That Saturday, inside the Scioto paddock, Pete is studying the program as Sissy and Eddie put the bridle on King.
“The 3 and 5 horse look like they might battle it out head to head,” smiles Pete as they bring out King to hook him the race bike. Callie places her hand on Pete’s shoulder and smiles. “You do your thing,” she says with a reassuring pat.
“Hey,” grins Pete with a wide smile and a wink, “I could get lucky! “
P The gate opens up and it’s a mad scramble for the lead. When they settle in Pete has gotten King away third as the 3 and the 5 go at it nose to nose the entire mile and cut wicked fast fractions. Around the last turn Pete tips King three wide and draws off to win in 1:56 flat.
“A new lifetime mark!” screams the announcer. “And that’s the third winner for driver Pete Cammett tonight!”
Over at the Pioneer Club everyone cheers at their new 55” plasma TV.
A larger crowd of customers at the restaurant raise their arms in unison at the victory.
And in the grandstand Chester is at the windows again and wags his tongue happily as the teller counts out another stack of twenties.
While Eddie and Sissy are in the spit box for post-race testing Callie brings the equipment to her truck to bring back to the barn. Two well-dressed men approach her in the parking lot.
“That horse of yours raced pretty good tonight,” says the taller of the two.
Callie just looks at them apprehensively.
Sissy watches from the outside of the testing area as Callie is listening to their sales pitch.
“Who are they?” she asks a concerned Pete as he stands the race bike up.
“A couple of shady lawyers from Columbus. They used to have horses with that guy that was kicked out of here for inconsistent performance. They like to bet,” he grimaces.
The lawyers leave and Callie walks back into the paddock and up to Sissy and Pete.
“They just offered me $25,000 for King,” she exhales. “Oh boy.”
“Interesting," adds Pete. "And Raymonds’ trainer Danny Cook,” says Pete as he motions over to a short man in dark green and white colors. “was just looking him over. King has suddenly become quite popular.”
“Who’s Raymonds?” asks Sissy questioningly.
“Oh,” he says with a shake of his head, “just a guy who tells the Pope what to do.”
It is a bright early morning at immaculately landscaped farm in Maryland. Five white pristine-painted barns ring around a professionally graded half-mile track. The quiet is suddenly disrupted by a loud male voice and water buckets being thrown onto the floor.
“You either get these done right or I'll find someone who will!” barks a now 55-year-old Richard Raymonds as he storms out of the barn. He hops into a dark green Mercedes convertible with a pure white leather interior as a knock-out 25-year-old blonde bombshell hands him a cell phone. “It’s Danny in Scioto.”
Danny Cook is on his phone outside a spotless barn at Scioto with a dark green awning. Fourteen highly-polished trunks are lined along the stalls in perfect order. Neatly-fitted dark green harness bags, each with a large white RR symbol, hang by the stall doors.
“Mr. Raymonds,” says Danny, “there's a nice little 4-year-old horse up here that's won his first four starts the right way. Last night he aired in `56 flat.
“Yeah?” asks Raymonds into the phone, “and what's his breeding?” He pauses as he listens. “Kingdom.com? That sonovabitch only raced SIX times!!! He's a fast rat! You want me to make chicken soup out of chicken shit? Don't bother me with anything like that!” Raymond tosses the phone back to the blonde and shakes his head.
“He's worked for me for 22 years,” he growls,” and still doesn't know a gaddamned thing!”
Raymonds starts the Mercedes and wheels it up the long manicured driveway and out onto the road.
“I've got to look at a horse in Dover this morning,” he exhales, “he might be what Abi Ben Flabby - or whatever the hell his name is - is looking for.”
“Who?” asks the blond.
"This fat Arab sultan who wants me to get him the best horse his money can buy,” snarls Raymonds as he pushes the Mercedes up to 65. “There’s a race coming up in late August that’s supposed to be going for ten million and I’ve got to find him one before they announce it publicly in three weeks and drive the market up.”
“How'd you hear about it?” asks the blond innocently.
“These things are easy,” smirks Raymonds as he barrels down the country road, “when you're a living legend.” He scowls as he thinks about it. “The only thing is I've got to have to put up with a sonovabitch who smells as bad as he looks. It’s a damn good thing he’s got one hell of a pocket book under those robes of his. He’s paid me cash up front for my training fee and is flying me anywhere I want to go in his private jet. So,” he smiles lecherously at the young blond, “where d’ya wanna go, Babe?”
She gushes as the car zooms off down the road.
The crew is working at the barn back in Delaware when Callie comes around the corner and calls them together.
“Last night,” she begins as she clears her throat, “I got an offer to sell King for $25,000.”
Callie looks at the shocked and worried faces on Eddie, Sissy, and Steven.
“But I thought `Y' know, this is kinda fun. Why don’t we just race him ourselves to see where he takes us’!”
They all break into relieved smiles.
At Dover Downs an elderly couple watch as Raymonds trains their homebred gelding by himself in 1:58. A proud and smiling groom walks towards the horse as Raymonds gets off the sulky, throws lines at him, and storms by the two owners who wait hopefully for his opinion.
“He’s a piece of shit!” he growls.
The three of them look at each other dejectedly and then their shoulders slump in disappointment.
A large brand-new stretch limo is parked a few feet away from the track. A tall uniformed chauffeur in dark sunglasses opens the door to the curtained back as Raymonds gets in.
The unshaven and obese Sultan is reclining on the posh sofa bed as an interpreter and "Babe" the blond sits near him.
“HYDA AXEN SHEEL?” he asks with a mouthful of unbrushed teeth.
His interpreter turns to Raymond. “His Excellency wants to know: `Is that one the best? `”
“No,” says Raymonds shaking his head as he looks at the Sultan, “he isn't.”
The Sultan grits and curses.
“Tell His Highness,” continues Raymonds, “that I've been driving one at the Meadowlands that is tops in the country and I WILL get him for him.”
The interpreter whispers at the Sultan in hushed tones as the blond has a scented kerchief held to her nose. The Sultan nods approvingly and then reaches into a bowl of marinated lambs brains, shovels a handful into his mouth, and motions for the chauffeur to get underway. As the limo peels out in a cloud of dust the Sultan offers Raymond’s a handful of the brains.
“Good, good,” he smiles as he lifts them closer towards the nauseous-looking Raymonds.
It is about 9 a.m. the following day as Hopkins Cadillac pulls up to the Racing Secretary’s office at Scioto. He gets out of the car with a grunt and ambles up towards the office where Roger is sorting through the entries.
Hopkins opens the door and walks in.
“How you doin’ today?” smiles Hopkins as Roger looks up from his work.
“Good, good,” nods Roger. “We’ve got a nice card on Saturday. All the classes filled."
Hopkins sits one leg up on the desk and leans forward a bit.
“You know these little no-nothings are busting my ass about that horse that I got rid of,” he mummers.
Roger just shrugs his shoulders. “Those things happen, Mel.”
“Now look,” growls Hopkins as he gets animated, “I’ve been an institution in Ohio for over 40 years! My father raced in the first Little Brown Jug back in `46! Now, you get this, this broad CHEMIST that comes along and everyone thinks you don’t have to put your dues in!”
“Mel…” cautions Roger.
“I’m not saying she’s pumping him full of illegal drugs,” he says as he backs off a bit, “but I never seen a horse turn that quick around in such a short time.”
“Mel, we've tested him every race. Nothing. What else do you want me to do?”
Hopkin stands and adjusts his jacket. “Post that son-of-a-bitch Preferred and drop my Avalancher's Pal down from the Free-For-All this week,” he smiles. “We’ll show them just what that chestnut bastard really is!”
“Okay Mel,” sighs Roger, “if it’ll keep you happy.”
Roger has Larry his assistant get King’s entry slip and writes “Preferred” as Hopkins nods approvingly.
On Saturday Hopkins and Avalancher's Pal cuts the mile confidently with his jaw jutting out. King sits in the 2 hole, pulls out halfway down the stretch, and nails him in 1:54.3.
The grandstand erupts loudly.
At the restaurant everyone cheers at the TV.
Over at the Club all the members high-five each other and hoot.
As King and Pete return to the sizeable crowd in the Winners Circle, the P.A. system blares out “Dancing Queen” by Abba.
And Chester is laughingly cashing at the windows again.
At the barn in Delaware the next morning the happy crew is having coffee and donuts together.
“Those lawyers,” laughs Callie, “are drooling over him but I told them straight out: HE IS NOT FOR SALE!”
Everyone hugs each other’s shoulders.
“I don’t know,” smiles Pete, “that New Zealand horse Gambler N that’s win his last five at The Meadowlands was just sold to Richard Raymonds for a million in cash last night.”
Callie shakes her head a bit. “I’d have to say then,” she exhales, “that King would be gone for a million either cash, check, or credit card!”
“Right,” laughs Pete, “but the funny thing is that Raymonds never bothers with anything over four-years-old and Gambler N is six. Something’s going on.”
As if on cue Sissy walks out of the office and excitedly holds up a fax.
“There's going to be a TEN-million-dollar race coming up in mid September called The Top Ten!”
She hands Callie the sheet to study it.
“Wow!” exclaims Callie. “It’s for four-year-old and older pacers who are non-winners of $100,000 lifetime. There’ll be elimination races at ten different tracks from all around the country and Scioto is one of them! Then the 10 top winners, one from each track, will go for $10 million at a host track drawn from the ten.”
Pete takes the fax, looks it over, and shakes his head.
“I’ll be damned! Raymonds got the best horse before anyone knew what happened!”
Steven looks into stall at King contentedly munching on hay.
“Hey King,” he grins, “you wanna race for $10 million dollars?
King looks up and sneezes.
“That ain’t nuthin’ to sneeze at buddy,” laughs Steven.
In the maintenance shed out by the back track Amal is asleep in an old lounger. He twitches as he dreams and remembers his younger days when he was a food taster for the Sultan. As the Sultan shovels food into his mouth he chips a tooth on an almond and curses loudly. He picks up a small gold ornament and throws it at a server and then storms out of the room in a rage.
Just as he goes by Amal he sees him pick up the ornament off the floor and put it in his pocket. The Sultan lunges at him and grabs him by his right wrist.
“HAR RAM MEE!” the Sultan screams on the top off his lungs. Amal cowers and tries to pull away which just infuriates the Sultan even more.
“HARAMI!!!” the Sultan roars as he pulls Amal over to a marble table and holds up a sword.
“NO!!!” pleads Amal as he struggles to get away. “I am not a thief!”
The Sultan raises the sword as Amal begs.
The Sultan’s eyes are blood-red with a mad rage as he glares at the powerless Amal.
“HARAMI!!!” he bellows as the sword falls.
Amal jumps up wide-eyed from the recliner in a nervous sweat and holds his prosthesis.
“No,” he whimpers softly, “I am not a thief.”
He hangs his head and sobs to himself as he rubs the plastic and wooden hand.
“No, I am not a thief.”
The following week the entire horse community is abuzz with the news of the $10 million dollar race as the social networks light up across North America as well.
Posters at every track and training center proclaim “The Top Ten : the race for TEN MILLION DOLLARS” as horsemen and fans alike studied them.
At Scioto the Saturday crowd mulls around the new grandstand while the announcer happily bellows out: “You’ll never throw away another losing ticket again because every one of them that you buy from now until The Top Ten this October is automatically entered into the big drawing. Prizes galore for all of you lucky lottery and horse players because we'll have TEN TV’s, TEN Hawaiian vacations, and TEN thousand dollars in cash with every race on Top Ten Night! And at each one of the participating ten tracks a brand new Lexus will be awarded! Remember: those are just the consolation prizes as TEN lucky patrons - one each from TEN different tracks - will be paired up with the TEN horses for the big race which guarantees them a prize of $110,000! And, if you’re lucky enough to be coupled with the winning horse, you might need TEN tax accountants because both you and the winning horse will win $10 MILLION DOLLARS!!!”
On the ground level of the grandstand Fat George and Harry walk around dejectedly complaining to themselves.
“Nobody’s throwing a damn ticket away!” grumbles Fat George as they look over towards two janitors, Step and Speedy, at end of the mezzanine who shake their heads and shrug back at them. Halfway between them a man tosses a piece of paper on the floor and they all dash toward it. Harry lunges at it and studies the paper.
“It’s only a grocery list,” he moans as he tosses it back onto the floor.
In the paddock Cissy and Eddie get King ready for the race. Eddie looks at Cissy with a bit of concern to his brow.
“This field is a lot tougher than last week,” Eddie says.
“I know” agrees Cissy.
Callie looks up from studying her program and turns to Pete.
“They might chase him down, he’s still green.”
Pete smiles and does his best Elvis impersonation.
“Well, guys, you gotta have faith `cause this here’s The King and I wanna say Thank kew, thankew verymuch...” He starts to sing: “we gonna win this race.”
They all laugh as the tension is relieved.
Hopkins and his cronies are sitting over on the bench as Pete starts singing. Hopkins quickly looks up from absentmindedly snapping his whip and glares at the happy quartet.
"They’re gettin’ a little too COCKY for my book,” he growls with a jut of his jaw as his pals nod in agreement with pursed lips.
The horses post parade and when Dancing King’s name is announced a loud cheer rises up from the crowd. The starter calls the horses, the horses are in behind the gate, and the gate swings around the paddock turn…
Pete shoots right for the top and despite being chased down by three horses, decisively beats the field in 1:53.4.
The announcer hollers above the din: “a true rags to riches story, the STILL undefeated four-year-old pacer Dancin’ Kingggg!”
Midst the happy pandemonium in the Winners Circle as Eddie and Steven and Cissy and Mary along with Hank and a slew of others, Callie leans into Pete and hollers into his ear. “Is he good enough for the Top Ten?” she asks.
Pete just races his eyebrows questioningly and smiles slightly.
Over at the windows old Chester Burnett is happily cashing again.
It was a good trip back to Delaware that night.
At the barn the next morning the group stands around Kings’ stall talking as he quietly munches on hay.
“We’ll be racing some of the best horses from all across North America,” Pete finally says, “and we really don’t know what’s out there.”
“I think he’s the best in Scioto right now,” answers Callie.
“You’re going to have to put up an entry fee of $5,000 and he might not even make it to the eliminations,” cautions Pete. “It would be like throwing cash out the window. AND you can hurt a horse by racing him over his head… he’s only got six lifetime starts. A lot of the other horses will have at least 25 starts under their belt.”
“You might be right,” nods Callie knowingly. “There’s a few around Ohio alone that were nice two and three-year-olds but came into their own at four and haven’t made $100,000 yet.”
“That Diverzified horse of Hopkins,” adds Sissy, “is five, he’s raced as a three-year-old and a four-year-old, and has just under $98,000 made lifetime. He might be in it.”
“I know for a fact,” states Pete, “that old man Hopkins was planning of racing him in the Graduate Series next week but the $10 Million might change his mind.”
Eddie gets up off of the trunk and looks in at King.
“You know,” he begins, “there are moments in your life when you come to a crossroads and have to make a decision. No one knows for sure where it’ll lead them so a lot of people get by making no decision... they never go for that brass ring. Go for it when you have a chance because it may never come your way again.”
He pauses as he looks at them all and then continues. “I believe in this little horse… you can see it in his eye. He’s made me realize that we’re never too old to find our dreams and I truly think he can do it. So if you want to enter him, I’ll put up the entry fee.”
Callie puts her arms around Eddie and kisses his cheek.
Suddenly a voice from outside the barn door chimes in.
“You got that right, Hoosier!”
They all turn to see Chester as he walks into the barn with a huge bag of carrots and waving a fistful of money. “In fact I’ll throw in half!”
“Well,” smiles Callie, “if you guys feel that strongly, we gotta do it!”
Steven points to Sissy and says “hit it!” as she pushes the play button on her iPhone.
The theme song from Rocky blasts out.
Steven smiles widely at Eddie. “As if there was any doubt,” he laughs.
Over at Hopkins’ barn “Crash”, a half-asleep groom, shuffles into the shed row and studies the training board as he absentmindedly scratches his head. Perkins, the assistant trainer, comes out of the office followed on his heels by Willy.
“Good afternoon,” says Perkins sarcastically, “it’s nice of you to join us. You'd better get that horse ready to train. His owners will be here any minute and the Old Man is on the warpath this morning.”
Crash moves quickly into the stall just as a well-dressed middle-aged husband and wife come into the barn.
“Good morn-ning,” call out the wife in a falsetto voice. “How's the big boy?”
“We’re just about to train him,” smiles Perkins. “We were waiting on you!”
The husband playfully pokes Perkins with his finger.
“Pretty big race this Saturday,” he grins.
In the stall Crash is about to tighten the girth as the horse swells up. He looks at the horse suspiciously.
“I know what you're planning,” says Crash under his breath. “Don't do it!”
Perkins leads the couple towards the barn door and smiles condescendingly as the wife bubbles away.
“This is SO exciting! All the girls in my bridge club are coming to the races. Why even my hairdresser wants to bet him!”
They walk halfway to the door. The husband bends over to tie his shoe. Inside the stall a rushed and sweaty Crash gives a strong tug to tighten the girth. The horse grunts and lets out a very loud flatulence that echoes off the walls.
The wife stops, turns, and glares at her husband.
“I told you to STOP doing that!” she admonishes him as she walks off in a huff.
The innocent husband is left with his mouth wide open.
In downtown Columbus on the 12th floor of the Antrim Building a plain sign reads “Homeland Security.” Inside the office two agents, Dave Evans and Bill Chace, are at their computers.
“Did we hear from Langley?” asks Evans as he leans back in his chair.
“Not yet,” answers Chace, “but those guys always take their time.”
“What are you working on now?”
“It’s something I found a couple of days ago,” say Chace. “It’s suspicious in its simplicity.”
Evans gets up from his chair and walks over to Chace’s computer screen.
“It’s called “Your Lucky Day,’” explains Chace as he moves aside so Evans can see. “It’s supposed to be a Lottery number randomizer but the damn thing doesn’t make any sense. It’s just a block of 276 numbers from 0-9 twentythree rows across and 12 rows down that changes daily.”
Evans studies the screen at the array of the numerals.
1 6 7 8 9 0 1 5 2 3 4 5 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 6
4 5 6 7 8 9 1 2 3 4 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 1 2
7 8 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 7 8 9 5 6 7 8 9 7 8 9
0 9 8 7 3 4 5 6 8 2 3 4 0 9 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3
8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 7 8 9 0 1 2 8
3 4 5 6 7 3 4 5 6 7 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 8
5 2 0 4 0 3 7 2 7 7 7 8 9 3 2 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
1 4 2 9 3 9 9 4 9 6 4 3 3 3 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
8 8 8 8 3 1 3 1 3 2 2 3 1 2 3 4 7 3 4 2 7 1 9
1 1 1 1 8 9 4 4 4 4 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4
7 2 5 1 7 3 9 3 6 6 5 1 3 3 5 4 9 9 9 6 6 5 4
“Where's the outfit located?” asks Evans.
“Kansas City,” answers Chace, “but it’s a shell corporation for somewhere offshore in the Cayman Islands.”
“Hmmm,” Evans adds, “could be a calendar of some sort.”
“Thirty days has September...” says Chace.
“Okay guru,” agrees Evans, “work on it! It could be something. And remember: think outside the box!”
Hank and Eddie are jogging their horses alongside each other on the track as Hank looks admiringly at King.
“Damn he’s filled out, Eddie!” laughs Hank. “He looks like the bottom of a new copper pot!”
“He even knows he’s lookin’ good,” grins Eddie. “He’s got that air about him.”
“So now Delaware’s put in for the $10 million-dollar race? How’s that work. I only thought they only raced the third week of September?”
“Yeah,” says Eddie, “but they’ve applied for the week before because they’ll all be set up and can accommodate over 50,000 people. I think it would be great seeing that it’s King’s home track.”
As Eddie and Hank jog by Mel’s bench, Willy has his face in Mel's ear.
“I just think that it’s a shame to have a good horse like that being neglected... I mean he doesn’t even brush out his tail half the time, he’s always late! Today he showed up one minute before the owners got there! One minute!”
Hopkins grimaces, flicks his whip, and glares at King as he passes by. Willy smiles slightly.
“And he’s always talking about how good that chestnut bastard is racing since you sold him.”
Hopkins' head snaps around.
“He IS, is he?” he growls. “Well, we’ll see how much he runs his mouth out on the farm taking care of yearlings and baling hay!”
Willy smiles widely as Hopkins storms off towards the barn.
Inside the barn Crash has just finished putting the horse away as he puts the brushes into the tack trunk. The toothpick-twirling Hopkins walks up to him.
“I need you to go to the farm up in Marion this week,” he says coldly, “we're short of help.”
“B-b-b-but, what about Diverzified?”
“Willy can take care of him while you’re gone.”
Crash is crestfallen as the Old Man brushes past the newly-arrived Willy with a nod and a wink. The youth’s eyes well with tears as he turns to Willy who feigns shock.
“I don’t know what’s got into the old man,” Willy says in a quiet whisper.
The dejected kid reaches into the tack trunk and pulls out a half full box of ginger snaps.
“Diver loves these,” he says softly as he hands the box to Willy. Then without a word he walks slump-shouldered out of the barn.
Willy tosses the snaps aside and looks at the horse eating his hay.
“It’s time we make a racehorse out of you,” he says sternly. “You've been babied too much!”
Diverzified stops eating his hay and steps back towards the rear of the stall as Willy unlatches the screen door. He grabs the horse by the halter. The horse's eyes roll with fear.
When the condition sheets were posted online the following day there was more chatter throughout the North American USTA districts than anyone could imagine. Each one them had a track that would host eliminations for the Top Ten to send a representative to the 10-horse final to be held at a yet-announced track.
Ohio was to hold eliminations at Scioto on Saturday and Northfield and Miami Valley would go Sunday.
King was in to go at Scioto. He drew the rail in the first of the three eliminations.
Diverzified and Old Man Hopkins had the five hole in the same race.
They both shipped out of Delaware at noon to get to Scioto in plenty of time for the race that night and give them a chance to rest.
But that was where the similarity ended for as King was relaxing, Willy was in the stall fighting with the now nervous horse. In truth was he was scared of the playful animal.
As he walks him to the race paddock he roughly yanks on him.
“You behave yourself! WHOA! Come up here to me,” he yells.
Inside the paddock there were more new faces as a number of the Fair horses had decided to try their luck. Hell, for $10 million who wouldn’t want to?
Hopkins looks over the crowd. He turns to a crony and sneers “I thought that the $5,000 entry fee would keep the RIFF RAFF out!” as his pal nods in agreement.
Eddie and Sissy hook King to the race bike as Callie exhales. She smiles at Pete, gives him a hug, and whispers “Good Luck.”
The horses are in tight alignment on the gate as it swings open and they’re OFF! It’s a mad scramble for the lead as Pete protects the rail position and they step off the first eighth in 12.4.
On the outside coming down from the 5 hole Hopkins bellows and gives Diverzified a crack with the whip. The horse goes sideways and nearly cuts the legs out from underneath King. Pete instinctively take King up to prevent a pile up. Hopkins takes advantage of that to open up by three and sends his horse down the road.
Despite a furious stretch charge by King, Diverzified wins by a neck in 1:52.3.
Hopkins gloatingly looks over at Pete. “Hah,” he snarls and turns to go back to the Winners Circle.
But then the Judges’ inquiry light comes on.
“Mel Hopkins, Mel Hopkins” the announcer’s voice rings over the track, “please call the Judges’ Stand.”
Hopkins returns to the paddock, hands Willy the horse, and grabs the phone as a replay of the start of the race is shown on the monitors.
“He just went a little sideways,” he snaps, “it was nothing!”
“You nearly caused a wreck Mel,” says the Presiding Judge. “Everyone in the race had to grab into their horses. You’re being placed last and you're getting days.”
“Yeah?” bellows Hopkins, “Well, we’ll see about that!” He slams the phone down and storms away. “Throw that sonovabitch on the trailer,” he yells at Willy. “We’re getting the hell out of here!"
The flashing light on the tote board stops and the numbers are rearranged. King is placed 1st.
“The judges have disqualified Diverzified for interference going into the first turn,” calls out the announcer, “and placed him last.”
The crowd murmurs as he continues.
“Returning now to the Winners Circle… the STILL undefeated Dancin’ King-g-g-g-g!”
A load roar comes up from the crowd for their hometown hero.
It was quite the celebration that night.
The next day back in Delaware Willy and another groom load Diverzified onto a trailer.
“The Old Man doesn't leave anything to chance,” smiles Willy. “He had this nickel bastard entered at Miami Valley too just in case! What's $5,000 to him? He ain't paying for it.”
Diverzified cuts the mile and wins in 1:52 but tires at the end.
After the race Willy is in Hopkins ear again. “This son-of-a-bitch is cheating on you, Mel. He needs to be woken up.”
“Don’t worry,” smirks Hopkins as he flips his whip. “He’ll be woke up plenty when the time comes.”
Willy smiles sadistically.
On Wednesday Callie goes two light training trips with King with miles in 2:40 and 2:25. Pete looks a bit concerned as she comes off the track.
“Do you think that’s enough?” he worriedly asks. “He’s going to be put to the test in the final elimination on Saturday.”
“Light training got us here Pete,” says Callie bit perturbed, “we’re not going to start changing things now!”
Pete stops in his tracks and stares open-mouthed at her as she walks King off.
At the trailer on Friday morning Eddie, Sissy, Steven, and Mary are having breakfast as they read the program.
“We’ve got the ten final eliminations tomorrow being simulcast from the ten tracks part of the special race program,” says Sissy. “King’s got the 3 hole in 3rd race so we're in the first part of the two hour special!”
“It’s the top three finishers from last week’s races. We’d better dress up,” winks Eddie, “we’re gonna be on national TV!”
“The Meadows is 1st; Tioga 2nd race; Scioto 3rd; Pocono 4th race; Dover 5th,” adds Steven, “then Woodbine/Mohawk 6th; The Meadowlands 7th; Northfield 8th; Hoosier Park 9th and finally Cal Expo!”
“That’s going to be some feat of co-operation,” says Mary, “broadcasting a live program from ten different tracks!”
“Are we ready!?!” grins Eddie as he holds out his fist. The others follow suit and place their hands on top of his.
“Dancinnnnnnn’ KING!!!” they all laugh as they throw their hands high into the air.
On Saturday at Scioto as the paddock judge reminds everyone to be on time by giving a countdown, King regally steps out on the track, cuts the mile, and wins easily in 1:53.
In the grandstand the hometown crowd loudly applauds King's victory then turn to the TVs to watch the races that are going off every ten minutes without a hitch.
“And now, the Meadowlands 7th…” calls out the Scioto announcer.
“Hello World!” beams the Meadowlands announcer. “Live, from New Jersey… the horses are in behind the gate for the final elimination for the $10 million dollar Top Ten!”
The wings fold and the horses all scramble for position behind Raymonds and Gambler N.
At Delaware Amal carries supplies through the crowd in attendance watching the races on TV as the Meadowland announcer happily screams “And it's all Richard Raymonds and the INVINCIBLE Gambler N by 7 in a new lifetime best of 1:48!”
He stops to look at the large screen just as the Sultan struts into the Winners Circle. He spits at the TV in a rage. “HINZIRV!!! You filthy PIG! You should DIE!”
A man standing next to him looks over “Hey pal,” he says, “you really shouldn't bet.”
Amal growls at him through clenched teeth.
Diverzified wins his elimination at Northfield and by 4:30 all the races are over. As Eddie is walking King out he stops to watch the paddock TV as everyone else gathers around.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” says the emcee, “the moment of truth...”
A hush falls over every simulcast location at all the tracks and betting outlets.
“We have the ten winners from the ten tracks. NOW for the live drawing for the track which will host the richest race in history-y-y-y.”
The governors of seven states and two Canadian Ministers are standing by a drum. The Kentucky governor good-naturedly motions to the eldest and smiles.
“As they say,” he grins, “age before beauty...”
The Governor of Pennsylvania pulls out an envelope and hands it to the emcee.
“Two weeks from today,” the emcee says as he reads the card inside. “The Top Ten, harness racing’s richest race ever, in conjunction with all the State lotteries, will be held at...
The crowds throughout North America murmur in happy anticipation.
In a pavilion tent at Delaware, a large assemblage of officials, horsemen, and fans let out a loud cheer.
Amal stands in front of the TV set and screams “he HAUNTS me!”
Fat George looks at Amal as he storms away and says to Halfwit with a laugh “I knew that sonovabitch didn’t want to work.”
At the office at Homeland Security Chace sits upright at his computer as the screen blinks and a completely-new set of numbers appear.
“Somethin' just happened,” says Chace to Evans.
With the announcement that Delaware would be host the September Top Ten race the grounds cleanup effort kicked in early as all the backstretch was renovated to accommodate the influx of horses. The Little Brown Jug barn was spiffed up and ten double stalls were bedded down ready for the elimination winners due in next week.
As the sun sets Eddie is raking up over by his barn. Hank, Frenchy, and Yee Hah along with 3 other grooms riding in the back stop by in a pickup truck.
“Hey, hey Eddie,” says Hank as he leans out the passenger window. ”We’re headin’ downtown to show these rookies the sights of Delaware.” He motions to the rear of the truck. “You know these misfits? This is Wall-eyed Bob, he’s from Kentucky. Whistler hails outta Maine, and Spaceman, well, we ain’t figured out where he’s from!”
Hank eyes the Spaceman sideways and shakes his head. “Hey, Hey, Eddie, you wanna come on along?
Eddie just smiles and laughs. “Thanks Hank but my clubbin’ days are way behind me.”
He waves as the truck pulls off and out of the Fairgrounds.
As the truck heads downtown Hank is excitedly telling the two in the cab about his favorite club.
“Now I ain't been there for years but there’s a lotta great-looking women and they had this blond...”
His eyes glisten over as he thinks about the gal in a tight outfit coming out from behind the curtain. “That dances on stage to Disco Inferno. MAN, she was sumptin' else! Ho, BOY!”
The truck pulls into a place that is way past its glory days and they all pile out of the truck and into the dark, half-lit lounge. There's only three “geeks” each sitting at a table by themselves as Hank worriedly looks around.
“It’ll get better later on,” he says to reassure himself and the six of them sit right next to the small stage. A grizzled barkeep chewing on an unlit Parodi cigar takes their order. On the way back to the bar he presses a button on a jukebox.
As the music starts Disco Inferno they all turn to see the curtain part. On cue out dances the now too-many-times bleach-blond 25 years older with another 50 pounds and too many “rough trips" under her belt. She works her way up to the end of the stage, stops, smiles a long toothy grin and points her finger directly at Hank.
Hank's face falls flat and he nervously starts to get up.
“Let me get the hell outta here!” he says as his eyes shoot sideways from left to right looking for an escape.
At the bar out in the front George, Harry, and Phil the tattoo man drunkenly complain to each other.
“If we could keep Raymond’s’ horse off the board,” slurs George as he thinks out loud, “we could box the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th favorites in the exacta and get ALL the money!”
“How the hell are you gonna keep him off the board?” snaps Harry with a look of disbelief.
“Listen,” says George as he leans over on the bar towards the two, “I got some old-fashioned laudanum that we used to give my muther to quiet her down. It knocks the piss,” he laughs, “right outta you! Now,” he continues as he lowers his voice to a whisper and lays his bulk onto the bar, “Phil checks tattoo numbers before the race, don’t he?”
They both nod in agreement.
“So I’m helping a guy in the first race,” George says quietly, “I’ll hang around with Phil in the paddock and when you go to check Gambler N I’ll squirt a dose of the tranquilizer into his mouth from a rubber bulb that I’ve deftly hidden in my hand!”
“Well, what about all that security?” asks Phil.
“Security!?!” laughs George, “those rent-a-cop morons?!? What’s to worry, baby?”
They all drunkenly high-five as Copacabana blasts out from the back of the club.
On the small dance floor, Hank and the old girl are laughing and doing “the Bump” to the music.
The following day in Columbus Evans and Chace are going over their notes as to the timing of the change with the “Your Lucky Day” numbers.
“I think it coincided with the live announcement of that ten million dollar race location,” says Evans.
“You might have something there,” agrees Chace. “It was like less than a minute that separated them.”
“Let’s take a ride up to the Fairgrounds and look around,” thinks Evans aloud. “They’re expecting a crowd of over 50,000 in less than two weeks. We don’t need anyone trying to make a `statement.’”
“You got it,” nods Chace as he grabs their jackets and they both walk out the door.
At Callie’s barn in Delaware Eddie and Sissy are getting King ready to go a training trip. Eddie stops as he’s about to put on the bridle as Sissy gets the jog cart and says softly to King “promise to train good and I'll sing you a song… Camptown races sing this song: Doodah, doodah...”
A voice comes from the stall behind him calls through the wall “Hey Camptown... when you gonna learn to sing?”
Eddie stops, stands upright and says disbelievingly.
He hands Sissy the bridle as he walks out of the stall just as the 78-year-old Gabe comes around the corner of the barn.
They both quickstep it to other laugh and hug.
“My God, Gabe,” laughs a tear-eyed Eddie, “it’s been over fifty years!”
“And don't it seem like yesterday,” grins Gabe.
They both stop look at each other.
“NO!!!” they both laugh in unison.
“What brings you to Delaware!?!” asks Eddie.
“I got my own colt in the big race,” he says proudly. “The Chester winner was scratched and I was the also eligible. I was 2nd to him so I drew in.”
A tall, well-dressed black man of 45 walks over to the pair as Gabe beams.
"And this is my trainer, Lee...” he offers, “who's also is my son.”
“Very nice to meet you,” says Eddie sincerely as they shake hands.
Sissy leads King out to be hooked as Eddie goes back over to help.
“That’s some nice animal you got there, Camptown!” Gabe calls out. “I see you in the winners circle when you win your elimination. Damn! He looks just like that filly you had... what was her name? Miss Step?”
Eddie laughs heartily “That’s what everyone used to call her! Hey! We’ll talk when we get through!”
He leads King up to the track and Callie goes a mile in 2:25 with him. He trains okay but Eddie is a little concerned as he walks him back to the barn.
Evans and Chace are driving up from Delaware center when they spot Nick’s variety store.
“Pull in and I’ll get us a couple of cans of pop,” says Chace as he points.
“Good idea,” agrees Evans as he gets out to stretch his legs. They both walk into the store. The bell rings as Nick turns and asks in his thick accent “Hello how are you, my friends?”
“Good,” says Chace as he looks around the small store, “you got any Dr. Pepper cold?”
He stops when he notices a printout of “Your Lucky Day” on the bulletin board. He elbows Evans slightly and nods toward the board. Evans and Chace look at each other.
“What’s this about?” asks Chace feigning ignorance.
“It’s just for my lottery customers,” laughs Nick, “who never can win. They pick at anything. I find that on the web.”
“Oh really. So,” adds Evans, “you been in Delaware long?”
“Oh yes, I got here from Crete in 1980!” grins Nick. “And I’m a naturalized citizen since 1991!”
“Crete, huh?” says Evans as he pays for the pop. They check out the store. They eye the license: Miklos Papadakis.
“Okay Miklos,” adds Chace as Evans slips a bug under the lip of the counter, “you have a nice day!”
“Nick, Nick,” smiles Nick. “Everyone call me Nick!”
As they leave Nick cheerfully greets another customer “Hello, how are you, my friend?”
Evans and Chace get into the car.
“Run a full profile on him,” says Evans sternly. “Pull up everything you can.”
“You got it,” agrees Chace as he types into his laptop, “that is a little bit too coincidental.”
Back at the barn Eddie and Sissy are taking the gear off King to give him a bath. Callie comes into the stall.
“Did he seem okay to you?” she asks Pete who shrugs a bit. She turns to Eddie. “Uncle Eddie?”
“It looked to me like he was dragging his left front end,” says Eddie quietly.
“Oh boy,” moans Callie,” that’s all we need. What the hell can we do?”
“Well,” offers Eddie. “We could pull his shoes and turn him out for a few days, let the sun get at those muscles. As they say: Doctor Green does wonders.”
Callie taps her elbow as she thinks a minute. She nods her head in agreement. “That sounds like a good idea.”
“Fer Chrissakes Callie, we're going for ten MILLION a week from Saturday!” says a disbelieving Pete. “You don't want him running out in a field, he'll have plenty of time for that after the race!”
“He’s been raced hard,” says Callie. He needs a refresher and he needs it now! He'll be turned out for a couple of days and then jogged good on Friday!
Pete turns away in exasperation. “I can’t believe what I’m hearing... are you serious?”
An irritated Callie looks at him and says tersely “Quite!”
That afternoon, when King has been cooled out, they put him in the trailer and take him up to the farm adjacent to Chester’s place. Eddie leads him over to the new paddock and walks him to the middle and releases him. King stands for a minute, then snorts, and begins to prance around with his tail curled over his butt. Eddie goes back to the gate to the smiling group.
“Now that’s what I’m talking about!” laughs Callie.
As King takes in all the new sights with a loud snort, Chester and Louise, his 50-year-old widowed daughter, comes out from much-neater trailer and joins the group along the fence. Eddie turns and nods cordially before a look of recognition comes to both their faces.
“Why,” smiles Louise, “you’re the man from Indiana!”
“Yes,” grins Eddie, “and you’re the lady I met on the bus! It’s nice to see you again!”
“I came in from Minnesota on Sunday. Dad’s told me so much about this horse I had to come and see the big race in person,” Louise smiles. “And just before Dad got buried under all his debris again.”
They all laugh knowingly.
“If you want to Eddie Hoosier,” offers Chester, “I’ve got room at my place for you to stay to keep an eye on King while he’s here.”
“Thanks Chester,” agrees Eddie. “I appreciate that.”
“And,” laughs Louise, “you get to sample some of good home style Minnesota cooking!”
“Why that sounds pretty good to me too!” grins Eddie.
As Eddie and Louise hit it off Chester smiles, shakes his head, and wags his tongue.
King spots a filly across the way and whinnies at her.
That evening at six there is the draw for the race. It is broadcast all over North America as each of the horses are paired with a computer number on a ticket from their home track or state lottery.
The draw is as follows:
1. Bert O'Leanie (J. Powers III)
2. Gambler N (R. Raymonds)
3. Hare and dare (L. Jansen)
4. Dancin’ King (P. Cammett)
5. Staunch (J. MacArthur)
6. Three Times Even (T. Watters)
7. Diverzified (M. Hopkins)
8. Bryan's Future (D. Milhouse)
9. Cody Lee (R. Pointer)
10. Lasting Affect (J. Champion)
All over the country people are checking the 16-digit number on their tickets as winning numbers have 24 hours to get in contact with an appropriate agency.
Outside the draw office Raymonds is being interviewed by numerous TV stations.
“That two hole is a good position,” he says as he confidently smirks at the cameras. “He'll be awful tough to beat from there. I think everyone else is just racing for second money!” He stops and pauses for effect then adds “In fact I'll go out on a limb and say it: they ARE just racing for second money!”
Everyone in the room murmurs.
“Can we quote you on that Mr. Raymonds?” call out several of the reporters.
In the early evening dusk Amal is on the rundown porch of his apartment talking to himself. He looks over the unpainted railing and watches a kid about twelve put an electrical cord into the ground in a small garden. Worms are rising up to the surface.
“What are you doing?” he calls down to the youngster.
“Shit!” whispers the kid, “the crazy Arab!” He looks up at Amal and says crossly “I’m just getting some worms to go fishing tomorrow.”
Up on his porch Amal is puzzled at first but has a look of realization as he starts to laugh softly to himself.
“Yes! Yes!” he laughs. “But I know of a worm that needs some shocking too! A vedy MUCH bigger and fatter worm!” He starts to laugh harder. “A MUCH, MUCH bigger and fatter worm… almost a snake!”
In the garden below the worms wiggle out of the ground as three floors up Amal laughs deliriously.
Early the next morning Eddie feeds King and is walking over to the trailer when Chester calls him into his storage shed.
“An old horseman from P.E.I. in Canada,” says Chester as he pulls down a bottle of dark-colored liquid and hands it to Eddie, “gave me this recipe back in ’73. I always knew it to rub the soreness right out of the muscles without a scurf.”
Eddie studies the unlabeled bottle, uncorks the top, and sniffs the lineament.
“Lot of wintergreen,” smiles Eddie as his eyes water. “I’ve always loved wintergreen.”
“Rub it in his shoulders good before you turn him out today,” offers Chester. “I guar-ron-tee you’ll see a difference overnight.”
“Sounds like a plan,” winks Eddie.
At the Fairgrounds the whole backside is alive with cleanup and tents and portable stands being erected around the track. Scores of horses ship in from all over as the 8-race card for the big night promises a record crowd at the historic half-mile oval.
Cally and Sissy and Steven are driving out the gate with Desmond as Charlie looks up from his newspaper.
“I see you got the 3 hole in the seventh at Scioto this afternoon,” he says as he checks them out on his clipboard.
“Yeah,” calls Steven from the backseat, “and we’re the BEST!!!”
Callie and Sissy just laugh and shake their heads.
“It would be nice,” she says as they drive away. She turns to Sissy. “It would be really nice.”
Just as they bring Desmond into the Scioto paddock the loudspeaker blares alive.
“Callie Murphy, Callie Murphy, please report to the Race Secretary’s office.”
“Now what the hell does he want,” she mumbles to herself as she hands Des over to Sissy. She walks up to the office located just down the hall from the paddock.
She walks in. Roger is sitting at his desk as his assistant Larry studies a program in the back.
“I got your page,” she says. “Wazzup?”
“You heard that the Harrah's Philly winner was scratched?”
“Yeah?” asks Callie a bit warily. “Why?”
“That means that Jimmy Pearson is without a mount in the big race and he'll be available.”
“He’s the country's leading driver,” says a Roger with a shrug.
“Pete got us here, Roger,” says Callie with a scowl.
“I know, Calle, I know,” agrees Roger as he holds up his hand, “but 10 million... you want the best for your money and it would be really good publicity for the track if our representing horse did well.”
Callie starts to say something but Roger cuts her short.
“Just think about it,” he says quietly.
Callie walks out of the office, gets hallway down the hall and stops. She places her hands on her hips.
“Damn!” she growls with a stomp of her foot.
She passes by the snackroom and smiles as Steven and several of his new buddies are excitedly watching the TV as they offer their opinions on the horses’ chances.
“Hey Steven,” she calls out, “you okay until we’re through?”
“Pizza cake,” he answers with a grin.
Callie pulls out her cellphone and calls Eddie. He answers right away.
“Hey Callie! You at Scioto?”
“Hi Uncle Eddie,” she answers as she rubs her forehead, “Yeah, we’re racing Desmond. How’s King doing?”
“I think you made the right call with him Callie,” says Eddie with a grin. “He’s feeling frisky and the tension in them shoulder muscles has loosened up.”
“Thanks Uncle Eddie,” breaths Callie with a sigh of relief, “we’ll be up there tomorrow afternoon to pick him up.”
“So you’re puttin’ us back to work,” laughs Eddie.
“Yes,” agrees Callie with a grin. “No rest for the wicked! See you then.”
She puts her cellphone in her pocket and exhales. “Thank you, God.”
And walks back into the paddock.
In the race office bathroom the assistant Larry is on his cell phone.
“She MIGHT change drivers,” he whispers. “That info gotta be worth sumthin'! Remember, we need to raise capital before next Saturday! And tell me if anybody is betting big on any horse and I'll bet it off-shore! We'll get better odds. I want to have at least $10,000 worth of numbers that you can spread around in the system.”
“Okay,” says his buddy Warren in the computer room, “I can put them in various sequential batch files that I load on a polymorphic engine. That way, when the computer randomly selects the numbers, ours will have a 500% more chance to be chosen.”
“Even if we grab 20% of the cash that's two hundred grand,” adds Larry excitedly. “Then we can tell these bastards to kiss our ass and hit the Caribbean, maybe down to Montego Bay!”
“But,” says Warren worriedly, “what if they trace it back to my console?”
“Then do it from the Library. Put your program on a flashdrive and enter it through the photographer's website. List it as a .jpeg picture and nobody will even bother with it!”
“You always think of everything!” Warren gushes.
“I'm only thinking of the beach and that coconut oil, baby,” coos Larry.
He ends the call, steps out of the bathroom, and checks to see if Roger had heard anything. He smiles slightly to himself as Roger is still at his desk preoccupied with his paperwork.
Desmond’s race goes off and Pete gets away third. Just before the quarter pole he moves him up to challenge for the lead. The rail horse refuses to let him go and they stage a head-to-head battle the entire mile before they fade to sixth and seventh down the stretch and neither of them got a cent.
Sissy just hung her head quietly as she took Des from Pete but Callie glared at him.
“That was a bonehead move,” she tersely said.
“He was rammy and didn’t want to sit,” answered Pete. “I didn’t want him to choke down.”
“Really?” says an exasperated Callie. “Since when has this horse been ‘rammy’?”
Pete turns and walks away without saying anything.
The big race was less than a week away....
Out at the farm at five Eddie brings King into his stall, places him on the crossties, and begins to massage his shoulders with the lineament. King raises his head with closed eyes and lets out a sigh of relief. Outside in the other paddock Chester is following Rat Tail around with a lead shank in his hand.
“Come HERE!” he plaintively says to Rat Tail who nonchalantly walks away. Chester just grumbles, shakes his head, and goes inside to Eddie.
“Hey Eddie Hoosier! Louise has concocted one of her grandmother’s recipes for dinner tonight,” grins Chester as his eyes sparkle, “and I have to admit it is one of my all-time favorite dishes… we call it Minnie’s Minni Macaroni.”
“That sound’s interesting,” smiles Eddie, “a mini macaroni?”
“No,” laughs Chester. “It’s actually Swedish noodles baked in a lot of fresh Minnesota butter and cheese topped with a good dollop of breadcrumbs and bacon bits. My mouth is watering already.”
“Yes,” agrees Eddie as he releases King off the crossties and puts a warm apple and carrot bran mash into the feed tub. King attacks the concoction with alacrity. “I’m ready for the feedbag too!”
They wash their hands off and walk towards the trailer as Louise opens the door.
“You two youngsters ready for some chow?” she laughs as the both of them quickly pick up the pace.
Seated around the now-tidy table Louise scoops out a healthy sized portion to each of them.
“Wow!” Eddie exclaims after one bite. “This is some kind of good!”
“Told ya!” laughs Chester as Louise blushes a bit. “A fella could get used to good cooking like this, don’t `cha think?” he adds as he innocently lifts his eyebrows.
It was Eddie’s turn to blush a bit.
The next morning at 6 a.m. Nick is happily whistling away as he makes coffee as he does his daily routine to open his store as he had done for the last 15 years. Each of the regular customers are greeted with a “Hello, how are you my friend?” and when the traffic lulls he goes into the backroom, turns on his computer, and prints out the page for Your Lucky Day.
He picks up the sheet and glances at the numbers as he walks over to post it on the board. His eyes dart back and forth over the numbers disbelievingly as he presses the first thumbtack in. His face falls flat as his shoulders slump.
“No,” he whispers to himself, “it is not my Lucky Day.” He hangs his head as he takes the sheet down and carries it into the backroom. He places it on the desk, opens the drawer, takes out a ruler, paper, and pencil and circles each of the digits in the four corners and then draws lines diagonally across the sheet.
“No,” he says quietly as he begins to cry. “No,” he pleads as he begins to shake. “It is not my Lucky Day.”
He buries his face in his hands and starts to sob uncontrollably.