By: Girl Bard
Disclaimer: Please see Part 1.
After everyone is tucked away in their rooms for the night, I creep down the stairs; carefully avoiding the squeaky fourth and second treads and walk into the kitchen. Denas cook, a wonderful older woman named Marina, has gone to bed so I help myself to a glass of chocolate milk and some fresh strawberries in the fridge.
Im surprised Dena didnt come to my room, in the past two weeks since weve been "dating", shes visited me after everyone else is asleep. Weve enjoyed each others company, not really talking about anything personal or anything, just lying silently.
And kissing. A lot of kissing and touching.
But tonight she is nowhere to be found. I know shes anxious about the big race, now only a month away, because she hasnt been sleeping well.
Im just as nervous. I feel like I have a lot of weight resting on my shoulders, and I have little confidence in my ability to win the freaking Kentucky Derby. Now Foxy, I have the utmost faith in her ability to outrun any horse. I just dont want to make any stupid mistake and screw anything up.
As I finish my midnight snack, I hear a low hum coming from down the hall. Curious, I pour myself another glass of milk and follow my ears until I am standing outside a partially closed door of what appears to be a small living room.
I peer through the crack in the door, seeing Dena curled up on the couch avidly watching video footage of Foxy.
"Hey." I call to her softly, not wanting to scare her. She turns, startled, as I open the door wide enough to fit through.
"Come in." The trainer beckons me with a gentle smile as she pats the seat next to her. I sit; tucking my feet underneath me as Dena slings her long arm over my shoulder.
"What are you doing?" I ask, taking a drink of my milk. She rewinds the tape, and I realize its each mornings workout from the past few months.
"Charlie has been great, taping every horses morning workout. Im trying to decide if Foxy needs another race before the Derby." Dena says, her low voice sending shivers up my spine. "You want to watch?"
I nod, eager to see the fillys action from this angle. "Sure, can we start way back though, so I can see progress?"
Grinning at me, Dena presses Play. "Im way ahead of you, jock. I rewound it an entire week before the Florida Derby."
Snuggling into her side, I become engrossed in making careful mental notes about the fillys works. Im amazed at how effortless the filly makes running look. The biggest difference between her and other horses Ive seen is how she runs. Instead of exuding power and strength, the filly looks like a graceful cat playfully bounding around.
Its probably why people dont think shes as fast as she is, or that shes as talented. She makes running look so easy it appears as if shes not doing anything noteworthy at all. Plus, her front-running style doesnt have the dramatic attention of a closers sprint, and when she sticks her nose out in front to win it appears as if shes just gotten lucky, and if the race had been any longer the closers would have pushed ahead.
Its evident in her progress that shes peaking now. With the Derby coming up, thats a good thing. I can understand Denas apprehension about entering her in another race before the Derby. If the filly is peaking now, its silly to have her run in another race, she should save it for the Derby. However, theres the possibility she could get too wound up without another race and be off her game for the Derby.
"Whats your gut tell you?" Dena asks, chewing on the cap of the pen shes used to make notes. I glance over to her beautiful profile, her long dark hair falling out of its messy braid, and the way her thick eyelashes frame her incredible eyes.
"That Im really enjoying the time weve been spending together. And that youre a really good kisser." I mention, grinning.
She gazes at me with a look of admonishment on her face. "Gen " She drawls, a teasing smile appearing on her face.
"I love it when you say my name like that." I tell her slowly and she lightly slaps my arm. "Okay, okay." I say, resting my head on her shoulder. "I think the filly needs another race."
"Really?" She asks, and I lift my head and look at her. "Why?"
"Because shes bored, I can already feel it in her morning works. She either needs to start exercising with a friend or race again. Maybe not a big deal race, not even a Derby prep. We both know shes the horse to beat in the Derby, so why not enter her in a small little race that lets her blow off some steam. Besides, if youre serious about me riding her in the Derby, which I still think youre crazy for mentioning but thats just me, it will be good for me to see what shes like in a race." I tell her honestly.
Dena nods, deep in thought. "Okay, Ill see what I can enter her in. Its a good idea, putting her in a little race, if not for anything else but for you to see how she is. And Im not crazy for mentioning it, as long as youre game; youre my full-time jockey from now on." She clears her throat slightly, taking my glass of milk and setting it down on the small coffee table. Taking my hand in hers, she unleashes a full-watt smile on me. "I love having you here. Its like youre the breath of fresh air I needed in my life."
Unsure as to why shes suddenly so serious, I am unable to do anything but beam like an idiot and smile in return out of sheer joy. "Thanks." I mumble, finding my lips captured by the trainers. I am only vaguely aware of her turning off the television with the remote as she lays me back on the couch, lowering herself to me. I am helpless to resist the feel of her body against mine.
I know my hands are shaking as I pull on my yellow and black silks and smooth imaginary wrinkles out of my white pants. Grabbing my crop and helmet, I snap it anxiously against my boot as I trot out to weigh-in.
Nick Howe, a young jock that is even shorter than I am grins at me. We became both buddies and rivals, because we both arrived at the track around the same time we often had to compete for mounts. Nick is so small he can ride even the lightest-weighed mounts, but Im stronger.
"Why are you slumming today?" He asks, stepping off the scale that just registered him and his tack at a mere 101 pounds. I grin as I take his place on the scale, the needle hitting perfectly at 126.
"Filly needed a prep before the big race." I tell him, returning his smile.
He snorts. "That filly doesnt need anything. Believe me, Im betting on her in the Derby."
I glance at him, surprised. After Foxys 2nd place finish in the Florida Derby, Foghorn is the early favorite for the Derby. Most of the track clockers think Foxy will end up running in the Oaks.
Nick continues. "I rode her once, when she was a two-year-old. Gomez had a spill in the race before and your trainer needed a quick fill-in for her morning work. That filly ran so easily it was like she had wings. Ill never forget it."
Nodding, I grin at him. "Yeah, were expecting big things out of her."
"Even with my lightweight today, well still get blown away by you." Nick mentions over his shoulder as he heads to the paddock.
Hoisting the fillys tack, Im aware of the watchful eyes upon me as I meet Dena in the paddock. Handicapped races are watched very carefully, to make sure no one lightens the horses load. The entire point of handicapping a race is to give each horse a better chance. Highly rated horses are given more weight than those with the odds against them. Foxy is carrying the heaviest weight in the field today, 25 pounds more than Nicks horse, a lightly raced European bred filly.
Dena grins at me, squeezing my arm gently. She looks beautiful, as always, dressed in a lavender pantsuit with an ivory shell underneath. Her hair is loose and flowing down past her shoulders. She wears her usual mirrored sunglasses that hide her intense eyes, but I swear I can still see her wink at me.
Charlie is walking the filly around, and as always, Foxfire is calm and alert, acting as if shes not even going to race today.
"Shes the heavy favorite, and there shouldnt be anyone in this race who will make it hard. Let her run however she wants too, shell probably break early and go to the front like normal. If she pulls away too quickly, keep her contained. I dont want her breaking any hearts out there." Dena tells me as she slings her arm over my shoulders.
I nod, understanding her request. Horses who are so competitive can have their precious egos crushed if they are beaten by too many lengths. Ill keep Foxy in front enough to win. Were not trying to break any records here today.
"Sounds good. Ill see you in the winners circle." I tell Dena, more confidently than I feel. I have complete faith in Foxy, but not in myself. What if Dena was wrong, and having me ride her doesnt make the change she was hoping for?
"You bet. Come back safely." She says, hugging me quickly before releasing me.
"You ready Baby?" I ask the filly, who is flicking her black-tipped ears around at the other horses. Charlie nods at me as I hop onto her small back and he gives me a bright smile as he pats my booted leg.
I manage to keep my nervousness at bay as I warm up the filly, finding her strides effortless and rhythmic as always. "So Baby," My voice calls to her as I pat her shiny neck, "Are you going to be a fast filly today?"
My attending rider smiles at me, his tanned skin revealing white wrinkle lines. "I thought her name was Foxy." The older man mentions as he securely holds the fillys bridle.
Grinning at him I shrug my shoulders. "It is, but shes my baby, you know?"
He laughs. "Yeah. Im surprised to see her running today. When are you shipping her up to Churchill?"
"Next week." I answer, excited about going up to Kentucky for the big race. "That way shell have three weeks to work over the track."
We ride up over to the gate. "So is it the Derby or the Oaks?" The rider asks as the starter preps Foxy to load.
"Derby." I tell him resolutely.
"Good luck." He responds, his dark eyes twinkling as he rides away.
Foxy loads easily into the number 7 position and stands calmly, like normal. Its such a different feeling riding her rather than Irish, who would usually be trying to throw me off by now. The filly instead accepts, actually likes my presence, which shows the good foundation of training Dena has done with her.
The doors open and she glides out easily a stride in front of the others. Ive never ridden such a fast-breaking horse, and it suits her tendency to run in the front of the pack. With Baby, theres no huge surge of power, no jet propulsion. Its as if youre traveling on a sled downhill, nothing but smooth gliding.
I direct the filly to the rail and as soon as shes settled, I take in rein to keep her a length in front of the pack. All of my nervousness fades as the filly runs; I can feel her complete comfort and happiness in her fast strides.
This is unbelievable, I still cant get over the fact I am riding one of the best three-year-olds in the country. I dont think Dena or I know Babys full potential, what the future years will hold for her. Will she be a speedball now at three and peak? Or will she have a brilliant four-year-old career like her sire?
Around the far turn the filly asks for more rein and I give it to her. Shes such a little lady, asking politely instead of demanding. In return, she likes to be ridden kindly and gently, no quick movements or sudden jerks of the hand or leg.
I think this is where Gomez and I differ. Im by nature a very quiet rider, and while Gomez is not rough by any means, hes so much older and stronger I think he doesnt realize his own strength and Baby seems to take to my way of riding better.
Glancing behind me, I find the field bunched tightly together. With two furlongs to go I keep the filly right where she is, although shes anxious to be let into her sprint.
I look behind again and see Nick riding up on his lightly weighted filly. She has her neck stretched out and shes blowing hard as she reaches Babys midsection. I dont move, wondering if Nick will be able to coax more speed out of her, and I feel Baby tremble with excitement.
Nick uses his crop three times and his filly gamely increases her speed. I know shes running with everything she has, but I feel the unreleased speed of my mount and know Nick has no chance.
With 100 yards to go, I give Baby more rein. She eats it up and bolts forward, in front by a length as we cross under the wire.
"Good girl." I tell her, grinning from ear to ear. I know we passed Denas test which means Im riding in the fucking Kentucky Derby!
When the filly didnt go forward for Gomez in the Florida Derby, I knew something was bothering her. It is clear she is back to her normal self now, and shes the horse to beat in the big race.
I pat Foxys slightly damp neck as I cool her down, a smile never leaving my face. Ive never ridden such a horse in all my life. Who would have thought a diminutive little filly could be so fast.
"Nice filly." My buddy Nick calls to me from his game second place finisher.
"You too." I respond and he grins.
"I was surprised, she has guts, huh?" He says, indicating his tired mount. I nod in response as Baby and I are led to the winners circle.
Dena puts the last suitcase in her big truck and slams the door. "Okay, lets start bringing the horses out." She tells the various grooms.
"Lets put the baby in first." She tells Maya, who leads the Swansons chestnut 2-year-old onto the trailer. The colt, suddenly skittish, tosses his head and Maya struggles to keep him from rearing.
"Take is easy, let him figure it out." Dena tells the groom softly, who nods in response as the colt finally calms down. Its as if someone switches a light bulb on inside his head and he remembers hes been in a trailer dozens of times. He then allows himself to be calmly led on and secured.
I giggle at his antics and Dena rolls her eyes at me. "That one sure deserved his name, huh? You know, hes dense." She says, elbowing me in the ribs.
The colts name is Opaqueness, but we call him Opie. "Youre so not funny." I groan at the trainers lame joke and she winks at me.
"Now Bits." Dena says, and Cottonball, the mare that came from the same lot as Elmer did calmly walks up the ramp. She received her nickname of Kibbles n Bits because she was bound for slaughter. Ive raced her twice now; the first time we got a surprising second and the next race she finished a fast-closing third. I really like her, and Dena thinks shell be dynamite on the turf. We are taking her with us to Churchill because they have a nice turf track there to work her on.
"Good mare." The trainer says, pleased with the easy loading. "Okay, Gen, lets put Elmer on."
"Come on bud," I tell my tall bay who loads with the same acceptance as Bits. The two of them nuzzle each other like old friends until I slide up the divider.
"You can leave it down between them." Dena calls, and I comply and push it back down into place, allowing the calm gelding and mare to visit. "They wont hurt each other. Put it up between him and the filly though, in case she gets bored and starts picking on him." The trainer says, and I nod in agreement. Foxy seems to love Elmer, but she has a bad habit of being almost too playful for the laid-back gelding.
Without being told, Charlie leads the small filly onto the trailer. She is last on and has the most room to maneuver around with her head secured.
"All set boss." The dark man tells Dena as he mops his brow with a pristine white handkerchief. "Im looking forward to Kentucky, thats for sure."
Dena grins. "Me too." She clears her throat. "Everyone whos Kentucky bound, climb aboard."
Frank starts the big dually, and its powerful engines roar to life. I make sure the trailer windows are open so each horse has plenty of fresh air and that all the doors are secured one last time. Charlie and Maya, the two grooms who will accompany us on our extended absence from the farm climb in the truck with Frank, leaving Dena and I to ride in her truck following behind. Charlene will stay here to oversee morning training and exercises. Hector, who is keeping a close eye on the recovering Chance, will take over caring for Charlie and Mayas other horses.
Maya smiles shyly at me from the truck window, and my face flushes. I dont know if anyone else on the farm knows what is going on between Dena and I, and last week Maya saw the trainer leaving my room in the middle of the night. As fast as gossip flies around here, Im sure everyone knows.
Well, at least they let Dena and me ride alone all the way to Kentucky, which is perfect, as far as Im concerned. We all wave to the truck as it pulls away, carefully navigating the gravel driveway in order to provide the smoothest ride to its precious cargo.
Charlene gives me a hug. "Ill see you in 20 days!" She says eagerly. Shell be driving up with a few others to watch the Derby. "Good luck!"
Dena hops in the truck and starts it. "Everyone, be careful and have fun while were gone. I trust you all, and I hope you know how honored I am to have you." The trainer calls to her beloved workers. They all lift their chins, touched by her words as they wave goodbye to us.
"They all really admire you." I tell Dena as we drive away. The trainer glances at me out of the corner of her eye.
"I mean what I said. They are all excellent workers and human beings. They could find work at a bigger and more successful stable, but they are loyal as the day is long. I respect that."
"I know." I respond honestly, constantly surprised at the humble nobleness of the woman beside me. "And speaking for myself, Ive found that success doesnt matter when you really believe in what youre doing. I believe in you and your training methods. And I have little doubt they will soon bring you success."
Im astonished to see Denas sparkling blue eyes well with tears. "Thank you for saying that, Gen. Youll never know how much that means to me."
"One day I hope I will." I mention softly as we head into our future.
Part 8 is Coming Soon:
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