Disclaimer: Please see Part 1.
I grin in return, giving him thumbs up as he carefully avoids splattering the filly and myself with the debris flying from his colts hooves.
Im finding that our status has now elevated Dena, the filly, and myself to a completely higher state of respect. Just a few weeks ago, no rider would have gone that out of his way to avoid getting us dirty.
Its kind of a nice feeling, actually.
Wiping my goggles free of the miserable driving rain that has not let up for the past five days, I continue keeping the filly at a constant slow jog. We were really hoping for some better weather to train in, but the forecast isnt calling for any let up of the rain any time soon.
The result is a deep, dangerous, track. Most of the afternoon races have been postponed, and track officials cant keep up with the huge amount of rain weve been getting.
As we pass the trainer, I notice Dena raise her arm above her head, her index finger raised. Thats my cue to go around once more, and the waving of her hand signals she would like me to ask for a little more speed.
Jiggling the reins, I offer Baby the chance to go faster. Usually she takes off and eagerly accepts any extra chance to go fast. Today, she merely maintains her slow pace and I frown.
Its been exactly one week since the Preakness and doesnt seem to be working well. Neither Dena nor myself can tell if its the crummy weather or if she is tired from the race.
Thinking back on the Preakness, Im now second-guessing myself by wondering if I should have held the filly back from winning so commandingly and saved some energy for the Belmont. Dena seemed less than pleased with her large margin of victory until I explained that holding her back during that final furlong would have been like trying to hold back a freight train.
But I completely understand Denas point of view. Baby embarrassed the field, badly. And there were some great colts in that race, especially the gray Sea Storm. Hes probably one of the best colts Ive seen in awhile, and our filly made him look no better than a claimer.
By staying with the field, we would have not only made the race look more competitive, but probably saved some of Babys energy for the Belmont, where the toil of the Derby and Preakness as well as the increased distance will take its effect on her the most.
Shaking my head, I slow the filly down to a walk and let her mosey around the track. We all get a lot of attention now, from racing fans who agonize over her every appearance, the constant harassment of the media, and the still-frequent phone calls regarding her status as being for sale.
Dena would never sell this filly, even if she were destitute and living on the street. She merely ignores the callers, and ignores the media paying close attention to Babys works.
Not that there have been many works. With the crappy condition of the track we have stuck to just jogging her slowly every morning, like usual. Dena is afraid to ask her to do any more than that really, but we are both itching to see how she covers the deep, muddy surface of this wet track.
I think Baby is tired, and the rowdy yet rainy atmosphere of Belmont isnt helping. Maybe we should fly her to the farm for the next week and a half, and then bring her back here to prep her for the Belmont.
Ill speak with Dena about it. It would do us all good to go home for a while, even if only to escape the press.
The filly jerks her head toward the barn, so I direct her over. Dena stands there, her arms crossed over her chest and her back turned toward the milling crowd gathered to watch the filly.
"Howd she feel?" The trainer asks, her bright eyes hidden behind her rain-spattered sunglasses.
I grin at the crowd. "Fine, shes as sharp as she can be with this weather."
They murmur and talk amongst themselves, a few of them snapping pictures. I smile and wave to the camera, observing Dena out of the corner of my eye as I know she is studying me from behind her mirrored lenses. I give her a small smile and a shrug and she nods in thought, as if she can read my mind.
Im sure she can read Babys, the filly is practically screaming "Im tired! Get me away from all this and back out into the sun!"
"Thats enough folks, go home and get out of the rain." The trainer says as she leads us back to the barn. She is quiet until we are safely out of earshot.
"Florida?" Dena suddenly speaks as she takes the fillys bridle off once we are in the barn.
I hop down, landing securely on my two feet. "Florida." I confirm as I take off my helmet and run my hands through my unruly hair. "Have you ever flown her?"
Dena shakes her head as she turns the filly over to Charlie. "No, but she should be okay if Elmer goes. We should send Bits home too, and let Frank drive the van empty. It would save everyone time."
"Good idea." I tell her, looking forward to the quiet sanctuary of the farm myself. "It would do everyone good, I think."
The trainer nods. "Ill make the arrangements with Charlene, you fill everyone in and get them packed and ready to go. Id like to leave as soon as possible.
"Sure." I respond, meeting her eyes. "I think youre making the right decision."
Dena rewards me with a slight smile as she heads out of the barn.
As the hot, heavy air lies stagnant over the small room, a soft and almost unnoticeable wind lifts the gentle curtains away from the open window. It smells of horses, oranges, and Denas skin and I as breathe it in greedily, I realize just how much I love it here.
It was nice to get away from the farm for the past few weeks, and I wouldnt trade the excitement and achievement of winning the first two races of the Triple Crown for anything.
But I missed it here, and selfishly, missed having Dena and the filly to myself.
I never thought my heart would belong to this humid Florida and all that comes with it.
My ears pick up nighttime sounds, everything from my lovers deep breathing to the far away sleepy snorts of the horses in the pastures.
It is completely relaxing, knowing everything and everyone is all right. The filly has never worked better, since coming home and enjoying the sun and warm early summer weather shes acting like her old self. We leave in four days for Belmont, and shes as sharp as wed want her to be going into the final challenge.
The Belmont. Jesus H. Christ, I cant believe we have a shot at the Triple Crown. I know I keep thinking or feeling that, but thats the honest truth. Maybe in a few years it will hit me, and I will realize just what we have done. Even if the filly and I lose in the Belmont, weve still made history and broken almost every record out there.
And that is incredible in itself.
I honestly dont know what scares me more; the thought of the filly winning the Triple Crown and everything that will come with it, or the thought losing it. I cant bear to see the disappointment on Denas face if Baby fails.
Suddenly restless, I place the faintest of kisses on Denas forehead before creeping out of bed and pulling on my riding clothes.
Its in the middle of the night, and as I slip out of the house unnoticed and make my way down to the barn I absorb every sound and smell available. My eyes can detect the shadowed forms of the horses dozing and grazing in the large pastures. Elmers tall body is visible, his long neck resting almost on the ground. He must be sound asleep, but Im sure he wont mind me waking him up for a late night ride.
I avoid turning the lights on in the barn, not wanting to bother or alarm anyone. Instead of tacking up, I simply grab a few lead ropes and quietly enter the tall geldings pasture.
Surprised, his regal yet somewhat silly-looking head raises as my boots crunch over the tall grass.
"Hey boy." I tell him, my voice low and he snorts in response. As I clip the ropes to either side of his halter, resulting in a makeshift bit-less bridle, he lowers his head as I use the fence to climb aboard his tall back.
"Such a good boy." Rewarding him with pats, I maneuver the gate until it opens and we are free.
His oversized ears pricked, the gentle horse makes his way around the farm, his shod hooves echoing on the gravel driveway. The bright moonlight offers a safe amount of light to walk, and we are both content just to enjoy each others presence and the quiet night.
"Ive been doing some thinking." I begin to tell my bay as he daintily walks along the driveway toward the back barns.
My legs hang down over his sides and I take his silence as an encouragement to continue. "What will happen after the Belmont? If the filly wins, Dena will be an instant celebrity. She will be able to train any horse she wants, and will easily have the funding to open a huge operation."
A lump gathers in my throat. "Ill just be one of a hundred jocks that shell need. Dont get me wrong; she deserves every bit of fame she receives. But Id be lying if I didnt say the thought of her not needing me anymore scares the hell out of me."
The rhythmic clops of the geldings hooves are my only response.
"Then again, I know Dena only likes to train her own horses. But I think that her hidden talent is in breeding."
Elmer snorts, causing me to think back on what I just said. Giggling, I pat his silky neck. "Not in that way, you pervert."
I regard the star-laden sky and cant help but continue to giggle at myself. "Not only am I out here talking to a horse, but I actually think he can understand me. I must be as crazy as everyone always told me I was."
"Anyway." I continue to my quiet companion. "Maybe Im overreacting and just being pessimistic. Dena hasnt given me any reason to believe that things will change regardless of what happens in the Belmont." Pausing, I imagine Dena in my room now, sleeping so soundly.
"I love her so much." I confide to Elmer. "I just want to be with her forever. Cant you see us opening a breeding program someday, maybe after Baby retires? Dena bred Baby, so she has talent, obviously, at matching mares with stallions and I would love to be the first one to train the babies."
Elmer doesnt answer. "You would be a great buddy to all those babies, teaching them how to behave and everything." I pause once again. "I think that would be really rewarding."
I shrug. "Just an idea, a thought to put away for the future."
We finish the rest of our ride in silence.
After securing Elmer back in his pasture, I treat the gelding with a few carrots and loving pats. He yawns and moseys back out to the tall grass and I stifle a yawn myself.
"Guess I better get back to bed too, big guy. Im on AM feeding duty." I double-check the latch on his gate and start to head up to the house, eager to be back in Denas embrace.
I only take a few steps before second-guessing myself and turning back toward the barn.
"Might as well check on everyone while Im awake." I mumble to myself as I flip on one set of lights in the barn.
I am greeted by the tired, squinting eyes of the slumbering horses that are inside. Most of the horses in training spend the night in their stalls and have carefully-supervised outdoor exercise during the day. The babies, and horses not in training get to stay out all night.
Irishs bright white blaze reflects the bright light as he pushes his nose toward me. I pat him quickly, grateful for his improving attitude and quickly look in his stall.
Moving down the line, I see that Opie is laying down in his stall, completely asleep. Hes almost a completely different horse than the one that crushed me at Churchill, and I hope the Swansons will trust Denas instinct on when the colt will be ready to return to the track. He has a lot of mental maturing to do.
The next few horses are also fine, and I cross the aisle to find a rather grumpy-looking Bits practically glaring at me.
"Sorry, sweet mare." I tell her and she blinks before retreating to the dark corner of her stall.
Babys stall is empty, and I peer in, expecting to find her asleep like Opie.
"Shit!" I yell, finding the filly thrashing around in her stall, her burnished coppery coat lathered with sweat.
Colic. My mind tells me. I would know those symptoms anywhere.
I throw open the fillys stall door and rush to her side. She is soaking wet and evidentially panicked, and I need help. Now.
My heart pounding and pulse racing I run to the intercom, pressing the alarm button that will ring in Denas room. Except that shes in my room tonight.
"Fuck fuck fuck." I berate myself as I try and remember the intercom code that will call my room. After it evades me, I ring Charlies.
A few seconds later, he groggily answers. "Yeah?"
"Its Gen, Im in the barn. Babys colicking and I need you down here."
"Okay." He responds, his voice panicked.
"And can you get Dena? Shes in my room." I add, closing my eyes and wincing.
"Sure girl, Ill call the vet too." He says immediately and I run back to the fillys stall, a lead rope in hand. Ive got to get her up and walking before she does any serious damage.
"Come on Baby, thats a sweet filly." I tell her, willing my voice to stay calm. Clipping a lead rope on her halter I attempt to pull her up. The filly wearily resists standing on her feet and I fear shes far too strong for my slight frame. Digging my feet in the dirt to gain the most leverage, I pull with all my might and the filly finally cooperates, lurching upwards unsteadily on all four feet.
"Good girl, good sweet girl." I reward her, leading her out of her stall and outside, where the air is much cooler. She takes slow, almost staggering steps, but shes walking and that is more important than how fast shes moving.
I try to keep her moving, and soon see the long legs of the trainer flying toward the barn. Charlie is not far behind, but is unable to keep up with Denas speed.
"What happened?" She asks, reaching us and gasping for breath.
"I dont know." I answer, now on the verge of tears. "I took Elmer for a ride and decided to check on the barn and I found her like this. I dont know how long shes been down." I tell Dena, knowing the longer the filly has been lying down, the worse her condition could be.
"Who fed tonight?" The trainer asks again as she takes the lead rope from my hands and continues to walk the filly.
Charlie, who has finally made it up to where we are, answers. "Myself and Maya. We double-checked everyone before heading up to bed and everyone was fine.
"Do you think it was the grain?" I ask Dena, who shakes her head.
"Wed have more colicking horses if it was." She responds, her face taut with fear. "I dont know what happened."
Shaking my head with worry, I walk alongside the trainers tall form while we wait for the vet. The filly seems to be in less pain already, she has stopped the agitated swishing of her tail and isnt sweating as much.
Horses can develop colic for many different reasons, and if left untreated, it can be fatal. Because horses are unable to regurgitate, when something upsets or causes a blockage in their stomach or intestinal linings, the stomach and intestines can become twisted, and in some cases, torn beyond repair. The horses, while trying to ease their discomfort, will begin to roll, causing the twisting to become even worse.
Colic is probably the number 1 cause of death in horses, and no one is really sure why it happens. Fermented or spoiled grain can be the cause; overeating or a sudden chill can be another.
I have no idea why Baby would colic now, I trust Charlie and Maya as much as Dena does and know that they would never do anything to hurt the filly. Additionally, tonight isnt chilly by any means so I cant see why this would happen to the filly.
It could just be rotten luck.
Or it could be something worse, some kind of sick sabotage.
A white van comes flying up the drive, distracting me from my sinister thoughts.
"Vet?" I ask and Dena nods grimly.
Saying a silent prayer to whoever might be listening, I ask for the filly to be all right.
I dont know what well do if shes not.
Part 12 is Coming Soon:
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