Ricardo walked down the center aisle of the stable, shuffling his feet in the dirt and causing tiny dust clouds to puff into the air around his boots.
Heads popped over the sides of the stalls, the horses curious to see who had entered the barn. One or two whinnied a greeting, hoping for an apple or a carrot to be offered in passing.
Ricardo did not stop until he reached the final stall, set back against the paddock doors. No head reached over the stall door. No whinny greeted him.
He flicked on the overhead light and peered into roomy stall. An ebony face with a jagged blaze stared back at him, the lips pulled back slightly, in warning. Dracula swung his head to the side and began lipping the top rail of his stall door, teeth grinding away at the horizontal framing.
“Hey, stop that!” Ricardo swatted at the nose, causing Dracula to toss his head and snort. He grabbed the halter and lead, hung on a peg by the door and slung it over his shoulder.
“Move over, Dracula, I need to come in.” He slid the bar out of the brackets and swung the door open, as Dracula danced back in his tall, turning his back to Ricardo.
Dracula was in one of his moods. Despite his unnatural speed which brought him in under the wire in so many events, he was an aloof horse, who despised not only human company, but the company of his own kind.
He was known to kick out the walls if another horse was present in an adjoining stall, hence the reason why he was lodged well away from the other horses in the barn.
Dracula twisted his head and eyed Ricardo as he moved up beside him. With a quick step, Dracula shifted and attempted to pin Ricardo against the wall, but Ricardo was prepared for the move and moved quickly up beside his head, grabbing a handful of silky mane.
“You know, Dracula, if you try that again, it really will be the glue factory for you.”
Dracula snorted what sounded like a short laugh.
He slipped the halter over his head and latched it along his cheek, then snapped the lead in place. “Come on, grumpy, we are heading outside.”
He led Dracula out of the stall and back up the center of the barn. Dracula’s ears swiveled with each horse that stuck its head out and side-stepped away from them so that by the time they reached the doors, he was walking sideways.
Rescued as a yearling colt, Dracula earned his name by his bad habit of biting both human and horse and Ricardo had bought him off the angry owner, who was days away from sending him to the glue factory.
Now, at the end of his racing career, Dracula was going to stud.
The list of his racing wins was impressive. The Triple Crown was his playground and he had dominated it for the last five years, winning every race.
Dracula side-stepped through the doorway and then straightened around to face the new distractions ahead of him. A horse carrier, with the rear loading gate down, awaited his presence.
Dracula’s ears flicked forward with interest and rested on a mangy tabby cat that sat in the back of the carrier, licking one paw. For whatever reason, Dracula loved Cat. Cat could do anything to Dracula and he would endure it with the patience of a turtle.
Early in Dracula’s training, when motivation was a factor, Ricardo had used Cat as bait, in training Dracula’s race training. At first, it involved Cat sitting in a cage on the back of a wagon. Dracula would run his heart out to catch up to Cat. Later, Cat would ride with him in the horse hauler and sleep with him in his stall as they traveled from race to race.
It was fitting that they would be retiring together, companions into their old age.
Cat stood and stretched, bottle brush tail in the air and then jumped up onto the sack of grain leaning against the tire.
Dracula pulled on the lead, anxious to reach Cat.
Dracula lowered his nose and sniffed at Cat. Cat stood up and rubbed his back against Dracula’s snuffling nose. Cat then jumped up onto Dracula’s back and content, Dracula allowed himself to be lead up the ramp and into the horse trailer. Once tied in place, Cat jumped off Dracula’s back and onto a perch built just for him. Best friends. Forever.
English idiom: “Under the Wire”: barely, scarcely, just within the limit as in ‘this post will be finished just under the wire.’ This term comes from horse racing where the wire marks the finish line (first half of 1900’s).”
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