I reached Arcadia the next day after an eighteen-hour drive from Billings. My father had text me an address the night before I left; 285 West Huntington Drive, Arcadia, California. I pulled into a large parking lot outside of a building. The building read Santa Anita Park. I had heard of this place, but why would my father send me to a racetrack? Knock Knock. I looked over and a security guard was standing at my passenger winder. I rolled the window down for him.
“Can I help you miss?” He had a very white smile that seemed to glow against his black skin.
“My father gave me this address. I am supposed to meet him to get settled in, but I guess this isn’t the house. Can you tell me where I can find Rick Mitchell?” I replied.
“The Rick Mitchell?” I seemed a bit shocked.
“Umm yes? He’s my father. I’m his seventeen-year-old daughter from Montana. I have my horse with me. Am I in the right place?” I was confused. Who was my father?
“You need to go around to South Baldwin Avenue and turn into Gate 8 on the right. That will take you to the backside where you can drop your horse off. Rick Mitchell’s barn is barn twenty and twenty-one.” He directed with his hands as he spoke.
“I am not dropping a horse off for him. I have my eventer with me. Is my father an employee?” I had no idea what was going on.
“An employee? Rick Mitchell is the leading trainer of the meet. He just won the Santa Anita Derby with his Kentucky Derby contender Penny Pincher.” He seemed surprised that I had no idea who he was talking about.
“Oh, well, I didn’t know that. You said Gate 8, correct? I need to get my horse settled in, so I need to find him.” I put the van in drive but kept my foot on the brake.
“Yes ma’am. I am sure I’ll see you around. Name is Al, by the way.” He tipped his hat as I pulled away. I waved goodbye and drove around the perimeter of the park before I found the gate on Baldwin Avenue. I pulled in and yet another guard stopped me.
“Can I help you?” This man was more muscular than Al.
“Rick Mitchell’s barn.” The man pointed and let me on my way. I waved and drove very slowly. There were people everywhere. Cats sat on the side of barns and there was even a dog lying on the side of the road. I looked at each barn, looking for 20 or 21, which was supposed to be my father’s barns. They were all the way at the end of the main road. I pulled over to the right side of the road and parked the van. Some watched as I got out of the barn. I was wearing my riding breeches, black riding boots, and a purple polo that I had tucked into my breeches. Everyone I saw was wearing old, faded jeans, some covered in large amounts of dirt, tee shirts, work boots, and some wore hats. I certainly stood out. I walked up the aisle of barn 20 and every stall had a horse hanging their head out the door. Horses of every color and some had coolers on while others were munching from their hay nets. I went to round a corner and ran into a tall man.
“Ouch.” I tripped and fall flat on my butt.
“Oh my! I am so sorry. Are you okay ma’am?” The voice of the young man was filled with southern accent. He offered his hand and I looked up at him as I accepted.
“Yeah, I am fine. I am sorry. I was distracted. I am looking for Rick Mitchell.” I dusted off my breeches and straightened my shirt.
“He is out at Clocker’s Corner. Would you like to wait until he gets back?” He directed me in the general direction of whatever Clocker’s Corner was.
“Umm, I have a horse who hasn’t been out of a trailer in two days. I can’t really wait.”
“Well, what do you say we get the horse unloaded with some water and hay and you can wait for Rick? Is it the filly from Kentucky he bought?” The young man started to walk toward the trailer.
“No, it’s my horse, but I guess he’d like to get out of the trailer for a while.”
“Oh, why did you bring him here? Are you a client?” He stopped and looked confused.
“No. Rick is my father. I thought he knew I’d be here today. He even gave me this address instead of the house.” The young man’s face twisted a bit, then smiled.
“I remember him mentioning you! Welcome! He said you would be bringing a horse but I didn’t put two and two together! Kelly, right?” He started back toward the trailer.
“Umm, yeah. Why didn’t he send me to the house?”
“Well, your dad doesn’t own land, only a house. You’ll have to keep your horse here until you find a boarding facility somewhere.” He unlocked the trailer and I walked in to back out my tired horse. He looked all around and was very alert.
“What a big boy! What is he?” The young man patted his neck and walked with me toward the barn.
“He’s an Irish Sport Horse. My mom bought him for me when I turned fifteen. I was an endurance rider and eventer back home.”
“That is really cool! I have only ever been around thoroughbreds. Have you ever ridden a thoroughbred?” The young man directed me to the very end stall and I led him in. I patted his neck and took the bucket from the stall so it could be filled.
“No, I have never even seen one until today. I have only been in the upper level eventing world, which is filled with warmbloods, sport horses, and other very expensive breeds.” I filled the bucket up with the hose on the corner.
“Well, thoroughbreds around here are some of the most expensive horses in the world. The horse in the next stall, your dad bought him in the Ocala sale for over a million for his owners. The grey at the other end, he was purchased as a yearling for over two million.” I took the water back into the stall closed the bottom half of the stall door.
“So, let me get his hay from the trailer and then can you take me to my father?” I was exhausted and was not happy about leaving my horse at a racetrack. He should have a pasture and room to stretch his legs.
“Yeah, of course. I’ll be right back.” He turned to run off in the opposite direction and I collected the hay net from the trailer before closing it up and returning to the stall. My lovely boy hung his head over the door and pricked his ears when I returned. He nuzzled me shoulder as I hung his hay.
“I know. I’ll get you out and stretch your legs later. I am sorry you have to stay here. I want to go back to Montana too.” The young man walked around the corner with a smile.
I nodded and followed him up the rows of barns, filled with horses and people. Some people rode by on horses in western tack while others rode by on the slim thoroughbreds they worked with. They were tall and skinny. There was nothing to half the horses I had seen. They didn’t pack the weight and muscle that my horse did.
“My name is Justin, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you. Thank you for helping me get my horse settled in. I need to get him out and stretch his legs. Does this place have an arena or anything I can ride?” I looked around, but only saw white barns.
“No, only the training track and main track. Maybe Rick can let you ride him around the training track and around the backside. What is your horse’s name anyway?”
“His registered name is Home Sweet Ireland, but I call him Bumble.” Justin looked at me, his face slightly confused, surely by the name I had given my horse.
“Bumble? What spurred that name?” Justin giggled as he asked. He looked over at me with that big smile that never seemed to leave his face.
“Well, when I got him, he had already greyed out to the point of almost being white. He was shaggy with his winter coat and I had just watched Rudolph. The snow monster in Rudolph is called Bumble. So that is why I call him Bumble.” I giggled as I thought back to the day Mom surprised me with Bumble. It was the day after I found out my other horse had founder and I wouldn’t be able to ride him ever again, let alone compete with him.
“That is cute. Well, Kelly, this is Santa Anita Park! He paused for a moment and looked out of the racetrack. I observed the track and the commotion happening. There were horses galloping in pairs and others trotting the opposite ways on the outside rail. It was beautiful. The track was situated at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains and the elegance of all the colors around the track was beautiful. The sun was directly above us, but the weather was perfect.
“Wow.” It was all I could say.
“Yeah. Beautiful isn’t it? Wait until you see it in the early morning. C’mon, let’s go find your dad.” We set off and quickly found more people than I expected to see at a racetrack on a Wednesday morning. Justin said hello to almost everyone as I followed him closely, only flashing small smiles to those who did the same to me. I was so out of my element here. What did mom think she was doing? Sending me here was not smart.
“Kelly?” I reemerged into reality and saw a man standing in front of me. It must have been my father.
“Yeah. Hello.” I smiled. He engulfed me in a hug and laughed.
“I am so happy to have you here!” He let me go and looked at me. Rick was a tall man. He was at least six foot tall with a full head of brunette hair, a well-kept goatee, and emerald green eyes. I had seen those eyes before. Those were my eyes.
“Glad to be here,” I lied.
“Let me introduce you to some people. You will be on a first name basis with everyone soon!” He took my arm and Justin followed us as we made our rounds in Clocker’s Corner. I met so many men that I could no longer remember which name went with which face. Some were trainers, some handicappers, whatever that was, and some were just there to hang out. I was ready to go. After what seemed like an eternity, Justin took me back to the backside and soon, Rick found us hanging out in the barn.
“Kelly, I assume you haven’t been to the house yet. Where did you park?” I shook my head then pointed to the van and trailer.
“We are going to leave the trailer here for now, but follow me to the house in the van. It isn’t very far. Justin, are you riding with me?” Rick was very firm when he wasn’t around his buddies.
“Uh, I think riding with Kelly sounds fun, and, if she gets lost, I can direct her home.” Home? Did he live with Rick?
“Sounds good. Let’s get that trailer unhooked and get home for a few hours of sleep. We have races this weekend and horses need exercised in the morning.” Rick and Justin went to unhook the trailer as I said goodbye to Bumble for the night. I hadn’t gotten a chance to ask Rick if I could work the stiffness out of him today. I would definitely need to ride tomorrow.