Another early morning began with bad coffee and the quiet work of carefully unwrapping Thoroughbred legs from their night bandages. Carefully running her hands over the joints, sinews and bones – hoping to see the future. Determining whether each horse needed more or less training miles, different medication or shoes, quiet turn-out or challenging racing. Each leg had a story to tell if you listen with your fingers.
The luxurious quiet was soon shattered by the whistling of would-be hot-walkers appearing early to look for work. Ann referred them to Enrique but the quiet time she yearned for was clearly over. The horses were shuffling around – sensing the onset of another busy morning. They pawed the ground demanding that their grooms bring the one can of oats that they would eat before training hours began. Ann brushed the straw off her knees and headed to the office to put on her galloping equipment. On her way she stopped to make a couple of changes to the workout schedule on account of her findings this morning. She crossed off Vaya Con Dios‘ name from the “Racing Today” list and her heart was heavy.
On a rare, sentimental whim, she detoured to find him, fished out a couple of peppermints from her jeans pocket and ducked into his stall. He was resting along the back wall in the darkest corner. It was as if he wanted to sleep in and somehow knew that change was in the air. He halfheartedly nickered to Ann. His velvety dark brown coat looked like a seal freshly out of a wet ocean. It shone, even in the dark. The tiny snip of white between his nostrils, the only white on his large brown body contrasted sharply in the dark. He took the peppermints from her hand then swung his head back into the corner of the stall and crunched them slowly. It’s the posture of a horse that hurts. Head down and turned away, tail still and low, sulking in the dark.
“Hey big man, I know you feel like shit. I had it all planned out. You were headed up to a quiet little spot and by fall, you would be trotting down the trails with the kids, fat and shaggy. You wouldn’t even remember pounding down an old racetrack.” Ann stroked his neck and he continued to ignore her.
“Well you old bastard, you are probably going to prove me wrong. You’re probably going to head to Cramer’s barn and run a hole in the wind. You just might love working for that barn.”
Viya Con Dios made no effort to comfort her. He only swallowed the peppermint,exhaled loudly and stared blankly into the dark corner.
“Why do I do this?” She asked herself out loud.
“Because you are an idiot.” crackled a gravelly voice from outside the stall.
“Shit Roxy, how long have you been standing there?” asked Ann.
“Long enough to see you get gaga over an old cripple like that.” Roxy replied while applying sparkly pink Chapstick SPF 30 on her windburned lips. “I heard you need some gallop help. Can I get on a few for you today?”
“You, gallop for us? What’s up?” Ann asked, surprised.
“Tony and I are on the outs and I moved out last night, so I’m officially looking for work.” Roxy was laughing, not crying.
“You guys will be back together before the third race.”
“Maybe, maybe not. But this morning, you need help and I need to show that asshole that I can ride for anyone I goddamn well please.”
“How many can you get on for me today?”
“How many you got, girlie?”
Roxy, tall and lanky, drank hard, swore harder and rode beautifully. It was going to be a good day.