|The latest in my HARPG storyline|
The thrilling conclusion to this season's Triple Crown trail
Paranormal was itching for a race. Despite it being the morning of the Belmont, Jonah’s whole shed row caught between feelings of relief and anxiety concerning the filly, work had to continue on. Scout watched from her little Appaloosa pony horse Paranormal’s lanky white body stretch out against the dirt in an easy gallop. On Monday he had breezed. It hadn’t been particularly impressive, but he was a stalker and he seemed to have enjoyed himself. Since they had made the decision to pull him from the Triple Crown after his Derby failure they’d had him circled for the Woody Stevens, set to go off earlier this afternoon. Up until this morning they hadn’t been sure, but the new little vet had assured them that he was one hundred percent.
He looked it too, sleek and white, and pleased with himself. Maggie, who’d gotten the ride since Lacey was incapacitated, grinned as she brought the big colt back to the gap.
“He feels smart, boss.”
“He looks it,” Scout said as she clipped the pony lead on the colt.
“Bit sleepy even. Got a lot in the tank. If anyone can get a fire lit its Deltino, you know.”
Scout nodded, she did know. She had been the one to suggest the jockey change in the first place. Luc, when she told him, hadn’t seemed surprised. Deltino had been thrilled. Scout was of the opinion that the colt needed to a win and that Deltino, who wanted to win a race more than he wanted to survive it, would be the jockey to give it to him.
Hallie, as a rule, did not like hospitals. She’d never personally known anyone who did, though she supposed that the doctors and nurses whizzing by probably had some kind of attachment to the place. She glanced over to Luc, he didn’t look half as uneasy as she did.
“She’ll really appreciate this, you know,” he said quietly as he gestured to room 308.
“Yeah I know.”
He opened the door and then they both saw Lacey Delray, somehow looking smaller than ever in that big white hospital bed, battered and bruised sipping apple juice from a Styrofoam cup.
“Hey,” she said softly.
“Hey Lace,” he said with a smile, “How you feeling?”
“That was some shit, kid,” Hallie found herself saying as she meandered towards the chair beside the bed. Luc sat on the edge of the bed itself.
She gave a weak laugh and winced, “I got the better of it.”
“Look Lace, I’m sure Mike has given you the whole talk on it. But this shit happens. It’s horses,” Luc said quietly.
Hallie expressed her opinion with a nod.
They treated her as though she was made of glass. Estefan had noted and informed Jonah, that she only ate half her breakfast and maybe a bite or two of hay. She had jogged about the track fine, galloped too in a usual workmanlike way, but that was what had them all jumpy. There had never been anything usual about Marzanna.
Jonah was of the opinion that the filly being usual was the first normal thing about her life. They were deep into the Triple Crown trail, it was usual for a horse to go off its feeds for a few days, usual for a horse even one as resilient as the filly to show a bit of wear and tear, it was usual for any normal horse to display these markers. He pretended, as best he could, that the gelding had not died and that the filly’s reaction was merely one of exhaustion and not of grief.
The grooms had been making much of her-which she had never allowed and Jonah told himself she was enjoying. He told the press that she’d just had a bit of shock at the quick change in temperature, Belmont had dropped down ten degrees since Marzanna had arrived ten days ago, and then yes, the misfortunate loss of the gelding who traveled with her no doubt had a slight impact. He assured them that she was suited to run through, and they believed him. Her three works had been above average, even if they were below average for her, they too wanted to believe.
Hallie Jeffries didn’t believe shit.
She was pissed, she could see the filly wasn’t all there, and was irritated that everyone else, so vested in the Triple Crown dream, pretended not see it. She was pissed that the filly hadn’t been scratched, that she’d endure a race that shouldn’t be run. She was pissed the lack of a scratch prevented her from finding another mount, she was certain she could have sweet-talked Jonah into giving her the ride on that lanky golden bay had she had the chance.
Hallie Jeffries was pissed, but despite that when she glanced up at the television and saw Frankie Deltino and that big grey sweep the field for the Woody Stevens by nine lengths she managed to smile.
Scout saw plainly as the grooms pulled Marzanna and Wit out of their respective stalls for the walk over, that it was not going to be the filly’s day. Her head hung below her withers, her usual sharp eye was listless, and he by contrast was a high velocity snapping of elegant limbs and emotion. She glanced at Jonah, but his face was blank and she swallowed down any word of doubt.
Travis’s expression echoed the same sentiment. As did his girlfriend’s. The grooms were devoid as well. Only Dean, incapable of doing anything but wearing his heart on his sleeve, looked uncomfortable.
She loved him, just a little bit for that.
It was a surprising thing to feel about someone whom she had never felt much of anything before. He had a pretty face and a charming manner, neither of which interested her anymore. He was funny and knowledgeable, which made him pleasant to work with, and his threatening ambition had cooled in the last few weeks. If anything he seemed more content in his position than ever, and she by contrast found a new sense of security in her own.
“Jonah we should scratch her,” Scout found herself saying, bolstered by Dean’s discomfort.
Jonah looked at her shocked, affronted, as though her words had roused him from an all too pleasant dream.
“She looked good this morning,” Travis said.
Scout flattened her mouth into a line and did not speak. The ugly end of dreams so rarely presented itself in Jonah’s shed row, Scout supposed she ought to have expected it.
The second Hallie saw the filly she knew it was over. She stood quietly, staring at the ground, as Estefan tightened her girth and stretched out her legs. Jonah had nothing to say to her as he legged her up. She glanced at the rest of the field, fit, rested, happy to be there.
The filly needed to be scratched.
The crossed under the grandstand and then broke off from the post parade. As she asked for the gallop the filly stumbled. It wasn’t a hard stumble, she caught herself quickly and went back to galloping as though nothing had happened, but Hallie felt something. Later on, years from then, she’d wonder if she willed the filly lame. In the moment, for six strides, she told herself she was imagining it. The filly moved out more, she mouth soft in Hallie’s hands, she displayed no awareness of pain.
But there was a hitch in her step.
Hallie pulled her up. The other horses had begun warming up just as Marzanna came back down. She didn’t fight Hallie, she didn’t shake her head, or even snort. She collapsed to the walk as though she were some lazy school pony. Hallie felt it then, and shook her head, made a fuss of it so the whole grandstand would understand; the filly was favoring her right foreleg.
She hopped off in the dead center of the track. The gasp from the grandstand nearly shook the Belmont track. Hallie ignored them and stroked the filly’s neck as she walked beside them. With each step the bobble in her stride became more evident and by the time Hallie reached the gap, Jonah, Travis, Scout and Dean the filly was dead lame.
There would be no Triple Crown winner this year.
Wit, who had no concept of whatever the hell a Triple Crown was nor would care even if he did, bound along eager to run. He got a bit impatient as things were held up longer than he was used to, but then the big men shouted and pushed at him into the gate-which was great fun, in his opinion. And then there was that delicious moment of chaos where everything clanged and the other horses screamed and railed against the metal bars that confined them. He let out a shout or too, and then the gates flung open and he tore out, straight for the front, straight as he liked it and went and had the time of his life.
Jonah couldn’t say how he felt. The filly had pissed in the test barn, clean, and seen the track vet and his own vet, both of them surmised the same thing-just a soft tissue bruise of the frog. The filly, who’d come back stone cold from her morning work must have picked up a stone and stepped funny on the walk over. She’d be fine in a matter of days. The farrier was set to look at her now.
Out on the track, was Wit, plowing down the backside like it had been his Triple Crown all along. He was a stride off the second place horse, but then as he turned for home he gained a half-length and then another.
Travis made a comment about the colt running too fast.
But he wasn’t. The colt was perfectly aware of his limitations and he was nowhere near them. He skipped into a change as they came into the homestretch. The change pushed him ahead by three lengths. A bay contender from the back of the pack shot forward and Wit took it personally, pinning his black ears down and opening up his stride. The bay got a look at him and softened until his jockey brought the whip down. Wit bared his teeth and buckled down, gaining a half-length, then a full length, then two, and three and then he had broad daylight between him and the number two horse.
And just like that, Wit had won the Belmont.
Travis had won a Triple Crown of sorts, which everyone was telling him as the tapped their cocktail glass to his own at the obscene party that Sierra had thrown. He’d won each race, as an owner, it just so happened the last race he won with a different horse. Shame about the filly, everyone told him, but that colt looked great. And the other one too! That big grey one. Travis was going to have a hell of a summer, that’s what they said.
No one mentioned the gelding. Dead and ash, sprinkled over the field where he’d grown up, where his mother grazed full with next year’s foal. Not even his own people had bothered bringing it up-no that wasn’t true. Dean had clapped his shoulder when he’d arrived on Friday and said he was sorry.
That was until he ran into Lacey Delray.
The girl looked awful. He felt bad about that. He’d tried to give Mike and Scarlett a bonus for her, for college, for something, but they’d went and asked Lacey and she turned him down. Her skin was grey and her arm was slung up and her nose taped, but she’d managed to will her way into the party.
When she saw him, she startled like a deer.
“I’m sorry about Ash,” she said quickly, as though she had done something wrong.
“It’s fine,” Travis said, taking a sip of his whiskey, “These things happen. At least that’s what everyone keeps telling me.”
She smiled at that, “Yeah, that’s what they keep telling me too. Anyway, congratulations,” she said before walking away to stand at Luc Martin’s side.
Travis, for one, was just happy the Triple Crown was over.
Jonah found himself exceedingly happy the Triple Crown was over.
The filly had been shipped home, which the press saw as an exceedingly kind if not disappointing gesture. The filly had seemed grateful for it. The emptiness she left behind was nearly intolerable up until Tuesday, yesterday, when Jonah found that he did not think of her once. His mind had no room for horses that didn’t fill his stalls. If the filly-when the filly came back, then he could think on her, until then there was simply no time.
He had always preferred the summer campaigns. They lacked the rabid frenzy of the Derby Trail and the clawing desperation of the fall as Breeders’ Cup approached. Once they moved to Saratoga in a couple of weeks Jonah knew he would find himself even busier, but also more serene. The Spa had that effect. Everyone seemed eager for it, to leave their home track behind for what could arguably be viewed as their vacation home.
Wit had come back from the Belmont without issue. The Sunday after he had popped right up and eaten every inch of his grain. They galloped him out earlier and he seemed to enjoy himself. Jonah intended to let the colt enjoy himself for the entire month of July. Come August they’d tighten the screws a bit, and then he’d go in an very fresh horse for the Jockey Gold Cup at Belmont. The press had been a bit disappointed he wasn’t headed towards the Haskell or the Travers, but Jonah had informed them that Triple Birch had a vested interest in the colt having a strong four year old season. There was no need to rush. They had liked that.
They had Gabe to ogle over now. After his heroic Preakness the press had started to care about him, they never much cared when he’d been a favorite in Florida, but now each morning he showed up they kept asking Haskell or Travers? After a particularly strong breeze Jonah informed them, Haskell.
Eminence was set to be the next big show at Belmont. Come the weekend she’d get the chance to try her hand at the Bed O’ Roses Handicap. He and Travis had spoken about the mare’s future prior to Travis’s return to the farm. She would retire after the year, so providing she could handle it, a strong summer campaign would certify her a spot in the Breeders’ Cup and then she could go home to get fat on bluegrass.
Zahra had the month off. Jonah hadn’t committed to anything yet, but the Delaware Handicap was looking awfully good to him especially with a purse of three-quarters of a million. Whether or not the filly would stay for a fifth year he hadn’t decided yet, he figured she’d tell him.
Double Up, now the only three year old filly Triple Birch had in training, was looking fantastic. She stood a full sixteen hands and change. She loved Belmont and it loved her right back. She was a press darling and a fan favorite, you’d think that she had won the Oaks. Jonah was determined to have her get a GI win under her belt before summer’s close, hopefully The Mother Goose would provide that at the end of the month.
And then there were the two year olds. A few had made it immediately clear that they were standouts. They’d had Marzanna’s little half-brother in training for what seemed like forever, but June had been kind to him thus far. He had grown a bit and had pointedly informed them that he was a closer after a number of failed attempts to have him breeze in company. Jonah had him circled for a maiden in two weeks.
Tizme had shown that her good personality extended to the track, and was set for another maiden race with the intent of breaking it this time. Jonah had him paired up with Eminence for a few works. The mare liked the little colt and seemed to have impart onto him a sense of himself as not just a horse, but a competitor.
Then there was the white thing.
Technically a paint of some sort, with one of his little ears palomino, the colt called Gav’riel had made a point of inflicting all sorts of chaos on Jonah’s shed row. He stole items, anything he could pull into his stall, he did. He flipped his feed buckets. And he made a general show of himself every morning. Despite his antics, the colt liked to run, and was so evidently built for the grass that Jonah wondered if he had another Arc winner already.
The final colt had not shipped down yet, and by all accounts, wouldn’t come until fall. That suited Jonah fine.
Cas, as they called her, seemed determine to singlehandedly clear her sire’s bad name. She demonstrated the workmanlike quality all his offspring inherited, but also a level of class and talent that all her relatives had come a bit short of. This Thursday she would race for the first time, and Jonah was fairly certain, break her maiden on the first time out.
Renegade, who earned every inch of her name, had demonstrated that a maiden was hardly necessary. On Friday she would ship out with Scout for Churchill to have her first time out in the G3 Debutante Stakes.
Affinity, who’d managed to accept track life now that she could stay out in her round pen twenty-four seven courtesy of the New York summer, was set to go off on Friday in her maiden, five furlongs over dirt. Jonah was of the opinion that at the least, it’d be a learning experience for her.
City Myth. The OBS session topper looked fantastic, but Travis and he had agreed that this was a filly that peaked at three or even four, and that with consideration to her injury, there was no need to rush her. A maiden in August would suit nicely.
Then there was the filly.
Since Marzanna’s absence the nickname had been imparted onto the wildly marked daughter of Vagabond, but for an entirely different set of reasons. She was an enigma. Some days she ran well, other mornings she hardly moved off a hunter’s pace. She was fit and big and even though half the grooms were of the opinion she was stupid, Jonah saw an unnerving gleam of self-awareness in her eyes. He figured the Spa would be a good place to let her dip her toes in racing. After that they would see.
They would see.
So yes Marzanna is out for the foreseeable future, but don't fret she won't be forgotten. Onto the rest of the summer!!
Name: Quick Wit
Barn name: Wit
Color: Bay Sabino
Markings: Star, Stripe/Blaze, FL & BR coronet, FR sock
Height: Projected 16.3
Temperament: A bit of a hot head, Wit tends to act first and think later. Despite that he always gives one hundred percent often times his emotions can get in the way. Ironically enough he's impervious to fear, his natural pride prevents him from developing even the slightest hint of anxiety.
Preferred Distance: 6-10 f
Running Style: First Flight
Pedigree: Street Sense x Swift Temper (Giant’s Causeway)