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Horsepower

A Story in Sixty Seconds

By D.K. ShepardPublished 23 days ago Updated 23 days ago 6 min read
9
Horsepower
Photo by Jeff Griffith on Unsplash

“That first half mile was very fast, faster than we expected at forty-five point eight seconds. And they are maintaining that pace as they head into the back stretch at the one minute mark.”

Patrick crossed his arms to keep his nervous energy from rattling him apart. He stared above the sea of pastel suits and flamboyant floral hats to the giant screen that showed the thundering pack of racehorses on the far side of the track.

Of “The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports”, the second minute was no doubt superior to the first, but the suspense was threatening to overwhelm him. He knew he wasn’t alone. Every owner in the stands of Churchill Downs was surely on the verge of exploding.

In a minute it would all be over. And his anticipation or apprehension—it had alternated countless times in the last three years—would give way to unfathomable joy or crushing disappointment. How he wished Anne was here beside him, gripping his hand with one of hers and clutching her chest with the other. She was the reason he was here. The reason horse number seven, Vain Hope, was out on that track today running the biggest race in the country.

Anne had believed this horse was something special from the start. The night Vain Hope had been born had been a tough one and Anne had not taken a moment’s rest despite the fact her own body had begun to fail her. Patrick had insisted she take a break but she had defied him, just as she had defied the cancer as long as she could.

But once that foal had emerged it had stood up quicker than any they had helped deliver in forty years. How Anne had beamed and laughed! “This is the one, Pat. This one’s going to win you a Kentucky Derby,” she had declared.

“Us,” Patrick had said wishfully.

She’d lived to see Vain Hope run his first race, but now Anne was gone. And this was it. This would be the last thoroughbred he’d ever own. He’d gotten Vain Hope here today with a too young trainer and a too old jockey, because he had to for Anne. But he wouldn’t do it again.

“And they’re past the three quarter mark at one minute ten seconds. Golden Fury is in the lead. The favorite, Stilts, along with Vain Hope are off pace at the back of the pack.”

“Come on, Jerry. Keep him there. Stay out of the fray,” Mason, the twenty-four year old horse trainer, muttered. He tried to take a deep breath, but the smell of bourbon, mint, and cigar smoke was a suffocating cloud that kept him from filling his lungs. Although with less than a minute to go he’d probably be holding his breath from now until the end.

Mason wasn’t sure who was more nervous, Patrick beside him at his final Derby or himself at his first. Well, first as a head trainer anyway. He’d been to this white steepled pavilion in Louisville many times with his dad, who was a training legend.

Mason had learned from the best so the bar had been set high when he made his training debut two years ago. It had been a disaster.

But Patrick had given him a second chance. This was his one opportunity to redeem himself. And he wanted to, more than anything. He didn’t just want horse training to be his heritage, he wanted it to be his legacy.

Mason had learned the hard way that he wasn’t his dad. He knew all his dad’s methods and tactics, but what he needed to figure out how he, Mason, trained horses. He had been a part of the racing world from birth and he noticed things his dad never did. So this year, instead of living in someone’s shadow, he’d stepped into the sun. The first few races had been less than superb but by the end of Vain Hope’s two year old season he’d become a force to be reckoned with.

But those races were just to get here. This was the one that mattered. Vain Hope was very much a long shot, but he was Mason’s only shot. So although Jerry, the overly seasoned jockey, was the one riding Vain Hope, Mason’s future was riding on both of them.

“Herald has overtaken Golden Fury for the lead. Stilts and Vain Hope are seven lengths off the lead. But Stilts is heading to the outside to make a move. And Vain Hope is sticking with him. Now five lengths off the lead as they approach the one mile mark.”

It was time. The symphony of hoofbeats and heaving breaths was a beautiful noise in Jerry’s ears. And this was a special song, the Run for the Roses rhythm was unlike any other. He hadn’t imagined he’d ever hear it again, not from this seat in the thick of things.

At fifty-one years old he should be retired. And he had been, but that was before his daughter had gotten herself incarcerated. Now he and his wife were raising their five year old granddaughter. Starting all over again. He’d believed he had set aside plenty of money from his more than moderately successful career, but now there’d be another mouth to feed and someday college tuition to pay.

So now here he was back in the saddle, guiding the massive horse beneath him to the outside of the stampede. Dirt was flying and riding crops were whistling.

Things had been a little messy getting out of the gate, but he’d managed to navigate Vain Hope out of the tumult without falling too far behind. They’d stayed even with Stilts from the first quarter mile. Jerry had almost let Vain Hope free early, worried he’d waited too long, but he’d managed to hold out. Vain Hope could sprint like no other horse he’d ridden. The boy-scout trainer had picked up on that quickly and they intended to capitalize on it today.

Jerry could tell that Vain Hope sensed the ease of restraint and the thoroughbred wasted no time. In a measure of heartbeats they were blazing past horses and jockeys in their colorful garb. Jerry smiled. There was something about riding a horse that loved to run that stirred his soul. And it was time to let him really run.

“Stilts and Vain Hope are coming up on the outside at the top of the stretch. Three lengths off the lead. They’ve passed Golden Fury. Now they’ve got Herald down on the rails! And it's Stilts and Vain Hope in the lead! They’re neck and neck going into the stretch.”

Vain Hope’s lungs and muscles burned as though the sun that shone down on his flanks had somehow gotten inside him. His blood was fire in his veins. Supposedly some of it was from the greatest racehorse that ever lived, the one they called Big Red, the one the Power Above had spent some extra time on. And some of his boiling blood may have even belonged to great war horses that charged into battle and wild mustangs that outran the wolves.

He’d never seen so many two-leggeds in one place before and they were all here to marvel at him, as they should.

Today was the day Anne, his favorite two-legged, had told him about before she went Above. It had been when she’d given him his name. She’d smiled and cradled his muzzle in her hand. Then she’d stared in his eyes and said, “There’s a psalm that says ‘A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save.’ I want you to remember that. There will be a lot of hopes placed in you, but remember you’re just a horse. So when it’s time all you have to do is run. And I know you can do that, Vain Hope.”

She was right of course, he was just a horse. And he could run.

All these two-leggeds that walked around looking serious or yelling manically from the stands, they’d all considered various deciding factors about this race he was running. They just didn’t know there was only one factor that mattered. One decision that determined it all.

But Vain Hope knew because the Power Above had let him in on the secret. So even though the flame within raged fiercer than it ever had, he just kept running. Faster and faster.

“One furlong to run and its Stilts and Vain Hope down to the wire. Stilts is giving it all he’s got but he can’t shake Vain Hope. And Vain Hope is pulling ahead, by a nose! He’s getting away! He’s got Stilts by a half a length! Can he hold the lead in the final sixteenth? This is it! It’s Vain Hope! Winner of the Kentucky Derby!”

***

Author's Note: I live in Louisville, Kentucky and this week is Derby Week. To celebrate the running of the 150th Kentucky Derby, I've written three horse inspired pieces. Check out the other two below.

Short Story
9

About the Creator

D.K. Shepard

Character Crafter, Witty Banter Enthusiast, World Builder, Unpublished novelist...for now

Fantasy is where I thrive, but I like to experiment with genres for my short stories. Currently employed as a teacher in Louisville.

dkshepard.com

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  3. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  1. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  2. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

  3. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

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Comments (9)

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  • Lacy Loar-Gruenler21 days ago

    DK, this is phenomenal story telling. Just phenomenal!

  • Well managed.

  • Rachel Deeming23 days ago

    D.K.! This is wonderful. What a feel-good story. I, like Gabriel, liked the shift in perspectives from character to character, knowing what they all had riding on it (excuse the pun) and how ultimately, it's just about a horse wanting to run. But what a glorious ending. You couldn't have ended it any other way but it would have been a different story if he'd lost it. Loved it.

  • TheSpinstress23 days ago

    Absolutely wonderful! I was on the edge of my seat! I loved Vain Hope's own perspective, especially: "He’d never seen so many two-leggeds in one place before and they were all here to marvel at him, as they should." 😀🐎

  • Gabriel Huizenga23 days ago

    This is SO awesome. I love the switching from one character's perspective to another's, and especially loved that we got Vain Hope's own perspective at the end! Beautifully crafted :)

  • Lamar Wiggins23 days ago

    Very exciting!!! When a story with action grabs hold of me, I start reading faster and I flew through this one, lol. I even got the chills at one point. Great execution, D. K.

  • John Cox23 days ago

    This is an absolutely stunning story, DK, written like a seasoned pro. You brought the race to vibrant, pulsating life. My eyes are wet from the shear joy of it. I have read a lot of entries to this challenge, some of them really, really good. But yours beats them all by a length plus!

  • Hannah Moore23 days ago

    I could feel the power of that animal there.

  • Run, forest, run! Great story! Absolutely fantastic! ♥️🐎🐴🏇🏿

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