm yours." I tell her, sticking out my hand in agreement.
"I know." Dena answers, a ghost of a smile on her full lips.
Releasing my hand, the trainer pats me on the back. "Come on, I'll put you to work."
Will Foxfire win the Derby? What will happen with Lewis? Will Dena and Gen broaden their relationship? Does anyone care? J
Should I continue with this story and its characters? Let me know, email your thoughts and suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org