“Three. Ryan was second, we were in the spitbox for over an hour,” laughs Calley, “and we had a flat coming home too.”
She takes a healthy gulp of her coffee as she grins “and we gotta do it again tonight with Bert… no flat this time, I hope.”
They laugh as Sissy introduces Eddie.
“We sure can use some help Uncle Eddie,” grins Calley. “We’ve got two to train today!”
Calley looks at Sissy.
“Desmond and Magic didn’t get in to race this week,” she shrugs her shoulders. “and they both need the work. Desmond will gain weight just on air and Magic is still green.”
“Magic is the trotting filly,” explains Sissy, “she’s three and has only raced five times.
“Well, let’s go to it!” says Eddie enthusiastically.
Sissy is inside a stall as she puts a hopple on Desmond as Steven looks up from his video game.
“What are those?” he turns and asks Eddie.
“Those are called hopples.” explains Eddie. “They come in different weights and sizes and they keep a pacer on stride.”
“What’s his ‘stride’?" asks a confused Steven.
Eddie just smiles and says “We’ll show you up at the track.”
Calley and Sissy are jogging Desmond and Magic as Eddie and Steven lean on the fence and watch. Eddie looks at Steven standing next to him in a baseball cap and smiles slightly as old memories return.
“What are they doing now?” asks Steven as they slowly go by.
“Right now they're jogging... they go along clockwise on the track doing a mile in about five minutes. Then when they train they'll go a mile between 2:10 -2:40 counterclockwise.”
“What's the difference between trotters and pacers?” asks Steven.
"Look at their legs. Can you see anything different?" offers Eddie.
Steven studies the two going along.
“Yeah!” exclaims Steven with realization, “Desmond's legs swing side by side.”
“Right!” smiles Eddie. “He's pacing... now look at Calley’s horse.”
Young Steven looks intently at Magic.
“He’s trotting,” added Eddie as the horses stop and turn to go a mile... see how his legs go diagonally?”
“Yeah I do!" laughs Steve proudly.
“Now they’re going to train a mile,” adds Eddie. “That’s twice around this half-mile track. These horses were bred to go a mile standard of 2:30. They’re called harness horses, trotters and pacers but known as The American Standardbred since 1879.”
Two unemployed grooms, Fat George and Half-wit Harry, are looking at the horses training in hopes of catching one to bet. George nods over towards Eddie.
“Looks like we’ve got another EXPERT around here.”
Harry slaps his hands and gaffaws as Eddie just smiles slightly.
They’re distracted by a slight commotion to the left as “The Grand Old Man of Delaware” Mel Hopkins is bellowing at a a young chestnut horse that is running in the hopples, shaking its head, and fighting the headpoles.
“Come up here to me you common sonovabitch!” growls Hopkins as he laces the colt with a six-foot long training whip.
“Why’s he doing that,” asks a puzzled Steven.
“I guess because that horse made a break,” Eddie says with a shake of his head.
“What did he break?” asks Steven.
“He just broke stride, he’s running. Horses have to stay on their gait, either trotting or pacing, the whole mile or they can be disqualified from winning. It’s bad when they make a break but," he says as his voice trails off, "there's no need...”
Hopkins pulls the horse up to a small unkempt groom by the name of Willy and barks at him to take him back to the barn. He turns to a frustrated vet who shrugs and Hopkins is angrily pointing towards the horse’s left front. Willy roughly pulls the horse past Eddie and Steven and hisses at the now wide-eyed with fear animal.
“Make me waste my time on you, you chestnut bastard!”
The horse looks pleadingly at Eddie who does a double-take when he recognizes a similarity to Miss Stephanie.
“Excuse me,” he calls out to Hopkins as the 60-year-old storms to his new Cadillac, “who’s that horse by?”
“I don't buy `em to breed,” sneers Hopkins. “I buy `em to race!”
The Cadillac's tires spin gravel as he drives off.
Another trainer standing nearby laughs “His name’s Dancin’ King by Kingdom.Com out of a mare called Movin’ Out. Hopkins has been trying to figure out the single-footing son-of-a-bitch for two years. He can’t even go a mile in 2:50 with him."
As Eddie studies the horse as he is being dragged away, Steven calls out excitedly.
“Uncle Eddie, look! Sissy’s gonna win!”
Sissy and Desmond are a half-length in front of Magic as they finish a mile in 2:20. Eddie smiles proudly as he puts his hand on Steven’s shoulder and chuckles.
“It’s just a training mile Steven but she did good… she did damn good!”
With her pigtails flying behind her Sissy is grinning widely as they go by.
To be continued
Greeny Bug scoots down the tree-lined side streets of town when Mary’s cellphone rings its tune. She quickly grabs it and says hello.”
“Okay,” she nods in agreement, “can do.” She places the phone back in its holder. “One of the girls called in sick tomorrow morning and they really need me to come in early. I’m going to have to do a double. Could you drop me off and take Sissy to the barn about 7?”
“No problem,” say Eddie. “I’ll just be in Sissy’s way instead.”
“Now Uncle Eddie,” grins Sissy as Steven scowls a bit.
“Why can’t I stay home?” he whines.
It’s early morning as the trio drive into the Fairgrounds already busy with horses exercising. Eddie parks the bug over to the side of the bar as Sissy hops out and over to the horses.
“They were fed two hours ago, says Sissy, “there’s a lady that feeds most of the horses on the grounds.”
She turns to see Calley coming out of the tackroom with a coffee.
“Wow,” exclaims Sissy, “what time did you get back?”