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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2321457-Run-for-the-Roses-Chapter-1
by Zeke
Rated: E · Novel · Drama · #2321457
A girl, a trainer, and a jockey defy all odds to win the Kentucky Derby.
PROLOGUE

Each year, twenty thousand thoroughbreds are foaled in the United States. Of these, about a third of them make it to the track by age three; of those, only a quarter will ever win a race. And if they're good enough and lucky enough, twenty will go to Louisville, Kentucky, on the first Saturday in May. But only one will wear the roses. This is the story of one such horse.


CHAPTER 1

Windshield wipers work overtime as torrential rain pounds down in blinding sheets, creating a chaotic symphony that makes it nearly impossible for Abie Brimwell to see as she anxiously waits at a red light. A fleeting smile of reassurance crosses her face as she glances at the heart-shaped photo of her nine-year-old daughter Lauren hanging from the rearview mirror.

The light turns green. Abie cautiously glances both ways before slowly easing into the intersection.

Suddenly, a deafening horn blasts through the storm as the piercing headlights of an eighteen-wheeler materialize out of nowhere, hurtling towards Abie's car with alarming speed. In a split second, the massive truck slams into Abie's vehicle with bone-shattering force, sending shards of metal flying and shattering the peaceful night into chaos.

* * *

Pots and pans clang from the kitchen, jolting Shag Brimwell awake from his nightmarish abyss. The terror of the images linger in his mind like a specter haunting him. A hundred times he has suffered through his torment, and a hundred more will torment him.

Unshaven and unkempt, he lies draped across a tattered easy chair in a threadbare robe surrounded by shelves filled with dusty horse racing trophies and faded photographs of past victories amidst empty Budweiser cans and Jack Daniels bottles. A Laurel and Hardy short plays on the TV.

“Shag, breakfast!” Lauren calls from the kitchen.

Shag quickly shuts his eyes.

Footsteps creak across the wooden floor. The TV switches off with a click.

Shag cranks open an eye to see his perky yet independent-minded brown-haired niece, Lauren Brimwell before him, menacingly holding a spatula in one hand. Her eyes narrow in determination.

“Shag, I got biscuits and gravy in the kitchen, your clothes laid out on the bed, and the auction starts in two hours. So get your butt cracking.”

Shag yawns. “Too late. Butt's already cracked.” Turns to go back to sleep.

Lauren whacks Shag on the stomach with the spatula.

“Dang it, Lauren. That hurt.”

“Next one'll be harder... and lower. Now git movin'.”

As Lauren returns to the kitchen, Shag unfolds his lanky form from the chair. His mismatched socks drag across the floor as he shuffles down the hallway to his bedroom. Pushing the door open, he finds a neatly made bed with clothes carefully laid out on top. Cringes when he spots a red tie lying amongst the other garments like a beacon calling out to him.

“And you're wearing the tie!” Lauren calls out.

As the morning mist burns away, Shag's aged pickup, with a rusted horse trailer in tow, creaks and groans down a two-lane highway lined with trees ablaze in a vibrant display of autumn colors. Inside, Lauren cradles a handful of delicate Blue Eyed Mary wildflowers in her lap, glowers at Shag with the red tie wrapped haphazardly around his head.

The pickup slows to a stop at a light. As they wait, Shag’s eyes can’t help but wander to the "Sold to John Henry Johnson Investments" sign across the road. The image of John Henry Johnson, flashing his sharp-toothed grin and donning his pricey black Stetson, reminds him of missed opportunities and unrealized dreams. Perhaps it was time for a change, but that thought, as always, leaves him feeling uneasy and uncertain.

A car horn snaps Shag back to reality as a group of young coeds pull alongside in a sleek, cherry red Corvette convertible with the top down. They erupt into laughter at the sight of Shag and his tie. Shag flashes a smile and playfully winks at the girls through the window, his charm radiating with every move. His smile quickly evaporates as he turns back to Lauren who, with one eyebrow raised, glares her disapproval.

“You ever gonna grow up?” she asks.

“Tried for ten minutes," Shag chortles. "Ain’t fun.”

The light turns green. The coeds enthusiastically wave as they accelerate away. Up for the chase, Shag punches the accelerator. The pickup lurches forward with a loud roar, then backfires and sputters to a stop as if protesting against the sudden burst of energy.

Shag slams his hand against the steering wheel. “Jesus Luisa!”

Shag looks over to Lauren, her lips slightly puckered in a mischievous smirk.

She grins. “Oops! Did I just roll my eyes out loud?”

“Funny,” Shag says with a sarcastic smirk.

Shag turns the key and pumps the accelerator. After a few attempts, the engine roars to life. The old pickup truck shutters and lurches forward as it struggles down the highway.

As they continue, the truck rumbles past sprawling ranches that seem to go on forever. Horses dot the landscape, their coats shimmering in the warm rays of the morning sun as they lazily graze in lush fields of Kentucky Bluegrass. Shag smolders with resentment as they pass yet another ranch with a sold to John Henry Investments sign out front. "It ain't right," he mutters to himself, knowing that soon enough, every inch of land in the county would belong to John Henry.

"What?" Lauren says.

"Huh?" Shag looks over at Lauren. “Nothing... What's dem flowers for?”

“I'm takin' them to my mama.”

“Today?”

“Yes. Today!”

Shag rolls his eyes.

“Dang it all, Shag! She's my mama. And on top of that...” Lauren whacks Shag with the flowers. “… today’s my fricken’ birthday!”

Shag's face contorts into a pained expression.

Lauren goes wild-eyed. “Oh... My... God... You forgot my birthday... Again!”

Shag opens his mouth to defend himself.

Lauren gives him the hand. “Don’t.”

As they ride in silence, Shag’s forehead furrows and his lips pucker into a tight frown as he mentally scolds himself. Although she tries to mask it, he can see the disappointment etched across Lauren's face, filling him with a pang of guilt and remorse. How could he have forgotten such an important day? Again. Suddenly, his idea light flashes bright.

He breaks into song. “Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday dear…”

Lauren scowls at him. “Oh, shut up.”

Shag's stomach twists in knots as he turns into a parking lot, passing a sign that reads "FASIG-TIPTON OCTOBER HORSE SALE". He slides the pickup between a Mercedes and a Tesla, shuts off the engine, and waits, unsure if he wants to exit the safety of the truck. It wasn't like the old days when he was the center of attention. Now, with each passing year, he can't shake the feeling of being out of place among the wealthy buyers and their prized horses. It was both a reminder of his past glories and a harsh reality check of his current circumstances.

Lauren opens her door. She pauses for a moment and glances back at Shag. “You coming?”

"In a sec," Shag replies, his eyes fixated out the window.

Lauren closes her door. Waits.

Shag looks over. "Go on now," he says, motioning for her to leave.

"I'll wait," Lauren insists.

"I'm fine. Go on," Shag repeats, his tone more urgent.

Lauren raises an eyebrow as she sizes him up. "I gotta make a phone call, OK?" Shag adds hastily.

With pinched lips, Lauren reluctantly gets out of the car and walks away. As soon as she's out of sight, Shag reaches down and retrieves a flask from under the seat. Rising back up, he takes a swig before suddenly coming face-to-face with Lauren standing before the truck. Arms crossed, her angry glaze slowly transforms into a look of disappointment and hurt.

Unfazed, Shag nonchalantly shrugs his shoulders, takes another swig before stashing the flask back under the seat. Exiting the truck with a forceful slam, the alarm blares in response.

Lauren's cheeks flush with embarrassment as she and the rest of the people watch Shag fumble to punch in the code on the key chain, his large hands clumsy and awkward, cursing with every failed attempt. Finally, Lauren can take no more. She snatches the chain from Shag and in a split-second, shuts off the blaring alarm.

“You ever gonna fix that?” Lauren asks with a hint of sarcasm.

“Someday,” Shag says as he snatches the keys back.

“I still can’t find that day on my calendar,” Lauren calls out as Shag walks off.

Once inside, Shag stands out like a worn pair of brown shoes among the sea of Stetson-wearing, big-buckled horsemen. All the top players are here, and anyone who isn't deemed a "somebody" is considered irrelevant.

Shag stands off to the side on his cell phone. "Jock, there's some top-notch horseflesh here," his voice laced with excitement. "Toss me a few bucks, and I'll snag us a winner."

"Us?" Jock replies dryly on the other end.

"You can't expect me to get a horse worth a darn for twenty grand," Shag pleads.

"Used to," Jock answers.

Shag sarcastically mocks Jock’s words.

"You know, getting back on that horse is more than just a figure of speech," Jock chides, "Twenty grand and not a penny more. Now, let me talk to my granddaughter."

Frustrated, Shag scans the bustling arena, spots Lauren across the way, admiring a stunning white horse. He calls out, "Lauren!"

Lauren looks over.

Shag holds up the phone. “Your grandpa!”

Lauren rushes over and grabs the cell. "Hey, Gramps... Uh-huh... Uh-huh... Birthday present?" She shoots a glare at Shag. "No, he forgot... Again."

Shag shakes his head. Mutters under his breath as he walks off. Stumbles upon a bar where a bartender wordlessly slides a napkin across the counter.

“Beer me,” Shag says.

To which the bartender quickly complies.

As he takes a long sip of his beer, Shag's eyes linger on a wooden plaque behind the bar listing past Kentucky Derby winners. A pang of envy courses through his veins when he comes to the name Haley's Comet, a cruel reminder of an opportunity lost that he knows will never come again.
"Well, well, well. If it isn't Ol' Shag Brimwell.”

A hand slaps Shag on the back mid-sip. He has to gulp just to keep it from going everywhere.
Shag turns to come face-to-face with pompous John Henry Johnson along with his posse of cronies, all attired in their expensive black Stetsons and JHJ monogrammed shirts.

“John Henry Johnson”, Shag mutters.

"Thought that was you barking across the hall," John Henry says, slinging an arm around Shag's shoulder. "How's the patron saint of the twenty-five hundred dollar claimers?"

John Henry pats Shag down like a cop. "Just checking. Remember, no syringes around the horses.”

Feeling the barb, Shag remains stoic.

"See, boys," John Henry continues. "Old Shag here used to be at the top of the food chain. 'Til he got caught doping a horse." He gives Shag another pat on the chest. "Ain't that right, Shag?"

“I didn’t dope no—,” Shag starts.

John Henry cuts him off. "Poor thing broke down on the clubhouse turn. Jockey busted her leg so bad she never rode again.” He rubs his chin. “Remind me again, Shag. What was that gal's name? Becker, that's it.”

Shag's jaw tightens as he shoots John Henry a heated glare. Memories of the tragic event still weigh heavily on his mind.

Shag chuckles. “Boys, your boss here. Ruined more good horse flesh than I can count on all y'alls fingers and toes together. Run them so hard at two; by the time they were three, you couldn't ah sold them for dog food.” He slaps John Henry on the back with a force that nearly knocks the wind out of him. "Maybe that's why he's never won the Derby."

John Henry stiffens, steps up to Shag, their faces inches apart. "Least I don’t dope my horses," he seethes.

"I didn't dope no horse," Shag says, his eyes narrowing.

"Racing commission thought different. After that, Ol' Shag couldn't land a one-eyed mule to train." He pulls Shag closer, their breaths mingling in the heated exchange. "And don't talk to me about running horses into the ground... Unless you want to talk about Senior Smoke."

Toe to toe, their intense glares hold a silent, prideful competition of power and dominance, each man refusing to back down from the other.

"Shag... Shag," Lauren’s excited cry echoes through the arena as she breathlessly bounds up. "I found one. I found me a horse."

The standoff diffuses as all eyes turn to Lauren.

“Hey there, Sugarplum,” John Henry pats Lauren on the head.

Lauren rolls her eyes in mock annoyance. “Hey there, butt breath.”

John Henry’s smile quickly evaporates, “Just like her mom.”

"Yeah... She hated you too,” Shag adds.

“Look,” Lauren thrusts a brochure into Shag's hand. Her eyes shining with excitement, she points eagerly, "Right there. Hip 1018."

Shag studies the brochure. “Jock don’t like no fillies.”

"Makes no difference what Gramps likes,” Lauren says, crossing her arms.

"He pays the bills... 'member.” Shag counters.

Lauren, undetermined, digs into her back pocket and pulls out a crumpled sheet of manila paper which she hands to Shag.

"What's this?” Shag says.

"It's a contract,” Lauren replies. “You and Gramps signed it. Says when I turn thirteen, I get to pick the horse.”

Shag scoffs. “It's in crayon for Pete’s sake.”

"Makes no never mind,” Lauren insists. “It’s a contract.”

“Looks like she's got you there.” John Henry chuckles along with his cronies.

“Shut up!” Shag and Lauren respond in unison.

Shag hands Lauren back the paper. “This don’t mean nothin’.”

Lauren takes the paper. Smoothing out the wrinkles, she counters. “Does so. It's dated and signed, making it a legally binding contract by all parties hereto with.”

"Hereto what?” Shag says with a puzzled expression. “Where'd you learn that fancy lawyer talk?”

"On the internet,” Lauren replies. “One of them lawyer sites.”

Shag scratches his head. “Internet?”

"Yeah. You know you can use it for more than looking at women's boobies.” Lauren retorts sarcastically.

Shag goes big-eyed. “Jesus Louisa.” Rushes off as John Henry and his cronies fall out in laughter.

Lauren looks back at them. “What are y'all laughing at? Y'all know y'all do it too.”
The men shuffle their feet in the dirt and avert their eyes from Lauren’s stern gaze.

With a huff, Lauren scampers off after Shag.

With a bag of sunflower seeds clutched in her hand, Lauren steps into the charged and electric atmosphere of the auction arena. The entire space pulses with energy as a sleek and muscular chestnut colt stands tall, its glossy coat shimmering beneath the bright lights. The scent of hay and anticipation fills the air as an auctioneer's voice booms through the room, skillfully enticing bidders to raise their paddles for the prized horse. Runners move swiftly up and down the aisles, confirming each new bid with a nod or a wave of the hand.

"Yo!" A runner cries out as Lauren watches him race across the room to where John Henry and his cronies sit. The auctioneer points his gavel their way. “I have three-fifty. Do I hear three seventy-five… three seventy-five.”

As the bidding continues, Lauren’s eyes search the arena. Spotting Shag sitting alone in a secluded corner of the arena across the way, she spits a seed and joins him.

“Want some?” Lauren offers up the sunflower seeds.

Shag holds out his hand. Lauren pours him a handful of seeds as they watch the auction. For her, living with Shag for the past five years has been a wild rollercoaster ride. Yet through all the ups and downs, there has always been one constant - their love for auctions.

“Sold! The auctioneer slams his gavel. “To Mr. John Henry Johnson for five hundred fifty thousand. Thank you, John Henry.”

John Henry tips his Stetson to a smattering of applause.

“Man’s gotta have a money-making machine,” Shag mutters.

“You know we’re nillionaires?” Lauren says.

Shag warily looks over.

“You know, Shag. Nillionaires,” Lauren spits a seed. “People with no money.”

Shag chuckles. Looks out over the arena, then back at Lauren. “Say. How come you call me Shag and not Uncle Shag? You call Jock, Gramps. You call my sister Aunt Kaye.”

“Maybe when you start acting like an uncle... You know,” Lauren spits a seed. “Like remembering my birthday.”

Shag looks away and shakes his head.

"Don’t worry. I'll get over it,” Lauren offers up more sunflower seeds. “I just need to be dramatic first." She jumps to her feet as the white horse is led into the ring, dumping the seeds everywhere. “There she is, Shag. There she is! Isn't she beautiful?”

"She sure is white,” Shag says, brushing the seeds off his pants.

"She's like an angel,” Lauren beams.

The auctioneer's gavel pounds against the wooden podium, the sharp sound echoing through the arena. “Now up, Hip 1018. A two-year-old filly by T-Bear out of the filly Muv. We will start the bidding at five thousand.”

A white-haired man who closely resembles Colonel Sanders raises his paddle.

“Five thousand,” the auctioneer announces, scanning the crowd for further bids. "Do I hear six?" A painted woman in her sixties, trying desperately to look thirty and failing miserably, raises her paddle.

"We have six," the auctioneer continues. "Do I hear..." Before he can finish, Colonel Sanders raises his paddle confidently. "Seven," the auctioneer announces. "We now have seven. Do I hear eight? Eight thousand? Eight thousand?"

As the bidding continues, Lauren glances over to Shag and nudges him with her elbow, "What are you waiting for? Bid."

Shag sits motionless, his face a stony mask.

"Shag, come on. Bid!"

Unmoving, Shag stares straight ahead.

“Shag, bid!” Lauren pleads, her tone tinged with frustration and desperation.

Shag shakes his head and looks away.

“Shag... Shag!” Lauren's voice rises in exasperation.

Shag throws his hands in the air. “Dang it, Lauren. The horse is buck-kneed.”

“You're "buck-kneed. Now bid!” Lauren's tone is sharp and demanding, her patience wearing thin.

Shag hesitates. "Jock 'll kill me if I buy that--” he starts.

Without warning, Lauren snatches the bidding paddle from his hand and thrusts it into the air.

The bidding stops as a hush falls over the arena. All heads turn to Shag and Lauren.
"I'm sorry, sir. Are you bidding?" the auctioneer asks with a hint of amusement in his voice.

The crowd chuckles as a beat-red, pinch-lipped Shag nods.

“We have twelve thousand,” The auctioneer goes on. “Do I hear thirteen? Thirteen anyone.”

Shag grabs the paddle back from Lauren.

Across the way, John Henry's sharp eyes scan the scene with a playful glint. With a sly grin, he nudges one of his cronies. "Betcha ol’ Jock's got him on a tight rope. What say we have a little fun with my old buddy Shag.” John Henry raises his paddle.

"We have thirteen,” the auctioneer calls out. “Do I hear fourteen?”

John Henry smirks at Shag, who lets out a defeated groan.

"What?” Lauren leans in to ask.

"Nothin'," Shag mutters dejectedly, weakly waving his paddle in resignation.

“Fourteen. Fourteen.” The auctioneer points at Shag, igniting a heated bidding war between him and John Henry until the latter boldly bids twenty-one thousand dollars.

"I have twenty-one,” the auctioneer announces, turning to Shag expectantly. “Do I hear twenty-two?"

Shag says nothing.

“Shag?” Lauren says.

Shags cheeks bulge.

“Shag... Come on. Bid.” Lauren urges, reaching for the paddle

Shag jerks the paddle away.

“What are you doing?” Lauren asks in disbelief.

“I have twenty-one going once.” the auctioneer calls out.

“Shag. Bid!” Lauren begs.

“Twenty-one going twice.” The auctioneer raises his gavel.

“Shag, Shag,” Lauren screams." Uncle!”

“The heck with it.” Shag thrust his paddle in the air.

"Twenty-two. We have twenty-two.” the auctioneer says.

"There's the noose. Now let's give him a little more rope to hang himself.” John Henry nonchalantly raises his paddle, and the bidding war enters round two until Shag bids thirty-two thousand. "That ought to do it.’ John Henry smirks.

"Going once, going twice,” the Auctioneer slams his gavel. "Sold! For thirty-two thousand dollars to Mr. Shug Brumhall.”

Lauren screams as she rushes off to see her horse.

With a smirk, John Henry Shag tips his Stetson Shag’s way.

“I'm so dead,” Shag mutters to himself.





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