The 100/1 shot
‘They’re almost ready for the off.’’ Said Kay. She had the low, boxy shape of a woman who had spent most of her life in the stable yard. Her forearms were freckled, tanned and sinewy from handling livery outdoors, her fingers as clenched as her demeanor. A subconscious flex of the reins, perhaps. Her hair was cut to a practical bob, giving her features a page-boy appearance.
The roar of the crowd as the race began drowned out her asides to anyone within earshot; ‘Works best on the left-hand rail, that one’s a good jumper, pulls to the right, a temperamental nag, that one.’ She smiled to herself; ignored as usual, girl, she thought.
Her stance gave the appearance of being rooted to the ground, a firm resistance to any fractious equine pressure; as if her very centre of gravity was six feet below ground. Her bulky over-washed magenta fleece gave her figure practically no definition from her broad shoulders to her knees. From below it, her calves were solid tear shapes that ended at the top of her outdoor shoes - olive drab in colour with a grip heel and Gore-Tex tabs sticking uniformly out. A stark contrast to the floaty dresses and sumptuous hats surrounding her on Ladies day. Champagne, cigars and endless ringtones mingled with the form card predictions roared out with elbow nudges and knowing winks.
Suddenly, thought Kay, everyone’s a fucking expert…
She sensed Charlie Aughny at her elbow, she could smell the wax sealant on this heavy coat, the undertow of dried sweat drifting in the summer heat.
‘How’s Kindofblue looking?’ he asked. He had sly porcine eyes set at a permanent sneering squint.
‘Looks nervous.’ Said Kay. She snatched the binoculars offered.
‘You’re welcome.’ Said Aughny
Kay panned the binoculars around until the edgy outline of Kindofblue appeared; she knew the animal; had spent every waking hour since he came into the yard as a jittery yearling. She knew every muscle, sinew and mood of the animal. She preferred the horse to the company of men.
‘I’ve never seen him like this.’ She muttered.
‘He’ll be fine; the whole yard has backed him.’ Said Aughny.
Kay studied him; in profile his features were quite flat, a broken, reset nose and ears unusually further back along his head, accentuated by thick sideburns. Aware of this, Kay touched the small scar above her left eye, left by the hoof of a yearling when she was six years old. The scars her father left her after the beating he gave her for getting kicked ran much, much deeper.
‘I’m not happy with Warde riding him.’ Said Kay
‘Warde’s a good one, fuckin’ deadly with the whip.’
‘Deadly.’ Said Kay.
Through the binoculars, Gem Warde was perched haughtily on the saddle, like Aughny had a smile capable of revealing fangs. He was shouting over to another jockey gleefully.
The horses lined up at the starting line. The crowd momentarily hushed, then with a roar, watched the white ribbon go up and the ten horses shot across the track like arrows. The ground shook beneath their glinting shoes.
‘Kindofblue cleared the first hurdle lost in the crush of horse flesh on the turn,
‘Good man, Warde.’ Said Aughny, he had a feral air, a man who would cut you as quick as shake your hand.
The whip flitted about the Jockey’s head like a dervish’s scimitar.
‘How much did the yard put on?’ asked Kay. Her voice had changed to a single flat tone.
‘A lot, Kay.’ Said Aughny.
His hand brushed against her hip, a lingering stroke, a smoldering ember from the lat New Year’s Eve party at his house. She inched away, but slowly, he noted. He watched her jaw work furiously as she watched the race; the binoculars embedded in her skull.
‘No fallers on the second fence.’ She chimed with the speakers blaring out over the roars of the crowd.
Aughny lit a cigarette, untipped, his fingers streaked from the nails down in nicotine.
He thought about the shot put into the horse this morning, ‘a little boost’ the Vet had said, ‘vitamins, like East German shot-putters’, it had raised a laugh.
Christ, Aughny thought, the horse is clearing the fences like a Jaysus cat.
Kay’s heart was pounding. A coppery taste filled her mouth as Kindofblue, urged by Warde, launched recklessly over the fourth fence. The body of animals following threw strands of it skyward as they ploughed along the course. Two more fences and the final run to the finish line.
‘He’s not himself, Charlie.’ Said Kay.
‘He’s having the run of his life.’ Said Aughny.
‘He’s not pacing himself, that prick Warde isn’t helping.’
‘It’s a horse, Kay, not your kid.’ Said Aughny.
He looked at her, she was childless, unmarried and the wrong side of forty, the first one at the yard every morning at five am, last one out of the gate at ten, Christmas Day and New year’s day included. Married to the horses, married to the yard, and if Kindofblue didn’t pull this off, like him, looking for a new job tomorrow.
The final fence loomed and Kindofblue mistimed his jump, colliding with the fence, sending Warde into the heavens like a multi-coloured rag doll until he landed amid the hooves of the chasing pack.
Kay was already running toward the stricken horse.
‘Fuck it.’ Thought Aughney.
He carefully began tearing the betting slip into strips; they fluttered in the breeze.