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