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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Gordon Jaimy
 

«Lord of Misrule», Jaimy Gordon

Without claiming races there would be no racing at all. Owners would avoid the hazards of fair competition. Instead, they would enter their better animals in races against the sixth- and twelfth-raters that occupy most stalls at most tracks… This would leave little or no purse money for the owners of cheap horses. The game would perish. The claiming race changes all that. When he enters his animal in a race for $5,000 claiming horses, the owner literally puts it up for sale at that price. Any other owner can file a claim before the race and lead the beast away after the running. The original owner collects the horse's share of the purse, if it earned any, but he loses the horse at a fair price. That is, he loses the horse at a fair price if it is a $5,000 horse. If it were a $10,000 horse, in a race for cheaper ones, the owner would get the purse and collect a large bet at odds of perhaps 1 to 10, but the horse would be bought by another barn at less than its true value.

Ainslie's Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing

 

FIRST RACE

Mr Boll Weevil

 

Inside the back gate of Indian Mound Downs, a hot-walking machine creaked round and round. In the judgment of Medicine Ed, walking a horse himself on the shedrow of Barn Z, the going-nowhere contraption must be the lost soul of this cheap racetrack where he been ended up at. It was stuck there in the gate, so you couldn't get out. It filled up the whole road between a hill of horse manure against the backside fence, stubbled with pale dirty straw like a penitentiary haircut, and a long red puddle in the red dirt, a puddle that was almost a pond. Right down to the sore horses at each point of the silver star, it resembled some woebegone carnival ride, some skeleton of a two-bit ride dreamed up by a dreamer too tired to dream. There'd been no rain all August and by now the fresh worked horses were half lost in the pink cloud of their own shuffling. Red dust from those West Virginia hills rode in their wide open nostrils and stuck to their squeezebox lungs. Red dust, working its devilment, he observed to himself, but he shut his mouth. They were not his horses.

Medicine Ed led his own horse round the corner of the shedrow. What was the name of this animal? If he had heard it, Medicine Ed didn't recall. It was a big red three-year-old, dumb as dirt, that Zeno had vanned up for the fourth race, a maiden without a scratch on him. A van ride on race day did for many a horse, but this boy had rolled out the van as calm as that puddle yonder, for he felt good and didn't know nothing. True, he had no class. He was the throwaway kind, a heavy-head sprinter who looked like a quarter horse, with a chest like a car radiator. He must not know what was coming, for once he was sore, he might last to age five, with luck.

How long would Medicine Ed last? He had been on the racetrack since he was eight years old. After sixty-four years of this racetrack life he, too, was sore and tired, and like the boll weevil in the song, he was looking for a home. He knew he would always have work, long as he could work. But where was it wrote that he had to rub horses till the day he died? And as for the medicine he could do and which long ago gave him his name, best folks forgot about that, and in these parts so far they had.

Up ahead was Deucey Gifford walking Grizzly, her moneymaker. Grizzly was the opposite end of the Mound, a used-up stakes horse, a miler, nerved in his feet, who knew everything. Medicine Ed liked to devil her: Why you don't give that old boy his rest? How old Grizzly be by now? Fourteen? fi'teen?

He's twelve, Deucey said, like she always said, and he don't need no rest. Grizzly knows what comes next for him in this world, after me, I mean. He likes things the way they are.

I bet you done told him, you hard-nose old half-man.

That's right. I told him. He'd rather run.

Medicine Ed laughed a little. I reckon that Grizzly nerved in all four feet, he said. I know he don't feel no pain.

Hell he is. Two's plenty, Deucey snapped. Her watery eyes looked shifty in their pouches, and whether she be lying or not, Medicine Ed couldn't tell. Anyhow Grizzly got heart. He could run without feet, she said.

And which he do, Medicine Ed thought, and he walked on with the red youngster.

Deucey called back to Ed now: You got something in tonight?

Zeno ship up this big three-year-old for the fourth, give him a race.

They went their two ways with their night-and-day cheap horses, and suddenly they were wrassling the two of them like broncs. It had come one of them death squawks from an automobile spring, which you heard when some ignorant individual attempted to bust into the backside of Indian Mound Downs by the back gate. The four horses still on the hot-walking machine taken off, galloping foolishly in the pink cloud round the pole like they did on any excuse. It was a dirt-caked and crumpled white Pontiac Grand Prix, ten years old, longer and lower than it ought to be, resembling a flattened shoe box, with its front bumper hanging down on one side. A girl was driving it, a stranger girl with round blindman sunglasses and two fat brown pigtails sticking out frizzly from her small head. She must have hit that puddle flying since the Grand Prix bounced right out again. Red clay-water squirted on all sides like cream of tomato soup.

The stall man, Suitcase Smithers, stepped out of the racing secretary's shack, brushing doughnut crumbs off the soft bag of guts that pushed out his lime pastel short-sleeve shirt and gray stripe suspenders. He was an unhealthy looking man of a drained cement color, and in that aggravating way he had of never looking straight at nobody, he said past, not into, the open window of the Pontiac: What is your business on this racetrack, miss?

I would like to talk to the stall superintendent, Mr. Vernon Smithers, said the girl. Are you him?

He was him. She said, like they always said, that she worked for a horseman from Charles Town, or coulda been Laurel, or Pocono Downs. He was on the road right now with three, four, five horses. She come ahead to get the stalls ready.

Suitcase read her the sign that hung over the back gate. RACETRACK BUSINESS USE FRONT GATE ONLY.

She stood there. Dusty sweat was gluing her eyebrows together. She wiped across them with the fat part of her hand.

Talk to Archie in the green uniform, said Suitcase, nodding at the faraway gatehouse.

I talked to Archie in the green uniform.

Well, I'm going to tell you the same as what Archie told you. Suitcase cleared his throat. I got no stalls.

Tommy Hansel called ahead! she said, like they always said. Her frizzly dirt-brown pigtails stuck out another inch.

Henry who? Suitcase said. You don't walk in a busy race meeting and say gimme five stalls.


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