They’re entering the gates . . . Getting positioned for their start . . . And the gates are open. Firefly has the lead; Moondance, keeping second place. Yellowstone is staying in the back, halfway down the track, he seems comfortable staying in the back. Moondance is lining up beside Firefly. Moondance is now taking the lead. Alexander is making his way through the crowd—Yellowstone is making is way to the front. This horse is saving it all for the last round. He’s still gaining, now Firefly and Yellowstone side by side. Moondance still taking the lead. Yellowstone is making his move; he’s making is way to the front and—
Skyler jerked her head up, then faced Ty.
“Yes?” she asked.
“What were you thinking about? I was calling your name for half a minute already.”
“I . . . Ah . . .” A bridle in one hand and a sponge covered with leather soap in the other hand, Skyler scratched her cheek.
“You were daydreaming.” Ty picked up a bridle, that Skyler had already slathered with soap, and hung it on the wall. “It does no good to dream about something that hasn’t happened yet.”
“Then why dream at all?” Skyler looked up at Ty.
“Never mind that, I want you to meet our new jockey.” Ty began walking toward the truck that was parked in the yard.
Skyler stood up and followed Ty. “New jockey? What about me?”
“You were our “training jockey.” Now we have to think serious, so I hired the best around; also, the only one available.”
Skyler nodded. “I see.”
Suddenly Ty stopped in the middle of the yard, faced Skyler and said, “It’s not that you’re not good, it’s just that we need someone who’s raced at a race like this before. Someone with more experience.”
“Yeah no, I understand. But you will still train me, right?”
“Yeah, we’ll train just like always.”
The new jockey climbed out of her truck and began walking toward them; Ty and Skyler met her halfway.
“Hi, I’m Bree.” Bree shuck Ty’s hand, then Skyler’s. “May I see the horse I’ll be riding?”
“Certainly.” Ty led the way to the stall, Skyler trailing behind them.
“So, this is Yellowstone? I understand you’ve been riding him?” Bree turned her attention toward Skyler.
“Yes. Ty’s been training Yellowstone and me.”
Bree turned her head toward Yellowstone and Skyler and Ty glanced at each other.
“How is his time on the track?”
“Good.” Ty stood straight, perhaps a bit intimidated by the woman standing in front of him.
Bree turned sharply, shifting her attention from Yellowstone to Ty. “Is he ready for a race like the Shadwell Stakes?”
“We were able to enter him without a problem.” When Bree only stared at Ty, Ty cleared his throat and said, “Why don’t you see for yourself.” Ty stepped in front of Yellowstone’s stall, took the lead rope off the hook, and latched it onto Yellowstone’s halter. Then he unlatched the stall lock and led Yellowstone down the hallway. “You can run him around the track and tell me what you think.”
“Okay, I’ll meet you at the track.” With that, Bree began walking toward her truck.
When Bree was out of sight, Ty lowered his head to Skyler’s ear level and asked, “Sis, is it to late to have you race Yellowstone?”
Skyler laughed. “Come on. Let’s see how she does.” Skyler began walking down the hallway, Ty following her.
“I can’t guarantee a win, but I know he’ll try his best. He wants to run. Have you tried him with other horses?” Bree asked, still sitting on Yellowstone.
“Yes, we have,” answered Ty.
“And how did he do?”
Ty leaned forward, folded his arms and said, “Very well. He’s a natural.” Then he leaned back and stood straight.
“I hope he’ll show this much effort on race day.” Without any help, Bree unmounted the horse flawlessly. Skyler nearly let her chin drop. She would fall if she tried that. Her foot would most likely be stuck in the stirrup, while she’d be lying on ground.
Aunt Cathy, who stayed quiet until now, looked Bree in the eye and said, “He’ll race his best race. Just make sure you’re ready.”
“I will.” Surprisingly, Bree smiled at Aunt Cathy. Aunt Cathy deserved smiles, most people found her instructive words offensive, but Aunt Cathy was a sweet and funny person. She deserved way more smiles than most people gave her. Perhaps Bree was not so bad.
Five days later they drove to the Keeneland Racecourse. Skyler felt like she carried a backpack of bricks everywhere she went. Everything they worked for led up to this day. If Yellowstone won, they could save their farm. But if he lost . . . well she didn’t want to think that far. Yellowstone’s trainer, Ty; his jockey, Bree; his owner, Skyler; and his cheerleader, Aunt Cathy, all stood in Yellowstone’s stall before the race. Ty told Bree the same instructions five times, before Bree finally told him to calm down. Aunt Cathy chewed her nails, while Skyler paced around in the stall.
At the sound of her voice, everyone faced Aunt Cathy. “Guys, let’s pray.”
They nodded, bowed their heads and folded their hands. Aunt Cathy prayed for her nephew and niece, the jockeys and the horses they rode, and the horse’s owners. Then she prayed for the safety of their jockey, and their horse, Yellowstone. But above all, she prayed for guidance and understanding. If things did not go the way they had hope, that they would know the Lord holds their future and that He knows what’s best for them.
After they said amen, Ty looked up and said, “All right, let’s race.”
Yellowstone and Bree followed the other horses to the gates, entering beside Moondance and Firefly. Toes on the stirrups, reins in hand, Bree leaned forward and breathed in the crisp air, watching the fog roll off her lips as she let out her breath. The gates opened, Yellowstone launched off, joining the other horses. The roots from the grass dug out of the ground with every stride they made. They rounded the corner, with Yellowstone still in the back. Bree whipped Yellowstone once, loosening the reins slightly. Yellowstone received the hint and picked up his speed.
Bree held Yellowstone back, until the last turn. Then she whipped Yellowstone twice and loosened the reins further. Yellowstone’s hooves pounded onto the ground, as he rounded the corner. Yellowstone reached Moondance’s side. He glanced at Moondance for two seconds, then Bree let him go. Yellowstone passed Moondance; twenty feet before the finished line, he leaped pass Firefly. Bree looked back as Yellowstone’s hooves flew over the finish line.
Yellowstone held his head high as he passed the crowds on his way to the stables, while Bree waved at Skyler and Ty. Above the crowd they could hear the man announce their victory, saying, “Yellowstone receives an automatic entrance into the Breeder’s Cup Mile Race!” When Bree reached Yellowstone’s stall, Skyler held the reins, while Bree jumped off Yellowstone.
“You’re going to the Breeder’s Cup World Races!” Bree yelled.
Everyone stared at Bree.
“The Breeder’s Cup!” Bree yelled again.
Skyler smiled and glanced at Ty. Aunt Cathy continued staring at Bree, obviously wondering where Bree’s newfound excitement came from.
Aunt Cathy finally turned away from Bree and faced Ty. “Yes Ty, don’t you remember? We’re going to California. Haven’t you been listening to your sister?”
“They’re in California?”
Aunt Cathy tilted her head toward Ty and said, “Yes, that’s usually where the race is.”
Three men walked toward them, one held a recorder and the other two each held a camera. The lead man pointed his recorder in their direction, “Sir, sir,” he said. When the three men stood in front of Ty, the reporter asked, “Will we see you at the Breeder’s Cup?”
Before Ty had a chance to say something, Skyler said, “We’ll be there.”
“Yes.” Aunt Cathy faced the reporter. “You’ll see us in the newspapers—on the front page.”
“Excuse me. It’s time to take your picture.” One of the camera men stepped forward while the Johnson family gathered around Yellowstone. Yellowstone lifted his head high, facing the camera as the photographer took the picture.
Bree glanced at the ground, then up at the rider racing beside her. The finish line ten feet away, Yellowstone’s hooves moved inches ahead of Oklahoma. Bree pushed Yellowstone harder; Yellowstone pounded his hooves to the ground, giving it all he had. Again, Bree glanced at the ground; Yellowstone kept pushing harder, yet it didn’t seem make a difference. Oklahoma and Yellowstone were head to head, inches before the finish line. When Yellowstone and Oklahoma crossed the finish line, instead of cheering, the crowd fell silent.
“Who won?” Aunt Cathy turned her head toward Skyler and Ty.
Across the stands people mumbled the same question. Then the replay of the race appeared on the screen. The crowd waited; their eyes locked on the screen. When the replay ended hands clapped and voices cheered. Bree lifted her arm in the air and cheered at the top of her lungs. The she clapped Yellowstone’s mane, and trotted toward the stables, holding her arm in the air. Yellowstone shone with victory. Ty cheered with the crowd, while Skyler and Aunt Cathy wiped tears of laughter and joy off their cheeks. Yellowstone stretched out his neck, lifted his head, and whinnied.
Weeks later that same picture of Yellowstone appeared on the front page of every horse racing newspaper across the state. Skyler brought their copy to her room and grabbed her treasure box from underneath her bed. She looked at the photo, a tear running down her face and placed the newspaper in the box. She locked the box and slid it underneath her bed. A smile on her face as she left the room.
Yellowstone continued racing for four years. After that, whenever Skyler got the chance, she would lean against a dogwood tree, and watch Yellowstone run across the pasture, his tail and head lifted high.