I didn't have time to panic. I had to get ready for the derby. Just praying Mike had gotten caught up in a business conversation, or stuck in traffic, I showered, and changed back into the blue and white silk. I looked at the clock. I was due in 30 minutes. James Farriso, a jockey in the derby and the rider of the long shot, a small black filly named Tomorrow's Promise, sat next to me. "Nerves?" He asked, smiling softly. "I've been riding 10 tears and this race always leaves me scared as hell."
"Yea...Nerves." I whispered, and put my head in my shaking hands.
"You'll do great. Your colt responds well to you, and is a great closer. And with Wonder's Pride as a father.." He trailed off. "He looks just like him. Pride, I mean."
I picked my head up, and turned to him, smiling. "He's got his speed. But he's got the stamina of his mother."
"Her Majesty?" He asked.
"You've done your homework. I'm impressed." I grinned.
"Can't believe Townsend let you have the foal." He said, shaking his head.
"Bought the colt as a weanling, he was small, and behind the others in development, so Brad was happy to sell. Didn't know the baby was gonna turn out so fast." I smiled, remembering the day I bought the colt home. He had instantly made friends with our filly, Precious Legacy, Precocious's first filly, with Wonder's Legacy. She was a small black filly, who was great at sprints, but couldn't take the distance. She had won the Breeder's Cup Juvenile, and was winning several sprints, but due to an injury was out of commission for a while. She and Pride and Joy were still close friends.
James started to talk, when we heard the call for all riders in the derby. I sat up, and collected my crop and my helmet, and headed out to the paddock.
As soon as I saw the colt, I smiled. Standing tall next to Tomorrow's Promise, his chestnut coat bright next to her dark brown, he lifted his head high and whinnied at me, and shook his mane, as if he knew how big this race was. I bounded up, and listened to Ian's instructions to old him back until the stretch, already have gone over it. Before I mounted, I looked around. "Where's Mike?" I asked Ian.
"I don't know. He called from the hotel a couple of hours ago to say he was on his way…He's probably in the owner's box with Sam and Cindy." He assured me, and gave me a leg up. "Good luck!" He called, as we went for the post parade.
Pride and Joy trotted well, and even slowly galloped around the track, warming up. I slowed him to walk as we approached the gates, and he calmly was loaded into the number seven slot.
I was numb with excitement, and didn't even notice the whole stands go silent as the last horse loaded. When the gates sprang open, I called out, "Go baby!" And we took off. I settled into 5th place, next to a tall grey colt, with 2 chestnut colts behind me. We were right on the rail. I saw the filly, with James aboard, up in 3rd, and the obvious favorite, Townsend Prize easily in 1st. A dark bay colt was struggling for second. I kept Pride running at a even pace, until we hit the clubhouse turn. Then I smacked him lightly with the whip, and leaned forward. He soared ahead of the grey, and sped up, trying to catch the filly. The struggling bay was passed easily, as Pride and Tomorrow's Promise both surged ahead, and drew even with Townsend Prize.
"Come on boy!" I shouted, and we passed him, Tomorrow's Promise still right next to us. I saw the wire ahead, and tried to push Pride past her. For a moment, he started to, when all of a sudden, she hit some kind of drive, and ran faster than I'd ever see a horse run. Her whole heart was in it, her coat covered in sweat, and her long strides labored. But her eyes had a fire in them saying she wasn't going to be beat. She passed the wire a neck in front.
I was slowing Pride down, when I heard a horse scream.
Not just a scream. I screech of agony. I looked ahead, and the filly was down on her side, on top of her jockey. I heard shouts, and sirens, and James was put on a stretcher, unconscious. I slowed down the colt, and jumped off him, and handed him to Sam. "Take him. I'm gonna check on the filly."
Sam's face had a strange look of shock and pain. "Ash-"
I cut her off. "Tell me when I get back. I need to see what happened." I turned and ran towards the down filly ignoring Sam. She shook her head, and led the horse off. I got to Tomorrow's Promise, and listened to the vet.
"Doesn't seem too bad. Might be broken, might not. But no need to euthanize her, luckily." He seemed to think, then help the small horse to her feet. She was favoring her left back leg, but he was right. She seemed to be in okay shape. "Lets see if we can get her to stand still long enough for the winner's circle. No rider, but she needs those roses on her back, a champ like this.."
I walked off, sighing in relief. She wasn't gonna die. I bounded over to Pride's stall, when I saw Ian. He was hugging Beth and Cindy, and all 3 were crying. Sammy's face was buried in Tor's shoulder, and a police officer stood a few feet away. "What the hell happened?" I asked, running to them.
Ian reached over, and wrapped his arm around me. "Sit down Ashleigh." I sat on a tack box, and glared at him.
"Tell me now." I demanded, terrified.
"Its Mike." He whispered. My heart stopped. "He's been in a car accident. Ash….he-he's dead."