Approach Picture

So it's been hella long since I posted one of these. Like hella long. This bit closes out May (FINALLY MY GOD) and is a pretty low-key chapter in this ever growing saga, so enjoy!

***

“She looks good Noah,” Travis said as he watched his session topper gallop out after her first breeze since her pasture injury.

Noah, who Travis found rather intimidating despite being his boss, nodded, “She’s a good filly. Ready to go down to Belmont.”

Travis nodded, “She seems it,” he watched as the filly came down to a balanced trot, expression calm and pleased.

“She’s a good animal,” Noah continued, “Goes out every day with a hundred percent. I don’t usually like the expensive ones, all style no substance. She’s a rare one whose got both.”

Travis found himself unexpectedly pleased at this, as though he was somehow responsible for more than just signing the check.

“I want to send the Ashadow filly.”

Travis was surprised at that, “Really? She doesn’t seem-

“I can’t crack her. And I’m not the kind of guy to lie to you about it, even though you’re my boss. I’ve talked to Scout about it, maybe being on the track will help her come to understand what her actual job is. She’s got class, I think she’s got talent, but I’ve no idea how to get her to show us that. I don’t know if any of your trainers have a clue either, but she’s not doing you any good just playing around on the oval every morning.”

“Alright, we’ll ship her down too.”

Noah nodded, his eyes tuning onto the grey colt spooking his way onto the track, “Keep him steady Martin, for Christ’s sake don’t be afraid of him he’s afraid of you,” he called out with a shake of his head.

Travis watched as the colt fought to bolt, ears pinned and eyes rimmed in white. “Is he really so spooky?”

“He’s spooky, but he’s not that bad. He just scares the boys a bit. He moves quick and you can’t feel it coming. He just wants someone to be the boss of him. Makes him feel secure,” Noah sighed as the colt whirled at an imaginary monster and nearly unseated Martin, “Jesus kid get a hold of his fucking mouth, you’re not riding western pleasure!”

The kid nodded and shortened his reins by about eight inches. The colt softened.

“Good, now get him moving forward. Tap him once or twice, he can’t feel your leg jacked up as you’ve got it, remember?”

Martin seemed to remember, he tapped the colt once on the flank, still keeping his grip on his mouth secure. The colt pressed down onto the bit and moved forward in a slightly crooked line.

“See,” Noah said with a satisfied tilt of his head, “Let him feel you, take him around, do some circles, some fucking figure eights, I don’t care. Take control of the situation. He’s not going to outmuscle you, strong as he feels, he’s not going to use it on you unless you let him get scared. Got it?”

Martin didn’t answer, but he did nod. The colt, just as Noah said, calmed down the more Martin took ownership of the situation. By the time Noah called for the canter the colt’s ears were pricked forward and his body was limber and relaxed. He slipped into a tidy canter and then stretched out into a nice gallop.

“He looks good.”

Noah nodded, “He’s a nice animal. I just don’t want to send him down till he tells me he’s ready. When all this becomes old hat for him then he can go. I don’t think he’s going to be your two year old superstar anyhow. He’ll peak at four, that’s my guess, and she’s” he added as a monster chestnut lumbered onto the track, “gonna peak at five or six.”

“She really is huge.”

“Big and long and slow,” Noah said as the filly moved into a trot, “She’s got a good head though. Her little brother’s just like her. Big and slow but smart. They’re classic kind of horses, the sort that need a lot of distance and a lot of time.”

“No need to rush.”

Noah chuckled, “No offense boss, but I don’t think you could rush her even if you had to.”

***

“I like her,” Mal said as he followed Scout to one of the tables along the edge of Belmont’s oval, down at what would become the general seating area come the afternoon.

“I think she’s a good filly,” Scout said as she sat down, pausing to take a sip of her coffee, “You’ve been on Birchwood’s before. What’s she feel like in comparison?”

Mal settled back and mulled it over as he chewed on his bagel and egg sandwich, it felt better than he’d figured it would, to eat like a normal human on a regular basis. “They’re pretty workmanlike horses. She’s like that, but she’s got a bit more style, a bit more in the tank than they usually do. She’s sharper too. They’re usually a bit more brutish, they’ll run on three legs for you but they’re ain’t going to think about it and they ain’t going to do it all that fast,” he took a sip of his coffee and then shrugged, “I don’t know I think she’s a cut above the rest.”

Scout nodded, “Okay.”

“You and Jonah have big plans?”

She smiled and he felt his heart ache but he kept his lips tight. “Well the boss has put a bit of pressure on us to make her something he can feature in an ad on the back of Bloodhorse.”

“Well what’s your idea for her?”

“A maiden at the end of next month.”

“I think she’d like that. She was prepped well. She knows her job.”

“Who would you put on her?”

He rocked his head back and forth, “I think Luc could ride her, but I don’t think there’d be a benefit in it. Frankie’s too hot, she won’t like that. I guess Jeffries is your best option. She’d ride her like…well she’d ride her best.”

“She’d ride her like you.”

“Close enough. If you want her for more than a glitzy two year old season I’d put Hallie on her, she’ll let her fuck up if she needs to.”

Scout nodded, “What about the Telapathy filly.”

“Frankie.”

Scout laughed, “They do kind of suit one another don’t they?”

He surrendered to a laugh, “They do both possess an incredible amount of arrogance.”

“Okay well what do you think about the others?”

“You care an awful lot about my opinion on your two year olds Miss Kenner.”

“You have good opinions,” she said.

They hadn’t had that talk yet. It had been a week since he brought it up and she hadn’t touched the idea, but neither had he. He was starting to wonder if just simply offering up the idea was enough and that the talk would happen between them when they were both ready for it. They’d gotten back one of the aspects of their relationship that he’d forgotten how much he valued, this honest but kind sort of analysis of the world. A sharing of views and opinions. He’d liked her for that to begin with, past the beauty aspect, the initial lure, there was the way in which they could count on one another for honest opinion and reflection. They lost that over the winter. If his AA mentor, an ex-wall street investment banker who had struggled with just about every kind of addiction a man could have, was even half right then the last thing Mal needed was sex, and the first thing he needed was a support system, friends who actually gave a damn.

Scout had always given a damn, he’d just been too self-obsessed to really feel it even if he could see it and understand it. That was the crux of it wasn’t it? When you fixate so much on yourself it was hard to engage with everyone else on a level that actually meant something. Mal didn’t know if it was his age or the fact that for the first time in the relationship that was his drug addiction he felt that he had actually lost something tangible.

“You’ve got a funny look on your face Mal.”

“Do I?”

She nodded.

He grinned, “I was just thinking. Funny thing about all these AA meetings, they want you to do a lot of thinking so you’ve got a lot to talk about every week so you can leave with a lot more to think about.”

She leaned forward, “So what were you thinking about?” she said it carefully as though she was afraid of hurting him with those six words. That made Mal realize that his feelings for her weren’t merely an egotistical desire to win her back, to prove to himself that he could, but that he loved her, even if he’d never had the sense to tell her.

“I was thinking about how I missed talking to you, like this.”

She broke into a smile, “I missed you.”

How part of him wished she hadn’t said that in the way she did for it made him start to believe that he still had a chance.

***

Hallie, Frankie had determined, was not for the faint of heart. Their relationship thus far had consisted of him learning very little about her, outside of that general fact, but it had made him learn an awful lot about himself. More than he had ever intended to know, really. He learned that he was a lot braver than he thought he was. He learned that sex wasn’t really enough for him, even when the sex was as good as what they were having night after night (it seemed statistically impossible for it to be as good as it was, every time he went into it thinking that finally they were going to have a bad night but she never let it happen). He learned that being a good man, not just a man who thought he was good, but a man that others thought was good (there was a difference, his father belonged in the first category along with every other hypocrite including a past version of himself) and that doing so was a lot harder than he’d ever thought.

He respected her. That was a surprise, Frankie couldn’t ever remember respecting a woman outside of his mother and sisters, and they’d fought him for it, demanded it from him in a way that just couldn’t be ignored. Once he hadn’t respected her and she’d known it and broken his nose for it, but it wasn’t the broken nose all those years ago that made him do so. He wasn’t even sure what had, but he found himself reading all her signals and obeying them without argument. She didn’t want to be talked to in the jock’s room and even though he wanted to do nothing more than sit next to her all day and bullshit like they did as they shared a ritual after sex cigarette he kept out of her corner of the jock’s room. She didn’t like being touched after sex unless it was for the express purpose of more sex. He’d gone his whole adult life thinking he hated post sex intimacy until he couldn’t have it. But he kept his hands to himself. Two nights ago he’d been rewarded for his obedience when he’d woken up to take a piss and found her chin tucked up against the nape of his neck and her arm across his hips.

He was beginning to learn a lot about the futility of life through her. Before he’d figured he was in control of his fate, even if the good book and the priests of his childhood had always told him otherwise. Thorough her he was beginning to realize that he had very little control over the universe. Master of his soul he might be, but master of his universe he was not, the world it seemed was not actually his.

He wanted to date her. Hell he was starting to think he wanted to marry her. He was tantalized by the conjured images of her being intimate and emotional and open with him. He’d always thought all his married cousins and friends were insane for tying the knot, if you had the girl in your bed already what was the point? The modern world didn’t need marriage so far as Frankie was concerned. But now he found himself in the strange position of wanting everything he had mocked, and more than that, understanding why you’d want it in the first place.

***

Hallie was beginning to feel that she had bit off more than she could reasonably chew let alone swallow when it came to the situation of Frankie Deltino. She had a long standing attachment to escape routes, exit plans, to never getting in deep enough to not want to find her way out, not again, never again. She’d woken up the other day with the distinct sensation of having lost her map, her carefully laid out plan and worse all the feelings that went with it. Where was the tried and true apathy? The desire for distance? The underbelly of loathing that accompanied any attraction?

She distinctly felt the absence of female friends. She had none, in fact she was quite certain that with the exception of the hero worship of the exercise girl, Lacey, all the women presently in her life were enemies of some sort. That put her in the negatives didn’t it? She imagined that if she had female friends they would do the television appropriate thing in this situation, take her to a classy bar in the city, flood her with those cosmopolitans and get her to tell them everything.

She didn’t have female friends. Outside of Frankie she didn’t have a social life, and Hallie wasn’t so sure that was so healthy anymore. She arrived at Jonah’s shed row thinking all of these things simultaneously, and Hallie would swear later it was scripted just like a movie, a rider hopped off that funny chestnut two year old they had and pulled off their helmet, a mess of lanky blond hair falling over her shoulders. Their eyes met and something resonated between them, the woman smirked.

“The great Hallie Jeffries graces us with her presence this morning?”

“Knock it off Cinderella,” Dean said as he took her by the shoulders and steered her towards her next mount, a brawny bay filly that Hallie had never seen before. Hallie pointed at the filly and raised her eyebrows.

“She shipped down last night. Quite a looker isn’t she?” Dean tightened the filly’s girth, the filly ground her teeth against the bit and pinned her ears.

“She’s croup high and looks like a colt,” Hallie said dryly.

“Have a little respect,” Dean grinned, “You’re looking at the OBS session topper.”

“The one that went lame right after?”

That’s when the girl, finally settled, interjected, “She did it to herself. She’s a brute.” The way she said brute reminded Hallie more of a confession of love than not.

“She has a nice head, when she’s not pinning her ears.” Hallie offered as the filly pricked her attention to whatever horse was coming up behind them. She did have a nice head, good eye, clean throatlatch. The filly whickered and Hallie glanced back at the animal that returned her greeting.

“What the hell is that? It looks like someone ran out of spray paint halfway through.”

Dean laughed, “That would be the Ashadow filly.”

Hallie arched an eyebrow. The filly, who was big and elegant underneath the mess that was her coat, came to a pause outside her stall.

“That thing is related to,” she pointed to Marzanna’s gelding, who was dozing with his eyes half closed as his filly nuzzled his ears, “that little guy.”

“Funny thing isn’t it,” Jonah said as he swept up in between them all, “Dean get her out won’t you,” Dean led the bay and the exercise girl forward and out, “Estefan get a boy on the Ashadow filly won’t you.”

Estefan, who was fighting with a massive grey, colt or filly Hallie couldn’t tell, to get the bridle on shouted out something in Spanish and a groom snatched up the wildly marked paint filly from her rider, who revealed himself to be Mal Quinn. He ignored her, which Hallie supposed was fitting, and put his hands on his hips watching as the groom pulled the filly into her stall.

“She’s got class. Big stride. But I don’t know where her brain is.”

“Well, we’ll find it. She’s got time,” Jonah said with a shrug. Hallie noted he seemed oddly relaxed for a man about to go into the Belmont.

“What next?”

“Tiz. Sal should be getting him ready.”

Mal nodded and walked off to the other end of the barn. Hallie raised her eyebrows to Jonah.

“He’s doing good work. Recommended we stick your skinny ass up on this filly.”

“Where is my filly? You know I hate standing around.”

Jonah rolled his eyes but gestured towards her, walking down past where Mal was leaning up against the side of a stall with a hand gently caressing a cute little bay’s face.

“He’s adorable.”

Jonah laughed, “You say that with such hesitation. Only girl or boy for that matter who hasn’t gone weak at the knees at the sight of that face.”

“You telling me you went weak at the knees at the sight of a horse’s face.”

Jonah shrugged, “He’s like a puppy. Ran a neat first race down at Churchill, third.”

Hallie had a good laugh at the mental image of Jonah going weak at the knees and squealing at the sight of the little colt coming off the trailer.

“Laugh all you want. He’s a good colt,” he said just a touch too defensively for Hallie not to know that the colt was snuck more peppermints than anyone else except probably Jonah’s own mare.

“I think you’re going soft.”

Jonah rolled his eyes, “This is your filly.”

The filly, who would presumably be hers, pricked her ears forward and blinked as Benicio did her throatlatch. She was a decent sized animal, nicely made especially through the legs. Her head was a touch common, but she had a bright, intelligent eye. Her color, a shaded rose grey, was beautiful.

“What’s her name?”

“On papers Cassiphone, something from Greek mythology. We call her Cass.”

Hallie rubbed the filly’s forehead, “Cass, I like it. Anything I should know?” she asked as she stepped back so Benico could lead her out of the stall.

Jonah shook his head, “Noah finished her off nicely up at the farm. She goes, she stops, she rates, she listens. She likes to work. Mal usually rides her, thinks she’s got a bit more than the usual Birchwoods.”

“Okay. Well little girl let’s see what you’ve got.”

Jonah tossed her up and Hallie settled in. As they walked down to Belmont’s training track Jonah and Benicio chatted, Hallie kept tabs of the conversation, but mostly she focused on the filly. She had a soft mouth, she was communicative through the bit, moving her tongue and flicking her ears about as Hallie eased the bit left and right and up and down. Her walk was clean, she had a big overstep in the back which made her walk arc up and then back down as her leg extended. She pranced a bit when she saw the gap, but Hallie felt that it was out of pure eagerness, a desire to move forward and work.

“Gallop her from the half-mile pole for three furlongs. Nothing crazy, just get a feel for yourself. It’s not a recorded work.”

Hallie nodded as Benicio turned them loose. The filly bounded into the trot, Hallie firmly brought her back to the walk for a moment to establish that yes while she appreciated the filly’s eagerness they would go when she asked. Her trot was a bit awkward, short and unbalanced, but you expected that with a lot of Thoroughbreds. When they eventually flowed into the canter and then the gallop Hallie knew the filly was going to be a moneymaker. Her stride had good impulsion, it was balanced, and it was full of intention and purpose. The filly meant every step she took, her mouth was like silk against Hallie’s hands and her ears were always swiveling, listening, watching, evaluating. She had a brain, and a good one at that.

Hallie let her take the bit at the half-mile. There was no jump, no hard thrust forward, but rather it was a gradual upward climb. The filly understood she could run and set her body to the task all while keeping that intelligent awareness she had before. Hallie gave her a bit of encouragement but also played with her mouth, testing her reaction time and her listening ability. Even as she started to blow out she stayed in tune. All Hallie had to do at the end to pull her up was lift up with her hands and stand.

“She’s all brains and all class,” Hallie said as she brought the filly back around to Jonah. “I like her. I want the ride.”

“You got it. She’ll do something in June.”

***

Dean was happy to be back at Belmont. He’d found himself missing the three person operating system that was he, Jonah and Scout when he’d been left alone at Churchill. Though he was happy with the job he did with Tizme and even happier with the bonus Jonah cut him. Belmont was where the excitement was. The influx of two year olds had made the string interesting, the success of their three year olds had made strategizing the rest of their seasons a popular conversation around the proverbial water cooler, the track was overflowing with stories and gossip about who was saying what and fucking who. Plus there were girls everywhere.

He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t immensely pleased with Scout’s choice of exercise rider. Maggie Lawson was a blue eyed, blonde, all American horse girl with a cute smile, a nice ass, a smart mouth and a penchant for sleeping around. Then there was the new jockey, Esperenza Mendoza, who he’d been introduced to through Kyle Hartwick, Tommy Jones’s assistant trainer, and since then she had a wink or a smile for him every time they passed one another. Plus there was the girl from Bloodhorse who’d been sneaking closer to him on the rail every morning, camera in hand. Then there was this sexy brunette that Jonah had been showing around for a few days, a new owner, Dean had assumed, but he liked the way she looked at him out of the corner of her eyes. And there was always Scout, apparently firmly single, looking more relaxed and somehow more enticing then she ever had.

“Plus Zito’s got that hot Irish rider, you’ve seen her haven’t you?” Kyle said as they settled at their usual table in the cafeteria. Dean waved Jake Benson, an assistant trainer to Jack Robinson, over to them and shook his head in Kyle’s direction.

“Well you have too. She’s hot. Red head too,” Kyle said as he tore into his bacon.

As if summoned by the word, Hallie Jeffries strode by, cutting Jake Benson off en route to their table. Dean noted the way in which the other two men stared at her. Hallie Jeffries, attractive as she was, never entered these conversations. Fear, Dean supposed, which she’d spent her entire life cultivating, kept her off the tongues of men. Granted, when they were drunk enough and far enough away from the track, she had been known to slip into the conversation but the acknowledgement of her sex appeal was always mediated by a word a caution, a mention of respect, the conclusion that they would never dare. Hallie glanced at Dean as she passed, raising her chin in acknowledgement of his existence, and then took up her usual table which Luc Martin was keeping ready for her.

“What’s hanging?” Jake said as he dropped his tray to their table and sat down.

“Girls,” Dean said before taking a sip of his coffee.

Jake laughed, “So the usual?”

Kyle and Dean nodded.

“Speaking of, that new girl of yours, Dean, has a great ass.”

Dean laughed, and then as if summoned by the word, Maggie Lawson, great ass and all appeared. She walked like horse girls tend to, their hips arcing up and down as a means of avoiding using their eternally sore thighs. To men who didn’t have an appreciation the movement looked masculine, odd, but to horsemen there wasn’t anything better. With a smirk she knocked her hip into Dean’s shoulder as she passed. It took everything Dean had not to give her ass a friendly smack in return, but he managed and settled for a smile instead. She settled herself across from Hallie, who looked surprised, but also not. Nothing ever seemed to truly catch Hallie off guard.

Jake let out a low whistle, “You got to make a move dude.”

Dean agreed.

***

It could be said that things had been going too well. Well into retrospect now as Jonah watched the vet wrap up Golden Age’s right foreleg, Jonah was absolutely certain that things had been going far too well and that this small setback was really a kindness granted to him by God or the universe or fate. Gabe endured the vet’s administrations without fuss; the injury was minor and would only keep him out of the Belmont. A strong late summer campaign, the vet had assured them, was still wholly within the colt’s cards.

The vet, a new vet since Jonah’s tried and true had retired and passed his business along to his recently graduated from vet school daughter, popped up from the colt’s leg to inspect her work.

“Ice it twice a day, keep the wrap fresh, and stall rest for five days. I’ll come back out on Friday to give it a look,” she gave the colt a pat on the neck; “He should be back into work in two weeks.”

Jonah nodded.

“Do you want me to take a look at the grey?”

Jonah nodded, gesturing to Estefan. He put Gabe away and pulled out Paranormal. He affectionately greeted Dr. Kendall and stood nicely as she felt up his front knees and left hind.

“He’s cool. I want some x-rays just to be sure I didn’t miss anything prior, but I suspect they’ll come back clean and he can get back to work,” she said as she ran her fingers over his barrel, “He looks like he’s put on weight.”

“About two hundred pounds.”

She nodded, “He looks good.

There was something in the way she said it that made Jonah get tense in his gut, as though the colt's return to form was meant to be as much of a blessing as a curse.

***

Name: Cassiphone
Nickname: Cass, Cassie
Gender: Mare
Breed: Thoroughbred
Age: Yearling
Height: projected 16.0 hh
Color: Grey atop chestnut
Markings: front socks, blaze
Genotype: ee Aa Gg
Discipline: Racing
Preferred Distance: n/a
Running Style: n/a
Sire/Dam: Circe x Birchwood
Offspring: none
For Stud/Lease: no too young
Personality: Is a classy, calm, and relatively affectionate filly. She appears to have inherited her dam's manners but does tend to get offended when her personal space is invaded. Nonetheless she seems to be a quick study.


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