Chapter 5: The Races

I got up early the next morning, got into my riding attire, which had turned into my daily attire since I did not have a normal wardrobe, and headed for the track. My blonde hair was balled into a bun and tucked under a ball cap. I walked into the barn and Bumble whinnied loudly, making other horses rush to the front of their stalls to see what was happening. I giggled and entered his stall to check his water and hay. Everything was full. The grooms were taking really good care of him while he was here.

“You will get out today, I promise. I’m going to give you a bath and clean you up before we start our training today. Sound good?” Bumble threw his head up and down. He was adorable.

“He seems so happy you are here today.” I turned to see Rick standing there.

“I’m happy to see him. We are going to get a bath and ride later today.” I exited the stall to go fetch his halter.

“Ride? Have you given anymore thought to my offer?” Rick followed me toward the tack room.

“Actually, yeah. Justin and I talked about it yesterday at lunch. I’m going to practice galloping Bumble around the training track, to get a feel for how riding on a track feels, then when I am comfortable, I’ll work with your horses. I think it’s smart for me to start on a horse I am comfortable with, and Bumble needs the exercise. He’s so cooped up and is really bored.” I grabbed the leather halter, decorated with a gold plate on the side, engraved with his show name.

“That sounds smart. I don’t want you to get hurt. Your mom finds out you get hurt and she yanks you away again.” Rick liked to think out loud. He walked off in the other direction and I took Bumble to the wash racks to begin his bath. He was so happy to have the water run over him. He was playing with the towels I had laying on the ground and trying to bite the water when I hosed his legs off. He just wanted to play, which made it particularly difficult to wash him on my own.

“Want some help?” I looked up to see Justin with his grin plastered to his face.

“Yeah, want to hold his head?” I turned back to wash his belly and legs before finishing up his back. Justin grabbed the lead and played with Bumble’s top lip. I finished up quick and then wiped him down with some dry towels to make his coat gleam.

“Thank you.” I took the lead from Justin and began to walk Bumble, letting him dry some more.

“So, are we going to start training today?” Justin kept pace and looked down at his boots as he spoke.

“Yeah, I think so. I need to ride, and Bumble needs the exercise. He’s going crazy.” I patted his neck and finished up our second lap. I led him back into his stall and removed his halter before leaving him alone.

“So, what are you going to do until tonight? Going to watch the races?” Justin sat down on a hay bale and looked up at me.

“There are races today? Does my dad have any running?” I perked up. I was attempting to make sense of his lifestyle and his world.

“Yeah, we have one in the fourth and one in the sixth.” Justin looked down the shed row.

“Which horses? This is exciting! I get to see you and Rick in action.” I teased Justin a bit.

“The big chestnut colt three down and the little grey filly on the other side of the barn. Both are three-year-olds and are making their first starts today. Hoping they can win first time out, but I think they both need more time to mature, but experience is the best teacher. Rick doesn’t know how much more time he can hold off. The owners are up our asses about getting these ones started.” Justin chewed on a piece of hay and shrugged.

“Can they run in the Kentucky Derby? Rick already has the one going?”

“No ma’am. Neither are qualified for the Derby and are certainly not ready for it. The owner hopes to have the colt ready for the fall Classics, but I don’t think he’ll be ready run the distance he’ll be asked to. The owner says the stamina is there, but I don’t see it. Only time will tell,” Justin stood up. “So, are you staying for the day?”

“I guess I can. Do you want help around here or can I go explore?” I looked around the barn. It was surprisingly quiet for a race day.

“Go explore. I’ll see you later?” Justin flashed his smile and I caught his eyes again. I nodded and ran off toward the public side of the racetrack. People had already begun to filter into the park, and it was only eleven. I wandered through the stands and the gift shop before grabbing a hot dog and soda for lunch. I also bought a program and a racing form. I opened the form, and was shocked to see how tiny the print was. How did someone even read this? There were so many numbers, names, and little detailed. I rolled the books up and found my way to Clocker’s Corner. I recognized many of the men here, but didn’t remember any of their names.

“Kelly? Rick’s daughter, right?” I turned to see a woman. She was a bit taller than I was, dressed in a summer dress, heels, and some ugly hat that was covered in fake flowers. Her blonde hair, curled, fell over her shoulders, and he lips were a shade of red, to match some of the flowers she was dawning, surely.

“Umm, yes. Have we met?”

Who was this woman?

“No, but Rick has told me so much about you! Is it true that you are from Montana?” She sounded stupid. Hopefully, this was only my father’s ditzy friend and not his girlfriend or something of that nature.

“Yeah, just got here a few days ago. Not to be rude, but who are you?”

“I see Rick hasn’t mentioned me. My name is May. I am your father’s girlfriend.” Really Rick? This is the kind of women he was attracted to?

“Oh, I’m sorry. No, he hasn’t mentioned you.”

“Well, that is okay! If the horses he has in today wins, we are going to dinner with the owners. Are you coming with us?” Her smile was as white as fresh snow.

“Umm, I have no idea.” I looked around, hoping someone would swoop in to save me.

“Well, you must! I hope to see you later!” She scurried away, flagging down someone likely more talkative than I. I guess Rick didn’t know how to tell me he was seeing someone. Not like I would care. My mother had been married a record six times since her and my father had split right before I was born. I wonder if Rick had ever remarried. I sat alone at a table in Clocker’s Corner and opened the racing form again. I had no idea what I was looking at, but I hoped I would eventually.

The day had zipped by and the first race my father had a horse in was next. It was already three in the afternoon and I hoped this colt would win. He was such a character in the barn. He liked to have his nostrils played with. When I saw him on the track, he was sweaty. It was not a hot day, so he had to be nervous. He danced sideways while the lead pony kept his cool. He needed to calm down. The race was six furlongs, according to the program. The starting gate was on the backstretch, since the race was a short one.

The horses loaded, with some assistance of the gate crew. Our colt went right in, but was not still and got off to a horrible start. He was left at the gate, trailing the field through the entire stretch. I couldn’t see them as they turned for home, but I heard the crowd and then saw the big screen. I saw our colt coming up on the outside. He was gobbling up the track. I started cheering, jumping up and down, and getting excited that he might win his first race. He caught up the leader and they flashed under the wire together. Who won? He ran too well to lose.

After what seemed like forever, the finish was final. Our colt won. He barely won, but he won. I hoped this was a good omen for the filly.

The filly didn’t win, but she came home in third. I gathered my program and walked to the barns. I was going to give them each a peppermint, regardless of winning or losing. I made my way through the crowd, happy to be enjoying myself. I hadn’t thought of home once today. I hoped I could eventually feel at home here, but I still questioned this world over the more carefree environment of Billings.

I finally made it back to the barns and Justin was cooling out the grey filly. She was wet from being cooled off with water and now the walking would help her remain loose and not stiffen up so much.

“They ran great! I was so excited for that colt.” I had a huge smile on my face.

“They did awesome for their first starts. The colt needs some gate schooling and maybe longer races. The filly just needs more time.” Justin put the filly away and I gave her the peppermint in my hand. She gobbled it up and nickered a thank you. I patted her forehead and headed off to give the colt his treat.

“So, Rick never mentioned he had a girlfriend.” I looked over at Justin as I fed the colt his peppermint.

“Oh, yeah. May is something different. How did you find out about her?” Justin continued working as we conversed.

“She came up to me in Clocker’s Corner. She knew who I was. I guess Rick told her all about me. I felt really stupid when I had no idea who she was.” I leaded up against one of the posts that held up the barn’s overhang.

“May snoops. Rick probably didn’t tell her all about you.” Just then, Rick rounded the corner.

“We did good today. I am supposed to have dinner with the owners. Kelly, May wants you to join us. I am glad you got to meet her and I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about her.” Rick watched as Justin kept filling hay nets.

“Um, I don’t have any nice clothes.” I stalled. I didn’t want to go out with them.

“Well, you still have my card. Go buy something.” Rick didn’t sense that I was stalling.

“I guess, but can I bring someone?” I smiled a sneaky smile.

“Sure, be at the house at eight and we’ll go together. Did you meet someone today?” Rick smiled, hoping I was making friends already.

“Something like that.” That was enough to get Rick off my back and he sauntered off to his office in the other barn.

“So, picking up guys already Kelly?” Justin sounded jealous almost.

“No. Go with me to the dinner. Please Justin?” I gave him a desperate look. He just looked at his boots. “Justin, you are the only person I know in the entire state of California. Come with me, please!” I hated begging.

“Fine. I’ll be ready to go with you guys at eight.” I smiled and gave him a big hug. I ran off to go find something to wear.

I had not one piece of dress clothing. I had emptied my entire closet onto my bed and just stared at the colors and realized that all my shirts were polo and all my pants, minus one pair of old jeans, were riding breeches. I was screwed if I didn’t go find a dress for tonight.

I grabbed the keys to the truck, raced out the door and into Arcadia. Shops everywhere, but finally settled on a store called Nordstrom Rack. It looked like an overpriced clothing store, but I needed fancy, and fast. I rushed through the racks of dresses, grabbing a few styles and colors. One was a very sleek red dress with lace ¾ sleeves and a lace back, but the front was awkward around my chest. Next, I tried a black dress with a lace skirt, but it was too long for my liking. My third choice was interesting for me, but different was good. The polyester dress was pleated throughout, disguising the patter that resembled a 1960’s couch. The front was a V-neck cut while the back was an even deeper V-neck cut. I looked myself up and down a few times and realized that I had really nice legs. I was impressed with the way my body looked in the dress, so my decision was made. I redressed in my clothes, purchased the dress with a pair of strappy black heels and headed home to shower and prepare for my evening.

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