For the next five days Eddie jogged King for a half an hour each morning as the now-relaxed “colt” drew looks of admiration from the other horsefolk.
“He’s lookin’ good, Eddie!” calls out Hank as he jogs by.
“Hey Eddie! You got the HANDS!” yells Yee Haw as he watches them go along. Frenchie just raises his eyebrows and smiles.
Eddie jogs King up to Pete and the group who wait at the draw gate.
“He isn’t even turning a hair,” says Eddie. “He’s ready.”
Fat George and Harry are leaning on fence about twenty feet away.
“Watch out!” grunts George. “We got another expert out here!”
Eddie shakes his head, smiles at Pete, gives him the lines, and crosses his fingers.
Callie, Sissy, and Steven stand next to Eddie as Pete jogs off to turn and begin the mile.
With the gait and manners of a good horse King goes a mile in 2:30 perfectly. Callie looks at the grinning group as a smiling Pete brings him back.
“Now don’t get too high on him," he says. "It was only a mile in 2:30. And that's a long way to 2:05!”
“We won’t as long as you won’t!” laughs Sissy.
“Maybe I’m crazy,” offers Pete as he gets off the cart, “but I think if we give him some solid even-rated miles he might be ready to qualify in about a month.”
Callie leans over and kisses Eddie on the cheek.
“You’re not going anywhere for a while, Uncle Eddie!”
The next month flew by as Eddie and Steven were at the barn helping every day. Eddie even brought Steven along with to jog King who already had begun to muscle up.
Callie would train him with even-rated miles in 2:40 and 2:20 twice a week as Eddie put the jog miles under him.
“A good foundation,” Eddie would grin at Steven.
Finally, exactly five weeks to the day that Callie had bought him, the group was gathered by the track as Callie and Pete brought out Desmond and King in the race bike and took a score around the track.
There were more stopwatches on the pair as they turned the right way of the track and, as one old timer would say later on, that “it sounded like a bunch of crickets chirpin’ when they all clicked their watches at once.”
King easily beat Desmond in 2:10 as the crowd in the Kiddie Stand roars.
Well, all of them except Old Man Hopkins who storms off from the fence with his nostrils flaring. Willy was right on his heels as he followed him back to his barn.
“That common no-tryin' son-of-a…” whines Willy.
“Shaddup,” growls Hopkins, “just shut the hell up.”
The track is abuzz about “The King” all week long and even old Chester Burnett stops by the track to say hello.
Friday afternoon after the chores were done Sissy came running breathlessly into the barn from the race office.
“We've got the rail in the qualifier!” she blurts out excitedly.
Eddie turns to Steven and adds “The qualifiers are to show the judges that the horses are qualified to race. All he should go is about 2:06, that’s a big enough drop from 2:10.”
“Can he do it?” asks Steven a little apprehensively.
“We’ll find out tomorrow,” grins Eddie with a wink at Sissy and Callie.
The whole crew is in the paddock getting King ready as Callie cautions them to “calm down.” Pete looks at them reassuringly as he gets on the bike and adds “he’ll be alright.”
King qualifies in 2:05 as he finishes third and the smiles and grins stretched as long as the Olentangy River and the crew celebrated like they just won the Little Brown Jug.
Back at the barn everyone is eating pizza as they go over a Scioto Downs condition sheet to see what night he can race.
Callie studies the sheet and says “there’s a nonwinners of a pari-mutuel race this Friday and they go for $4,500!
Steven turns to Eddie and asks “What's pari-mutuel?”
“It's French,” says Eddie, “for amongst ourselves. It’s a race that people can bet on. Non winners mean the horse has never won.”
The whole group of them watch as Callie phones the race office and enters King into event #3.
“Yes,” she says proudly, “Dancin’ King. Owner/trainer Callie Murphy and Pete Cammett to drive.”
She is grinning broadly and looks at the happy crew. “That had kind of a nice ring to it!”
“Now,” she explains to Steven and Mary, “when the box closes at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow morning, the race secretary will group the horses by class and condition and then have the draw at about noon.”
The next day in the Judges Office at 12:10 two volunteer horsemen are helping with the draw.
One of them is shuffling the entries as another shakes the numbers in a pill bottle.
The first pulls out a blue entry slip as the other holds up pill #2.
“Dancin’ King has the two hole,” he says as the race secretary fills in the draw sheet.
The pill guy does a double-take and asks “Isn’t he that chestnut thing that Old Man Hopkins screwed around with for a couple of years?”
“Yeah,” grins the entry guy, “he sold him for $400.”
“Please,” smiles the race secretary with a shake of his head, “don’t say anything to Hopkins about it. The old bastard is pissing blood over it.”
They all roar with laughter.
Eddie has a little spring to his step as he walks over to the Bug with an entry sheet. He stops, thinks a minute, pulls out his new cell phone, and dials a number.
The phone is ringing inside The Pioneer Club back home in Bloomington, Indiana.
The phone rings again as The Commander wipes his hands with a dish towel and answers it.
“Pioneer Club, we were always first and we’ll always be last... the last call that is!”
“Commander,” says Eddie, “how you doing? This is Eddie Hauser!”
“Eddie, you old renegade! What have you been up to? And where in HELL are you?”
“I’m in Delaware, Ohio visitin’ my niece and havin’ a helluva good time but I still miss the boys!”
The Commander holds the phone up towards a foursome of cribbage players and calls out “Hey boys, it’s Eddie Hauser!!!”
The group instantly harmonize "Water" by The Sons of the Pioneers.
“The nights are cool and I’m a fool…”
The Commander laughs loudly over the refrain. “See what you started!”
He places his hand over his other ear and hollers “What?!? Yeah, Old Fred? He’s right here...”
The commander gives the 80-year-old Fred the phone. Fred turns to the singing cribbage players and yells “QUI-YET!!!”
The group stops singing.
“Eddie!!! Where ya been and when are you coming back? The town ain't the same without you!”
“Fred,” says Eddie. “I’m feeling good again. I’m keeping busy and helping my grandniece at the barn and you remember that filly I told you about that I rubbed a hundred years ago?”
“The one everyone poked fun at?”
“Yep! Well, believe it or not we come across her great-great-great-grandson and the group of us here got him to the races! He's in at Scioto on Friday in the third race and has the two hole.”
“You telling me you’re back with the horses again? After sixty years!?!”
“Yes,” laughs Eddie “Just watch the racing channel on Friday! You might see your old pal in the Winners Circle!’
“All right Eddie! You get back before the weather gets cold! We all miss you around here!”
Fred nods knowingly at the group as he hangs up the phone.
“I've got a hot tip!!!” he yells as everyone in the place looks at him. He turns towards a large muscular old timer sitting at the end of the bar. “Hey Bull, you still know that bookie over on Maple Street?”
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 barn 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 Callie coming out of the tackroom with a coffee.
“Wow,” exclaims Sissy, “what time did you get back?”
The crowd mummers apprehensively. Over by the TV in the paddock Willy shifts back and forth on his feet and says to everyone within earshot “that chestnut piece-of-shit caused that!”
“What the hell are you talking about?” growls Hank in King’s defense. “He had nothin’ to do with it.”
Willy purses his lips and storms away.
It was a large early Spring crowd at Scioto that Friday as the warm weather bought out the fans to enjoy a night at the races. In the paddock Callie and Sissy are getting King bridled as Eddie and Pete look on in silence. Finally Pete smiles and says to the group “C’mon guys… I know it’s his first race but we’ll be okay. That Mojave Devil horse along the rail is the odds-on-favorite and I’ll just follow him. We’ll get a good trip!”
Eddie grins widely and adds “Ain’t nothing like a case of the pre-race jitters to liven things up” and they all laugh.
The horses are led onto the track for the race and Pete scores King down in front of a large excited crowd. In the paddock Callie, Sissy, and Eddie look at each other and cross their fingers.
“They’re moving in behind the gate!” calls out the announcer. “The gate swings in front of the grandstand and hereeeeeee they come!”
With a quick acceleration of speed the starting car closes its wings and releases the field. Pete tucks in the two-hole right behind Mojave Devil. To his surprise nobody left from the outside as they all quickly went to the rail.
Pete grins to himself and says under his breath “you must’ve scared `em King” as the favorite cuts leisurely fractions down to the half in 1:00.4. As they turn for the backside Mojave Devil picks up speed while three contenders move to the outside to challenge. Pete keeps King right in the garden spot and urges him as Grand Tower the second favorite pulls even to battle head to head with the leader. The tempo really picks up around the final turn as Mojave Devil is pressed. Halfway down the lane the favorite gets rough-gaited.
“HE’S GONE OFF-STRIDE!” screams the announcer as the Devil veers to the outside and causes Grand Tower to take up a bit. Pete shoots King through the opening along the rail just as the cameras flash.
“There is a Judges’ Inquiry,” calls out the announcer, “possible interference coming down the stretch and to the breaking horse.”
“The Judges have placed number 1 Mojave Devil 3rd behind the 4, Grand Tower. It does not affect the winner: number 2… Dancin’ King!”
The crowd roars with excitement.
“Returning now to the Winners Circle… number two, Dancin’ King… a chestnut four-year-old horse by Kingdom.com out of Love Those Moves by Impulsive…
In a world of their own Callie, Sissy, and Eddie laughingly load into the Courtesy Car for the ride over for the photo and a celebration in Winners' Circle.
“Owned and trained by Callie Murphy and driven by Pete Cammett, Dancing King is a winner in his very first lifetime start in 1:59.3!”
On cue Bob Seeger’s song is played: You always won, every time you placed a bet...
In the Pioneer Club the gang is hooting loudly as Fred turns to the Commander and hollers above the din.
“He paid $68.00!”
At the restaurant the waitresses, cook, and several customers raise their arms and cheer at the TV.
Inside the grandstand Old Chester shakes his shock of white hair and wags his tongue as the teller counts out twenties.
You’re so damn good, no one’s gotten to you yet.
It was quite the happy ride home.
The next morning cars are arriving at the Delaware gate as a smiling Charlie looks up from the newspaper and waves them in.
“Hey, Moose,” says the driver of the first car.
Charlie gives him a quick slide of a wave and a grin.
A young couple in a second car pulls through.
“`Morning Moose,” they both call out.
Charlie sits up straight and gives them a snappy salute. The phone rings and Charlie picks it up.
“Oh hi, Captain,” Charlie smiles. “Yeah, this is Moose.”
In back of the barns Eddie is grassing King as a sloop-shouldered groundskeeper the trims bushes nearby. He quickly looks up as Eddie and King inch their way towards him.
“Ib ahd ahndee,” he angrily says in Arabic. “Keep him away!”
Eddie just nods and guides King away. From around the end of the barn George and Harry shuffle by and see Eddie.
“Hey,” calls out George. “Why didn’t you say something?”
Eddie just smiles slightly and shrugs his shoulders.
“I didn't want to look like too much of an expert.”
They both walk away with a pained look on their faces then spot the groundskeeper.
“Look,” says George as he nudges Harry, “It’s AM-AL the CAM-Al driver!”
Amal shakes a cheap plastic and wood hand at them.
“It is AH-MALL,” he growls, “you fat PIG! AH-MALL!”
George points at the prosthesis and calls out like a crow.
“CLAW - CLAW!!! It’s the CLAW!”
Harry parrots George and echoes “the CLAW!”
They both slap hands and walk away laughing. Amal goes back to trimming the bushes and curses them under his breath.
Eddie just shakes his head and leads King back towards the barn as Hank is taking a horse to the blacksmith shop.
“Hey Eddie, Eddie,” says Hank as he gives King a nod of approval. ”He went a pretty good mile.”
Eddie smiles in appreciation and mouths “thank you.”
Up on the track Old Man Hopkins jogs by with a horse, looks over at King and just glares at him.
Six days later King wins another race by two in 1:59 and pays $11.60
Inside Burns Restaurant the waitresses and customers cheer at the TV.
At the Pioneer Club several members are hurriedly adjusting a small satellite dish as the announcer calls out “It’s Dancin’ King on top by TWO and drawing off…”
The members all turn and yell and high-five each other.
Over at the track at the betting window Chester wags his tongue as teller counts even more out twenties.
And you’re still the same…
The week breezes by as King is now the fan favorite in the grandstand and in the backstretch. Eddie, Sissy, Mary, and Steven are at the kitchen table in the trailer finishing breakfast.
“Let's see what we’ve drawn for Saturday!” says Eddie as he gets out of his chair.
“He’s gonna be up in class,” cautions Sissy as Mary puts the dishes in the sink for later.
“It don’t matter,” adds Steven, “he’s the best!”
They all hop lively out of the trailer as Steven closes the door shut.
His video game remains on the coffee table.
“How you all doing,” he asks.
“We be doin’,” they murmur.
“Do any of you guys know,” Eddie begins, “where I can get hold of some Sires and Dams books from the 1950’s?
The first old timer shrugs a bit as he keeps playing. “Mine don’t go back that far…”
The second old timer just laughs at the first and adds “Why, the only damn breeding you were interested in back then was that dancer down in Columbus!”
They all laugh.
“What in hell do you need them for?” asks the third old timer.
“I want to look up a filly that I used to rub,” offers Eddie.
“What was her name?” chimes in the fourth.
“Miss Stephanie,” offers Eddie, “but she never raced… she might've been bred though.
The second old timer shifts in his chair.
“Then go see Chester Burnett up in Waldo on the Old Troy Road. He keeps every damn thing he ever had includin’ that rat-tailed thing of his.”
“Where about is it?”
“Oh, you won’t miss it!” offers the first.
They all burst out with a loud laugh as a smiling Eddie goes back to the car.
Sissy and Steven look at him questioningly.
“What are you looking for Uncle Eddie,” asks Sissy.
“U.S.T.A. Sires and Dams Books,” he explains. “You can trace a harness horses' family back over 150 years. That horse of Hopkin's looks awful familiar to me.
“You ain't that old are you?” says Steven with a look of wonder.
Eddie and Sissy laugh.
“No!” grins Eddie. “I want to find who his mother's ancestors are. I think I’ll play a game of Scavenger Hunt tomorrow and go up and visit a Mr. Burnett in Waldo while your mother’s and Sissy's at work. How about it Steven,” he turns to the youngster. “you ready to be my assistant?”
“Sure!” says the newly-interested youth.
The traffic is light the next morning as Greenie Bug and Eddie and Steven drive north on Old Troy Road. They pass acreage of corn and soy along with several well-kept horse farms then up on the left they spot an old trailer with a cluttered up yard.
“That might be the place,” grins Eddie as he pulls into the gravel driveway
“Is this a yard sale?” asks a bewildered Steven as he looks around.
They both get out of the Bug and walk past the worn trailer and through a menagerie of old bikes, rusted engines, and various other “memorabilia” towards a paddock out back where a white-haired Chester Burnett is determinedly trying to catch an old swayback horse.
“Come here,” Chester says impatiently as he leans towards Old Rat Tail while the horse nonchalantly walks away. “Oh, you sonova…”
“Anyone by the name of Chester Burnett here?” announces Eddie loudly.
Chester looks up with a start, turns and sees Eddie.
“Holy cow, “ he says relieved, “for a moment I thought old Rat Tail was talking.”
Eddie and Steven laugh.
“Friends of yours at the track said you were the man to see about some old Sires and Dams books.”
“Could be a possibility,” acknowledges Chester, “and what might your name be?”
“`Name’s Eddie Hauser and this is my nephew Steven.
“You from Delaware?”
“No I'm an Indiana bred,” answers Eddie with a wink as he nods at Steven. “The colt is though.”
“Well,” adds Chester with a shake of his head. “I raced Indiana and them Hoosiers are all right in my book! C'mon in Eddie Hoosier and we'll see what we can do for you.”
They turn to go to the trailer but Steven stops, leans on the fence, and talks softly to the horse.
“What are you doin' out there?” he whispers at Rat Tail as the horse eyes him sideways with one ear perked towards him.
“He won’t pay any attention to you! Got a mind of his own,” Chester laughs with a wave of his hand as he and Eddie walk to the front door of the trailer. Chester pulls at the resistant door open to “Fibber McGee’s trailer” and hoists himself up into the clutter.
“Watch yourself,” Chester cautions as he pulls a volume from shelf. A half dozen newspapers fall onto the table.
“We won't worry about that.” Chester shrugs it off, “I got folks visiting and they love to hoe out the place. So what's this horse's name?”
“Dancin’ King, “ says Eddie, “and his dam is Movin’ Out.”
“Okay,” says Chester as he leafs through the book. “Movin’ Out is out of a mare by the name of Love Those Moves whose dam is I’m Movin’ On... she was foaled in 1968.”
He hands Eddie the book and pulls out an older volume. More papers fall onto the floor. Chester just scowls a bit.
“Leave it for the sweeper.”
Eddie smiles and shakes his head as Chester studies the pages.
“Boy, these mares never had too many foals... all they had was one or two at the most!”
He holds the book up to the light to see it better.
“And I’m Movin’ On was out of Dance Step by Dancer Hanover. Geez,” he says as he raises his eyebrows, “now that's good breeding back in `62.
“1962?” asks Eddie excitedly. “That’s gettin’ close. Who was her dam?
“It was,” he pauses as he squints, “a mare by the name of… dammit the types smudged… she was foaled in 1957.”
“1957?!? Was it Miss Stephanie?”
“Yep,” adds Chester triumphantly, “she the one you're looking for?”
“YES!” says Eddie happily. “ That's her! So Joe bred the old girl. God bless him. He knew she was meant to be a good one!”
“Well, Eddie Hoosier,” adds Chester. “This Dancin’ King is the first colt in the entire family! And you know what they say about the first colt?”
“They’re always supposed to be the best,” Eddie grins.
“Tha’s what I heard too,” laughs Chester with a wag of his tongue.
They both walk out of the trailer and towards the back. Steven is in the paddock, talking to old Rat Tail, and patting him.
Chester stops in his tracks.
“How’d you catch him?”
“He just came up to me,” Steven shrugs it off but Eddie is smiling widely.
“The boy’s a natural,” he whispers to himself.
Eddie shakes Chester’s hand as they’re about to leave.
“Thanks for your help Chester Burnett.”
“You keep me posted Eddie Hoosier,” says Chester as he places both hands over Eddie’s. “I’ve got a good feeling on this.”
Eddie and Steven drive back to the Fairgrounds and wave at Charlie the guard as they go through.
“Before we get your sister," says Eddie to Steven, "I want to go over to Mel Hopkin’s barn and ask him about that colt.”
They both walk into Hopkins barn. Willy is sitting on a trunk nibbling a packet of peanut butter crackers like a chipmunk.
“How you doin’?” Eddie smiles cordially, “I was wonderin’ about that Dancin’ King horse…”
“That chestnut piece of shit?” lisps Willy. “We got rid of him this mornin’, thank God.”
“Rid of him,” asks Eddie. “Where’d he go?’
“I don’t know,” says Willy as he walks away, “he could’ve gone to the Amish or better yet to the killers! He ain’t nuthin’! And you can quote Mel Hopkins and me on that!”
Eddie feels like the wind’s been taken out of him and he sadly looks at Steven.
“Oh well, almost, could've, should’ve, would’ve. Lets go get your sister.”
“What's the Amish?” asks Steven as they turn to walk out.
“They use horses for transportation and their farm work. No cars, no tractors, or electricity. They live a very simple life and they treat their horse well… but," he sighs dejectedly.
Eddie walks slump-shouldered into the barn where Callie is sitting on a trunk reading a five-generation page printout of a horse's breeding.
“Uncle Eddie!” she smiles. “Take a look at the new addition to the barn. He’s a four-year-old horse that we just got off the Amish truck for $400. Seems the guy doesn't like chestnuts!”
Eddie walks over to the end stall and looks in. Sissy is brushing off a half-asleep Dancin’ King.
“Ain't he pretty?” she grins.
Eddie straightens up and breaks into a wide smile.
The following morning the whole gang is up by the track - Eddie, Callie, Sissy, Steven, and Mary - as Pete Cammett is jogging the ill-gaited King.
“He doesn’t look too good to me.” Mary grimaces, “and I don’t even know what I’m looking at.”
“What’s wrong with him Uncle Eddie?” asks a concerned Sissy. “Does he have a broken bone?”
Eddie watches the horse hop along and softly says to Callie “Y'know this horse’s great-great-grandam would single-foot and look dog-assed lame.
Steven laughs at Eddie’s “cuss word” and Eddie is somewhat embarrassed.
“That's just a term Steven,” smiles Eddie. “Did you ever watch a dog trot? They go crooked and always have a terrible hitch to them.”
Pete eases King towards the draw gate and walks him off the track.
"Not too good is he?” Callie says dejectedly.
Pete just raises his eyebrows. "You might've just wasted $400."
Eddie shrugs and says a bit hesitantly “Stephie used to have to go with a really low head, a leather chin strap, and half a shoe on that left front before she found her gait. And that took us over a year and a half to finally figure out!”
As they unhook the horse Callie turns to Pete and asks “D’you got your shoeing equipment with you?”
“Do I never?” smiles Pete.
Back in the barn Callie rigs a simpler bridle as Pete puts the new front shoes on him.
As they hook him up again Eddie adds “and she didn’t like too tight a girth!”
Pete smiles and winks at Callie ”we might have to have Uncle Eddie jog him.”
“Pah!” grins Eddie. “I’m as rusty as a bucket of old horseshoes.”
“C’mon Uncle Eddie!” urges Callie. “Give it a shot. We need some luck!”
With a shake of his head Eddie climbs into the jog cart, adjusts his handholds, and Sissy leads King up to the track.
Fat George and Harry see them going on to the track and climb behind a bench in mock fear as Old Man Hopkins watches with a growl from alongside his Cadillac.
King starts out slowly and Eddie gives him a few words of encouragement as they go along. Almost immediately he slips into a slick-gaited pace and the horse goes along smoothly. Eddie goes around once, looks over at the dumbstruck group, and beams.
Pete studies him and turns to Callie “He’s perfect. I don’t want to get no one’s hopes up but I can’t see a damn thing wrong with him.”
Eddie jogs the relaxed King as he lopes along for four miles. He walks him off the track.
“Uncle Eddie,” grins Callie as they unhook him, “I think you’ve got yourself a job here. Would you like to jog him tomorrow too?”
“Well I, I,” Eddie laughs. “It has been a few years.”
“I think you two go back a ways,” grins Callie.
Eddie takes King by the head and whispers softly “If you promise to jog good tomorrow I’ll sing you a song.”
King nuzzles his finger just like Stephie used to.
The wall clock reads 12:45 as Eddie sweeps up the barn aisle. He looks over at Sissy wiping the harness down.
“Did you call your Mum?”
“Yeah. She says she’ll be all done in about half an hour but,” she grins as she nods towards Steven, “I don’t know about Mr. Video Game.”
Eddie turns and watches Desmond as he has Steven’s game in his mouth and shakes it up and down. Steven is laughing delightedly.
Eddie smiles with a twitch of the head.
“I think he’s found a buddy,” he winks at Sissy.
As the trio of them are walking towards Greenie Bug Eddie spots four old timers playing a game of Hi-Lo Jack at the end of the neighboring barn. They have a bale of straw covered with a towel as a makeshift table and are sitting in various types of lawn chairs as they raucously step on each other’s bid.
“I’ll be right back,” smiles Eddie to the kids and he walks over to the barn. He’s acknowledged with quick nods of their heads.
“Three. Ryan was second, we were in the spitbox for over an hour,” laughs Callie, “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 Callie. “We’ve got two to train today!”
Callie 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.”
Callie 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 Callie’s horse.”
Young Steven looks intently at Magic.
“She’s trotting,” added Eddie as the horses stop and turn to go a mile... see how her 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.