April had come in like March had promised to leave.  She touched the square, tall pot as she crossed her small porch.  Warm breezes ruffled the petals of the yellow flowers planted in it.  She smiled.  It had been a good run; a beautiful run.  April 13, 1989.

Chloe was always more than just a horse.  She had forgotten some of the small details, like the breeder’s name and exactly how she found herself at his farm outside of town.  She remembered his spiel, or parts of it rather.

“Second daughter to ‘Heaven’s Prince’ half-sister of ‘Beautiful Dreamer’ fifth daughter to ‘Chloe’s Angel.’

This wasn’t ‘War Admiral’ or ‘Secretariat’ they were talking about here.  The mostly vague names were ones just the locals might remember.  As a transplant she had only heard stories, and incomplete ones at that.  She knew she should be impressed.  It barely registered.  But she couldn’t take her eyes off the beautiful chestnut brown filly in the small paddock in front of her.

‘Chloe’s Girl’ wasn’t particularly physically powerful but even before she came over to the rail to greet her there was something about her that drew her.  “Elegance” and “grace” seemed overly human and royal terms to apply to a young horse but when CG, (as she would nickname her later) moved, those were the words that sprang to mind.  She probably remembered so little of the breeder’s words and his name because she was so mesmerized by his horse.  She was back in the already humid August heat the next morning with the trailer.  CG was settled in her new home by lunch time.

Through the end of the summer and the fall Jack brought her along with the care she knew he would.  Light workouts, intervals and plenty of vet checks kept her assured CG was well and they were doing things right.  She helped cool her down, bathe her and towel her off when she could be at the stable and always she watched her move when she wasn’t under saddle.  She had known a fair number of horses in her short time as an owner.  All of them moved a little differently.  “Pablo’s Masterpiece” strode with the confidence of a ruler and “Jeannie Marie” trotted like she hadn’t a care in the world.  But CG, CG was special and maybe she knew it.

She always came over to say hello when she approached the rail after the day’s workout was done.  On those days when she couldn’t make it until later because of work, the horse seemed to know she needed assurance.  “Yes, we had a great run today.  Yes, I’m fine and how are you?”  She realized she was giving the horse human qualities she just didn’t have but being a human herself she was unable to assign CG’s actions to any other kind of meaning.  She watched her develop and mature and prepare to do what she loved; run.

The winter always brought a lighter schedule for the horses’ workouts.  Rest was valuable according to Jack, especially for the older horses, and the younger ones needed time just to grow.  He’d seen far too many promising careers dashed because they burned the horses out in their youth.

“We’re the superior species here.  Remember Genesis 1:26.  It’s our responsibility and our place to care for them.  We have to make the right decisions in their best interest.”  It was one of the reasons he trained for her.

Jack Levitoski wasn’t the most popular man walking through the barns and around the track.  In fact, he’d been fired more times than he’d parted company amicably if the stories were true.  She hadn’t worried about that after she met him, nor known it the first time they were introduced.  He came at you with a directness.  He looked at you squarely enough to make even the most confident person squirm in their boots.  She liked him immediately.  Their first words weren’t particularly cordial.

“You’re the new owner around here?”

Yes, I am. Maggie Dornigen.”

“You own ‘Pablo’?”

“Yes, going on three years now.”

“He needs work.  His start’s all wrong and they’re letting him out way too early.  You’ll never break him with a jockey.  You’ve got to convince him to wait, be patient and turn it loose in the last quarter.  Your trainer ought to know that.”

“Oh.  You think so?”

Jack just nodded and walked off.

He couldn’t have had any way of knowing she had just come from a meeting with Phil, her trainer, where she had encouraged him to pursue other opportunities.  Unless he was all-seeing and all-knowing Jack would not have known that Phil took offense, storming out of her trailer, hurling a “Hell with ya then, I’ll head down south!” at her as the door slammed behind him.  Such were the goings on and drama near the track.  Sometimes the people ran as hot as the horses.

As ’89 came in it was clear CG was coming along nicely.  Her splits improved and her strength showed after the extended rest Jack gave her through the winter months.  Spring would be her coming out party.  It would be her time to shine, they just needed to pick the right place and time and race for her.  After a lot of discussion she and Jack decided April at Santa Real was the meet for them.  They both knew the track and the type of horses it attracted.  It was a short meet, only five weeks long, and the horses that ran there would, for the most part, be in the same spot as they were; trying to find their way and their identity and test the waters hopefully for bigger and better things down the road.

Their first race on the track was completely forgettable which was just fine with Jack.

“Let her get out and run among the other horses, find her footing, make her way through and around a pack, taste some sand and eat some dust.  She’ll learn better that way and we’ll learn about her.  If I know her, she won’t like it.”

She didn’t.  She could see it in her eyes as she cooled her and washed her down after the race.  Drying her off she could tell CG was subdued.  The look in her eyes seemed to say, “What in the heck was that?  Why were all those horses on my track?  Why wouldn’t they let me through so I could run?”  Again, she knew she was giving her more human characteristics than she deserved but those eyes…  She hoped CG hadn’t been defeated; that she would bounce back.  She did.

Six days later, through a serendipitous stumble by the horse inside her, CG found herself alone on the rail and although she faded at the end to “show” she ran strong.  She had gotten a taste of being in front and there was no doubt she intended to be there in the future.   She and Jack agreed their next race should be an attempt to lengthen CG’s resolve.  They chose a seven furlong race not quite a week away.

“It will be good for her.  She still needs to learn to follow the jock’s direction, not get excited and take her head when she wants to.  I don’t expect her to finish anywhere except the middle of the pack.  This is an education.  She’s learning and she’s responding the right way.  We’ll be patient and she’ll be patient, although not too much, I hope.”

The corners of Jack’s mouth turned up just a little when he said it; about all one could ever hope to call a smile from the man.  She knew he was right and she knew he held great hope for his ‘Girl.’  On race day he was pleased with the way it began.

CG broke clean from the gate and although she fought the bit early it looked like she was tempering her excitement to go to the front.  She ran in the middle of the pack just moving up its front on the back straight.  She sat fifth halfway through the last turn and as they were about to enter the homestretch it really looked like they were going to experience success they hadn’t anticipated.  Then, as things are inclined sometimes to do, events took an illogical turn.  Inside and at her shoulder “Tressie’s Noose” for no apparent reason made a move to push CG outside.  Whether it was her jockey’s error or just the horse’s fatigue the move, which would normally just have been a gradual widening coming out of the turn, became an abrupt shift and contact was made.  More than likely the blow was glancing and in normal circumstances CG would have powered through it.  She did not in this instance however.

Video replay, which she could only bear to watch one time, showed CG’s left front fetlock slam into the track as the hoof turned backwards from the impact.  As he went down, rolling onto her left shoulder, jockey completely unseated, it was unexplainable why they both weren’t trampled immediately by the pack behind.  In her box near the winner’s circle the scene that would remain burned in her memory played out.  One moment CG was there, about to make her move toward the leaders and the next moment she just seemingly disappeared.  Coming out of her seat, heart in her throat, tightness in her chest, she knew.  She stumbled down the aisle, eyes transfixed on the track where a large chestnut mound and a small, brightly-colored figure lay.  Things seemed to go in slow motion and time advanced and backed up like some frenetic DJ scratching a record.  She insisted on accompanying the vet onto the track.

She had forgotten some of what she saw there, more than likely self-preservation, but she would never forget the sounds.  The labored, heavy breathing, the small squeaks of pain and the squeals when CG tried to roll up onto her belly or move.   Doc Petersen had retired to the track after too many years answering o.b. calls in the wee hours.  He had seen, and treated, everything and these days was usually half in the bag most of the time.  Today she saw his eyes well up.  “Oh, my” was all he said.  He motioned for her to be cautious of CG.  As kind and gentle as she was, she was still a thousand pound animal and if she threw her head back in a thrash it could be dangerous.  She approached CG carefully trying her best to look her in those beautiful dark eyes which once again were asking, ‘What the heck was that and why aren’t my legs working right?”  In the background she could hear the ambulance coming but her focus was on this poor, wonderful horse who, though she wasn’t a person, needed her friend.

Doc Petersen worked quickly.  Years and years of this sort of thing had created an efficiency both deadly and merciful.  CG laid her head back, her breathing slowed and slowly her eyes became fixed and then darkened.  No more questions, no more pain, no more fear.  It was done.

Sitting on the porch in the wicker rocker Jack gave her three birthdays ago she was aware again of the breeze and the hint of the flowers from the pot to her left.  She rocked slowly back and forth gazing out at the road, seeing it for the first time in how long she wasn’t sure.  Sometimes the past was both a comfort and a curse but the fact always remained that returning to the present, to now, was undeniable.  She patted the top of the pot looking down at its base where they’d baked into the glaze, “Chloe’s Girl’ 3/8/86-4/13/89.”  It had been a good run.  The race; continued.

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