Upper - Cornelius & Eddie (on "Subversive")
Lower - Santa "The Saint" Castillo-Reyes on "Xanthippus" pursued by "Themistocles" ridden by Solomon Rushton
PREVIOUSLY ON:As always, it is highly recommended that you be current on the Mana Farms storyline.
Most jockeys will tell you that the first time they rode out in front of a crowd that suggested that horse-racing was not, in fact, a dying sport, they were surprised to learn that crowds of that magnitude sound a little like the sea, or perhaps standing too close to a beehive. The difference depends on the jockey. Younger jocks are prone to imagine the beehive. Experienced jocks hear the rhythmic sounds of the ocean. The oldest and most seasoned among them, like Solomon Rushton or Francois Pellerin, hear nothing at all. Eddie heard only the squeals from his fans among the gentler sex, the threats from veteran horseplayers to win or not win depending on how much money that had on or against him, and, if he focused, he could hear Cornelius patting him on the leg and telling him that it was not his fucking job to ride the horse for him so screw any last minute advice.
Eddie heard the crowd, heard the people around him, and he wasn’t quite sure what that said about him and his abilities to the people who write about these things, but right now that little idiosyncrasy of his was among the most inferior of his concerns.
Concern number one? How Subversive would handle a crowd this size. The infamous masked stallion, Poltergeist, the country’s first feel-good horse story to triumph over global pessimism since Secretariat, had brought out crowds such as racing had never seen before. It was a lot to ask of a two-year old colt that was already fucked up enough without their energy to walk out in the middle of them and proceed to dazzle them without back flipping in the gate.
Concern number two? Eddie glanced at Solomon Rushton adjusting his stirrups on the bay colt walking on the opposite side of the paddock from him.
Concern number three? Somewhere in the crowd Maggie was sitting in a box with Randy Harada, a man who had more money than Eddie could even visualize (which was interesting as Eddie was a very visual creature) and the King of an obscure island nation east of Fiji who had most of his kingdom’s income wrapped up in the bay colt being ridden by Solomon Rushton. It was saying something about the effect of Poltergeist on the public imagination that a racehorse received more attention than a King and a ruthless billionaire playing with money that didn’t belong to them. But, then again, that was horseracing. It was a punishing cutthroat business on the inside softened by the sentiment of its fans on the outside.
Last, but not least, was concern number four. Winning this race. Already the public’s confidence was not with them. Thisismyboomstick or “Ash”, the colt belonging to the King, was the favorite. Like fucking always. Not that Eddie blamed the bettors. The son of Harbinger may not have been as striking in coloration, markings, and sheer size as Subversive was, but he was put together so well that he made even the people sitting at a bar in a local Chili’s in some dull Wyoming town funnel their money to his number. He just looked good…dappled, clean, and focused. Subversive was hot, frothing, bouncing on his toes, kicking behind him, ears so flat against his head a couple of children lining the Walk thought he had none.
They approached the gate, loaded, he pulled his goggles down, adjusted his straps, turned to his outside and saw Solomon Rushton sitting chilly on the Boomstick at the far end.
The older jock stayed focused on the track ahead of him while addressing Eddie, “Piss off, kid.”
“Know what I’m going to do with a quarter of a million dollars?” Eddie taunted.
Solomon Rushton raised his left hand and his middle finger in Eddie’s direction.
The gates sprung open and for the first time in four weeks, Eddie could answer that question for himself.
Santa tucked her saints medal into her undershirt, beneath the vest, between her breasts. Before doing so she’d kissed it. Not because she was religious. Hell no. She did it because she was, again, promising her mother that she would ride safe, ride honest, and win. Once it was tucked, she would dwell upon nothing else but that singular promise, because dwelling on anything else out there would almost certainly get her and her mount injured or killed and by default defeated. The first time she had taken her mother out to the track back in South America a horse collapsed during a race and its rider was nearly killed. Her mother fainted in the stands. Waking up minutes later she begged her oldest daughter to leave this horrible career and, as she would not, to swear on the saints to ride safe and ride honest and if she failed and died like that poor kid nearly did her mother would spit on her grave and curse her.
Santa did not doubt for one second, as she surveyed the jock’s room, that the moment they were on that track any number of those guys would happily knock her lights out and leave her to the ambulance on the turn as her mother always feared they would. A few might feel sorry for it when they recalled afterward that she was, in fact, a fellow to them, but in the heat of the race there was very little they wouldn’t do if they could. This was a three million dollar purse and she was riding the favorite. The most dangerous thing for her right now would be to be complacent. The idea that jocks were only truly brutal in races people didn’t give a fuck about; the idea being that there was less scrutiny involved, was wrong. Jockeys played dirty every day, and they were especially dishonest in the big ones.
As they filed in through the door following the Breeders Cup Sprint, she named them and their tactics in her mind. Rafael Valdez. He had a nasty habit of pushing his horse into you at the start, knocking out your momentum. He was to her outside. That was good. Bill Garcia. He would ride you out and out and out. He was to her inside. That was bad. Joey Gallo. He was a sweet kid. Yeah, he was probably going to die. Gabriel Dominguez, he was on a horse that had no place being there and that made him a particular threat, he would probably fuck with her for the hell of it. Steer clear of him.
Laurence LeClerc walked into the room after Gabriel. His grin was wide and he was babbling on in French about the crowds. Santa had already seen the crowds. She also saw the hell of a show he put on in the Sprint. Fucking horse clocked a sub 1:08. When he returned to his locker, she leaned over.
“God, Laurence, do you think you won?”
This earned her a chuckle in response. He even reached over and pulled on her ponytail. He was feeling good so it surprised her how quickly the grin on his face and the bounce in his step disappeared. She looked in the direction he was looking and she saw the reason. That.
“Laurence LeClerc?” came the pearly voice as Eddie described it. June Jonassen. The journalist.
Laurence didn’t turn around. The girl brushed her long wavy strands away from her freckled face and smiled up at him with eyes large and penitent. He sighed, an agitated angry sigh, but Santa already knew that it was the fakest agitated angry sigh she’d ever heard. He was hurt. Not angry.
“I’m sorry,” the girl said to him.
He took a towel out and wiped the sweat from his brow.
“I was so embarrassed.”
“Should I blame the… espèce de… something for jackass…,” he wondered aloud.
“Espèce de pourri sale?” Santa interjected.
He replied reflexively, “de tabarnac…yes, dat one.” Then he cocked his head to one side and observed her for a moment, “I tot you were Mexican?”
Santa rolled her eyes, “Colombian.”
The girl reached out and placed a hand on his arm. He was gone again. “No. That wasn’t Eddie Ne,” the pretty little journalist explained, “the um…jackass, as you put it, that was me. I’m not running from it. I’m sorry I did. I’ve had a whole month to be.”
He snorted at that. Santa joined him in it.
“8696441” the girl added as Laurence ignored her again.
“Hmph…and dat is?” he muttered into his locker.
Santa fingered her chain while sitting on the bench just two yards from them.
“My phone number. My real one. Look, I’m real sorry,” she pleaded.
Laurence’s shoulders dropped. Guard down. It was that easy. Santa rolled her eyes and began pulling her boots on. She stood up, took her whip in her hand and returned Eddie’s look. He’d already won his most important race of the day and was just coming out of the showers. He saw the girl, heard the laughter, and now he looked at Santa.
“Fuck it,” Santa said aloud. “You boys ready to get your asses kicked by a girl?” she announced as she led the rest of them out of the room and into the paddock for the Breeders Cup Turf where she and Xanthippus did exactly as she had warned them she would and no amount of race-riding changed that. The Saint remained, as always, the tenacious miracle worker of Santa Anita.
"Laurence LeClerc" is the creation of *Greatalmightyqueen
and is used here with her permission.
and the beginning of the collaboration with *Greatalmightyqueen