He tips his chestnut head left, up, stretching his pink nose over the barrier. “Sorry, kid.”
The grey in the next stall turns toward the voice. “About what?”
The grey whinnied, dryly. “Sorry? You didn’t bowl me over out of the gate. You didn’t even go with me into the far turn. I won. What are you so sorry about?”
“Bowl you over out of the gate? You were just a yearling then…”
“That race still comes up…history, you know? Shedrow gossip.”
“History?” The chestnut snuffled. “I was there. I still thank my lucky stars I drew outside that day.”
“Like yesterday?” The grey cocked his eye.
The chestnut bobbed his head, amused. “You know how to run fast, but you’ve still got a few things to learn. You’re still only four…you’re young, no matter what the Derby Or Bust folks may say. Sure, being hung wide into the first turn wasn’t perfect, but I’ve been there before. I was always able to find something — if I didn’t win, I could still make a race of it down the stretch.”
The grey blinked. He broke eye contact with the chestnut, dropped his head, stretched his neck. His ears rotated to find a signal, an answer, a response in the air. All he heard was the plane, humming toward Kentucky.
“That. That’s why I’m sorry,” continued the chestnut. The grey raised his head. “Congratulations — you ran your race. I wish, more than anything, that I could have. I knew it was my last chance to show my fans what I could do. I knew it was the last time, until someone special surfaces, that anyone would challenge you. This time, my body didn’t cooperate.”
The chestnut let that hang in the air a moment. He took a breath, turned to his hay net, and took a bite.
The grey tipped his head up over the barrier. “You did what you could. You’re a runner. Thanks for the challenge back at Santa Anita last year — no one else could have done that. Good luck at stud, and say hi to anyone at the farm who knew my pops.”
“I will. And, you? Stay on your toes. It won’t always be as easy as it’s been these last eight months. I have some stories, not just about my knee yesterday. But, as long as you can…keep running. Tell your people to let you keep running. Mares are nice, I hear, but nothing beats the roar of the crowd.”