Richard's prediction was no idle comment; Levee grew into a brilliantly fast, impossible to handle horse. Even Anna had difficulty with him, though she had spent hours of every day of the colt's life with him. The only result was that, if she held his lead line, he only bolted once or twice, and he no longer attempted to run out of his halter when she buckled it onto his beautiful, tapered head.
There remained only five months until the start of the racing season and he still refused to carry a saddle. He would not tolerate much weight, though he had once stood almost calmly while Anna leaned her slight weight on his back. When their other jockey, Joey, had attempted the trick, he had been instantly dumped and summarily suffered three broken toes courtesy of Levee's descending hooves.
"I'm just grateful it wasn't higher up," he said, grimacing. "If he'd broken my leg, I might have had to give up tomorrow's mounts."
Anna wore a hint of a smile that masked her worry. Joey Fletcher was at the top of his game—at the top of the whole racing game—and he really had no business riding a claimer in a $10,000 steeplechase. Nevertheless, he would ride, because an old friend wanted a skilled jockey for the young, green filly.
"Hey," said Joey softly. Anna looked up at him. "I'll be okay. This filly's flawless over her fences and likes to be on the outside, out of trouble. Nothing is going to happen."
Anna bit her tongue before she could utter what she was thinking: Famous last words. She knew Joey would ride no matter what she said; in any case, she was glad it was a chase instead of a flat; the higher weights Joey hadn't had to reduce. He was tall for a jockey, and his ideal weight was around 120 pounds. To ride in a flat race, in which he generally rode mid-weights, he often had to trim himself down to 110 or even 105. Once, he had had to make a 100-pound impost; the reducing had made him so weak he had barely held on to his mount, who somehow managed to finish second with a half-conscious jockey. It strained his body dramatically to lose that much weight in such a short time—often as little as two or three days—and it scared Anna sometimes. Of course, it scared her how much her other jockey friends had to reduce, but she lived with Joey at the farm; he was practically family.
She was smaller at only 5'1", and it was fairly easy for her to keep her own weight at 103; very rarely did she have to reduce. Joey had expressed jealousy more than once, always in a joking tone.
"You going to come watch me?" he asked quietly, taking Anna out of her thoughts. Anna smiled.
"My monster can wait a day," she said. "He needs a break."
Joey grinned ruefully.
"I'm always going to come in second to that colt, aren't I?"
"Well, at least you're honest about it." They both laughed.
The next morning, Anna made her usual rounds at the barn, feeding and watering the horses and barn dog. Her workload had nearly doubled since the yearlings had been brought in and stabled, but it had just decreased dramatically with the auctions of most of them. They had kept Levee and another promising colt, Stormbreak, but the rest were gone.
She headed first to the broodmares' barn; though Levee had begun to raise hell, he would have to wait.
The feed room stood at the end of the barn, directly opposite Highbar's new stall. After separating mares from their weanlings, Highbar especially had begun to pine for Levee. She had used to be stabled at the other end of the barn, but this vantage point gave her a view of a corner of the yearlings' pasture, in which she occasionally spotted Levee. These semi-occasional glimpses of the colt kept the loss fresh, and she had become miserable, pining for her son. Anna's solution was to move the bay mare to the other end of the barn; in horses, "out of sight, out of mind" was a much faster remedy than in humans. The mare improved instantly and dramatically. Within a week she had returned to her old self; within a month Anna doubted she would even have recognized Levee, though they were still careful to keep the colt out of her sight, just in case. What had also returned, however, was her restlessness; she had begun to wear a track in the turf of the mares' pasture, and Anna started riding her for about an hour each day to keep her from becoming too rowdy and perhaps hurting herself or another mare.
"She'd be more valuable back on a track than as a broodmare if she keeps this up and drops nothing but maneaters like that one," Richard grumbled as Anna led the mare back into the barn after one such workout. Though Anna admitted that Highbar's temperament—not to mention Levee's—was not encouraging, she disagreed. The mare's other two offspring were flourishing on the track; the three-year-old filly, High Rise, had been second by a nose in the Kentucky Oaks that May, and first under the wire in the Alabama at Saratoga. The dark bay was currently aimed at the Breeder's Cup Ladies Classic; and the filly was reputed to possess a docile temper. The colt, High Roll, had walked away with that year's Hopeful Stakes, and was pointed tentatively at the Breeder's Cup Juvenile, under different silks than his half-sister; sold as a yearling for a pittance due to early timidity, he had more than repaid his buyer's investment. Quite contrary to Richard's complaints, Highbar was beginning to prove herself a top broodmare. In any case, Richard had not been serious; a nine-year-old three-time broodmare was no longer a racehorse, no matter how she saw it. Not only that, they had bred her to Storm Knight again, against their better judgment; after all, Levee had speed, and they hoped against hope that his terrifying temper would remain in him alone.
Anna finished her evening rounds and stood outside Levee's stall, leaning on the half-door to watch him eat. She studied every line of the colt's flawless form; though she had already memorized him, she never tired of looking at the young horse, more beautiful than the most precious of fine art. In her mind's eye, she watched him lead the chase though the yearlings' field again.
"If only...if only..." the girl whispered, her voice softer than the crunch of grain or the rustle of hay.