I was beginning to feel it–That thing Alex was talking about. The Bug. The Racing Bug. I knew it had grabbed hold and there was no fighting it. I was really in trouble when I found myself there, trackside, trying to pick out the winner as they rounded the turn. I kept telling myself it was silly. I had gone there because the lure of horses was too much. I missed being around them. I hadn’t been around them in years. Riding, both English Hunter/Jumper and Western Pleasure, had been a love affair from an early age. But this… This was something else. While I couldn’t be close enough to touch them (not yet), I could smell that familiar horsey-smell, hear the sounds of their hooves pounding the earth, feel the excitement in the looks of determination on their proud faces with the steam melting from their flaring nostrils into the chilly air. I could remember the feel of the stirrups on my feet and the loop of the reins between my fingers and the shifting weight of the animal beneath me, biting at the bit and straining to GO GO GO.
I wish I could be one of them–a jockey on the back of a flying animal. Sure, it was dangerous. People had been killed for this sport. But if the excitement and the love were not there, do you think they would still risk their lives to do it?
I was born with a curse of height and weight, however. My 5’5 frame, weighing at 128 lbs. was far too much for a poor racehorse to carry swiftly. I felt bitter in the knowledge of my own dear friend’s luck. She was 4’8 and weighed… well… Less than I. She was perfect jockey material. But she was terrified of horses. I could never get her to go with me to the track, as much as I begged and pleaded. So one day, I went alone, my figure huddled up as close to the horses as I could get, a poncho wrapped around me to keep out the chill of morning dew.
For the most part, nobody noticed me. I was content with that, though I wished somewhere deep within that I could know someone simply to have someone to talk to. This didn’t happen to be a problem for very long. After maybe an hour of just gawking, a man came up beside me to lean on the fence as I was and he smiled, tipping his hat. He was maybe in his 50’s, with lines of character on his face, and his smile was easy and contagious. I smiled back.
“You see any you like?”
“I’m fond of Mr. Bigglesworth. Mostly because of his name.”
“Ah! Nice choice. He has some nice legs on him. Good lineage too, from what I gather. I believe he’s related to Mr. Prospector–a great grandson or something if I remember correctly. Then his dam’s a fairly famous turf horse, though I can’t recall her lines at the moment. Definitely one to watch.”
My eyebrows rose and I grinned. “Mr. Prospector, huh? Wow.” More than anything else, I was just surprised I recognized a horse’s name. I didn’t know all that much about racing except some of the names of the more famous racehorses, like Secretariat, Seabiscuit, and Ruffian. So at this point, I had pretty much reached the limit of my understanding. When I told the man this, he chuckled.
“I’m not a big know-it-all hot shot myself. I just know what I like in a horse.”
I grinned. He sounded like a pretty laid back guy, and humble too. I quickly learned a lot from this man, who gave me a general run-down of all the horses on the track that morning and who they were related to, distant or not. He was fabulous, and I’ll never forget him, which is probably good because he eventually ended up teaching me just about all I know about racing today.
(TO BE CONTINUED…)