Part 4

By: Girl Bard

Disclaimer: 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.

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.


The month and a half I've worked at Dena's has flown by. My days consist of waking up early to do my morning chores, having breakfast with everyone, riding my normal string of seven horses, helping out with more chores, and spending the late afternoon with Elmer and a picnic lunch before falling into bed exhausted each night.

My days vary when we have a race, and so far I've done pretty well riding Dena's horses, and she seems happy with me.

I love it here.

Today is an exciting day; I'm accompanying Dena along with Fernando and Charlene to meet the Swanson's at the spring yearling sale. Dena has room at her farm for twenty horses and she currently has eleven, including the Swanson's three, so she can buy or have the Swanson's buy up to six yearlings that will go into training sometime this summer.

Frank is driving up in the big 8-horse trailer with Elmer inside. He's been so good in his new job as an attending horse that Dena thought we'd need his calming presence in the trailer filled with babies on the way home.

"How much longer?" Fernando asks from the backseat of the dually he's sharing with Charlene and I.

"Soon." Dena answers, turning around to grin at us. "Are we excited, children?"

"Yes, mother!" We answer in unison, causing us to giggle. Charlene elbows me in the ribs and rolls her eyes. I grin along with her; the two of us have become fast friends in the past month. She's a former jockey who became too heavy to make weight, in her case she grew too tall and now stands at 5'4". She is one of Dena's most trusted exercise riders and her personal assistant.

Her infectious laughter and Southern charm makes her easy to get along with and a lot of fun. I like her a lot.

The big truck gently slows as Frank turns it into the long driveway of the convention center. There are trailers everywhere, even at this ungodly early hour.

"Gonna be crowded today, I hope we find Sal and Joan in this mess." Dena comments under her breath.

"They'll be just where you told them to be, I'm sure they've been here awhile." Charlene responds, speaking of the Swanson's. They were as excited as the rest of us to come to the sale today.

"I'll drop y'all off here." Frank says as he expertly maneuvers the big rig close to the main doors. "Let me know how it goes."

"Thanks Frankie." Dena tells him as we all hop out of the truck. "See you tonight."

The four of us hop out of the truck and wave goodbye to Frank. "Everyone stick close." Charlene orders and Fernando and I trail behind her and Dena as we head for the long aisles of stalls.

"Okay, this is how I want to work it, you're all here for a reason." Dena commands, meeting our eyes. "Split up, don't get lost, and check out the horses. Make a list and come back with your top choices. I'm going to be scouting for our barn as well as with the Swanson's, so meet me exactly here in three hours so I can review your choices before the auction begins." Her blue eyes sparkle. "And have fun, we're all going to see some great horses today." She hands us each notebooks and pencils and makes a shooing motion.

"Okay!" We tell her and I make note of where to meet Dena as I scamper off down the first aisle. I grab an auction guide and quickly scan down the list.

There are people everywhere, and I'm grateful my small size allows me to easily slip through the crowd. There are so many horses, all of them beautiful in their own way.

I can't look at them all, so I find an empty space to stand and quickly scan down the list, looking for horses that are the product of what I would consider good breeding. I make note of at least a hundred and head out to see them first.

On my way to the first horse on my list, a medium-sized light gray catches my eye. Liking the look of his small head and intelligent expression, I cross to his stall and look his number up in the guide.

His name is Victorious, and he's a Holy Bull colt out of a mare I've never heard of. Holy Bull was a Grade I colt, a good solid runner but not yet really proven as a sire. Still, as I look over the colt, I can't help but think he'd be a good buy despite his questionable breeding. He's built nicely, and has strong legs and a wide chest.

"Hi buddy." I greet him as his groom watches me carefully. The gray turns his head toward me, regarding me formally. "What can you tell me about him?" I ask the groom, a quiet older man.

"He's smart, you can't push him around at all. Quick on his feet, an' I think he'll be a good one." The groom answers, his hand possessively on the colt's light neck.

"Thanks." I tell him, making a note of the gray on my guide. I head off to look at my other prospects, giving Victorious one final look over my shoulder. I really do like him. I wonder if Dena will.


After meeting up with Dena and the Swanson's, we made our way to the auction hall in plenty of time before the auction. Dena advised Charlene and the rest of us to keep the Swanson's entertained and find a good seat while she went to look over the yearlings available one last time.

Charlene has no problem chatting with Sal and Joan, and they amuse themselves with stories of Charlene's parents as Fernando and I compare lists.

"Didja see the big red horse?" He questions, his dark eyes lighting up. "He's half brother to Foxy, and boy does he look like her!"

"No, what number was he?" I ask, consulting my guide. Fernando tells me his top picks, including Foxy's half brother. "I saw a few good ones, especially a gray that caught my eye first."

"I like the gray." Fernando says intently. "On paper, he's not great, but in person, he's nice."

"I agree." I tell him, wondering if Victorious will sell for a lot of money today. I saw a few yearlings that I know will go for an outrageous amount because of their early maturity or spectacular bloodlines, but hopefully most everyone else will look over the gray colt.

We chat about what we've seen until Dena returns, an unreadable look on her face. She winks at Fernando and I before sitting down next to the Swanson's. Fernando, Charlene, and I are sitting on the aisle directly behind Dena and the two owners, and I am lucky to be able to hear everything Dena is saying to them. This is a great learning experience for me, and I'm thankful to be brought along for the ride.

"I wonder how Elmer is." I ask Charlene, hoping he isn't lonely standing tied to the trailer. I'm sure Frank put up the awning for him so he isn't in the hot sun, and he's probably munching contentedly on his hay.

"He's fine." Dena responds over her shoulder. "I called Frank earlier and had him walk him around so he didn't get bored standing around all day.

"Oh, thanks." I answer, my cheeks turning pink. That was really nice of her to do.

The auctioneer steps up to the podium, clears his throat, and thanks everyone for coming. He goes over the basic rules of the auction and soon after the first horse is led out.

Dena sits back in her seat, her long arms crossed over her chest. Sal and Joan are obviously excited to spend more money on untried horses and Joan can't stop talking Dena's ear off. I just watch and listen in awe, as the auctioneer's bullet-paced voice never seeming to miss a beat.

"There are over three hundred horses here, I wonder how long it's going to take?" Fernando's voice whispers in my ear. I shrug and consult my guide, seeing the gray we like is up very soon, and then there's a break of about two hundred horses until I noted my next favorite.

"You think she'll like the gray?" Fernando asks again and I show him my crossed fingers. Charlene is avidly watching, occasionally taking notes about how much each horse is going for and what bloodlines are especially popular right now.

Dena hasn't moved a muscle, and when I see Victorious led out by his quiet groom, my stomach clenches in nervousness. The gray looks even better than I remember, his ears flicking around as he studies the crowd. His conformation and overall appearance remind me of Foxy, they both have the same intelligent but calm personality and the obvious build for speed.

Fernando sucks in a breath as a few people place bids on the gray. There doesn't seem to be much interest on him and a few times I think the auction will be over. Dena still doesn't shift in her seat, so I'm assuming she checked out Victorious and wasn't impressed with what she saw.

I lean back in my seat, smiling sadly at Fernando. "There will be others." He says, shrugging as he consults his guide.

"Going once," The auctioneer's shrill voice rings out at the precise moment Dena holds up her number and two fingers. Pointing at her and nodding, the auctioneer continues. "Ms. Santoro adds another two thousand, making the total for this colt twelve-thousand and eight hundred dollars. Do we have an even thirteen?" The auctioneer questions the audience, and no one responds. Slamming his gavel, the gray colt jumps a bit but quickly settles back down. "Sold to Ms. Santoro for twelve-thousand and eight hundred dollars."

The next horse is quickly led out as Fernando and I jump up in surprise and cheer. "Woo Hoo!" I shout, causing everyone in our immediate vicinity to look at us.

"Sit down Gen before they think you're bidding on this horse!" Charlene calls good-naturedly and I slump back in my seat, utterly humiliated.

"Sorry." I whisper, and Joan turns in her seat to look at me.

"It's so exciting, isn't it dear?" She gushes and I smile as I see Dena bite back a laugh.

"Joan, here's the filly I told you about." Dena says and immediately has Sal and Joan's attention.

A big-boned filly takes the place of the horse just sold. She's a muddy chestnut in color with no other markings. Consulting my guide, I see she's regally bred and should be a good prospect. To my eye, I can discern positive attributes to the filly, but she doesn't have that special magnetic pull I look for in a horse.

"I'd bid on her, she'll be a good turf horse in a few years, probably an oversees candidate." Dena tells Sal and Joan. "Don't go higher than $100,000."

A bidding war ensues on the filly and as told, Sal and Joan back out when the price goes over what they would pay.

Hours pass and I'm still stuck in my seat, mesmerized by what I'm seeing. Sal and Joan spent their money wisely, buying what appeared to be one of the best yearlings in the sale for a half-a-million dollars. They also got a bargain filly that Dena thinks will have a lot of potential in a few years. They left, thrilled with their purchases and exciting for their future in racing.

"I'm through for awhile, the horses all starting to look the same to me." Charlene states, stretching her arms above her head. "Anyone want to get some lunch?"

"Sure." Fernando answers, joining her. Both Dena and I decline, and as the two leave she pats the seat next to her. I quickly move to take the seat offered.

"Enjoying yourself?" She asks and I grin widely.

"This is great." I tell her, consulting my guide. "There's a colt coming up that was my second choice besides Victorious. Thanks for buying him, by the way."

"It was a good pick-up." Dena remarks candidly. "I would have probably passed him over on paper, but I checked him out since you and Fernando liked him. He might be something, and he was cheap." She looks at the guide. "So this second pick of yours, it's the European bred colt? The big black one with the blaze."

"Yep, he's nice." I tell her. "His name is Empire Pirate."

"I saw him, he is nice, but I guarantee someone will pay out the ass for him. He'll be the top seller of the sale." Dena remarks, looking at the next horse in the ring and immediately dismissing it with her eyes. She turns her attention back to me. "Some big-shot will buy him, probably that guy." Dena finishes, pointing to the right of where we are sitting.

I follow her finger to see Mr. Lewis sitting with his most exclusive clients. I can't help but chortle and soon Dena is laughing along with me.

"How much will he pay?" I ask her.

"Too much. And then he'll train the poor thing to death and it will get hurt by the time he's three." She mutters angrily.

The next horse is led in and Dena elbows me in the ribs. "What do you think of her?"

I start to consult my guide and Dena grabs it out of my hands. "No, just look at her. What do you think?"

I quickly assess the filly and give her my honest opinion. "She's built well, maybe a little too stocky for my taste, but she'll muscle up well. I like the proportion of her front legs to her hind, she looks like she'll overreach, and most of the good runners do that. Her neck's a bit short, but that might change, and her pasterns are a little too long."

Dena raises her hand, making a low bid on the filly.

"Continue." She tells me, her blue eyes meeting mine.

"I'd say she'll make a decent racehorse, if her bloodlines are good she's worth having."

Dena returns my guide to me and I flip it open to look at the filly's lineage. It's decent, and she's probably not a bad bargain. Her name is Unspoken Words, a pretty cool name if you ask me.

Interest on the chestnut filly is low and Dena scoops her up for a low price. She beams for a second, her smile soon replaced by what I'm going to refer to from now on as her "bad-ass auction face."

"I like her, I've been coveting her all afternoon." She whispers as the big colt is led in the arena.

"You liked her better than this colt?" I ask in surprise as Empire Pirate practically struts into the arena.

She studies the colt and nods her head. "Generally, I like fillies better than colts."

Dozens of thoughts go through my mind as I try not to giggle. She meets my eyes and I see the unspoken humor dancing in her blue depths.

"Really? So you're more of a girl's girl then?" I ask, waggling my eyebrows and purposely using the double meaning to get a reaction out of my boss.

She grins, and I don't think she's going to answer me as she watches the expected bidding war for the big colt.

"Are you asking if I'm a dyke?" Dena suddenly states, surprising me. I gulp in air and look at her, bug-eyed. "Cause if you're asking, I'll tell you. But if you're not asking, then forget it."

I realize this is probably my only chance to ever have this strange and bizarre conversation with her. "Sure, I'm asking." I manage to croak out.

"Yep." She responds, grinning at me cheekily before turning her attention back to the auction. "Are you?" She whispers out of the side of her mouth.

"Uh huh." I answer, nodding affirmatively.

"Thought so." She tells me thoughtfully as the auctioneer bangs the gavel down and pronounces Mr. Lewis' clients winner of Empire Pirate for the cool price of nine hundred thousand dollars.

Dena and I look at each other and burst into laughter.


Elmer stands placidly as Frank loads the nervous youngsters onto the trailer. I'm really glad we brought the tall horse along; he's a veteran of the track at his young age and has seen practically everything. The yearlings, following his calm nature, are more settled than most of the others I've seen today.

"Careful with this one." Dena mentions as she holds the bridle of the Swanson's expensive colt. "Gen, check those wraps." She barks, and I make sure the colt's protective leg bandages are secure. The light chestnut colt is larger than any of the other yearlings we have, and far more powerful. He's already studdish, prancing and showing off for the young fillies. Dena has decided to put him in last, separated from the other babies by Elmer.

"Come on big man." She tells him gently as Frank goes to take the colt's bridle. "I'll do it." Dena commands calmly as she expertly loads the colt.

After checking to make sure the horses have hay and water, she shuts the door and secures the ramp. "Let's get out of here."

We eagerly climb into the truck, all anxious to get home and show off the new babies to everyone at the farm. Dena flips the radio on and we sit in silence as Frank carefully navigates the big trailer out of the crowd and onto the highway.

The dually feels different with a full trailer, and I snuggle down in my seat, smiling. I'm really excited Dena bought Victorious; there's just something about him I really like.

Maybe I can be the first one up on him and start riding him from the beginning. Since I'll probably never ride Foxfire in a race, maybe the gray can be the one for me.

Who knows, he might not even be fast, or he might be like Elmer and hate the track. Either way, I'll still like him and I know he'll get a good life at Dena's farm.

Foxy's going in the Florida Derby in three days. Dena is shipping her up to Gulfstream tonight, and asked me to go along and exercise her. I'm excited to go back to the track and stay there for a few days, but I really want to be the one riding her in the race. I know it's a lot to expect, I'm nowhere near the jock Gomez is, but she's the best horse I've ever been on. I'm just grateful to get to ride her at all!

My eyes gradually close and I sigh contentedly, wanting to rest my eyes for just a minute.


I feel my shoulder being shaken and I frown, burrowing myself into the seat further.


"Go away." I say grouchily, upset to have my lovely nap interrupted.

"Come on, sleepy head, there are horses to unload." Dena's low voice finally registers to my brain and I pop my eyes open and find myself face-to-face with her brilliantly blue eyes.

"Oh, sorry." I mumble, embarrassed as I unbuckle my seat belt.

She grins before disappearing outside of the truck.

I climb out, wincing in the bright sunlight. The majority of the farm workers, hearing the loud rumble of the truck, have come to lend a hand and to see the new additions to the farm.

Dena makes a quick note to her clipboard, and I see her scribbled writing all over. I realize she's been working the entire way home as she leafs through the multiple pages.

"Open it up, Frank." She calls as Bob lends a hand in lowering the ramp and opening the big doors. The babies inside whinny, their uneasy cries are in turn answered by the horses at our farm.

The Swanson's big chestnut colt is first, and Dena directs the stout Hector to take him off the trailer. "This is Big Impact, a Swanson colt. He's yours, Hector." The groom nods, patting the colt on the neck and carefully leading him down the ramp. "Put him in the empty stall in your row." Dena continues as the colt is led away. He is nervous, prancing and throwing his head as he shies away from the shadows cast on the ground by the late afternoon sun. Hector ignores his antics and calmly takes him to his new stall.

Elmer is next, and I immediately lead him off the trailer. He nickers as he sees me, pushing his big plain head into my chest. "Good boy." I tell him as I walk him to opening of his pasture. He stands like a statue as I remove his protective boots and open the gate. He goes in eagerly, trotting down the gently sloping hill to the pond below.

I head back the short distance to the trailer, just in time to see Alice lead a quiet Victorious down the ramp. They make a cute pair, their silver hair matching.

Maya leads the other Swanson horse, the bay filly off and takes her into the barn. I realize that Dena is carefully pairing up grooms with the yearlings. Because they are not ready to be trained yet, the grooms will be spending the most time with the babies and it's essential their personalities match. That's one of the things Dena was working on during the ride home, I guess.

Jose gets Dena's chestnut filly and leads her away.

"As soon as we get this trailer cleaned we'll take Foxy over to the track." Dena begins. "I think we should take Elmer along for the ride with us, if that's okay."

I nod. "Sure. I'll grab him."

"Nah, let's have dinner first, it will give him a chance to stretch his legs for awhile." She says. "Charlie, Foxy ready?"

The dark man nods. "She's been outside all day, I'll give her a quick bath and she'll be all set."

"Good. Let's all meet back here in two hours, make sure you all get dinner." Dena calls, heading up to the house with Charlene in tow.

I help Frank and Bob clean the trailer, removing all the manure and soiled shavings before adding the clean, soft sawdust.

"How much hay are you taking?" I ask them as I start climbing the ladder to the loft. They tell me how many bales to throw down and I do as they wash the exterior of the dusty trailer. Then I load the hay and grab the large plastic tub filled with grain, a smaller container with Foxy's supplements and Elmer's joint therapy. Since Dena doesn't know his background, she can only assume he was trained early and worked hard. She put him on a joint supplement in case he has any premature arthritis. I grab anything else we will need, extra leg wraps and saddle pads, Dena's English saddle she uses when she rides in case she wants to hop up on Elmer, and a few other essentials.

Seeing it's all ready, I grab Elmer's brush box from the tack room and whistle to the big bay in the pasture. He lifts his head, but doesn't come to me, enjoying his freedom in the big pasture.

Sighing, I go and collect him, knowing he's going to need a bath before going up to the track.

"Hey bud, sorry to cut your time short, but you've got an important job." I tell him as his big ears flick in my direction. He complicatedly follows me to the washroom, where he just tolerates his bath. He doesn't like getting wet, but thinks it's fun to try and drink out of the hose. Go figure.

After bathing him, I comb through his thick black forelock and mane. "You want to get dolled up a bit?" I ask him and he snorts in response.

I chuckle, giving his damp neck a hug. "Too bad, you need to look pretty if you're going to be Foxy's date."

I put him in an empty stall, tying his head so he can't get down and roll in the shavings. Rummaging through his brush box, I find the pretty yellow ribbon I bought and set upon the task of plaiting his mane.

I'm an old pro, I used to do this to all the horses before a dressage competition, but instead of using the white plastic clips to keep the braids tucked under, I use the ribbon that matches Dena's stable colors.

Elmer stands pretty well, only tossing his head a few times. After his mane is completed, I move to his tail. This takes longer because of his stomping and swishing, but I concentrate on the task and soon produce a beautiful braid.

"What a pretty boy!" I coo to him, liking how his bay coat, black mane and tail contrast with the yellow color. He just looks at me, his big ears pointed in my direction.

"Here bud." I offer him a carrot, which he takes eagerly. I give him enough hay to keep him busy for the next hour and unclip his head, hoping he doesn't roll and mess up my work.

Then I head up to the house to grab my things and food before we leave. It's going to be an exciting next few days.


"Ms. Santoro, what do you think your filly's chances are today?" The blonde broadcaster asks, sticking her microphone in Dena's face.

She smiles, looking directly into the camera. "I wouldn't be running her today if I didn't think she could win."

The broadcaster turns back to the camera. "Well, us girls have to stick together. She has my vote." As the camera crew switches back to the main broadcasters, the blonde waves to us and scurries over to the next trainer to capture their input.

"Wow, I thought you'd be the kind of trainer that would want to pummel them." I tell Dena.

Grinning, she elbows me. "Nah, you have to play nice with the reporters, unless they are doing something stupid to endanger my horses. I had this one guy who put his microphone right up to a colt I was training once, and the colt bit the top of it right off. He could have swallowed it or hurt his teeth. I got pretty mad then."

I laugh at the thought. "Once I had a horse who got a hold of my riding helmet and pulled all the velvet off before trying to eat it. I was pissed, it was a brand new one." I tell her as we take our place in the stands.

Dena puts on her dark sunglasses as she looks out over the track. I join her gaze, enviously watching as Gomez warms up Foxfire. I've been the one to ride her this week and actually work her. I thought she was fast when I first galloped her, but once I've gotten to blow her out and make some fast times I'm amazed at her speed. She's easily the fastest horse I've ever ridden, Foghorn included.

"It's a good field today." She comments, handing me the binoculars.

"Don't you want them?" I ask.

Dena shakes her head, her long black ponytail bobbing. "Don't need them. Look at Foxy, is she moving strangely?"

I look through them and focus on the small red horse. "She's not off, but she doesn't seem as settled as usual."

Dena nods. I can tell she's nervous, and I'm not sure what to say to help her. I was surprised enough she invited me up to sit in her box seat with her and Charlene; Charlie stayed in the paddock to retrieve the filly before and after the race.

"She'll do fine, Dena." Charlene offers, glancing over the track. "I'm surprised she's not the favorite after her last race."

The betting box is closed, with Lewis' tall Foghorn leading the odds.

"No one thinks she can handle this distance, they say she runs like a sprinter and can't last." Dena comments as the horses prepare to load.

"They're wrong." I say as I hand Dena the binoculars. "Do you want these to watch the break?"

"Nope, you study the race." She orders.

My feet tap nervously on the concrete floor as I watch Foxfire load. Like her normal self, she goes right in to her drawn postposition of 9. Dena would have liked her to get something closer to the inside so she can get away quicker and out in front. If Gomez breaks her fast and lets her go, she should be okay.

The last horse in and I watch Gomez prep the filly. She's on her toes and when the gates open she leaps out, already a half-stride in front of the others.

"Good." I hear Dena murmur as Gomez sends the fast filly to the lead, directing her over to the rail. With the binoculars, I watch him work the reins and slow her down, fooling the other jocks into thinking he's keeping a fast pace when the filly is actually just loafing along.

"Foxfire in front followed by Jessie's Story and Homebred. The rest of the field is bunched, Foghorn trailing." The race announcer's voice calls. I'm filled with both excitement and envy for Gomez, knowing what he's experiencing on the filly and a bit jealous it's not me out there.

I turn my attention to Foghorn, Lewis' big horse I liked so much. He's content at the back of the path being ridden well by his jock, the well-known Chris Cassat.

As they round the far turn, the horses begin to shift as their jocks position them for the stretch drive. Cassat begins working Foghorn up through the holes in the field.

Gomez doesn't ask anything of the filly until the three-furlong pole, and I see him let her out a bit. Foxfire responds, her stride lengthening and her lead increasing by two lengths.

"And down the stretch they come, Foxfire by two, followed by Mickey Mouse, Sea Storm, and Homebred. Foghorn is moving up with two furlongs to go." The announcer says and out of the corner of my eye I see Dena clench the railing in front of her seat.

The entire crowd is now standing, cheering, as the horses get closer to the wire. Foghorn's jockey is asking the tall horse for everything, and he's responding. Foxfire's lead is waning, and it looks like we will witness the same outcome of the last race when I rode Lewis' horse.

Sea Storm, a rangy dark gray, fights valiantly and draws even with Foxfire. Gomez doesn't stir in his saddle, riding Foxy straight and even. In my binoculars I can see the red filly's ears flickering around, and I know she's not running full out.

With one furlong to go Foghorn pulls even with the gray and Foxy. I see Gomez lower his hands, asking the filly for speed.

"She's got it!" I call in delight, prepared to watch the filly blow the others away.

But she doesn't respond, and stays with the two colts. Gomez asks again, using his whip a few times. Foxy pins her ears and maintains her pace. Foghorn draws away as they sweep under the wire.

"What happened?" I ask numbly as I lower the binoculars.

"I don't know." Dena states, taking off her sunglasses. Her eyes are a swirling sea of blue as she shrugs. "Let's head down there and make sure she cools out alright."

"She ran a tough race." Charlene comments. "Foghorn is a good horse, and that gray is ranked high."

"Yep." Dena states as we follow her down to the paddock. By the time we get there, Gomez and Foxy are led up by the attending rider.

He hops down, whipping off his helmet and goggles. I pat Foxy's neck and she pushes her nose toward me. Stroking her face, I kiss her velvety white nose before Charlie leads her away.

"I'll walk her out boss, she looks fine to me," The groom states to Dena, who nods in response.

She places her arm around Gomez's shoulders, leading him away from the reporters clustered in the paddock. "What happened?"

The jock shrugs, facing Dena. "I don't know. She was fine, lined up to win and then just stop trying. Like she didn't care."

"That's not like her." I state, familiar with the filly's fire and desire to run.

Gomez looks at me. "I know it's not. It's strange."

Pursing her lips, Dena cocks her head. "You did a good job keeping her there for second. Nice race, Victor." She tells the disappointed jock as she heads back to the barn.

"Dena, I'm going to go take care of everything." Charlene tells her, heading off to take care of the paperwork and distribution of Foxy's second place winnings.

"Sure." The trainer responds as I follow her.

"Gen?" Dena asks and I tilt my head. "What do you think happened?"

"I'm not sure." I tell her honestly. "She was in the same position as when I raced against her, she had speed to spare, but her ears were all over the place like she wasn't paying attention. She didn't seem settled or happy at all, and that's not like her. But I don't think it's anything physical, the fractions she made early on were good even though she was loafing."

"So why didn't she win?" Dena questions and I shrug.

"Beats me."

"Do you think she didn't like the change from you to Gomez?" The trainer questions. "You've been riding her regularly and know all her quirks. Could that be it?"

Thinking back to the race, I nod. "Maybe. But Gomez is eight times the jock I am. If anyone could get her to win, it's him."

Pursing her lips, Dena is quiet for the rest of the way to the barn. Just outside the door, she stops walking and looks down at me.

"I don't think his skill has anything to do with it. I think Foxy missed you. And if that's the case, you've got yourself a Derby mount." Dena says offhandedly as she walks into the barn, leaving me standing frozen with surprise. "Stop looking so surprised and keep up." Dena calls over her shoulder, and I can hear the smile in her voice.

I break into a jog and catch up with her, unable to wrap my mind around what she's just said.

I'm riding Foxfire in the Derby. And it's only 48 days away.

Part 5

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