By: Girl Bard
email@example.comDisclaimer: See Part 1.
A steady beep filters through my brain, but my body hurts too much to move. My eyelids twitch and my throat hurts.
"Gen, sweetheart?" Dena's familiar voice registers to my fuzzy brain, but when I try and answer her, I feel an object lodged in my throat.
Panic sets in and my eyes fly open, my body screaming in protest as I try to rip the offending object out of my mouth.
"It's okay! It's a breathing tube!" Dena calls to me, and the tall trainer struggles to keep my body down on the bed. "It's okay, you're okay." She tells me, her voice soothing. "You're okay, you're awake!"
My eyes are wide with fear, and I feel claustrophobic not being able to communicate. Raising my left hand I make the motion of holding a pencil.
"You want to write?" Dena says, retrieving a pad of paper and pen from the nightstand.
I wince as I take the pen, my entire midsection burning as if it's on fire. My head is spinning and my chest hurts. I want to go home. I don't want to be here.
How's Opie? I write, ignoring the shooting pain traveling up and down my arm as I make the words in barely legible writing.
Dena's lips curl slightly, tears evident in her blue eyes. "He's fine, he had a bit of a scare after he fell, but Maya and Charlie had him checked out and x-rayed by the track vet. He's okay. He has one little cut on his hock that will clear right up."
I nod, closing my eyes briefly. I would've never forgiven myself if the colt were hurt.
What's wrong with me? I write to Dena, and am surprised to see the tears flow from her face freely. Jesus Christ, it must be really bad.
"You've been unconscious for 13 hours." She whispers, and I realize she's still in her clothes from yesterday. "You got smashed by the colt."
Why do I hurt so much? I write, frustrated at not being able to speak for myself. Dena nods, swallowing loudly.
"You have a bad concussion, three cracked ribs, a bruised collarbone, fractured wrist, and they thought you punctured your lung which is why you're on a respirator, you were having a lot of trouble breathing." The trainer tells me, looking ghastly pale. "You have a lot of bruising over your entire body, your face." She finishes, her tears dampening her entire face.
How long? I write and Dena looks at me curiously.
"How long what?" She answers, wiping away her tears.
Until I can leave? Ride? I write, trying to ignore the pain in my arm.
"I don't know." She responds. Suddenly frantic, she wrings her hands. "I have to get the doctor, I was supposed to get them if you woke up."
Don't leave! I write urgently, not wanting to be alone.
"I'll be right back." She says, gingerly kissing my forehead before practically running out of the room.
She returns quickly with an elderly gray-haired man who I immediately dislike. He reminds me of my father. "Welcome back to the world, Miss Dietz!" He says in a fake booming voice and I blink at him. "Now, we've pretty much gotten you all fixed up. You need to keep that cast on your wrist for six weeks until that break heals. No riding, you hear me?" The doctor asks and I don't respond at all. He clears his throat and continues. "Your brain activity is normal, but you do have a concussion. You need to take it easy and lay down for a few days. You have three cracked ribs and you need to keep them wrapped for as long as they hurt and then a week after. It's going to be painful at first, but I'll give you some medicine. As for your collarbone, that should clear up in a few weeks. You've got a pretty severe bone bruise, but you'll live." The doctor smiles broadly and I just continue to blink at him. "We'll need to keep you here at least another day for observation, and then you're free to go. I'll have a physical therapist show you some exercises to strengthen you muscles and cut your recuperating time."
"Does your chest hurt at all?" He questions and I shake my head no.
It's an outright lie, but I'll be damned if I'm going to stay on this machine any longer. The doctor studies the monitors before turning back to me. "I'll send the nurse in to get you off the respirator, okay? If you have any trouble breathing, you need to tell us immediately."
I nod in compliance as the doctor leaves. A friendly-looking stout nurse replaces him, and in a gentle voice instructs me of what she's about to do.
"You might want to leave for this Ms. Santoro." The nurse says and I look at Dena in fear.
"No, I'll stay." She tells the nurse as she gently takes a hold of my hand.
"Okay, ready?" The nurse tells me and I nod, closing my eyes.
It's the most unpleasant thing I can ever remember having to endure, but it's quickly over and I ignore the sudden heaving of my chest.
I try to stay calm and breathe normally so I don't have to go back on the respirator, but I don't feel I'm getting enough oxygen.
Panting, I take shallow breaths and it seems to help.
Pretty soon I get the hang of it, and while it's not the most comfortable thing in the world, it's better than having that thing stuck down my throat.
"Are you okay?" Dena asks, her hands clenching around mine.
I try to talk but my throat won't respond. The nurse helpfully hands me a glass of water and I drink greedily, completely dehydrated.
Once I swallow, it becomes easier to breathe and I answer the trainer in a froggy voice.
"I feel like shit. When can I get out of here?" I tell her and for the first time since I woke up, Dena smiles.
"I don't know, you took a pretty bad fall." She says, grimacing.
"That bad, huh?" I ask, wondering why she's looking at me like that.
The trainer nods. "You scared the crap out of me. Do you have any idea?" She says, her voice scared and small.
"I'm sorry, it wasn't a picnic for me either." I answer grinning. Ow, that really hurts.
My shoulders and chest protest, but I lift my hand to my face. I find it swollen and sore, especially my cheeks and nose. "What happened?" I ask and Dena looks away.
"It's just bruised, you'll be fine." She answers, her eyes still averted.
"Show me." I tell her, my voice croaking. I drink the rest of the water.
"I'll get you more water." The trainer says, standing up quickly and refilling my glass.
"Dena." I state, and she meets my eyes. She soundlessly digs in her bag until she comes up with a compact mirror. Handing it to me I flip it open, unable to control my gasp as I take in my face.
I look like I've been crushed by a 1,000-pound animal. My nose is an ugly shade of purple and I'm surprised it's not broken. The brim of my helmet probably saved it, and me from more serious head trauma. I can tell that when I saw Opie falling, I instinctively tried to turn my face away, the entire right side is swollen and ugly, and inside my mouth I can still taste blood from where I bit my tongue. An jagged red cut traces the line of my helmet strap, the sharp plastic edge must have bit into my skin from the force of Opie's body.
Snapping the lid shut I hand the mirror back to Dena. "Guess you won't be calling me beautiful any more, huh?" My voice is void of humor, and I can't stand the pity I see in her eyes.
"You are beautiful." Her voice answers, wavering. "All I could think of was how much I didn't want to lose you." The trainer starts, taking my hands in hers. "Gen, I care for you so much, regardless of how little we really know each other. I never want to have that helpless feeling of watching you be in pain again."
Dena awkwardly wraps her arms around me, careful of my wounded body. She lays her head on my chest and I feel the wetness from her tears through my hospital gown.
I close my arms around her back, trying to comfort her but not really knowing how.
I just want to get out of here.
"Fuck!" I curse as Dena helps me into a t-shirt. My ribs ache in protest with my collarbone as I manipulate my arms into the garment. I've officially been in this hospital for two and a half days, and I'm more than ready to get out of here.
"Are you okay?" The trainer asks gently and I nod my head. I manage to stand up and eagerly sit in the wheelchair, more than ready to be discharged.
Thank God I get medical benefits through working for Dena. I would be shit out of luck without them.
Dena signs me out and helps me into the truck. "Can we stop by the barn? I want to say hello to everyone." I tell her, my throat finally beginning to return to normal from that stupid respirator. It's still a little difficult to breathe, but I'm not mentioning it to anyone.
"I don't think it's a good idea." The trainer says and my eyes flash in anger. I really hate being hurt, especially with the Derby only three weeks away. But I'll be fine in a few days, and can start riding the filly again, regardless of what that stupid doctor said.
"Please. I'll be careful." I tell her and she sighs in response.
"Just for a second though, okay?" Dena agrees as she heads toward the track.
"Thanks." I tell her, ignoring the searing pain ripping through my body as I reach over to take her hand. I've got enough prescription painkillers to make me a small fortune on the street, but I'm determined not to take any unless I absolutely have too.
My heart warms at the sight of our shedrow, although my stomach clenches with the memory of seeing Opie's body about to crush me. Brushing it aside, I close my eyes briefly as Dena parks the truck.
I start to jump down, and the tall trainer races over to my side of the truck and gently lifts me, pinning me with a stern glare.
"Cut it out! You're going to make everything worse. Please, for my sake, take it easy." Dena orders and I nod in agreement as I slowly make the way to the barn, my head feeling cloudy and my chest tight.
The warm afternoon sun filters through to the barn, highlighting Baby's bright white markings. Charlie has her tied in the aisle and is burnishing her smoldering copper coat to a gleaming bronze.
"Hey Baby." I greet her softly and she lets out a shrill whinny and pushes her white nose to my chest, bumping me roughly.
Gritting my teeth with pain, I stroke the soft hair behind her ears and under her jaw. "Easy there on the torso, huh?" I joke to the filly as I glance at Charlie.
The dark-skinned man gives me a small smile, his dark eyes filled with empathy? Pity? I can't tell.
"How's she doing?" I ask the groom who nods proudly.
"She's fine, Gen. Just fine. Don't worry about her none, you just get better." He says in his thick southern accent.
"She gallop this morning?" Dena asks the groom who gives her a small smile.
"Perfectly. Maya said she's like Pegasus." He answers, causing me to smile. The expression causes the pressure on my nose and cheek to be unbearable.
Even speaking hurts.
I give Baby one last pat and turn my attention to our other horses, Elmer first. My buddy sticks his head over the stall door, carefully placing his muzzle in my hand. I slide his stall door open and head inside, wondering how long it will take for every movement to stop hurting.
Elmer gently explores my face, sniffing so loudly that it causes a chuckle to escape. His ticklish whiskers go over my arms and midsection until he lowers his neck over my shoulder in a kind of equine hug.
Working through my pain I raise my arms around his neck and return his hug, my unbruised cheek resting on his glossy neck. "You're such a good boy." I tell him reverently; so grateful to Dena for letting me keep the tall bay.
Standing placidly, his large brown eyes blink slowly as I release him. He snorts before turning back to his hay and I have no doubt I could curl up and sleep in his stall and wake up to find him lying next to me.
As comfortable as a nice soft bed of hay sounds, the smooth sheets of the hotel bed would be even better.
"Can we go?" I ask Dena as I come out of Elmer's stall. "I'm really tired."
The trainer nods immediately, finishing her conversation with Charlie and returning to my side.
Bits' stall is empty, and I assume Maya is out with her. That just leaves the colt.
"One second." I tell Dena as I approach the colt's stall.
The chestnut regards me shyly, tossing his head up and down nervously. I note his carefully bandaged hock, relieved the superficial cut was his only injury received from the accident.
"Hey buddy." I say, opening the door and leaning inside.
Opie makes no move to come toward me; his nervous eyes darting back and forth reveal just how uneasy he is about everything. He's still too much a baby, when he raced so well in Florida both Dena and I assumed he'd be fine to experience the trailer ride and extended stay up here.
But I think he's just overwhelmed and unable to handle the stress.
"It's okay." I try to convince him, holding my hand out patiently. The colt makes no move to come toward me and after waiting patiently for a few minutes, I give up.
Shutting his stall door, I say goodbye to Charlie and Baby and follow Dena out to her truck.
My fingers push the buttons to the remote rapidly flying through the channels. There's nothing to watch, especially when I know that right now I could be riding Baby instead of lying around in this stupid bed.
I'm exhausted, and I could tell Dena was when she left this morning. She had to wake me up every hour because of my concussion. It was a sleepless night for everyone.
I know she'll be back soon; she's going to watch Baby's exercise and see how Bits goes over the turf today. It's the mare's first time on the grass and I know Maya will give her a good ride.
I just wish it were me.
Kicking the blankets in disgust, I struggle to stand up. I can't even imagine how Dena is going to react when I tell her I'm still going to ride the filly in the Derby. I hope she realizes how important it is for everyone and doesn't put up a fuss about it.
But the way she is mothering over me, I'm sure she is expecting me to just sit back and watch Gomez ride in my place.
I won't let that happen.
The hotel room feels too small and I begin to pace, ignoring the tightening in my chest. My head has stopped pounding, which is good, and already the bruising on my face is beginning to fade.
I've got little less than three weeks to get the strength back to ride. I think my fractured wrist will be the biggest pain in the ass. Maybe I can get the cast off early and wear a brace or something. My ribs will probably still be sore, I've had cracked ribs before and they suck. I'm not worried about my collarbone or my chest. I'll ride with a respirator if I have to.
Thank God my legs and pelvis were unaffected. There's no way Dena would let me in the saddle with a busted hip or leg, but the filly runs so easily my wrist shouldn't be an issue.
The difficult thing will be actually telling the trainer that I plan to ride. I have no doubt she's already called Gomez to see if he is still available for the filly.
Hearing footsteps, I stop my pacing and turn off the television. Dena turns the key in the door and opens it, meeting my gaze as she steps into our shared room.
"Hey, you're up." She says, surprised.
"Yeah, I feel better." I answer.
"I'm glad." She says, a bit awkwardly. Things have been strained since I woke up in the hospital, I can tell there's a lot on her mind and we haven't really talked about what happened.
"How was Baby?" I ask, not wanting the filly to miss out on any training before the big race.
"Good, good. She's taking to the track like a pro. I'm cutting back her workouts so she doesn't peak too early." Dena starts. "Bits loves the turf, just like we thought. In a few months, as soon as you're ready, I want you to go in a race with her."
I nod. "While we're on that subject, I want to talk to you about Baby." Dena crosses over to the bed and sits down warily.
She smoothes the comforter nervously with her long fingers. Clearing her throat, her brilliant blue eyes meet mine.
"I have a feeling I know what you're going to say, Gen." Dena says, her voice soft but commanding.
She continues, reluctantly. "And the answer is no."
My uncasted hand involuntarily clenches, as if I'm preparing for a fight.
In a way, I guess I am.
Before I can continue, Dena stands, her tall form towering over mine. "Just hear me out, okay?" She asks and I nod tersely, my eyes flashing in anger.
"You've been seriously hurt, it's not like you had just a little fall. Gen, you were unconscious for over 13 hours. Do you have any idea the stresses your body has endured? Riding again so soon could seriously compromise both you and the filly and I can't allow
that to happen." The trainer states firmly, and the stubborn expression on her face leads me to believe she's expecting me just to back down.
"No, listen to me." I argue, my throat sore from my raised tone. "I am not giving up on myself, and I hate that you are. I've worked really hard to get Baby
prepped for the derby and I'm not going to let someone else ride her!"
"You can't possibly ride with enough control when your body is injured! What if something happens and you're not strong enough to help it. Do you want to risk both
Baby and yourself?" Dena argues back, her hands on her hips.
God she's gorgeous when she's angry.
"Do you really think I would do anything to hurt the filly? Jesus Christ Dena, I'm hurt but not stupid. Racing is a risk. If I'm not strong enough to ride, I
won't. But have some fucking faith in me!" I stamp my foot angrily, knowing if my body was up to it I'd be throwing things right now.
"Don't you dare speak to me like that! You have no right, I have been nothing but gracious with you." Dena responds, her eyes glowering
with anger. "And this is the treatment I get? You should be down on your knees thanking me for taking you in and giving you a job and a place to stay, not cursing me out because I won't let you ride when you've been in the god damned hospital for almost three days!"
"Oh, excuse me, gracious and angelic Dena. So sorry to have complicated your life by forcing you to take pity on me and take poor little wayward me in. I don't need
your charity, I was doing fine on my own!" I snarl back.
"Oh really? You call the races you were riding fine?" Dena sneers. "What exactly was your winning percentage?"
"Better than your training percentage! You should be lucky you can even get anyone to ride for you; you're the laughing stock of the industry. Maybe I'm the one taking pity on you." I growl, knowing this is a low blow.
As expected, Dena's face grows pained and she heads for the door. "Fuck you, Gen." The trainer annunciates clearly before slamming it behind her.
All of my anger and resentment at my own injured self leaves with her as I wearily crumple down on the bed. I don't even have the strength to hate myself right now.
Painfully, I dig my money out of my pocket and hand the driver a few crumpled bills. Getting out of the taxi with some difficultly, I make my way over to Dena's barn.
It's 5:30 in the morning, and after our fight yesterday afternoon, Dena didn't come back to the hotel.
Dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt, I attract little attention. Most of the other Derby horses aren't even here yet, and although Derby fever has begun, the media is not really interested in the little filly that finished a beaten second in the Florida Derby. If she keeps working in the mornings as fast as she's been, she'll start to be noticed a lot more. Then it will be difficult for any of us to get a moment's peace.
I find Baby and Elmer's stalls empty, so I know they must be over on the track. Bits and Opie are finishing up their remaining hay, and the colt glances at me warily as I slowly walk by him. I walk soundlessly by Maya and Charlie who are finishing up the morning chores. I feel both of their eyes on my back, but I ignore them.
We should send him home; nothing good is coming out of him being here. I know Dena is hesitant to put Maya up on him, she's a good rider but not strong enough to handle him if he tries anything. She'll probably have him sent back to the farm until he matures a little mentally.
Walking doesn't hurt really, except for the pounding in my head and occasional chest pain. My muscles have to get used to breathing for me again, and once my head stops hurting I'll hop up on Elmer and see how much my ribs and wrist are going to impact my riding.
I easily spot Dena's tall form on top of Elmer as they lead Baby, being ridden by Gomez, over to the track. I'm shocked to see him on her back; I assumed Dena would have Maya take over her morning works.
Jealously burns in the pit of my stomach as the experienced jock sits calmly on the filly's back. Baby looks uneasy, tossing her elegant head as she crab steps along the firm surface.
If I was riding her, she'd be the picture of quietness.
Shaking my head in disgust with myself, I fold my arms on top of the outside rail, wincing as the strain of the movement hurts my shoulders and ribs. I have to get used to the pain, and get used to ignoring it if I'm going to ride in the Derby.
Dena speaks with Gomez as they warm up the filly and Elmer. Honestly, he's an incredible rider and if anyone else has to be up on Baby, I'd want it to be him. He knows her and wouldn't do anything stupid to put her in danger.
But it's not fair.
"What happened to you?" A voice questions from behind me and I glance back to see a tall man with almost stark-white blonde hair hidden under a baseball cap approaching the open spot on the rail next to me. I recognize him as one of the assistant trainers to the famous Empire stables, a well-respected figure in the business.
"Got crushed under a baby." I tell him with a curt nod before turning my attention back to the still-talking Dena and Gomez.
"Ah." He says, following my eyes as Baby springs into a slow gallop, Elmer at her side. "You're Dena's kid, right?"
"Yeah." I answer, wondering if that's still the truth.
"I'm Bob Gill, I train with Empire." He says, holding out his hand for me to shake it. I awkwardly shake with my left hand, my right one firmly protected in the cast. "Gen Dietz."
"You ran a hell of a race on her a few weeks ago." Bob says, watching the filly's movement carefully.
"She's a good one." I answer, noting how Baby looks just a bit off.
"She's off today." Bob answers, echoing my thoughts as he looks for my reaction. "What's wrong with her?"
I shrug, gritting my teeth with pain. "I don't know, she was fine with me before I got hurt." Glancing back at Baby I am immediately able to see that she is fighting with Gomez, shaking her delicate head in anger. "She's not acting like herself."
"She better get over it." Bob answers, giving me a slight nod as he backs away from the rail. "If she's going in the Derby." He adds before walking away.
I continue to watch Baby's horrible workout, horrified when I see her turn toward Elmer to nip. That's not her at all.
Maybe we're pushing her too hard. She might need a break from the track for a few days. Or maybe she's injured, something we wouldn't even normally notice like a calcium buildup or a bruise.
Dena stops the filly and leads her and Elmer off the track, and even from a distance I can see the jock's face is angry and upset. He is speaking quickly to Dena in Spanish, annunciating with quick gestures with his crop and hands in the air. The tall trainer just looks pissed.
Right now probably isn't the best time to make my way back to the barn to apologize and try and convince her to let me up on the filly's back. Dena is going to be bullshit angry after the filly's workout and Gomez's obvious disappointment.
I know she's also going to be really pissed at me for what I said last night, and she should be. I won't lie and say I'm not still angry with her, because I am. She said some really hurtful things, and I'm not sure what is bothering me more; the way she tried to just tell me what to do or the fact she thinks I could possibly do something that would endanger her filly.
But I've never been one to back down, and I'm not about to start. If there's any hope for Dena and I to resolve this, I have to do it now.
Slowly I make my way back to the barn, hoping to catch Dena before Bits goes out for her morning work.
I pass Charlie, who is bathing the filly. She raises her head and whinnies shrilly as I walk pass, and I smile at her out of reflex.
"In a minute." I call to her as I make my way into the barn. Maya is wrapping Bit's legs in the black and yellow fleece wraps that are the colors of Dena's farm.
Dena glances up from her chair where she is writing down training notes, briefly meets my eyes, and returns her attention back to her writing.
"Good morning." I greet Maya softly who gives me a small smile.
"She's ready." The groom tells Dena who stands up and nods curtly.
"I'll walk over with you, but she'll be fine to go out alone." The tall trainer orders, and Maya leads the mare out to the track.
Sighing in frustration, I follow them, understanding that Dena has made it clear she's not speaking with me. But I'm nothing if not determined.
I decide to wait until Dena has given Maya her instructions and turned the horse and rider loose.
Continuing to ignore me, Dena stands, facing the track and sliding on her mirrored sunglasses even though day is overcast.
"Hey." I finally say, getting up the courage to stand right next to her.
"Morning." Dena responds, never breaking her glance from the easily-moving Bits.
"I'm sorry." I tell her quietly.
This causes her to look at me. "You're sorry?" She asks mockingly, a sad smile on her full lips. "What exactly are you sorry for? For biting my head off? For not respecting my wishes of what I think is best for my horse? For not even considering the fact that I had to watch the person I've fallen in love with be crushed by a horse and lie unconscious in the hospital?" Dena's voice is quiet, but her pain is evident even in her controlled tone. "Or are you sorry for purposely hurting me the only way you know how?"
"I'm sorry for all of that. But you hurt me too. Do you really think I would put my own wishes before the good of the filly? Do you think I would ride if I couldn't handle it? You gave up on me Dena, the way that everyone has always given up on me. I didn't expect that from you." I'm unable to control my voice as well as Dena's, and know my voice is carrying to those who surround us.
"Wait a minute." I ask her again, quieter now. "You've fallen in love with me?"
Realization of what she said suddenly fills my head and I feel like a total asshole.
"Yes." Dena states.
"Oh." I respond.
We stand in silence until the mare completes her work around the turf. Dena waves Maya in and when they approach, she takes a firm hold of the prancing mare's bridle.
As they walk to the barn, Dena turns around. "You coming, Gen?" She questions, smiling at me slightly before continuing on her way.
Grinning, I follow her.
"NO." Dena states, more firmly this time.
"YES." I argue back as I gracelessly use an overturned water pail to climb onto Elmer's back. My torso and shoulders protest with the movements, but not to the degree as the first few days out of the hospital.
"God, you are so stubborn!" Dena argues, her hands on her hips. "The doctor said no riding until you get your cast off. You've only been out of the hospital a week!"
"And that's a week too long to not be riding." I argue back, patting Elmer's neck with my free hand. "I'm fine, there's not a safer horse in the world than Elmer."
"Fine, kill yourself if that's what you want. I give up!" The trailer shouts, throwing her hands in the air and storming away.
"You'll be the death of her." Charlie states as he unclips Elmer's lead rope and pats my leg.
I grin at him and take the reins as I direct Elmer out to the track. Words can't express how good it feels to be on horseback again. I wasn't kidding when I told Dena it's been too long since I've ridden. My head finally stopped throbbing last night and I was able to really eat and feel normal for the first time since my injury. The pain in my chest has lessened as my ribs slowly heal, and although I'm still stiff and sore, I at least feel like a human being again.
The Derby is less than two weeks away. I have to get used to riding with this blasted cast on my wrist unless I can get Charlie to help me cut it off. I'm hoping to show Dena by riding Elmer today that I'm capable of still being on a horse.
I know it's going to hurt, and by the time the Derby rolls around I'm sure I will be fine. Besides, I'll do whatever I can to be on the filly's back for the big race, even if it means riding in excruciating pain.
Dena's drastically cut back Baby's works, and she's only been over to the track three times this past week. Maya has ridden her each time, and although she was more settled than she was for Gomez, she still isn't acting like her usual self.
Gomez has opted not to ride the filly for the Derby, citing her poor performance during the few times he's ridden her since my accident as her going "track sour".
I know for a fact she's not sour, the vet has ruled out anything physical and Dena had her x-rayed. She's as healthy as, well, a horse.
Foxy has the same glitch as she had for the Florida Derby. She is a filly that strives on consistency, and she's upset I'm not riding her. Once I prove to Dena that I can ride and start exercising her again, everything will be fine.
"Let's go, Buddy." I tell my tall gelding as he walks calmly over to the stretch of dirt. I spot Dena's form against the rail, her arms crossed over her chest and her posture rigid.
At least she's watching me.
I urge Elmer into a trot and he immediately complies. Making sure Dena is watching, I lift myself into position and rest my weight lightly on the balls of my feet in the stirrups.
Wow, better than I thought. My torso isn't screaming in agony like I thought it would be, and I find by using my back muscles instead of my abs, I'm able to hold myself without too much pain.
My wrist is another story. While it hurts and itches like crazy, the most difficult aspect of the cast is holding the reins. My wrist can't curve like it is supposed too and I have to grasp too much with my fingers.
For a race, that won't do. I need full flexibility of my wrist so I avoid putting a lot of pressure directly on the horse's mouth. Elmer doesn't mind, because he is easy to ride.
Baby is too, but not if we get into trouble and get boxed in behind other horses. That won't work at all.
So, the cast has to come off, and the sooner the better. I wonder if I could get an air cast that I could take off when I'm riding.
"Okay, Bud." I tell Elmer when I'm fully confident in the saddle. Using my seat and legs I urge him into a gallop and prepare myself for his lurch into it.
So far, so good. We pass Dena for the first time and I can't resist giving her a little wave with my cast. The trainer looks like she's about to give me the finger in return, but merely smiles instead.
Despite our little fights, we've been okay. I can tell she doesn't want to talk about our huge blowup a few days ago, so I haven't brought it up. Instead, we've had little tiffs that result in one of us storming off, only to get over it a few minutes later.
It's working for us right now, but I know we both need to get over our tempers in order to continue and further our relationship. Now that I know Dena actually loves me, I don't want to do anything more to screw up what we have.
"Good boy." I tell Elmer as he continues his slow gallop around the track for the second time. I look for Dena, but can't find her now.
After Elmer's legs are fully stretched, I take him back to the barn so I can give him a bath. I'm surprised to find Dena waiting for me, with Bits tacked up.
"How do you feel?" She asks, her eyes genuinely concerned.
"Great. He's a dream to ride and I don't have any pain." I tell her, only lying a little. My shoulders hurt a lot, probably from my bruised collarbone, and my wrist is really hurting from pulling Elmer back down to a walk.
"Good. I made arrangements with the trainer down the way to send you out on Bits over the turf. They want to do a thorough workout and break from the gate, and the mare is more than ready for that. Can you do it?" The trainer asks, and I know she was the one who probably initiated this workout as a test for me.
With the Derby only eleven days away, I know this is Dena's way of seeing if I will be well enough to ride. If I fail, she'll have to start looking for a jock to exercise and replace me on the filly.
"Sure. How much do you want us to win by?" I ask her, grinning with confidence I don't feel. I haven't ridden Bits over the turf yet and have no idea how she'll go. She's an easy horse to ride, but I don't have much experience over the turf.
It's completely different from riding on the dirt, because turf is deeper and springier, it can sometimes completely change the gait of the horse. And I don't know right now if my wrist is strong enough to handle Bits' customary lunge as she breaks from the gate. The mare needs a really strong hold to keep her back for the first few strides, and if I'm not careful she could clip the heels of the horses around her.
"Just don't kill yourself or anyone else." Dena says, putting her arm carefully around my shoulders. "Am I pushing you too hard? Can you do this?" She asks, her voice clearly concerned.
"I'm tired, and a little sore." I tell her honestly. "But I think I can do this."
"Thank you for being honest." She answers. "Are you sure?"
I nod resolutely, "I'm sure."
I stifle a groan as yet another reporter pushes through the masses in the barn and heads toward Baby's stall.
"Ms. Santoro, what do you think your chances are today?" He asks as Dena tries to keep him and the cameraman away from the filly.
Crossing her arms over her chest and dressed in a perfectly tailored linen suit, the trainer cuts an impressive figure.
"I think we'll make history today." She answers succinctly and the reporter hurriedly asks her another question.
"You know that no female jockey has ever won the Derby, and Winning Colors was the last filly to win the Derby in 1983. Why do you think you can break both of those streaks this year?" He continues, and I shuffle my feet behind Dena, hoping I'm not on camera.
"I have the best horse in the race and the best rider." The trainer responds, giving the reporter a curt nod. "Thank you, no more questions."
She turns her back on him and I follow suit. "Close that top door Gen. She'll never get any rest. I'm going to go outside and face the media, maybe it will keep them away from her in here." Dena glances at me. "How are you? Honestly?"
"Sore." I admit. I've already galloped Baby this morning just to stretch her legs in preparation for today's race. "I think I'll lie down for a little while."
"Good idea." She says, squeezing my hand carefully. "I'll see you in a bit."
I shut the top door to Baby's stall, giving her a little peace and quiet. Charlie has given her some hay to munch on, and she seems pretty unaffected by the swarms of people milling around. In fact, since I started working her in the mornings she's been right back to her old self.
After making sure Baby is settled, I avoid the questions of people around me, all inquiring about my health and if I'm fit to ride, one audacious question inquiring if Dena bribed the stewards in order for me to be able to ride.
The irrational part of me wants to beat them all to a pulp, but instead I just laugh as I pass them, letting everyone know what I think of their bullshit. After I rode Bits to a victory in the mock-race Dena prepared and had no problems steering the complacent mare in and out of the field, the stewards easily cleared me to ride. I could have been riding for the past eleven days if I wanted to.
I enter Elmer's stall, and find the tall bay dozing in the sun. His large ears prick as I close both stall doors, effectively shutting everyone out.
Grateful to Maya for just cleaning his stall, I sit in the thick straw and rest my back wearily against the wall.
Elmer looks at me, somewhat bewildered, and crosses over to me. After thoroughly sniffing my shoes, pants, and tickling my face with his whiskers, he resumes his nap.
"Good idea." I tell him, closing my eyes to relieve the throbbing in both my head and wrist.
I'm exhausted. I haven't slept well in a few nights; Dena's presence hasn't helped either because the tall trainer has been as restless as I.
To say we both have pre-Derby jitters is putting it lightly. Although I proved myself to her eleven days ago in Bits' "race" she is still have second thoughts about letting me ride today. She can't stop second guessing herself about anything, if the filly should have had one more work, if we shipped her up here too soon and over-exposed her to the track, if she should have gone in yesterday's Kentucky Oaks instead rather than stress the filly with the media today, everything.
My opinion is that the filly had the perfect amount of work, that she is a Derby horse, and she's the best three year old I've ever ridden. But Dena can't hear it; she just keeps setting herself up for failure.
The drone of the crowd and sounds of the track become some strange lullaby as I sink into sleep.
"Gen?" Dena's low voice stirs me from my nap. I rub my eyes as I focus on her form, lit by the sun streaming in from Elmer's window.
"It's time." She says, giving me a strained smile.
Jumping to my feet, my stomach immediately clenches with anticipation.
"Okay." I respond seriously as I meet her at the closed door.
In the privacy of Elmer's stall, the trainer wraps her arms around me. Kissing the top of my head, she murmurs, "Don't try to be a hero, okay? Bring both of you back safely to me."
She releases me from her embrace and plants a gentle kiss on my lips. "I love you."
I grin at her, seeing the love evident in her bright blue eyes. "I love you too. Thank you for having faith in me."
"Come on, jock. Hit the showers." Charlie's gruff voice calls from the other side of Elmer's stall.
Dena gives me a winning smile as we head out of the stall.
Heading for the showers, I try to avoid as many reporters as I can. One however manages to trap me and shoves his microphone in my face.
"Gen Dietz, you're riding Foxfire today, the only filly entered in this race. If you win, you have the chance to make history by winning the first Derby since 1983, and becoming the first female jockey to win the Derby. It would be the first woman-trained, owned, and ridden combination ever to exist!" He says excitedly, as if I haven't been hearing this for the past week since it was finalized that I would be Baby's jock.
"Really?" I ask, pretending to be completely surprised. "Well, get the history books out, cause they'll need updating in an hour." I tell him quickly before excusing myself and trotting up to the jock's quarters.
As I enter, I receive wary looks from some of the male jocks and enthusiastic responses and calls of good luck from others. I'm used to such mixed reactions, some people have a hard time with women jockeys and others don't seem to care.
"Vic, you think you're gonna whip us all today?" The diminutive Chris Cassat calls to Gomez who entered behind me.
After turning down Dena, Gomez was hired to ride the gray Sea Storm who has put in incredible works this past week. He's currently the second favorite to Foghorn.
"No way, we've got it." Mike Dris answers mockingly, and everyone laughs at that, even me. Mike's riding the 90-1 longshot Lightfoot who has no chance in hell of winning. We all know that.
"Nah, it's time for the girls to take it." I offer as I gather my silks and head for the showers.
"If you can keep her head on straight. That filly's whacked." Gomez answers.
I decide not to say anything, just shrug and smile enigmatically.
"How's your hand, Gen?" Mike asks and I hold up my wrist in question. It's wrapped lightly in a flexible air cast and tons of vetwrap and currently hurts like a bitch.
"Alright. Good thing the filly is a peach to ride." I tell them.
We exchange a few more words of good-natured jibing and comments before separating to hit the showers.
The time it takes me to get ready seems like it takes both forever and no time at all. I am so nervous, hell, we all are. The Derby is the biggest day in racing and everyone is anxious.
Soon I'm collecting my tack and weighing in. "Dietz, 121 pounds. Good luck." The steward tells me as I step off the scale.
I smile despite my anxiety and head over to Dena and Charlie. Charlene and some of the others from the farm drove up for the Derby and are already seated with Maya in the stands.
"Hey." Dena greets me as she takes the saddle and begins the process of lovingly tacking up the filly.
"You okay?" Charlie asks from his position by the filly's head.
"Scared shitless." I answer honestly and the dark groom lets out a belly laugh that causes me to relax a little.
"Hey Baby." I greet the filly, petting her white nose and admiring her glossy coat. "She sure looks like a Derby winner." I mention, admiring her perfectly toned frame and elegant lines.
"Fans like her, they're betting on her now!" Charlie responds, and I glance to the tote board. Foxy is the fourth choice in the field of fourteen, with odds at 9-5. Foghorn and Sea Storm are now almost tied for the favorite spot, with the gray getting last-minute support.
Dena had the sixth pick in the post-position draw that was held Wednesday and chose the available number two spot for the filly. That should allow me to get her out from the huge field and out near the front.
"They like the female thing." Dena comments as she tightens the filly's girth. "You know, girl power or whatever." She adds and we chuckle.
"Riders up!" The call sounds and I close my eyes in reflex.
"Let's go." Dena tells me as she gives the filly one last loving pat. Charlie takes hold of the filly as the trainer turns to me.
"I trust you completely. Ride like the race needs to be ridden." The trainer tells me, her hands securely on my shoulders.
"Thank you. I love you." I tell her and the trainer beams.
She gives me a leg up and I settle on the filly's back.
The attending rider begins leading horses by postposition, and after taking the longshot Lightfoot, it is our turn.
"Make history!" Dena calls as we are led out of the paddock.
As soon as all the horses are in line and we step out on the track, the famous "My Old Kentucky Home" begins to play.
Being here, under the famous twin spires of Churchill, on the back of a Derby horse trained by a woman I love, actually having a good chance of winning the race is almost too much for me. And when I hear the crowd of over 150,000 singing along to the famous anthem of the Derby, it is almost too much.
Tears flow freely down my cheeks, and I bet every other jock is crying too.
The announcer reads off the names of the horses entered, in order of postposition. Lightfoot, Foxfire, Wingding, Good Looking, Sea Storm, Homebred, Foghorn, SuperHero, Mickey Mouse, Ten Dollar Bill, Unbridled Wind, Hollywood Joe, MoneyPenny, and Wowzers.
Which one of these three-year-olds will make history today? The name of each Derby winner for the past 182 years are memorialized not only in history books, but in racing lore and on the wall of Churchill itself. It is a tradition almost as old as our country.
The walk to the post is something I've always viewed with trepidation. The warm-up always takes a long time when my nerves just beg more the race to be over.
Today, I want this moment to go on forever. People are cheering Foxy's name as we pass by and the sheer perfectness of right now is overwhelming.
Too soon we are at the gate, and Foxy is loaded second.
I can't believe the Derby is here, is NOW. This is it, our one chance.
Baby is so diminutive in the gate next to all the rangy colts. Can a tiny, under-raced filly, an injured girl jock, and a rogue trainer actually win the Derby?
The gates spring open and Baby eases out like fine silk. Lightfoot to my immediate left heads for the lead and I urge Baby forward to set pace just behind him.
As she settles in, I take in a little rein, hoping she'll save enough for the stretch dual that is to come. The white-hooded head of Good Looking is off to my left, and Unbridled Wind directly to my right. Foxy is tucked between horses in the perfect position for her to make a move.
Lightfoot whips by, making incredible time. Driss seems to be urging him on, and I'm sure he's trying to tire the field out so his stable-mate Foghorn can swoop in and go for the kill.
Both horses are trained by that ass Lewis and I would love to throw dirt in their faces as the filly wins strong.
Foxy is running easily, and I'm constantly talking to her. Her stride is strong and rhythmic under me and I am balanced perfectly on her withers.
Ten Dollar Bill's jock is yelling to Good Looking as he edges out around the turn and almost collides with the rest of the field. Using the hole as my opportunity, I take Foxy through and give her a little more room to stretch out.
As we round the first stretch, Lightfoot starts to falter, his speed completely burnt. He starts falling behind, and Homebred followed by Wowzers eagerly move up to take the lead.
It's been a clean race so far and I'm thankful my injuries haven't been aggravated. The far turn is upon us and my stomach jumps as I realize that we are going to start making our move.
Foxy knows what to do before I tell her and as I give her a little rein she slides into another gear.
The two leaders make their move and begin to draw away, and though I can feel Baby's desire to follow them, I keep her where she is.
This final quarter of a mile will tell us everything about our little filly. Is she just a sprinter like the critics say? Or does she have the ability to go the distance and win the greatest race in the world?
"And down the stretch they come!" The track announcer calls, the same as every year, and suddenly movement and yells surround me around the track. Every jock and horse are now sprinting to their utmost ability and my open hole in front suddenly closes as Mickey Mouse shoots up and closes us in.
Baby shakes her head angrily and I try to soothe her. "It's okay, we have time." I tell her as I desperately try to find a hole to slip through. I hope I'm right for the both of us, I have a filly filled with so much run and I'm not strong enough to keep holding her back. Already my wrist is protesting the strain of holding Baby who wants to be let out.
The gray Sea Storm moves up behind us and goes wide to avoid the pack in front. Following Gomez's lead I steer Baby out to alongside him. I would have liked to save her the ground, but having a clear path to the wire is worth it.
As Baby and Sea Storm run side by side, slowly picking off the rest of the field, I see Foghorn moving up strongly on the inside. Knowing he and the gray are the ones to beat, I offer my voice in encouragement to Baby before letting her go full out.
Glancing at me, Gomez offers the same smile as the first time he rode away on Foxy from Foghorn and I as he gives Sea Storm the rein and lets the gray go. This time, I give him a bigger smile in return as I give Baby her head.
Baby flies as if she's Pegasus herself. In one mighty leap she draws away from the gray and in two more leaves Foghorn in the dirt.
And then we are all alone, the twin spires of Churchill and the roar of the crowd bringing us home.
I've never let Baby run all the way, and the sheer force of her speed brings tears to my eyes. She's running as if she's playing and simply toying with the best three-year-olds in the country.
The wire looms ahead, and I look back to see Foghorn and Sea Storm five lengths behind battling for second place.
We are going to win the Kentucky Derby.
Foxy sweeps under the wire, all alone, and my whip never left my side.
A tiny filly, an injured jock, and a rogue trainer have made history.
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