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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Entertainment · #1533412
An aptly named racehorse sheds the cloak of loser and drapes it over its bevy of owners.
Short story cover }


“Well, look who’s here,” Bob said, cheerily. “If it ain’t my dear friend, Trader Boo... maven of Chicago’s Board of Trade. Come in, come in. I’m delighted to see you,” he warmly said while leading me to his study. “So, how have the markets and horses been treating you these days?”

“No complaints. Been short the beans and long on horses lately. In fact, it’s why I’m in town. I have a filly running at Belmont tomorrow.”
“Ah, I see. She gonna win?”

“Hope so, but it’s only her second start. Should have won her debut, but she stumbled out the gate. Went right to her knees and had too many lengths to make up. But this time? Yeah, I guess you could say I like her chances.”

“You guess? Listen to you— sounds like a lot of hedging to me, and you call yourself a horse owner? The ultimate optimist, heh heh? If you expect to coax a hondo from this old dude, you’re supposed to say: heck yeah, Foxy. Slam dunk. Bet the farm and we’ll meet at D’Nato’s in the Village for a victory dinner.”

“Go easy on me, bucko. Remember, it was you who once taught me how bangtails seem to have a way of making monkeys out of its owners.”

“Yep, that would be me. You remember your lessons well.” Bob motioned to a tray of delectable treats as he eased the cork from a fine Bordeaux. “Dig in. Marianne made us a few hors d’oeuvres before she went to work.”

“Mmm, don’t mind if I do. Be sure to extend my warmest regards when she gets home.”

“No problem; will do, my man.”

Bob Fox had been more than a good friend. We hit it off from the get-go and he’s been a patient and valued adviser ever since introduced. He was always willing to teach me more about the horse game stemming from years of consulting in concert with hosting a weekly TV show on New York racing.

He knows the business head to tail; the history, pedigrees, its people, the breeding farms and all the innuendos of horseracing. His home office is a virtual gallery of awards, photos, and scores of racing memorabilia. One framed item in particular caught my eye, entitled: 54 Excuses.

The alluring headline drew me closer. I knew there was only one way to win a horse race, but after scanning the zany document, I was hooked.

“Where in blue blazes did you find this little gem?” I asked, though I failed to disguise my guilt-ridden grin, especially after sharing initial chit-chat about my filly’s chances.

“Oh that, isn’t it neat? Found the original hanging in a trainer’s tack room at Pimlico. Apparently over the years, some dude compiled a list of excuses that horse owners use after losing a race. Lord knows I’ve heard ‘em all at some point or other. Don’t ya love it?”

“Hmm.” Fifty-four excuses... “and ‘over many years’ you say?” I was rather amused as well, and while pausing to reflect after scanning the list of emboldened excuses, my facetious grin widened.

“You know, Foxy, this reminds me of a rather nonsensical day at the races with my partners— and not so long ago.”

“No kidding.” Bob added another measure of wine to my glass and directed me to an overstuffed chair. “Please, have a seat and tell me about it. From the zany look on your face, I bet it’s corker.”

“Okay, if you insist. But I think I should change just one name to protect the, uh… the innocent.”

Bob raised his glass in toast. “Ha ha, whatever you say, chump, but here’s to all of us guilty ones. Salute.”

“Now, let’s see; where to begin,” I said, and carefully composed my thoughts while keeping an impish eye focused on that list.

“Well, the story begins when a couple years ago, my country club cronies and I decided to pool some money and try our luck at owning a racehorse. We were excited and hired Terry Pawl as our agent to buy us a yearling.”

“Ah, a good choice. I know Terry well; a heck of a horseman.”

“Yes, he is. Well, that August at Saratoga’s yearling sale, we didn’t come close when bidding on our first two tries, but we kept at it. Anxiety mounted when jumping in on a third prospect.

“Terry began bidding on a good-looking chestnut colt, and this time, the action slowed well within our budget. One partner had his young son with him, and sensing success, suddenly blurted out: ‘are we gonna get diss’un, daddy?’

“A moment later, the hammer fell and the colt was ours. We were giddy with excitement, and over beers, even decided to name him, Dissun Terry— in honor of our agent and little Mikey’s outcry. And yes, you might say we were thence thrust into the game hook, line, and stinker,” I said, chuckling.

“Dissun grew and muscled out nicely as a two-year-old during early breaking and training. Our optimism swelled as we eventually approached race day; his first start. But the sorry s.o.b. really let us down— big time. He ran like you know what, finishing tenth from twelve starters.

‘“Shake it off, boys,’ our trainer said. ‘Few horses ever win their first out. He’s still a baby. Not to worry. He’s only a two-year-old and as he physically matures with more experience, he’s sure to improve.’

“Yeah, sure, we grumbled. Although initially cynical, we gradually accepted his reasoning until our deflated egos once again ballooned with can’t-miss enthusiasm. His next start was only a modest race for maiden claimers, but to us it seemed like Derby Day.

“All but two of the partners arrived early though our race was ninth on the card. And what a group we were— might as well have showed up wearing flashing neon lapel buttons: I’m a New Horse Owner.

“Ol’ Doc Lossen and his aging sidekick, J.T., were decked to the nines in fancy, but dated duds… looking more like Capone’s body guards than harmless horse owners. Fabino had his son with him again, flanked by Big Rich, Chuck, and Norman, that group more casually dressed though sporting some form of lucky talisman like a bright yellow fedora, a huge horse-head belt buckle, or whatever; all professed to guarantee a win.

“Even little Mikey was antsy and squealed: ‘Daddy said our horsie’s gonna win today, right Daddy?’

“‘You bet, son! A sure thing’ he said. ‘Gimme a high five for luck.’

“Though overcast and threatening rain, nothing could dampen our spirits. We were not to be dismayed proudly flaunting new-owner passes with pomp and positive energy. We killed time betting early races while chatting and sipping brews until Charlie Sharp, the colt’s trainer, arrived. In contrast to the group, he seemed somewhat aloof and uneasy.

“‘You look perplexed,’ I said. ‘Is something on your mind?’ The revelry waned as we circled Charlie, anxious to hear details.

‘“Actually, a few things do bother me,’ he said.

“From his expression, no doubt Charlie remembered how we reacted after Dissun’s first race and was about to voice concerns when Rich corned him.

“‘Well hell’s, bells! Spit it out, Charlie. Is Dissun gonna run good this time, or what?’

“Startled by Big Rich’s demeanor and not knowing us all that well yet, Charlie paused a moment to read expectant faces.

“‘Um... well y’all remember Dissun’s first start when I said he didn’t run his race [27] that day— but not to get discouraged? Well since then, I’m a tad concerned he ain’t the same horse he was earlier [25], you know, when you first sent him to me to take over training. I’m thinking maybe he was ruined by the hard track he came from [26].’

“Charlie was referring to Kelly’s training center in South Carolina where the colt was first broke and entered training. How could that be, we wondered. Dissun seemed to be in great shape when arriving at Charlie’s barn. At any rate we were dumbfounded, our zeal going down the same drain as several kidney-filtered beers as Charlie continued.

“‘But no, y’all just urged me on; to keep him in training— ‘oh, he’ll be better next time; that he needed the race [3]' y’all said, remember? Well, when you insisted he needs his races closer together [47], I worked him harder. But if you ask me, at the time I still think he left his race on the training track [44]. In fact, since he’s an April two-year-old, I was thinking maybe he needs a rest [45].’

“Thank God someone had the presence of mind to suggest another round of drinks. ‘I’ll go. On me,’ Fabino volunteered, his yellow fedora serving as a beacon as he made his way toward the bar.

“‘Change mine to whiskey!’ Chuck hollered.

“‘Yeah, and make it a double for me,’ Bill added.

“Fabino flashed a thumbs-up and soon returned with whiskeys for everyone. Unsettled, I again pressed Charlie for a couple answers.
“If you say he needs a rest, does that mean you’ve scratched him?”

“‘No, no fellas. He’s gonna run today.’ Charlie confirmed, ‘so we’ll just have to see how he does. But to be honest, there’s yet another thing that bothers me about last time; I’m pretty certain it wasn’t his distance [19].’

“‘I knew it. I just knew it,’ Bill grumbled. ‘I’ve heard enough of this baloney. One dang excuse after another. Face it guys, we came here for nothing.’

“Norm confronted the trainer directly, his expression distorted from a healthy gulp of whiskey. ‘Bill’s right, sounds like a bunch of hogwash to me, too. Just what are you trying to feed us, anyway? We all know why he lost his debut. The track was too deep [23] and the turns are too sharp at this track [28].’

“Fabino interrupted. ‘Yeah, I too recall somethin’ being said about how he didn’t like the track [15]. So what gives, Sharp?’

“A bevy of dubious eyes set upon our trainer, who by now, sensed a need to allay growing apprehension.

“‘It’s like I said, boys, things were different then. His loss had nothin’ to do with the track.’ Charlie conceded a little rational by reminding us the distance might have been a factor, that it was his first time he’s been around two turns[33], and then sheepishly added; ‘but that aside, fellas, this time there’s more things to worry about than minor stuff like that.’ Hearing that little kicker, Bill took a menacing step toward Charlie.

‘Oh? You’re saying there’s more— more excuses?’

“Charlie seemed unnerved and didn’t bother looking up from studying his boots. ‘Seems to me you boys have forgotten what you had said about his race conditions, too, like— the weight was too much [1], and that maybe he was giving away too many pounds [18]?’

“Doc rolled his eyeballs upward. ‘Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, is there anything else?’ He turned to Norm and poked him in the shoulder. ‘Can you believe this guy?’

“‘Yup.’ Norman mumbled. ‘It’s what have I been saying all along; it’s not meant to be, boys. This whole Dissun Terry thing is beginning to leave a bad taste in my mouth. We never should of done this. Humph, seems we bought us a real bum, alright.’

“Norman’s prophetic rip inspired humbled opinions; our way of coming to terms with Dissun Terry’s certain defeat. J.T. was first to test dispirited waters by spouting tin-horn knowledge that comes with rookie ownership.

“‘What’s Charlie talkin’ about? Why should distance bother him just because his sire was only a sprinter [39]?’

“‘So much for what you know about horses,’ Doc countered. ‘That was his broodmare sire, dummy. His sire could only win at a mile and a half [40], a downright plodder if you ask me.’

“Both stood their ground, staring at each other as neither one was sure of what the other knew or didn’t know.

“‘Why is everybody so riled?’ I said. ‘Maybe he needs blinkers [52], is all.’ But that only spurred a sharp retort from the bulky Chuck standing to my left.

“‘That’s a load a malarkey,’ Chuck challenged. ‘We all know he runs better without blinkers [53]. Kelly proved that at his training center, remember?’

“A little shoving and glaring induced Charlie to referee. ‘Boys, boys! Everyone, calm down. I gotta be going now, anyway. It’s almost race time and I need to get Dissun ready. I’ll catch up with y’all at the rail in front of the grandstand.’

“Grateful for the reprieve, we ambled out to the saddling paddock, but not without stopping for more liquid courage on the way. Despite a light drizzle, crowds gathered round as we managed to wedge our way alongside the paddock barrier.

“‘Good grief,’ Fabino groaned. ‘Look at all these people. Why so dang many have to hang around here for crissake. We’re the owners, not them.’

“‘Yeah, and take a look at Dissun,’ Rich said, shoving his drink toward the saddling stall that sent a dollop of whiskey onto little Mikey’s head. ‘Looks to me like the crowd scared him [5]. No doubt about it. It don’t take a genius to see he was nervous [14].’

“Dissun Terry pranced and pawed the ground until the call for ‘riders up’ was heard above the din of the crowd. People dispersed as jockeys guided their mounts single file toward post parade. We beat the crowds passing through the clubhouse to claim a good vantage point along the outside rail near the wire.

“On the way, Ol’ Doc Lossen pulled at J.T.’s arm. ‘Saaay, ain’t you gonna get a bet down first?’

“‘Hell no,’ J.T. said. ‘Lost my butt last time and you heard what the trainer said. Besides, didn’t you notice? Don’t you know nuthin’ about horse racing, Doc?’

“‘What d’ya mean?’ Doc blinked, wondering what he’d missed.

“J.T. seized a second chance at one-upmanship. ‘Look around ya. Can’t you see it’s been drizzling?’ and swept his hand about the grounds as if blessing the place. Armed with a false sense of Nouveau-authority, J.T. continued to educate.

‘Why, any fool could see he wasn’t wearing his mud caulks [35]. And another thing, dufus, the jockey didn’t fit him [43], either. Look at the size of Gomez. He’s too tall and gangling for my likin’, and besides, he had a bad post [2]. No sir-eee, bub. No bet for me.’

“The horses finished warm up jogs and were nearing the gate. We guzzled refills to stave off the jitters, our eyes glued to the far side of the track. Assistant starters snatched bridles and began leading horses into the starting gate. No one spoke, yet our facial expressions were plenty audible: saints preserve us, our champion is about to get his ass kicked again.

“Norman pointed at Dissun Terry. ‘Good Lord, fellas. Do you see what I see? He was fractious at the gate [46].’ We all agreed the damned horse was wasting precious energy fighting his handlers until eventually settling in when suddenly, the intercom came to life: ‘they’re all in, the flag is up, aaaaaand they’re off!’

“Only seconds after the explosive start, Chuck’s face twisted; he was fuming. ‘Good God almighty! The assistant starter held his tail [48]. Damn him,’ Chuck cursed, but Norman corrected.

“‘Maybe they had to keep Dissun calm in the chute, but even so, amigo; the jockey was asleep when the gate opened [49]. That’s why he walked out of the gate [50].’

“‘Damn!’ I yelled. ‘He should have gone to the lead [29].’

“‘Whadja ‘spect; how could he do anything?’ Doc slurred, ‘the jockey almost fell off [42] when the saddle slipped [31].’

“But as it turned out, we were all wrong. True, it was a rough early start for Dissun Terry, for within two jumps of the bell, he was knocked off stride coming out of the gate [11] and the jockey lost his irons [34]. Three strides later, another horse clipped his heels [24] and he lost a shoe [32]. Yet despite the jostling and banging of flanks battling for positions, Gomez somehow managed to hold on, his knees pinching the colt’s withers with all the strength he could muster.

“J.T. remained transfixed on the action and cringed. He grabbed both ears and yelled, ‘Ugh! I think he stepped in a hole [51]!’

“Norman again proffered correction: ‘no he didn’t! He stumbled when he jumped over a hole in the track [6], you twit.’

“J.T.’s amateur goof exposed, he glowered as the horses neared the half mile pole. By now, it seemed the early pace was too much [4] for him as the jockey moved too soon [12], rushing through the pack too quickly to where the jockey had to take him up [41]. What a waste. Any idiot could see that the jockey didn’t rate him [8] because he was too close to the early pace [9], expending way too much precious energy needed for a closing rush. I sighed, conceding we were doomed while glancing at Charlie, who was peering through binoculars.

“‘It looks to me like he was climbing, not running [16],’ Charlie said, likely making a mental note for a change in equipment. Suddenly, Charlie became enraged. ‘What’s that numskull doing? The jockey hit him left-handed [36] when I specifically told him never to hit him on that side.’ Charlie feared Dissun Terry might bolt to the outside, and seething with contempt for Gomez, he lowered his glasses.

“Chuck’s face gnarled into knots. ‘The jockey shouldn’t have hit him [37] at all. He needed a stronger hand ride [38], fer crissake!’

“‘Charlie’s right. Look!’ I yelled. ‘He was trying to bear out all the way [20].’

“To our dismay, he lost too much ground on the outside [10]. My God, I prayed, trying to will the jockey into doing something right— and quickly. But I must have conjured up too much telepathic mojo, because at that instant, we witnessed yet another ill-fated decision; he was trying to get in all the way[21]!’

“Chuck was boiling mad. ‘Christ almighty, Gomez! Don’t you know where you’re going? You’re all over the place! The blasted idiot should know better; everyone knows it was too deep on the rail [17].’

“‘Yup,’ Fabino grumbled. ‘Here we go again, tenth, if we’re lucky’ and kicked the chain-link fence. ‘Let’s face it, fellas, we’re finished.’

“I nodded agreement. There was no doubt the jockey moved too late [13] because he got pinched back at the turn [7].

“But suddenly, a glimmer of hope recharged our motley crew as Dissun Terry seemed to quicken his stride coming out of the turn. But as he tried sneaking free between horses, he was blocked in the stretch [22] with less than a furlong to go. Our hopes quickly vanished like a popcorn fart.

“We’d had enough and couldn’t bear to watch another stride. Norman and Ol’ Doc held each other for mutual comfort. Rich and Fabino draped their arms over the fence and stared at the dirt in silence. Aside from accepting pending failure, I felt a little woozy from whiskey and closed my eyes to steady myself.

“Chuck and Bill were the only two brave enough to watch the final yards disappear as a wall of horses passed in front of us with nostrils flared, ears pinned, and heads bobbing. Chuck rocked Bill with a heavy hand to the shoulder.

“‘Will ya look at Gomez, the useless pipsqueak!” Chuck yelled, pointing at the jockey. ‘Hey, Gomez; are you stupid or what! You went and used him up! Can’t you see he spit the bit [30]?’ Chuck mumbled a string of expletives, turned his back to the track, and threw his drink at the pavement.

“As quickly as the crowd’s cheering reached a crescendo, the roar dwindled to scattered shouts as horses crossed the finish line. Hundreds of torn ticket stubs were tossed into the air while other patrons were bouncing on their toes, pinching wagers praying for a favorable photo outcome.

“As for us, within the span of a minute and change, we were reduced to a band of blithering losers as Charlie’s cell phone came to life.

“’Hello? Kelly?’ Charlie answered, noting the caller ID. “What’s new in South Carolina, these days?”

“‘Well, for one thing, I just caught Dissun’s race on a simulcast. What’s your take on Dissun Terry now?’

“Charlie glanced at us crestfallen owners. ‘Well, I’ll tell ya. As I see things right now, you ask? Well, I guess you could say he just didn’t run his race today [54].’

“‘What? I don’t get it,’ Kelly said, studying the off-track monitor in front of him. ‘What do you mean— he didn’t run his race today? I thought he did a heck of job to hang in there given such a rough and tumble start. You have to expect that when running against a field of green two-year-olds.”

“Kelly’s professional eye suggested that Dissun Terry showed a great deal of courage and true racing class in only his second start.

“‘I hear ya, Kelly, but it’s a long story and I gotta run. I’ll call you back later.’ Charlie cut him off and went to help his groom with the unsaddling, who by now was walking Dissun Terry in circles with three other horses in front of the grandstand.

“’I still don’t get it,’ Kelly hung up. ‘Something’s really strange up there in River City. What do those idiots expect, a run-away romp every time? Ha, and lookie there,’ Kelly chuckled, pointing at the off-track monitor. ‘It’s official. Dissun got it by a nostril.’

The photo finish confirmed results as cameras zoomed in on a jubilant Charlie Sharp leading a heavily panting, but feisty chestnut into the winner’s circle.

* * * * *

“Ha, ha, ha!” Bob roared. “Well I’ll be a son-of-a-gun. That was one heck of a story. Why, I’d bet a bundle that my producer would love to make a movie out of that humdinger, but the Marx Brothers are dead. And you’ve also proved my point— Dissun Terry made a monkey out of all of you… and those excuses in single minute and change. Hilarious.”

“All right, all right. Enough said. Glad you liked it but couldn’t resist when seeing those excuses. And if you promise to be nice, I have another little yarn to share. It’s about a humbled monkey who’s willing to buy a win ticket for his buddy tomorrow— providing I get to enjoy more of your top-shelf wine with you tonight.”

“Gotcha covered, pard, but I’m out of Banana Ripple so you’ll have to settle for a Chateau Moutin. But after that taradiddle, you’re worth it.”

We both exchanged chuckles as Bob pulled the cork. “You know,” he paused. “On second thought, I have a better proposition,” and peeled a c-note from his money clip.

“Here, put this on your filly’s nose tomorrow, but on one condition. You promise not to boost that list to fifty-five or more with something like she stumbled out the gate and had too many lengths to make up. That you wore the wrong hat, the moon was in the wrong phase or whatever. Then Marianne and I will have no excuse but to join you at D’Nato’s for dinner tomorrow night— deal?”

I reached for his hand, my face surely matching the rich Bordeaux as we enjoyed exchanging mischievous grins. “There y’go. Now we’ve got ourselves a sure-fire winner if ever there was one.”

© Copyright 2009 DRSmith (drsmith at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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