This is a story Dad wrote in the late nineteen sixties. The Vietnam war was daily news, and it was the first time we had televised images of war’s horrors. There were a lot of huge events happening all over the world, assassination, nuclear threat, rockets, steps on the moon … Mr. Ed :)
Young and in LOVE. That’s the best… or is it? Hard choices, but it’s what we have, what was given to us – “to use or lose” – some would say. This story, the last my dad wrote, was kinda dark and the publisher has taken it out of print more than once, even though I personally think it’d make a really good movie. The beauty and spirit of the high desert brought him out here to the land of the Hopi and Navajo, where the Legend lives on.
Alec Ramsay jogged around the racecourse infield, his body very lean and taut beneath a heavy woolen sweat suit. The temperature was below freezing and the racing strip alongside him was flanked by ice and snow. A frigid wind blew down the stretch and he lowered his hooded head against it.
Alec thought of himself as an outdoorsman and stayed indoors only when necessary. He jogged all year long to keep in shape, to keep his wind. A jockey needed strong legs and good wind. Jogging opened your lungs. It helped in the afternoon, when you raced.
But that morning’s conditions were not normal even for December in New York, and Alec would have much preferred clear skies and a little higher temperature. While racing held many good memories for him, it also had taken its toll, just as it had for many other jockeys he knew. His hands were strong, thick and calloused, capable of moving with the quick skill of a musician—yet he felt an excruciating pain between the first two fingers of each hand where he held the reins when he rode.
It was arthritis, the doctor had told him, which would be especially painful during the winter months. Alec shook his hooded head in dismay. Arthritis (which he had always associated with older people) while still a young man! To say nothing of the calcified pain he suffered from a mended collarbone. But falls and broken bones were part of racing. There would be still more pain in the years to come. How much physical resilience was left in his body? Alec wondered. How much longer could he go on?
Alec had a good view of the Aqueduct’s empty grandstand and clubhouse as he jogged down the long stretch. High above the tiered floors and glass-encased newsroom were the videotape cameras fixed at the edge of the clubhouse roof. His gaze shifted to the track on the other side of the infield rail. It was sloppy with a light snow falling on it. He knew that today every rider should concentrate more on surviving than winning races. But that wouldn’t be. They had to race to win. And soon, for it was only three hours before the first race of the afternoon, the stands would be filled with thousands of hardy fans who could have stayed at home.
Alec buried his face in the hood and lowered his eyes to the snowy ground before him. While he had to be there, he couldn’t be blamed for envying the riders who were racing in Florida and California during these cold winter months. Despite his sweating, he was wearing too much clothing to get loose the way he should. His knees were beginning to bother him too, and he hoped he wasn’t getting water on the knee like some of the other jocks. Anyway, he had a nice, warm whirlpool bath and a steam box to look forward to when he got to the jocks’ room. He’d get loosened up that way and lose a few more pounds while at it.
Alec hoped he’d be able to get down to 104 pounds today. If he didn’t, Henry Dailey would have his head as a Christmas present. Their filly, Pam’s Song, was the lightweight in the race, assigned only 110 pounds, which meant with six pounds of tack Alec had to step on the scales weighing no more than 104, six pounds less than his usual weight. That was another reason for jogging and jogging and jogging.
It gave him time to think, too, before riding. One had very little time to think on a racehorse. You just did it, moved when you had to move. His thoughts turned to Pam’s Song, the beautiful, strapping filly he would ride—a burnished blonde shade of chestnut, the color of her dam, not her sire, the Black. Yes, and the color too of the golden hair of her namesake, Pam. But he shouldn’t let himself think too much about Pam today, for Henry had told him it affected his riding. Henry was right. When Alec thought of the girl he loved, it was difficult to keep his mind on anything else.
Pam had left Hopeful Farm for Europe over a month ago, leaving behind memories so vivid they would always be a part of him.* But Alec wanted more than that. He wanted to be with her during the Christmas break. This was the last day of the track meeting and he looked forward to a two-week vacation before racing resumed in January. If he could get away from duties at Hopeful Farm, he would fly to Europe if only for a few days. He had named the beautiful filly for Pam as a Christmas present to her.
Alec’s gaze turned once more to the empty stands as he recalled the dark Saturday afternoon in November when Aqueduct was jam-packed with eighty thousand people watching the running of the classic Empire State Handicap. Pam had raced the Black that day—to prove to herself as well as to Henry and the huge throng of fans that she could hold her own with any male jockey in the land.
Later, back at Hopeful Farm, she had said, “Letting me ride the Black was the greatest thing you could have done for anyone.”
Alec remembered his answer. “You’re not just anyone, Pam. I love you.”
“And I love you, Alec. More now than ever because I know what you gave up for me.”
“I don’t want you to go, Pam. I want you to stay. We’ll get married.”
He never doubted her love but it hadn’t been enough to keep her with him. Pam wanted more time to seek out new experiences and challenges, all that life offered one as young as she.
“It’s too soon for both of us,” she had told him with tears welling in her eyes. “I’m not ready for marriage even if you think we are, Alec. And I think too much of marriage not to be ready for it. It’s the greatest challenge I’ll ever know and I want to make it work. I want to have more to give you than I can give you now. Please, Alec,” she pleaded. “I want to stay here with you but don’t let me change my mind. Let me grow up a little more, then we’ll be together always.”
More? –19th book chapter
Enjoy the ride and don’t be afraid to write!! -tim
So, do you want to go out to the barn? Is this work or a way of life? Just because it’s Saturday doesn’t mean you get to lay around in the hammock sipping some beverage of your choice. There’s always more work to do – that’s the critter way.
Here’s the next book chapter … when you get done with your chores put your feet up and enjoy what’s left of summer – ahhhh;
“Dear Alec Ramsay,” the letter began, “I’ve wanted to write you a long time but was afraid you’d be too busy even to read my letter. I finally decided I just had to take a chance and write anyway. I know there’s no one else who would understand my love for a horse as much as you and I need your help very much.”
Alec stopped reading and got off his seat on the tack trunk so the old man with him could rummage inside. “What are you looking for, Henry?” he asked.
“The X-ray plates Doc Palmer took,” the trainer said.
“The latest batch?” Alec asked.
“In the right-hand corner.”
Removing the stack of negatives, the old man held them up to the morning sunlight coming through the doorway of the small room. He stared at the X rays, shook his head, then climbed up on the tack trunk and held the negatives against the bare light bulb.
“You won’t find anything,” Alec said. “You never do.”
“There just might be a speck we missed.”
“There’s nothing,” Alec insisted. “The Black’s hoof healed long ago. We have the doc’s word for it. We have clean pictures and we know he’s acting right.” Mounting impatience with the old man made him add, “I don’t see why you keep looking for trouble, Henry. He was wild to run this morning. I haven’t seen him act so alive and well in months.”
“You let him get away from you,” the old man said defensively. “You were supposed to take him for a sightseeing gallop and you didn’t.”
“I couldn’t. As I say, he was wild. He felt good. He was bucking and playing all the way. You know yourself that he was still so fresh when we got back to the barn that it took the two of us to walk him.”
“I know,” the old man said, still studying the pictures.
Alec Ramsay turned back to the letter in his hand. “You want me to read this letter to you?”
“Why not? Don’t you always read your fan mail to me?”
“But sometimes you don’t listen.”
“I’ll listen. I can work at the same time.” Henry Dailey held the X-ray negatives to the light bulb again and added, “Whoever is writing needs your help. Like maybe ten others a week you hear from. He loves horses as much as you do. Or maybe it’s from a girl this time?”
Alec turned over the letter to read the signature. “No, it’s from a fellow. Someone named Steve Duncan. But you’re right so far … he loves horses as much as I do and he’s asking for help.”
“Want me to go on?” the old man asked without taking his eyes from the negatives. “I can tell you the rest of it, almost word for word.”
“No, let me read it to you. Maybe it’ll be different this time.” But different or not, Alec decided it was good knowing people were interested enough in him and the Black to write. If the day ever came when he and Henry became too busy to read such letters, it would be time to quit racing altogether.
“From the newspapers I know you have the Black at Hialeah Park this winter and may race him before long,” Alec read aloud. “I know exactly how you feel having such a wonderful horse and I wish …”
Henry stepped down from the tack trunk, replacing the X-ray negatives in a large manila envelope. “That fellow knows exactly how you feel having the Black, and he wants one exactly like him someday,” he said. “You’re not going to be able to help him any more than you did the others, Alec. How come people don’t understand that a truly great horse like the Black turns up just once in a lifetime, if at all?”
Alec shrugged his shoulders as he met the old man’s gaze. Henry’s face had the texture of old parchment crisscrossed with a mass of wrinkles, but his eyes and voice still held the fire and gusto of youth.
“I’d pity most of them if they ever did have a horse like the Black,” the old man went on. “They don’t know what it’s like having a great horse on their hands. They don’t know any of the problems.”
“Who’re you kidding? You wouldn’t change it for the world, Henry,” Alec said.
“Of course not. I waited all my life for him to come along. Maybe I worry about him too much like you say,” he went on. “Sometimes I think he’s going to worry me to death. Sometimes I can’t eat or sleep, just knowing I got the big one in my stable. That’s the way it is, but I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else.”
Turning back to the letter, Alec said, “This fellow seems to have something else in mind.”
“… and I wish,” he continued reading, “that you and I could get together. I live in Miami now. My family moved here from the North last fall. It would be easy for me to get to Hialeah to see you. Would you mind if I came over soon? It’s very important and I’m sure you could help me.”
“That’s great, just great,” the old man said. “All we need around here is a horse-struck kid with a problem. Maybe he won’t get past the barn gate.”
“That doesn’t sound like you, Henry,” Alec said. “It won’t do any harm to see him if he does come. I don’t see what’s wrong with you these days. You’re too cautious about everything.”
Henry straightened his blocklike figure, making a gallant attempt to look unconcerned at Alec’s criticism and regain his position of authority. He didn’t like the way Alec was sizing him up. Alec was too composed while he was squirming inwardly. Maybe it was a sign of old age creeping up on him. Maybe it wasn’t a case of being as old as one felt but as old as one was.
the rest – 18th book chapter
See you soon & enjoy the Ride! tim
Did you ever want to be a groom? Funny it’s the same name for someone who takes care of the horse and marries the bride:) I know a lot of people (men and women) that choose to stick with the horse!
This story was written about my Dad’s dream of being that stable boy, probably a wish of his at 17 years old. He never was able to own a horse until much later in life, after he was already settled in and had a few kids.
We did have a some pacers and trotters when I was little, even one named Volo Queen, and he would sometimes take me along with him to the tracks in the northeast but, as they were a bit seedy and had an almost carney type of element, Mom didn’t think that as all so great for the kids – especially at night. There were plenty of characters and horses … and the gambling, always the gambling. Now I go to a track and it seems the “regulars” never leave the OTB areas near the wagering windows and big screen TVs. They’d rather watch the race on TV than lean on the rail, which is my favorite part of being at the track. There are still the sulky races at night in Saratoga during the summer, and some other places. It always makes me feel excited and like a kid again. You should go if you ever get the chance.
Things change but maybe people just have MORE of what they want. Maybe slower and simpler is old fashion – but it also seemed a lot more REAL … at least in my memory.
The next book / chapter;
Although the early June morning was unusually cool and the sky overcast, the boy’s body perspired freely beneath his thin sweater. For this morning, as on every Saturday morning, he had walked the five miles from his home to the training track just outside the town limits of Coronet, Pennsylvania. And now he stood beneath a tall elm tree, his eyes upon the drab gray sheds before him. Grim-faced, he walked toward them, his gaze never leaving the sheds—not even for the horses, who trotted about the half-mile track to his left. He heard neither the rhythmic beat of hoofs over hard-packed clay nor the clucking of the drivers to their colts as they sat in their two-wheeled training carts. And this was very unusual for Tom Messenger.
He walked down the road until he came to the last shed in the row, and there he hesitated, his long, thin face grave with concern, his arms hanging loosely beside his big-boned but gaunt frame. It was many moments before he moved to the closed door of the shed, his steps noticeably shorter and slower.
Looking through the window, he saw the two old men working over Symbol. Jimmy Creech stood before the horse’s big black head. As always, Jimmy’s muffler was wrapped snugly about his scrawny neck, and his cap was pulled far down over his ears. The tip of Jimmy’s prominent nose held the only color in his pale face. George Snedecker stooped to the other side of the horse, his hands feeling about Symbol’s hoofs.
Slowly the boy slid the door open, and he heard George Snedecker say, “Pains in my legs again this morning, Jimmy. Makes a man wish he were dead, that’s what it does.”
“We ain’t so young any more,” Jimmy Creech grumbled; then he saw the boy standing in the doorway. He nodded to him but said nothing, and turned back to Symbol.
With great effort George rose to a standing position. “ ’Morning, Tom,” he said. The chaw of tobacco in his mouth was passed from one side to the other as his gaze shifted uneasily between the boy and Jimmy Creech; then he took a cloth from the pocket of his overalls and brushed it over Symbol’s neck. He said with attempted lightness, “No need to work over Symbol, heh, Jimmy? He’ll stir up enough wind to wipe him clean.”
Jimmy Creech looked sullenly into George’s grinning, tobacco-stained mouth. “Sure” he said. “Let’s get the stuff on him now.”
The boy stood there while they slid the light racing harness on Symbol and tightened the leather about the shafts of the training cart. Jimmy Creech had taken hold of the long reins when the boy said, “You’re really going to sell her, Jimmy? You haven’t changed your mind since last Saturday?” His voice was low and heavy with concern.
Jimmy Creech turned to George, motioning him to open the shed doors. “I’m selling her,” he said quickly, without looking at the boy. “This morning … the guy’s coming this morning, just as I told you last Saturday.”
“But Jimmy—” The boy was close beside Jimmy Creech now, his hands on the man’s arm, his words coming fast. “Her colt may be everything you ever hoped to own. You figured it that way. You said—”
Jimmy Creech had slid into the cart seat. “I know what I said, what I figured,” he interrupted, turning away. “You don’t have to tell me, Tom.”
“Then why do you want to sell the Queen at this late stage of the game?” the boy asked with sudden anger. “She’ll have her foal in another three weeks. Why don’t you do as we planned?”
Jimmy Creech drew his muffler tighter about his neck, and his eyes were upon Symbol’s black haunches as he said bitterly, “I figured out one night that it was a pretty late stage in the game for me, too. I figured up how old I was and I got sixty-two. I figured that it’s no time for me to be looking ahead a couple of years, and I’d have to wait that long before I could race this colt of the Queen’s. So I figured two years is much too long for me to wait. That’s the score, Tom. I’m sorry.”
“But, Jimmy. You’re being silly. You’re not old. You’re—”
But Jimmy Creech was taking Symbol from the shed.
The boy watched Jimmy until he had driven Symbol around the corner of the shed; then he turned to George, now seated heavily in his chair beside the door. “What’s gotten into Jimmy?” the boy asked. “Why’s he talking like that?”
More story –17th book chapter
Unfortunately www.theblackstallion.com has been under attack recently by hackers so I’ve been a bit slow on posting these blogs, why we’re being attacked and by whom – your guess is a good as mine. You can always join the conversation on the forum or go to; Alec Ramsay’s facebook page.
Hope you have a GREAT weekend! Ride on – tim
Way too busy and yesterday Anonymous crashed the hosting for millions of websites.
Have a safe and thankful 9/11 – it’s been 11 years, so say “Amen” to our soldiers everywhere keeping the peace – or trying to do so in this crazy world!
Don’t be afraid here’s the next book / chapter;
On Saturday, July 15th, Aqueduct Racecourse’s great stands bulged and overflowed, spilling thousands of spectators onto the track’s bright green infield. Front-office officials estimated the crowd at more than one hundred thousand, the largest ever to watch a horse race in New York City. Millions more people throughout the country saw the Brooklyn Handicap on television. Those whose business it was to know reported that the number of television viewers had broken all records for an afternoon program. News film distributors, however, claimed the most stupendous audience of all. They sent prints of the race to foreign theaters and television stations throughout the world. Never had history recorded so many eyes following a horse race … and one pair in a far-off country spoke endlessly of destruction.
Fury and wrath had transformed these normally clear eyes into blazing pits of fire. They never left Alec Ramsay and the Black during the race and they promised death.
By my oath I shall overtake him with my vengeance and destroy him!
The pair of eyes followed the boy and his giant horse to the post, showing no interest in the other two entries. They watched the stallion charge out of the starting gate with Alec Ramsay’s chin almost touching the black mane.
Death to him because of what he took from me.
Heart-rending despair and agony replaced the furious storm in the eyes as Alec and the Black flashed past the stands.
A curse on him for his wings of power. But I shall overtake him and destroy him.
The Black swept into the sharp first turn and Alec shortened the reins. Shaking his head, the stallion swerved to the far outside, twisting in an attempt to free himself of the bit.
A wicked hope filled two watching eyes as Alec Ramsay and his horse almost went down. But the boy kept the black legs driving beneath him and the race went on.
Death to him for his arrogance.
Now the Black was in full flight with Alec Ramsay stretched flat against his broad back. On, on and on the stallion came, faster and faster, until it seemed that one could hear the whistling wind he created. Brighter and larger his black image grew as he swept around the final turn and bore down upon the two front runners. He caught them near the finish line and all three straining heads bobbed together. A great roar rocked Aqueduct’s stands as the Black jumped with marvelous swiftness into the lead and the race ended.
The two eyes staring at the television screen in a foreign land disclosed more vengeance than ever when Alec Ramsay straightened in his saddle. The facial features, too, quivered with rage.
Death to him for making me what I am!
Death to him before the fall of another moon!
More of the story – 16th book chapter
See you later – gator. tim