|The latest in my HARPG story. Post Derby wrap up, the Preakness awaits!!|
So narrative wise the image probably should have been of Marzanna, but have y'all see how much cover time she's been getting?? I mean its deserved and makes perfect sense, but I drew her like three times this month alone so I decided to feature the elusive and only briefly featured Dark Emblem, that crazy son of a bitch Hallie bought last year from Japan, since he is going to become quite paramount eventually and also because I needed a reference for him and didn't quite like any of the other drawings I had of him. He's a looker isn't he?
Scout had not intended to sleep with Noah, not even as he drew her shirt off and kissed her neck with teeth and tongue. Not even as she undid the buckle of his belt and pushed his pants off with a ferocity and need that surprised her, now in retrospect as she pulled into her spot outside Jonah’s shedrow at Belmont. Not even as he entered her after a prolonged foreplay that had made her so desperate for him she’d bit his bottom lip as he did it, hard enough to draw blood. She had even told himself afterwards, I don’t do things like this, and he’d smiled as he’d done all day. He’d been a gentleman about the whole thing, which was even more startling. Once, in college, Scout had done things like this, she couldn’t recall a time when afterwards the chosen boy of the night walked her home and kissed her goodbye after having made her coffee. Noah didn’t walk her home granted, just to her car, but he did kiss her goodbye and gave her a cup of coffee, a good one, in one of his own thermoses. Scout, who was attempting to live more like her mother, true and genuine, decided that it was what is was and to accept it and let it fit seamlessly into the rest of her. Being a force of nature meant being contradictory, meant being fluid, meant being full of seams.
“Morning Scout,” Estefan said as he pulled the Circe filly out into the aisle way. The filly pricked her ears at Scout, her rose gray colt lit up by the warm Belmont spring morning that filtered in. The rest of the horses, having finished their grain, had their heads out, some nibbling at their hay nets the others just watching the activity that they would soon become part of.
“Morning, sorry I’m late.”
Estefan smiled, “You know I don’t mind.”
Scout nodded, she did know. She ducked into the office and grabbed her clip board. Cassiphone, that was the Circe filly’s name, was set to work first. Then, Affinity, Renegade, then the turf colt, Gav’riel, followed by Aponivi. Then Emmy, Dory, Zee, and then finally Paranormal was set to gallop for the first time since the Derby. A full morning. Full was good.
She stepped back out into the aisle. Cassiphone, Cass, Scout decided silently was tacked and ready to go. She was a very workmanlike filly, you had to like that, especially in a two year old. Birchwood always threw good workers though, the problem had been that historically they did not possess a sixteenth of their sire’s talent. Cass was still too young to demonstrate whether or not she was a typical Birchwood get, or if she was the beginning of a new area for the aging stud. They all were hoping it was the latter.
Scout glanced at her watch, six-fifteen. How she enjoyed this civilized hour, even if she was running on less sleep than she ought to be. As though prompted by her watch, Maggie Lawson walked in, tapping her crop against her thigh. Walking next to her was Mal. Scout had been warned, more than warned, she and Jonah had had a lively discussion about it and she had agreed. But all the discussion and analysis in the world could not anticipate the drop her stomach experienced. The feeling of Noah’s hands flashed very quickly into her and then was gone.
Of all the things she could have said she settled for, “Morning guys. Maggie you’ve got your girl. Mal you’re on the grey right here.”
They parted, Maggie going to the chestnut filly’s stall, peering in as her groom wrangled with her mouth to get the bit in. Mal went over to Cass, rubbed her neck and let Estefan leg him up. Estefan nodded when Mal thanked him and then peered over her shoulder at the clipboard.
“You want to try her in the twisted snaffle and the figure eight today, right boss?”
Scout nodded and walked out of the shed row and the filly. As soon as they were clear of everyone who might be listening, Mal said, “We should talk.”
Scout was surprised how much air that five word conversation cleared.
“Tell me about the filly.”
“She’s good. Works hard. Steady. Trying to see what exactly she is. Just let her do what she wants for a quarter mile, keep a bit in the tank. I want your opinion.”
They paused at the gap. She waited. He turned and looked down at her.
“I’m sorry Scout, really.”
She found herself nodding. “I know.”
They looked at each other for a moment. He looked different to her, like he had back before they’d gotten involved in one another. He didn’t glow like he had when she’d realized she’d cared. He was the Mal she’d first met, the one she thought was handsome, but who carried himself like a walking wound. He pushed the filly onto the track and she took her spot on the rail, wondering what it all meant.
Lacey was beginning to understand some aspects of all those teenage movies her friends from school liked watching. Well not understand, she had the distinct feeling that she wouldn’t understand what it was to be a teenager and why until she was no longer one. Rather she was starting to feel some sort of comradery with those girls in the movies and her friends even, who had things called crushes and stayed up half the night texting smiley faces to the boys on the football team.
He wasn’t handsome and tall with white perfect teeth like the boys in those movies, and he certainly wasn’t captain of any football or soccer team. There was no school setting to define him as popular and thus worthy of pursuit. She had no female clique of friends who saw him and could impart their limited wisdom to her about him. All that, the difference, made it very exciting to her. Well that and the fact that Dean had warned her to be careful with him, that made it very exciting.
He’d come down a week early from Belmont presumably to get a feel of how Pimlico rode. Before then Lacey hadn’t really felt one way or another about him, but he’d come down and he’d smiled at her in this funny way and she found her stomach jumping at it. She wasn’t an idiot, she’d seen how many of the grown-ups flirt and date and she saw how Mike and Scarlett were. The trick was that she couldn’t let any of them, the adults, know. Ethan Tyler was a bad boy, everyone said it, from the Form to the railbirds to the grooms and exercise riders.
He had girls, girls older and prettier than she was. He took them to parties and brought them to the track and bought them things. At first that had made Lacey feel rather hopeless about the whole thing. She was fifteen, skinny like a boy, and even though she kind of liked the way her face reflected back at her in the mirror she knew she wasn’t like the girls in the magazines. She wasn’t white and she didn’t have those high thin cheekbones or those straight little noses or pouty red lips. He looked at her though, in the way those boys in the movies did, and so Lacey had become quite certain that she had something.
The mornings, which had always been the best part of the day, had become even better. He’d taken over riding Wit in the mornings, which she would have minded had it not afforded her the chance to see him. With Dean still in Kentucky, Jonah too busy to remember to eat most days, Mike up in Belmont establishing a client base for the spring meet, and Scarlett too there was no one around to take note of what she was doing, which was of course exactly what she wanted.
This was how she found herself being taken to the track kitchen for breakfast every morning by a very upbeat Ethan Tyler. Lacey, although only fifteen and caught up in her crush, wasn’t an idiot. People were always watching and so she played cool. People knew she was without friends at Pimlico, Mike and Luc were in New York, so outside of the original surprise of seeing the pair together Lacey figured that by now everyone, including Ethan Tyler himself, had assumed they were friends.
Lacey, however, was hoping that would be changing soon.
Five days off of the Preakness Wit stopped eating. Not entirely, but it lacked the usual eagerness the colt had been known for. Jonah let it go for two days, but then he put in an average work during which he nearly flung Ethan Tyler off him just for the hell of it. By that afternoon Jonah found himself giving a press conference. The colt was scratched, already on trailer home to Belmont where he’d be pointed towards the mile and a half test.
Scout received the colt and the press. The colt seemed bright and happy. He had a touch of a fever and was a bit warm in his left hind ankle. Within three days at Belmont the x-rays came back clean, the fever had gone, the leg was cold and the colt was back on the track for a jog. As she watched the big bay prance and cavort about underneath a very patient Mal, Scout found herself shrugging, horses will be horses.
Of all the racetracks Hallie had ridden at in her life, from the northeast, to Kentucky, to California, to England, and even a few in Australia, she’d never ridden at Pimlico. It seemed a very obvious gap in her education now that she was standing in the paddock watching Jonah finish tighten Marzanna’s girth. She’d meant to come down earlier, like three days ago, but she’d spent the last two weeks in a haze of sex and glory and had lost her usual obsessive compulsive edge. Which meant that when Jonah had told her to take that race yesterday she had, which meant she hadn’t gotten into Maryland until late last night.
“Just ride her.”
Calm washed over her. She looked into Jonah’s eyes and nodded. The filly was already looking out to the track, Hallie knew that very little of his actually involved her. The core of the thing, the pulsing ever moving forward sphere that had created these accomplishments and the euphoria dripping out of everyone was somewhere buried deep inside the filly. Hallie was merely an addendum to that. Her job was to stay out of the way.
If the Derby had been a score of three year olds thrown together with the intent to weed out the inevitable weaklings and make racehorses out of the rest than the Preakness was what separated the racehorses from the racehorses. After this lay the test of champions, Belmont, and then those who passed through those gilded gates would go onto Saratoga, the graveyard of champions, to either prove they could stand above or to have their ashes spread. The filly felt like a champion, she certainly was in that strictly human way the related directly to the sum of money printed next to her name in the form, but was she the real deal, the kind that comes to haunt every track they stepped on even long after they’re dead, the kind that younger horses would consistently fail to measure up to ten, fifteen, fifty years from now, the sort that haunts the minds and hearts and souls of the American public. Was she that?
Pimlico wouldn’t prove it, but it would start to make her image a bit clearer. Hallie always liked to imagine Thoroughbreds as you got them, at two, a whole education imparted to them, hundreds of thousands if not millions spent already, as an ever shifting outline, an impressionistic watercolor sketch of their selves. Then you trained them a bit, ran them a bit, and suddenly the sketch became tighter and tighter until it was nearly a painting and then they were three and you had an idea of them as a soul and an individual and a competitor and then you ran them some more and here that picture continued to tighten and tighten, render and render, until by the time you sent them off to the breeding shed or the pasture or to a second career as a hunter or jumper you had a real solid image of them. The mystery of the picture was what the industry made millions on, the selling and profiting of dreams. Most of the time there was little satisfaction in the beautifully finished picture, they’d proved themselves to be claimers, or worse losers, or maybe allowance runners or even winners and then at this level of the sport they either had failed their bloodline, their prolific sire, their classy dam, let down their millionaire half-brother or sister, or they’d done just as they had been bred to, won what they had been intended to, lost when applicable, or they’d matched their sibling stride for stride, a millionaire in their own right, they’d improved their dam’s produce record, added another GI winner to their sire’s collection, and then there were the sacred, the ones who outshone it all, the ones who were better than their great sire, the ones who were an improvement on their classic winning dam, the ones who became multi-millionaires to their half-siblings measly G2 winning statuses.
Marzanna was the daughter of a sire whose stud career was cut short by accidental gelding courtesy of a temperamental mare. She was one of the few lucky enough to have been infused with that particular strain of El Diablo blood. She wasn’t her dam’s first foal, there had been others sold at auction for record rates but they had failed to deliver in one way or another. Her dam had been a legend, but she was starting to go the way that some mares do, a legend in her own right but incapable of passing on an ounce of her greatness to her offspring. Marzanna, despite all that she had already proved, had in actuality very little to prove.
Hallie figured it was a good thing nobody had taken the filly aside to tell her that.
She stepped onto the Pimlico track like a fire breathing dragon, snorting and pinning her ears, a hundred and fifty pounds stronger and a whole lot tougher. She’d always seemed a bit ethereal to Hallie, half here, half elsewhere in the way that young female creatures can be, especially fillies, but the Derby had made a mare out of Marzanna even if she wouldn’t be called such until she turned four in January. Hallie could feel it though in the way Marzanna took hold of the bit, of her, and took command of the dirt strip of Pimlico.
The filly didn’t like the pony horse so with a polite word Hallie turned Marzanna loose from the post parade. Hallie already conjured up half a dozen remarks the announcers were no doubt making about the unusual move. But the filly wanted to go. She let the filly trot for a long while and then let her out in that magnificent gallop, slow and easy, and the filly despite her obvious personality upgrade did not try to pull or argue or even fret. The same could not be said for the colts in the field.
Gabe, the only other entry Jonah had, was attempting to engage in a masculinity related battle of chicken with that gorgeous dark bay colt that Empire Maker that Paranormal had gone up against in Aqueduct. Hallie turned her attention away from them as the starters loaded Marzanna into slot 7. The rest of the field loaded slowly, Marzanna lipped at the bars of the gate as she waited, always patiently. Without Wit this would be a different game. There were two pacesetters, a bay Forestry colt who was most certainly a rabbit for Baffert’s other entry, a beautiful chestnut by Medgalia d’Oro, and then that grey colt that Ashkii had gone up against back on opening night at Churchill. Hallie was anticipating that the Forestry colt would take the front and set a wicked pace, probably even faster than Wit’s in the Derby, but that he’d bail out halfway along the backstretch. The grey would take the lead and a bit tired from the wicked pace would set something a bit more conservative. Marzanna was a stalker who could run from just about anywhere but right in the front or dead last and she could last, so Hallie’s tactic was to keep her back in seventh place or so, well off the suicide pace that would no doubt trap Gabe up, who needed to run right off it.
The last horse loaded and Marzanna, smart as she was, settled herself neatly on her haunches and waited for the spring of the gates. It came and they broke. Marzanna sized up the situation immediately and took part in a lively discussion with Hallie, both agreeing that yes seventh was the perfect place to settle, for now at least.
Jonah had refused to let Wit’s idiocy ruin his mood. The colt was fine and he’d be a machine for the Belmont, where his speed could really wreak havoc on the field. For now the concern was for Gabe, who was getting caught up in a suicide speed duel with that bay colt from Aqueduct right behind the suicide speed duel that had started this whole mess, between that Baffert rabbit and the grey who’d lost by a nose to Ash back at Churchill.
“I don’t know when he got so god damned concerned about his testicles, but it’s becoming a real pain in my ass,” Jonah said to Travis in his box. Sienna was not present due to a competition of her own and so he felt comfortable displaying such crude language.
Travis laughed, he could afford to after all.
“Don’t tell me you’re thinking of trying to convince me to geld him.”
“God no, he’s won too much already, the idiot. But he’s getting surrounded by the biggest, meanest mares I can find once he ships to Belmont.”
“Is our own head bitch not mean enough?”
Jonah laughed, his eyes flicking to the filly’s dark shape set deep in the pack as they careened around the clubhouse turn. “She just doesn’t care. Colts are not of any interest to her. I wish your breeding boys the best of luck when you try to get her into the shed.”
Travis laughed. Then both men became absorbed as Gabe and Pharoah, his apparent sworn enemy, stole the lead from the speedballs along the backstretch. Marzanna began to tick off her opponents slowly. Then as it went all factions collided around the turn for home. Marzanna sprung like a lioness, wide as she liked it, as the boys duked it out on the rail. She swept the lead from them in an instant, with a quarter to go. The grandstand shook. But then, no thanks to Gabe himself, but rather to Mike, the colt was pointed toward the filly. His win against the dark bay colt seemed to have inspired him, even if logistically he ought to have been sinking back, exhausted from an unnecessary display of masculinity. Instead Mike deftly hooked him up to the filly, who breaked so hard out surprise that Hallie actually brought the whip down to refocus her.
It became a battle of giants then. Gabe who’d never done anything particularly heroic in his entire life, was suddenly myth wrought to flesh. They were some epic pairing, Athena and Poseidon, Artemis and Orion, the classic contestation of the feminine and the masculine. He pressed her hard, harder than anyone had dared to. But she fought. There was a moment where Jonah felt his stomach sink to his toes, Triple Crown dreams dashed as Wit overtook her by a head, but then with a ferocity he hadn’t seen in a long time, the filly lunged forward, teeth bared and ears flat to her skull. For heartbeat he thought she was about to savage the colt and ruin it for herself, but she took it out on the track, blasting forward by a half a length and then a length. Gabe fought though, the measure of distance between them opening and closing until finally the adrenaline sloughed off him and he became aware of the fragility of his body.
She took the Preakness by two lengths.
Dark Emblem, who had never had a pet name, and certainly considered himself too old and too important to earn one now had excelled at Fair Hill. He was not particularly loved at Fair Hill, but he had put on about half of the muscle and weight he’d been missing in the three weeks he had been there and had come back from each increasingly harder work with stone cold legs. That paired with the fact he had made a half-hearted attempt to savage his groom the day before is what had prompted his early waking on the Sunday morning after the Preakness.
A big empty horse van awaited him following his breakfast, which he devoured with his usual aplomb. The sight of the trailer excited him. He was a horse who had been to more countries than most people, traveling excited him as the destinations always proved to be exactly what he wanted. The plane had brought him to a large noisy place that had many things to scream and paw at, then the trailer that picked him up there had taken him to a track where he got to finally run against other horses on the dirt circle and demonstrate just how fast he was, and then even when he’d flung himself into that big rock of a filly and hurt himself the van had taken him away to the nice place with the people with the soft hands and voices who made the pain go away, plus there had been grass. This place also had grass, but Dark Emblem had a sense about the morning, that he was going back to the place with the dirt oval where he could show other horses just how fast he was. There was going to be less grass there and less turn out, more people pushing him this way and that way, demanding he behave according to their standards without once asking him what his standards for their behavior was, but there was that showing them how fast he was that made any unpleasant fact irrelevant.
The hay was good inside the van, and he had a big space to roam about, lay down even if he so wished. He was not a horse who laid down though, not since he left the field and stall he shared with his mother, warm and female and dark, all signs of comfort.
Eventually after he’d worked a bit on the hay he fell asleep and did not wake until the van’s ramp was drop. A new man came in talking to him in a surprisingly pleasant voice, a handful of peppermints pushed forward. Dark Emblem found this acceptable and therefore did not protest in the slightest when the groom worked the stud chain loosely over his lip and though his halter ring. The man didn’t tug on him, which Dark Emblem appreciated enough to move forward after only a brief reassessment of his surroundings. It was late morning, bright, and Dark Emblem found himself for the first time in his life returned to a place he had been before. That made him feel good enough to vocally express himself and bound forward. The groom didn’t scold him for doing so either, but jogged alongside with the sort of resigned patience that Dark Emblem liked to see in humans.
The groom let him carry on until he was finished and then did not even mind when Dark Emblem stopped to graze. Eventually he allowed himself to be coaxed inside the shed row, largely because he smelled that it was stocked full of fillies. His eyes confirmed that, but the fillies paid him no mind. That had been fun about the place with the nice people who made the pain go away, there were mares everywhere, some with foals, some not, and nearly all took interest in him. Fillies on the track were different, they looked at him as though he were any other horse. He was put into a nice big clean stall right next to a grey mare who pinned her ears at him and a big bay mare who regarded him without enthusiasm. That wasn’t exactly the welcome he’d wanted, but the hay was good and the water was clean and crisp.
Marzanna, now truly a Triple Crown contender, and Gabe, now Classic placed and deemed worthy of national attention for his heroic attempt in said race even though it only netted him third, were greeted at Belmont with the fanfare one would expect, that is it was a complete mob scene, a zoo, utter and total chaos. The filly did not care. The colt did, but between two grooms and Jonah himself they managed to get him tucked safely in the shed row before he had a meltdown. The filly, accompanied by her gelding, put up with the press rather well. She ignored them, focusing her attention on the lush Belmont grass, but she made a good fixture for the camera, grazing behind Jonah and Scout as they discussed their plans for both her and the colts.
“Paranormal is out,” Scout answered for him, “He had a bit of swelling in one of his legs, nothing serious, but he’s off the trail for good. We’ll aim him for a late summer campaign until he tells us otherwise.”
“What about Golden Age?” the Bloodhorse guy asked.
“We’ll see how he handles the next two three weeks,” Jonah said glancing back at the filly.
“And Quick Wit, he put in a good gallop this morning,” that’d be the Form guy.
“He did, we’ll see,” Scout said patiently, “We have the rest of the year to consider as well. There’s a lot of races between now and November.”
“Well can you at least say the filly is going to the Belmont?”
Both Jonah and Scout laughed, “Yes, barring injury or illness you can expect to see her show up on Belmont day.”
That at least seemed to satisfy them, for now.
“He feels good boss,” Mike Torrez said from atop Tizme in the walk through the tunnel that cut through Churchill’s grandstand. The little bay swiveled his dainty ears back to catch the sound of Mike’s voice as he trotted along. He wasn’t supposed to be trotting, just walking, but Marco, his groom, had him firmly in hand. The colt simply felt good and was showing the meager crowd at Churchill just that.
The Derby was over, the Preakness was even over, Churchill was all but empty, the shed row was all but empty save for Tizme and Chelsea, the bay pony horse Jonah had opted to leave behind to keep Tizme company. She was a big brawny mare, a Thoroughbred at that, an ex-middle grade allowance racer who’d fallen down into the claiming world. Jonah had liked her manner, and she had a manner that big top dog mares had, got a vet in to sooth her various injuries, and had turned her into a pony. Tizme liked her, probably because she was so large and female and confident, much like his mother had probably been. The introduction of a constant female presence also helped insure that Tizme maintained his wonderful demeanor. There was no creature stricter about manners and good behavior (especially of males) than a good mare.
Dean nodded, “Just let him figure it out.”
Mike, who’d if Dean had to guess had probably ridden at least ten thousand two year old races in his life, just nodded and ran his hand up the length of the colt’s neck. Marco handed the duo off to the pony horse, a big paint mare, and then he and Dean took to the rail. He could use Jonah’s box, but considering the race was rather short (a mere four and a half furlongs) and there were no owners to entertain (a two year olds first start was hardly worth flying to Kentucky for when you had a barn of stakes horses at Belmont) so he stood along the rail for forgot for a moment that he was a trainer.
The field was small only five, all maiden colts, none of which had ever run a race before. Tizme was the smallest horse in the race, he hadn’t quite hit fifteen hands yet, but his projection of fifteen two meant that although he wouldn’t be quite average size, he certainly wouldn’t be the smallest horse in the field forever. He wasn’t the most developed horse either. A big red son of Curlin was the clear favorite, he could have passed for a three year old if he’d really needed to, and there was a lanky son of Unbridled’s Song who looked young but surveyed the entire affair as though he’d been doing it his whole life. The other two, a bay Speightstown and a liver Giant’s Causeway, looked much as Tizme did. A little overwhelmed, a bit too excited for their own good, a bit young, but for now they still floated without expectations. They’d been entered for much the same reason that Tizme had been, to get their feet wet in the ocean that was the racing game, their owners hadn’t built fantasies around them just yet and their trainers were still weeding through their personal quirks and character. For now they were merely two year old Thoroughbreds going out for a run.
They all warmed up nicely, Tizme had a little spook but Mike calmed him down without fuss. He loaded nicely, yet another thing to like about the colt, and then he broke cleanly, quickly, efficiently, boosting himself straight to the front. Once he got to the front he wallowed for the first furlong, and the rest of the field was content to wallow with him, Mike was content to let him wallow, and Dean was content to watch him wallow. Then instinct kicked in for big red and he swept the lead right out from under Tizme’s nose.
Tiz did something unexpected then.
He didn’t sink back. Defeat didn’t show on his expression, rather, his expression was one of utter enjoyment, ears pricked, one swiveling back and forth to catch whatever Mike was saying to him. He was in a typically uncomfortable position for horses, wedged between a larger horse and the distasteful rail, but it didn’t bother him. Rather he and Mike seemed to have agreed that the chestnut’s bid for first had provided Tiz with a rather natural bodyguard. It helped him stay straight along the backstretch and then pushed him snug to the rail around the only turn. He hung out at the bigger colt’s flank the whole way around. Then with a furlong to go the big grey shot forward from fourth and the chestnut dug in. Tizme didn’t fire really, but he stayed nice and snug to the chestnut’s flank, not giving an inch. The grey and the chestnut hooked up on the outside, and Tizme stayed put.
In tandem the three crossed the finish line. Photo finish flashed on the board which provided Churchill with a bit of excitement as bettors waited to find out the results. Dean went down with Marco to get their colt. He came back with an open expression, ears pricked, and eyes bright. Wasn’t that fun, he seemed to say. Mike was making a fuss over him, which the colt was thoroughly enjoying.
“He ran so clean boss. I hit him a few times but it didn’t make much a difference,” he gave a sheepish smile, “I feel bad about that, he was having such a good time it felt wrong to bring the whip down, but you know.”
Dean nodded, he did know. The bettors and stewards would have your ass if you didn’t give a horse running for money every bit of encouragement.
“Didn’t seem to bug him, but I’ll talk to Jonah about dropping the whip. If it makes no difference, no sense in carrying it.”
Mike nodded and then hopped down off the colt, the colt twisted his head around to nuzzle at Mike. Dean found the colt’s nature a funny thing, not because of his kindness, but because of the effect it had over others. He considered the three of them to be pretty hard men, men used to waking up early, working hard, and going home tired. There was no place for sentimentality on the race track, and Dean doubted that any of them would classify themselves as sentimental, even if you took away the masculine coda you had to live up to, even if you were just being honest, maybe talking to a girlfriend or a wife, Dean didn’t think Mike or Marco or himself would qualify their own characters as capable of sentiment. The colt brought it out in you though. Fillies did that sometimes, young babies in their twos and early threes, before life really made them tough. Dory had the effect, but it was fleeing from her to be replaced by determination and grit. The colt was just different. Dean couldn’t think of the last time he met an affectionate stud colt, sure you had mannerly ones, kind ones even, but affection just wasn’t a typically part of the male dialogue.
Stallions led solitary lives, frighteningly lonely ones if you really thought about it, at least in the wild they had mares to converse with on a daily basis and offspring to interact with. At a stud farm they lived alone, among other studs but not with him. Their conversations with mares were limited to the moments before intercourse and that whole courtship was highly abbreviated by man. They never met the resulting offspring and odds were they’d never see the mare again. Their interactions with humans were businesslike, all centered around the almighty breeding shed, and outside of that they were left alone to their own devices. A life of affection and equine companionship ended at weaning for stud colts. With fillies it was different, for a few years there was a lull as they raced and trained, but even at the track you could see that fillies and mares all had relationships with one another, even if it was limited, and then after the track they spent the next two decades of their life in a haze of sisterhood and motherhood. If a stallions life was ruled by the doctrine of the impersonal than mares were governed by the interpersonal.
The colt did not seem to have been taught this universal rule. He nudged at everyone, always kindly, whickered at the fillies in a polite, mannerly way, an objective way, and they all appreciated his male opinion. Marzanna even had come to look towards the colt with pricked ears and a soft expression where the other colts received only glares and pinned ears. She was going to be tough one to coax into the breeding shed, Dean thought.
The photo flashed onto the tote board. Tizme had held third.
“Not bad,” Dean said as he patted the colt.
No, not bad at all.
Double Up was transforming. The bright naïve two year old that she’d once been was all but dead and buried. They’d had her and Zahra working in company since they’d been at Belmont, which taught Dory that just because an older meaner filly eyed you up didn’t mean you had to back down. That even though that filly pushed in your personal space it was alright to push back, it was alright to edge her out, and hell it was even alright to make a mean face of your own if she really didn’t give you space. And now since Marzanna had been back, fresh off that Preakness win, they’d hooked the two three year olds up together to work a bit in company.
It had been a bit frightening to watch at first. Lacey up on the massive bay filly (unlike most who withered under the rigors of the Triple Crown, Marzanna had put on a hundred pounds of racing muscle and at least a hundred pounds of attitude) and this new exercise girl, Maggie, up on Dory who looked like tiny beam of sunlight next to the hulking shadow of Marzanna. At first Jonah had felt guilty. Marzanna had crushed Dory on the first day, pulling away from due to her natural impulsion (the longer she ran the longer and deeper the stride became, there was no controlling that, even though she obeyed Lacey perfect and went no faster than an easy gallop) before the ¾ pole and they’d only begun their work at the half mile pole. He’d considered writing the whole thing off then, Marzanna hardly needed her confidence built (she had a funny look on her face after too, as though she too felt guilty about being physically superior to the smaller filly, as though it not being a real challenge made it miserable, not fun) and the last thing any of them wanted was to cause Dory’s new found self-esteem to plummet. She was nearly a millionaire in her own right, albeit in a less glamorous way than their superstar, but still she was no mere claimer or allowance runner to be sacrificed at the altar of Marzanna’s ego.
He gave the chestnut the next day off, let her trot and slow gallop the next two and then finally he breezed her. It was her best breeze yet. She had taken a real hold of Maggie and let loose on Belmont’s oval. A quarter mile in twenty three thirty two. Not bad, especially for a horse who ran off the pace. And Jonah had decided that working the two together again was worth a try.
With Dean on his left and Scout in front of him up on that Appy pony horse on the track, off to the right though so as to not block anyone’s view, they watched as the fillies cantered neatly in tandem and then were let loose on one another at the 3/8ths pole. Jonah wanted a slightly longer work this time around, hopefully providing Dory with a better chance.
Dory did something unexpected then.
She took off.
Jonah had never seen Marzanna look confused until that moment. Suddenly any lingering guilt the blue eyed filly might have been feeling had been dashed, very palpable anxiety read across her elegant face and she dove forward too fast, too soon. Her gait was a bit awkward for a few lengths as she chased down the chestnut, but once they blazed through the first quarter the big filly’s stride stretched out. Dory had about half a length on her, but Marzanna was coming up like a freight train. Something…interesting happened then, Marzanna came even on Dory’s outside and her pace clearly increased, but so did the chestnut filly’s. They ran nearly dead even, occasionally one’s nostril peeked out ahead of the other, but neither gave nor gained any real berth over the other. Their respective riders had to haul them back, Marzanna even dared to snap at the littler filly, but Dory who’d mastered imitating Zahra’s expressions sent her a nasty look right back.
“Well,” Dean said.
Scout shifted her weight on the pony, “She’s really not hopeless any more is she?”
Jonah looked at the copper hided filly, who now separated from her opponent by a wide berth of Belmont’s oval, trotted along with her head high, snorting and tossing her nose about. He looked to Marzanna, she was still trucking along albeit at a canter, but the muscles bulging in her neck indicated to all of them that if Lacey would let her she’d stalk Dory down for round two.
“I think,” Jonah said carefully, already tapping his knuckles on the rail, “It might be one hell of a summer.”
OH HOW LITTLE MY POOR HARPG PEOPLE KNOW. PREPARE YOURSELVES FOR JUNE MY WATCHERS MWUHAHAHAHA
Name: Dark Emblem
Nickname: Psycho, Son of a Bitch, That Black Devil Colt, The Antichrist, Hellspawn
Height: Projected 16.0 hh
Genotype: EE aa
Markings: HR sock, HL coronet, FL and FR coronet, large extended star, extended snip
Preferred Distance: 6-10f
Running Style: First Flight
Pedigree: War Emblem x Dance in the Mood (Sunday Silence)
Temperament: Awful. Genuinely and truly awful. A true and absolute terror, he's studdish, loud, and highly opinionated to boot. Defiant and obstinate to the death he is incapable of taking orders let alone following them. His saving grace is that he's beautiful and he's incredibly fast. Other than that there isn't much to like.
Lets not even talk about how long its been since I posted one of these here HARPG tales...just enjoy
Also Miss Rebel here is the hardest pony in the world to draw
Malcom Quinn, who’d been to rehab half a dozen times before, could honestly say that this time it had been different. Like a marriage. Like a real commitment. He’d only stayed long enough to detox and get his head set straight, about a week, and now he was back in New York. He hadn’t gone to the track yet. Maybe that was why this experience of slipping back into addiction and then back into sobriety felt different. Usually he stayed long enough to feel half sober and then bolted to the track to prevent any genuine dip in his career. Mal had been the best drug addict he’d ever known.
Mal was starting to feel like maybe all of it, drug addiction, starving himself to make weight, even jockeying, was getting kind of stale. He’d be thirty in December. Thirty. And yeah he had a lot to show for it, physical objects, a nice big house in New York with a paid off mortgage, several very nice cars, and a multitude of very nice objects. But what did he have to show for it. Financial stability that was one. Having descended from a long line of Irish alcoholics, drug addicts, and gamblers, handsome, charismatic men who couldn’t hold onto their money to save their lives, quite literally in many cases, Mal had somehow had the oversight at twenty to spend his first win check on a financial advisor. And that had saved him in so many ways that other guys in the game hadn’t been saved. He had more money than he figured he’d ever really need, hell the last time he’d had a bad slip back about four years ago he’d had more than enough money to survive the rest of his life in lazy comfort, he’d still gone back though, hadn’t he?
The problem now, with going back, was that everyone knew. Not just everyone on the track either, but the national news had gotten hold of the information (and why wouldn’t they, he was supposed to be on Marzanna the day she attained immortality) and so everyone knew. Granted this was America where everyone was addicted to something and so despite the deal everyone had made out of it, in truth it was no big deal and in a few months everyone would be lauding him for staying sober and having a comeback, providing he made those choices.
Mal wasn’t so sure a comeback was in his cards. It certainly could be. He was more talented now than he’d ever been, more desired by owners, better with the horses, better with strategies, all of it. He liked riding, always had, but he was also starting to grow partial to eating and sleeping and trying to patch things up with Scout (if such things could be patched up, he wasn’t sure on that) and maybe seeing if real life, life out of the jock’s room, wasn’t so bad.
Granted he’d need something to do.
He had a few ideas. One of them was a longer range plan, a concept yet, he knew he’d need to sit on for a while, she wasn’t quite old enough yet anyway. The other was a rather immediate one. He felt a little sneaky doing it, but it was an obvious solution to the majority of his problems.
“Mal,” Jonah’s voice on the other end of the line was measured.
“I fucked up.”
Jonah sighed, wind going out of sails. Mal had learned from one his earlier stints in rehab, that the best way to get people to forgive you for your character defects was to admit them readily and candidly.
“I’m not asking for a second chance.”
“No. I’m done with the game.”
“You know how many jocks I’ve heard say that in my life?”
Mal laughed as he ran his hand along the white marble countertop in his kitchen, it looked out on a park and the May greenness pervaded everything.
“Probably too many.”
“Let me ride in the mornings for you. That’s it. I’ve got enough money Jonah, I’ve been riding for fifteen years, ten of them at the top. I just need something to do.”
There was a considerable pause. “Where are you?”
“I’ll call Scout. I’m sure the filly would like to have you in the mornings.”
“Don’t fuck it up Mal.”
Then he hung up.
Don’t fuck it up Mal. Mal put down his cellphone. Seemed as good a mantra as any.
Scout couldn’t say she was surprised when Jonah called her in the office of their Belmont shed row to inform her that Mal Quinn was going to be one of their new exercise riders. Startled perhaps, but she’d made the suggestion four months back to him after his usual battle with the scale, down when they had been living in Louisiana. At five foot five and three quarters and with a natural build that suggested he ought to weigh a hundred and forty pounds, not a hundred and ten, and with his equine experience, at this point in his life he was made for riding in the mornings over riding in the afternoons.
Since Jonah’s shed row was predominantly Triple Birch, Zahra and a few allowance winners were the only non-Triple Birch horses they had this season, they really had only needed Lacey and the occasional outside hire. Fifteen horses was a pretty small shed row population, and none of their jockeys ever had minded out coming out to put the occasional breeze in. But with seven more shipping in within the next month (not to mention the ever expanding yearling crop poised to invade their ranks next spring) and Lacey caught up with Marzanna (as the most important horse in their string she got to keep Lacey naturally) they could use a few more hires.
In truth the four days that Scout had been at Belmont had been centered on filling out their staff ranks. Jonah had been talking about running everything right out of New York, only shipping horses to various tracks for races, so as to make things a bit easier to handle. More staff was needed and so Scout, being the only one at Belmont, had set herself to addressing that concern. Actually Jonah hiring Mal, although stressful for a myriad of other reasons, actually took a weight off her shoulders. He had a great manner with horses, fillies in particular, and she didn’t think any of their current fillies would be the least bit opposed to having him up on them in the mornings rather than an endless cycle of strangers as they awaited Lacey’s return.
It also meant she only needed to find one more exercise rider.
She’d whittled the list of twenty down to four, largely based on the endless gossip mill that was the racetrack cafeteria and by watching them ride other trainers’ charges over the last few mornings. One of them, the only girl she’d kept in the mix, she especially liked. Currently as she sat on Geronimo, their appy track pony, with Affinity ponied snug against his flank at the gap she watched the girl, a Maggie Lawson, push a rather fractious two year old colt into a rather impressive quarter mile breeze. The colt, who’d started out rearing and bucking and pitching every flavor of an equine fit, came off from the work with a content expression on his face.
Scout watched the entire affair with carefully constructed casual interest. Maggie Lawson brought the colt back, the trainer thanked her, handed her twenty five bucks and then they broke apart. That was when Scout decided to strike.
She dismounted and led the pair of horses towards Maggie who had settled among a throng of other exerciser riders.
“Excuse me,” Scout began.
“Yeah? Got a horse for me to ride? If not I’m not here to chat Rapunzel.”
Scout showed no reaction.
“Get on her.”
Affinity, who’d Scout had taken to calling Finnie, perked her ears and twisted her head in a snort. Maggie eyed Scout up, eyed the filly up, but said nothing. Scout boosted her up and then remounted Geronimo from the ground. Scout watched Maggie interact with the difficult filly out of the corner of her eye. The filly pinned her ears at first, they’d learned that despite being well broken in she didn’t much care for something on her back and in her mouth.
“Gallop her to the half mile pole and then let her loose till the wire. Got it?”
“Got it boss lady.”
Scout turned them loose at the gap and watched the filly toss her head and sidestep out onto Belmont’s massive dirt oval. Scout knew that most horseman found Belmont anxiety inducing, it was so big, so vast, a kingdom all its own, but Scout found something comforting about the great expanse of it, it reminded her of her smallness, and that was something in a world like taught you to pretend your way into greatness.
Belmont was quiet yet, with the focus being in Pimlico. She went over and parked at the quarter pole and pulled her stopwatch out of her jacket pocket and watched. Underneath her the gelding cocked his hand ankle and immediately dozed off.
“I find it harder and harder to believe anyone ever made a jumper out you,” Scout muttered as she affectionately scratched the horse’s withers. He flicked a lazy ear back in appreciation before falling deeper into sleep. Whenever he wasn’t moving, he was sleeping. When awake he was quite sociable for a gelding, he didn’t possess the aptitude for manners that mares did, but he was friendly and curious and laid back when it came to the conduct of others. The mares and fillies liked him a good deal, and she’d even let him pony Paranormal around the backside yesterday to allow the colt to have a good stretch. There’d been a bit of a loud masculine conversation at the start but by the end they were ambling along like old pals, the big gray towering over the little appaloosa.
Scout refocused on the filly as the pair slipped into the gallop. At the half mile pole Scout watched Maggie put her hands into the filly’s reins and the filly responded by taking hold of the bit and stretching out. The girl pumped her hands against the filly’s neck and the filly exerted everything she had. Textbook. They blistered through the half-mile and the filly fought for a moment as Maggie demanded she back off after the quarter pole. You liked to see that in a horse, a bit of fight, a will to go farther faster. They’d gone a half in fifty two and change.
They returned. The filly was blowing hard, the girl was grinning.
“I like her. She’s fast.”
Scout nodded, “She is.”
The girl patted the filly’s neck. The filly looked a bit dazed and confused and didn’t argue when Scout slipped on the pony lead.
“She likes to run. I saw her last week, she looked miserable with that kid up on her. I thought maybe she didn’t like it, but nah once I got her galloping it was like she turned to liquid, whoosh all parts of her flowed right to center. Then when I asked at the half mile she just gave and gave. Hell she could have kept it up longer-
“Next week we’ll do five panels.”
Maggie bobbed her head, “Yeah I know, I hear how you guys train up your babies. Fast works twice a week. Builds up the bone density or whatever. I don’t know much about science, but this filly has swag. Most babies I get tossed up on are all jittery about the speed works. She went forward with confidence.”
“Confidence is a positive side effect of our program.”
The girl laughed, “I’ll say. Do you all your babies run like this?”
“Ideally. They’re still two year olds.”
They’d reached the shed row. Estefan appeared with Aponivi tacked and ready to go. Maggie looked to Scout. Scout smiled.
“Want to ride another one Cinderella?”
All three of them had been training like monsters. But so had everyone else. That’s the one thing Jonah liked about the Derby, it thinned the ranks, made the field tougher. In the field of ten Marzanna remained the only filly, although there had been rumor of the Oaks filly coming out to play. That would have been something, two fillies in the Preakness, both with female jockeys. Jonah wondered how many old dead white men would have been rolling in their graves had that come to pass.
The other filly, by of Pleasantly Perfect out of Enticed, a Stage Door Johnny mare had come to Pimlico too. Jonah had to admit he liked the look of her. There was nothing flashy about her, she had a small triangular shaped marking on her left hind leg and a small diamond on her right nostril. She was dark and only about fifteen two to fifteen three but she had an air of toughness about her that you couldn’t help but admire. Her name, Enthrall, only added to her appeal. She was, admittedly enthralling.
Her jockey was something else too.
In the cafeteria where trainers stood around and discussed these things the general consensus was that she looked poised to challenge Hallie Jeffries recently returned rule. Everyone had been buzzed about the thought of that coming to head in the Preakness. But the fact was Hallie had gone straight to Belmont to cement her return and the new girl, Esperenza Mendoza, had come to Pimlico. They’d collide soon enough, but it wasn’t set to happen yet. Jonah wasn’t so sure he was looking forward to it.
What he was looking forward too, oddly enough, was the Preakness. Yesterday he’d let Gabe loose, the colt put up a nice work of four furlongs in thirty nine and change. A bullet yes, and the colt had come back blowing, eyes rolling, but today he’d cleaned up his feed and came back with ice cold legs. He looked good. In two days Jonah would send him out for a five panel work. It wasn’t race work and no he didn’t look quite as fit as either Wit or the filly, but he was improving. Jonah was of the opinion that the colt would peak in the summer, maybe the Haskell, maybe the Travers. Either way it was important the colt ran a race. He’d been ready to peak before his colic episode and running him in the Preakness would help set him back on course.
Marzanna was a machine, she’d put in a solid five panel this morning, fifty seven and change, and had galloped out strongly for another half-mile. The press had loved that. Jonah had loved that. He’d moved her workout time to the very reasonable hour of seven thirty five, she’d been a touch antsy at first, having to hang about in the shed row, but Lacey lavished her with attention and without the week they’d been at Pimlico she’d grown used to sleeping in. With Ash to her left, a pony mare to her right, Gabe across from her, and Wit far out of sight she’d flourished. Bloomed. Jonah couldn’t recall a horse looking better under his care.
For that matter, Wit had come into himself. Lacey hadn’t objected to being tossed up on the lanky bay. They had been using Tyler, but the kid had gone up to Belmont first to catch some rides and Jonah couldn’t blame him. Jonah was of the opinion that subtlety training Wit, everything had to be subtle with this horse, to recognize the difference between working out and racing via the use of a separate exercise rider would be beneficial. Jonah preferred the jockey to remain the jockey, it signaled that something different was about to occur to the horse (Granted everyone had their share of basket cases. Akila had been one of them. No one had needed to tell the filly squat, she always ran hot and she always ran smart). Wit, despite his name, was a genuine idiot. Scout had figured that out and now Jonah felt like an idiot himself for not seeing it sooner. The colt wanted to have fun and be happy, running without people in his space and his mouth and his brain made him induced both in him and when Wit was happy he apparently felt that winning was an excellent demonstration of that joy.
That suited Jonah a-okay.
He’d also developed into a magnificent animal. At three he was already seventeen hands, but unlike most big horses who took till four or so to figure out their limbs, Wit knew his body and how to use it. Apparently his lackluster two year old season, one that had consisted of a lot of short hard works (building up those great iron post legs) and a lot of short messy races (which had made him fearless), and a lot of bad tricks, bucking, rearing, dropping riders like hot potatoes (which had taught him his body and how to use it) had been productive after all. He was a bit thin yet, his testosterone hadn’t really kicked in (Jonah was half dreading the day that it would) but he was beautiful.
Lacey handled him expertly. He trotted onto the track, knees high, white ankles flinging back and forward with the exaggerated movement of a dressage horse. He bobbed his head against the bit but didn’t take it. Lacey kept her knuckles running against his crest, careful not to accidentally snag his mouth.
Shutters all along the front side of track flashed and flicked, trying to get all of his distilled beauty in their camera. He looked around alertly, but he was fearless, incapable of even feeling it, so profound was his idiocy. Outside his temper flare ups he was a rather colorless horse. He paid mind to what happened around him, but not much else. In a fantastic fit of emotion it was easy to say that he had too much personality, but in the calmer stretches of time he mostly slept, or ate, or peered about at fillies. None of it was with great conviction, he dozed, he took forever to clean up his meal (although he always cleaned it up), and while he looked plenty at fillies he was never one to scream or stomp (hell both Gabe and Paranormal were more studdish than he was). He worked with conviction though, ran with it and raced with it.
First though he had to show off. They’d learned to let him. Because showing off made him happy and keeping him happy was of the utmost important to everyone. So he showed off, arching his neck, letting out a few celebratory whinnies (celebrating himself evidently) before taking off at a measured gallop. Lacey pressed her hands up into his mane. They’d learned that he’d gallop along forever (four and three quarter miles to be exact) before dropping down to a jog. He’d never go faster and he wouldn’t go slower until he couldn’t run anymore. All Lacey had to do was slip her hands up towards his poll, then he’d take a grip of her and plunge forward.
Ah. There. At the 3/8ths pole he plunged.
It was a seamless motion. And as a speedball he threw himself heart and head into it. Within a furlong he was fully extended, every vein in his body was popped, his nostrils wide, eyes bright. Lacey kept herself steady on his back, flowing as part of his movement, contributing none of her own.
“Hell Jonah think he’ll have any left for the race?” one of the handicappers whistled as they flashed him his stopwatch.
He’d gone thirty-four and change.
Well, Jonah had to hope he had a little left. He came back eyes rimmed with white, nostrils flaring, and movement a bit jerky, a bit stiff. Well that was to be expected wasn’t it. Lacey was grinning.
“He’s got it Jonah. I’ll take him for a walk later, a little trot so he doesn’t stiffen up, but that was just an opener for him. He could have kept it going but.”
Jonah grinned as the colt bumped against his shoulder.
“You did good kid.”
Twenty-One horses, providing everything went to plan and barring injury comes the Belmont fall meet they’d have twenty-one Triple Birch horses in their shed row. Scout had already begun to thin out Jonah’s ranks of allowance runners and claimers in anticipation of the influx of two year olds they were about to receive. She’d done a good job of it too, the older ones she retired and found good homes for with the various hunter/jumper connections she had on the eastern seaboard, and the younger ones she went about sizing up. She’d gotten rid of nearly all the claimers, the last two would hopefully be gone by this afternoon. The allowance winners were a trickier bunch, some could be on the way up to stakes races or they could be on the way down. Guessing which way they were going had become a fun game for her, not one them had cost Jonah more than fifty grand and all of them had earned their keep so there wasn’t much financial loss, but there was the potential for a lot of financial gain.
She was circling her pencil around the name of her personal favorites when the phone rang.
“How’d the morning go?”
“Good. Everyone put in a good work. Paranormal jogged around, different animal than you had an Aqueduct. Railbirds keep eyeing him up like he’s prepping for a comeback.”
“He seems to think so. Only his third day of being 90% sound though. We’re taking it slow.”
“What are you up to now?”
“Just thinning the ranks. What about you?”
“Watching Marzanna drag her groom around in the yard. Hey I want you to do me a favor.”
“Yeah, tomorrow would you drive up to Triple Birch for me? Take a look at the two year olds, that Ashadow filly especially.”
“Why? We get an email every week about them. They’ll be here soon.”
“I want your eyes on them, and then I want your opinion. They’re all breezing tomorrow, 10 am.”
“Is this an order?”
“No I said it was a favor. It’s your day off I respect that. How are the babies we’ve got settling in?”
“The Circe filly is dynamite. Everything in stride. Not the prettiest little girl, but she’s got a nice edge about her. The Telapathy filly is a monster, I don’t know what her breeder was feeding her but she’s just about physically impossible for a two year old, joints are alright through, what you’d expect.”
“She getting juice?”
“Yeah, per Doc’s recommendation. Just in the front through. The grass colt moves like a ballerina. Bit of a pain in the ass, but he means it in good fun.”
“What are we thinking?”
“Maidens for the Circe filly and the grass colt. I’ve got a few circled. I think stakes for the big girl, The Debutante.”
“Her odds will be good. Probably the only time they’ll be worth putting down on, to be honest.”
“Alright, you breeze her yet?”
Scout rocked in her chair, “Tuesday morning. Then I’ll make the decision.”
“Okay, okay. What about the Munnings and The Prince?”
“They’re entered, start of next month. It’ll be interesting for the Munnings colt. The Prince is as he always is, disinterested and distant except for when his feet touch the track. He’s consistent.”
“You can’t complain about a consistent two year old.”
“Nope. No complainants. If it weren’t for the size of his testicles daring you to think otherwise everyone figures him a gelding from the front.”
“I like sane, you know that.”
There was a moment’s pause.
“I’ll go tomorrow.”
The conversation ended. It wasn’t Scout’s perfect idea of a day off, driving three and a half hours north to watch some two year olds work. Two year olds they’d get to see work every morning in a month or two, but there was an edge to Jonah’s voice that concerned Scout. What was he so concerned about? Every two year old they had sent down from Triple Birch was perfectly prepped, they were as mannered as their individual personalities allowed, all knew how to rate, how to breeze, how to stand for a farrier and a vet, and most importantly they all knew how to work every day with some measure of consistency. Scout expected the rest of the two year olds still at home were somewhere along the path to being as well trained as their slightly more mature peers.
Well, she supposed, it wasn’t the worst way to spend a Monday.
The drive aside there was nothing miserable about spending a Monday at Triple Birch. Having spent years working here Scout considered herself well versed in the beauty of the farm, but having spent the last few years shuffling between tracks it felt uniquely therapeutic to be back among acres of pasture and greenery. This is the way horses are supposed to live, she found herself thinking as she pulled her car into a slot up at the new state of the art training facility. It was nine-thirty and the stables were bustling, but they were expecting Scout and the minute she graced them with her presence the new head trainer locked onto her.
“Noah,” he said with a handshake.
He nodded, he knew of course, she knew as well, they’d been in email and phone contact with one another for the last eight months, since he was hired. It was funny though, to match the low, notably masculine voice to a face.
“It’s funny to meet you after all this time,” she told him, feeling rather stupid after the fact for saying it, but he smiled all the same.
He had a very large, soothing, masculine presence, this man. Which was probably why there didn’t seem to be a hint of anxiety anywhere within the training barns that he led her through. Not from the horses nor the grooms nor the riders. Everyone had a clearly defined purpose, everyone performed their purpose as intended, and therefore there was nothing to be nervous about.
That was until they got to the filly’s stall.
It was not as though she was anxious, because she clearly wasn’t staring out at them with her big brown eyes from her chaotically marked face and body. But rather that her calmness put everyone else on edge. Scout found her own stomach fluttering as she watched the groom finish off the filly’s last leg wrap and she hadn’t the slightest idea why.
“This is the Ashadow filly,” she said, but again felt dumb. Of course it was. There wasn’t another dominant white horse on the property. Noah just nodded though and triple checked the fit of the bit, a simple rubber snaffle, in her mouth.
“Can she run?”
“Yes, but it’s interesting to witness.”
Scout raised her eyebrows, but Noah’s face said nothing but “be patient” so she didn’t press for more. They walked with the filly out to the track side by side. Scout watched the filly, she had a big fluid walk, usually a sign of a big fluid gallop, and she seemed unfazed by her surroundings. A palomino colt out on the track screamed and reared, nearly dropping his rider in the process and she didn’t even lift her head.
Noah legged up the filly’s rider and then put a hand on the small of Scout’s back, a hand she leaned into, and guided her over to a spot on the rail. When they came to the rail Scout expected him to pull his hand back immediately, but he let it linger before pulling it back solely to pull out his stopwatch.
The filly began walking the track. She looked around, left and then right, the palomino colt continued to fight his rider and refuse to go forward, she paused briefly to watch and then decided to ignore it, walking right past him without giving him the slightest bit of attention.
She opened up to a trot. Which was just as big and fluid as her walk. Without encouragement she stretched out and down into a frame that any young hunter would be jealous of.
“She’s remarkably balanced for a two year old,” Noah remarked, “She knows to move from her hind end and she likes to keep her body long and low.”
After two times around her rider circled her around to switch directions and eased her into a slow gallop. That two was big and fluid, and as Noah promised she kept her body long and low, mouth comfortable with sitting right onto the bit. Her rider slowly took up the loose inches of rein hanging upon her neck and the filly allowed him to without any fuss.
“She doesn’t mind contact,” Scout noted aloud.
Noah shook his head, “She doesn’t tighten up through.”
The rider took a firm hold of her mouth, but neither her pace nor expression changed. You would expect a reaction, you wanted a reaction. Typically with American Thoroughbreds when a rider took hold of the bit they dug in and geared up. The pair came around the bend into the stretch, the rider really grabbed the filly’s mouth, Noah clicked down on the stopwatch, and then the rider egged her on.
At first Scout, out of simple expectation, thought she saw the filly dig in just a bit, stretch out, move up, something indicative of a faster pace. But then after half a dozen strides she realized the filly hadn’t altered her pace at all. The rider was really working now, flashing the stick, running his hands up and down the filly’s neck with such vigor you would think they were trying to win the Derby not just trying to get a half decent breeze out of her.
Noah stopped the watch. The time wasn’t bad if you were looking for a slow work.
He nodded, “That’s it.”
“Can she run faster?”
“Yes. She’s nearly pulled more arms out of sockets than any other horse here, but it’s never when you ask or want her to.”
He nodded, “She’s not a bad filly. I like her,” he paused as though he was sitting in a confessional and not standing along the edge of a training track, “I want to like her. She seems to defy normal human modes of affection though. She doesn’t care.”
“She just is.”
Surprise filtered across his handsome, if rugged features. Scout figured that he wasn’t a man who cared much about his beauty, his own or anybody’s, and she found herself drawn to that more than she had intended.
“I suppose that’s the best way you could put it, yes.”
Quite suddenly then now after her rider had dropped his reins with the intention of slowing down she bolted as though she’d been spooked. Except you only need to glance at her eyes to understand that she’d taken off by choice. She was not a creature that reacted, she acted or she didn’t and she had chosen to act. Noah’s thumb went down quick on his stopwatch as though he might have been expecting the filly to put on her unexpected show. She tore up the track for a quarter mile and then came too, blowing and snorting and pressing her nose to the ground.
Noah flashed the stopwatch to Scout.
She spent the rest of the day next to Noah. His hand occasional strayed to the small of her back, her elbow, her shoulder, guiding her this way and that way and she felt herself begin to fall into it. Not merely a lean back, an acceptance of the contact, but a desire for it. So as the evening began to settle over them and she found herself thinking she really ought to be starting that miserable trek home, but finding herself incapable of wanting it.
He walked her to her car and when faced with the navy door of her sedan she balked, turned to him and spoke.
“Would you like to get some dinner?”
He nodded, smiled and so did she.
Nickname: Rebel, Reb
Height: projected 16.3 hh
Color: Bay Sabino Dom White
Genotype: EE Aa nSb W5 w
Preferred Distance: n/a
Running Style: n/a
Sire/Dam: Vagabond x Ashadow
For Stud/Lease: no too young
Personality: An enigma, she seems to lack a personality entirely. Its as if she exists on another plane entirely, one that neither horses nor humans can get to. She's insanely difficult to read often waiting until the last possible second to react, be it to horses, people, or anything else. You can't demand anything of Rebel, you have to ask, let her mull it over, and await her response.