It was great to run into Tanya here at the racetrack and tell her I had a job! She was really happy for me, even though technically our farms are rivals, each of us with an entrant in the Kentucky Derby. But on a personal level, friends from different farms don’t usually take such rivalries seriously. We’re all professionals. It’s the bettors and shady people who cater to them that one has to watch out for. Although there is a legal way to bet on the races here, the really big money is in the illegal betting rings run by mafia types. Those are the people who are so obsessed with winning that they'll try to sabotage a favored horse so that their “long-shot” will have a better chance to pay off in a big way.
See how much I’ve already learned since arriving in Kentucky? Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s the sort of thing that I really should be learning. It makes me cynical about people.
I won some money on today’s big race, though. I hadn’t been planning on betting, since I have so little money and I’m not earning a salary right now. I couldn’t take a chance on losing anything. But when Lee rode up from Northwind, he and Tanya combined their efforts and talked me into it.
“I’ll make you a deal,” Lee said. “I’ll place a bet for you at the minimum amount. If you lose, you pay me nothing. If you win something, you pay me back the amount of the bet and keep the profit.”
I had never bet on a race before, so Lee and Tanya had to explain it all to me. And even then I wasn’t sure what horse to bet on. Loyalty to Northwind said I should bet on Chinook to win. He was one of the favorites, and I knew he had a good chance. But I also felt loyalty to Locomotive and his owners. I had seen Locomotive race, and knew what he was capable of.
By afternoon, as the horses were being led out of their stables, I still wasn’t sure who to bet on. I looked at each one of them, trying to make a decision. Chinook was nervous and dancing sideways. Locomotive, on the other hand, seemed almost too calm. Neither of them struck me as being in the right mindset to win a race today.
“If you can’t make up your mind, do a trifecta,” Tanya suggested. “Bet on the first three, instead of just the winner.”
“I can do that?”
“Sure,” Lee said. “Now come on, decide something quick, or it’ll be too late.”
So I bet on Chinook, Locomotive, and a chestnut called Ramsey’s Sandstorm, who was a long shot, but had an alert and eager look about him that I liked. He had never raced a mile and a quarter before, but he looked strong and seemed to have the right attitude. And since I grew up in the desert, I thought perhaps his name would be a good omen for me.
With our bets placed, Lee ushered me and Tanya to a place where we could watch the race. The viewing stands had once been built to accommodate a lot more people than attended now, so it wasn’t hard to find a place with a good view.
Everything was very interesting and formal, not at all like the wild race I had witnessed a few weeks ago. Here there were official men in fancy red coats, who led the racehorses in a sort of parade around the track while a band played a song called “My Old Kentucky Home.” I liked the tune very much, but the words were sad. Everyone sang with enthusiasm, though, and I think if I’m going to stay in Kentucky, I’m going to have to learn this song.
The race wasn’t as exciting as I had hoped. Part of this was because they allowed no dirty tricks, so the jockeys weren’t hitting each other, locking legs, or whipping each others’ horses. I was glad of this. But it’s a long race, and a lot of the horses weren’t really up for it. The one that led from the beginning was called Sun Captain, and he led until around the mile marker, where he faded and was overtaken by the pack.
In the end, it was my long-shot, Ramsey’s Sandstorm, who won! I was so excited that I didn’t much notice that I had won my trifecta with Locomotive and Chinook, until Lee and Tanya congratulated me and started dragging me toward the place where I could get my money.
“Beginner’s luck,” Tanya teased, although I could tell she was happy for me.
“I should’ve insisted on a percent of your winnings,” Lee added.
I counted my new dollars, trying to think what they would buy. I wasn’t familiar yet with the cost of things. “How about I buy us all some drinks?”
So we went into one of the racetrack bars and I bought us a round of juleps—a traditional drink at this race. It was great fun to sit at a table, enjoying the company of friends close to my own age, all of us talking and laughing about our day. I hadn’t had friends I could do this sort of thing with since I left Unitas. A whole year of not having peers to hang out with! No wonder I sometimes find myself feeling lonely.
I was disappointed when I had to go back to the stable. But as it turned out, there was little for me to do. Now that the race was over, security was no longer a primary concern, and although Eli and Sabine were disappointed with Chinook’s finish, I could tell they were relieved that the race was over.
“We can at least get back to a normal life now,” Sabine said, while Eli talked in low tones to Chinook’s trainer. “Sometimes I don’t know why we bother with the Derby, except that it’s tradition. It takes a lot out of us. And a horse like Chinook has good enough bloodlines that we’ll make a profit off stud fees, regardless of whether he wins a major race or not.”
Eli overheard her and called over his shoulder, “But it sure would’ve helped!”
“Only because we spent so damn much money just getting him here,” Sabine muttered.
I don’t think Eli heard her, because he didn’t comment and kept talking to the trainer.
Tonight there’s a big party with music and dancing. I’m not sure if this really qualifies as my “first dance in Kentucky,” but I put on my pink dress and thought of Charles in Missouri, just as he had asked me to. Already my time with him seems so long ago, and that makes me a little sad. I can’t let myself get so caught up in my new life here that I forget all the wonderful people in my past.
But Lee is here, wanting to escort me to the dance. And Tanya is probably waiting, too. It’s great to have friends to do things with.
I guess I’ll have to stick this paper in a spot at the back of my old diary until I can buy a new one. I reorganized my diary while I was guarding Chinook these past couple of days. It was fun to relive my journey.
But now that I have a little money, I'll get a new diary for writing about my life here. As I learn more about this place, I’m starting to get ideas and ambitions. I’m thinking of making some plans, and I'll need a place to write them down.
Me, planning! Yes, that will be a change.
Okay, Lee. I’m hurrying. It’s just a dance. There will be many others.