Jo carefully swung her leg over the colt’s back and slowly sat tall. His flesh felt warm and smooth. As he took in a deep lungful of air, Jo could feel his lungs contract and expand underneath her denim-clad thighs. He shifted carefully. Grandpa Bob quietly clapped.
“Good show Jo. You’ve been doing well with him now-,” he began but loud moo cut him off.
The colt spun around, Jo grabbed his mane to keep her balance. Mick and Steve on their two stock horses with the last fifty or so cattle suddenly appeared over the ridge. Despite being raised in the poddy shed and being put in the paddock with them, Dynamite had always been spooky of the chunky Herefords. But as a couple of young steers came lumbering down the slope, bucking playfully Dynamite lost it.
Like his name he exploded, going straight from dancing on his hind legs to flat out gallop. Luckily Jo had been riding all her life otherwise she would have come off in a heap immediately. Instead she shifted into his mad gallop and began fiddling with the bit, trying to wriggle it from between his teeth. Murmuring softly to the colt Jo saw him flick his ears, listening to her as they cleared the ridge.
Dynamite began to slow as they reached the flat, treeless grazing plain. Jo almost took the bit off him when Steve and his palomino gelding, Honey, galloped up beside them, Steve intent on being the hero and rescuing his sister. Jo rolled her eyes as she had been riding just as long as her brother and was about to turn and tell him this when she felt Dynamite change. Jo swore that she heard the cogs in the colts brain snap as he accelerated forward at the speed of sound it felt like. Suddenly he transformed, his neat little ears snapped back, his wide nostrils flared in a massive lungful as Jo felt his stride lengthen and stretch out. In all her years of riding she had never felt a horse take off underneath her like that. He flew. It looked as if a falcon had lent him wings and he flew.
At a flat out gallop he roared across the plains, through the yellow dry grass the dust flying from his pounding hooves. But as Jo clutched the reins she realised with surprise that unlike before he did not bolt out of fear, the bit between his teeth. He raced in perfect control. Honey coming up behind him awakened an instinct that racehorse breeders could only dream of passing on to their foals; an instinct to run, fly, and leave the other horse so far behind him it seemed like Honey stood still. As the drying creek neared, Jo leaned back on the reins, the colt slowing to a canter, and then a trot came to a halt. Jo turned and looked at her twin. Despite being an almost a mile’s distance across the flat plain the look of awe and surprise seemed clear.
They met half way across the paddock and for once her brother stood entirely speechless. Jo then spotted the tall, sapling-like figure of Mick and hunched over figure of Grandpa through the trees, coming over the ridge. Steve and Jo rode toward them in silence. Rarely speechless Steve looked blown away. Grandpa Bob stroked the colt’s nose.
“I haven’t seen a runner like that since Phar Lap in the Cup,” he murmured.
A bit later, as Jo hosed down Dynamite’s shiny red coat her Grandfather began a tale she had never heard before. “I was not always a cattle farmer you know.”
Mick stopped shovelling the manure and leaned on his spade. Steve plopped down on the hay bale he off loaded from the truck. “When I was a young lad in the 50’s all the way up to the late 80’s where I met your Nan I was surrounded by racehorses, first as a stable boy then as a track rider then later as a trainer. Before that so was my father who worked at Flemington in the early days before he retired here after winning big.”
Jo blinked in surprise and turned off the hose. “You never told us that.”
The old man sighed deeply. “Of course not, that’s how I lost your Nan and ended up raising your Dad and your aunties and uncles just like your Dad had to raise you. Your Nan was a track rider. One day her horse spooked, turned and ran the wrong way and crashed dead on into another horse. I saw the whole thing happen, she was only 32 years old and looked just like you Jo, with that free look in her eyes just like you,” Grandpa Bob said fondly. Jo heard Nan had died tragically young but never knew the circumstances.
Mick wandered over and joined Steve on the hay bale. Dynamite stood quietly, his fire red coat dripping wet had changed it to blood red, his mane tousled. The wind blew softly through the trees and somewhere down the paddock a cow mooed. “In those sixteen years that your Nan and I co-trained and she rode horses for some of the great trainers like the Harlow Family and the truly great Tony Wormwood, trainer of four Melbourne Cup winners I saw and trained some of the greats. Rising Fast was the first great I saw as a lad followed by Think Big and Rain Lover; it takes special horses to win back-to-back Melbourne Cups. Then today I saw Dynamite race. He wasn’t bolting, he saw Honey and saw it as the opposition and my word he flew better than so many racehorses I’ve seen who simply don’t have the heart. I think he has potential.”
Jo looked stunned. She had never really known, or asked for that matter about her Grandfather’s past. But for her grandfather, who knew so much about racehorses to pin such a label on her little nuisance colt that could be sold if he wasn’t rideable when her father returned felt almost heart stopping. Looking into Grandpa Bob’s grey, watery eyes, she asked the million-dollar question. “So what do we do?”
The old man, dug a wrinkly hand into his pocket and dug a leaflet out his pocket. Jo accepted it and looked at the crinkled pink piece of paper. JINADYNE PICNIC RACES stood out in bold. Jo had attended the races before when times were easier. It seemed like more fun than anything. The blokes came to drink and pick up the sheilas in their frilly dresses, not that Jo ever dressed up anyway. She looked at her colt and as if he knew the attention focused on him he looked back with his big liquid eyes. If Grandpa Bob was right it would prove him so. “What’s the purse?” Jo asked distantly.
“$5,400. It would pay off the some of the debts and have a bit to repair the tractor to put feed in the bottom paddock,” the old man replied, “It would be a good race, easy, no handicapping with minimal competition, mostly stock horses and their semi-sozzled riders.”
“What’s the entry fee?” Mick piped up, swatting away the flies with his akubra.
“$450. I know at the moment that’s a lot but I have some stashed away,” Grandpa muttered.
“I have a bit that I won from last years races,” Mick added.
Jo shook her head. “Dad would go troppo. He would not let me race and I doubt either of you two could handle Dynamite.”
Mick and Steve shared sly looks. “Well he doesn’t have to know does he?”
sorry its so darn long lol