Show: 2018 The Kentucky Derby
Horse: AS Foxfire
Jockey: Amalie McKenzie
Stables: Antrium Stables
Extra: Training for the Triple Crown
- Little Bonus: Pre-Race Jitters
Horses featured (left to right):LHR Proletarian
, SS Young Scrappy and Hungry
, MSR Wild Red Skies
, FP Shadow Fox
Usually when Amalie visited Kentucky the heat could sour her mood quickly; there was nothing worse than working with horses while in the heat with bare skin being torn on leather. Scotland might be cool, temperature and otherwise, but it was also a proponent of that particular crime, if it was hot Amalie didn’t like it and it didn’t matter what country she was in. The fact that she had taken a huge risk and entered Fox into the 2018 Triple Crown, adding stress onto her already considerably busy plate, was hardly going to help the matter.
Yet it seemed some of the racing world gods had taken pity on her as the weather was mild if not perfect for a Scot. It never reached close to 20.C and since she was oftentimes working up a sweat with her horse and tasks associated with such it was actually quite pleasant to work with. She couldn’t have asked for better conditions for such an important race, though she confessed she did find no small amount of amusement in watching the other jockeys bundled up in jumpers and hoodies while she happily paraded around in T-shirts and thin blouses.
“You sure you’re not cold?” Harley had asked one time they’d found time in between their busy schedules of race prep.
“Not at all - and you’re hardly complaining, mister, that I’m wearing fitting shirts instead of being buried under thick hoodies.”
Freya had teased her endlessly about her new confidence boosts being on and off track - and it was true. Amalie remembered the first time she signed the name of an Antrium horse on the nomination for one of the big annual races, Epona had been the mare of choice back then, and she also remembered how nervous she was. Raised with a ‘First or Bust’ type of attitude, going up again big-names was terrifying. Heck, back in the day she was intimidated by Triton - Triton! The same huge dork of a stallion that enjoyed hitting her on the head and causing her to shrink an extra few inches! - an intimidation that was quickly snuffed out the more she got to know him - and his rider.
Still, she’d been warned against having her newfound confidence turn into arrogance. It was something Sou had mentioned briefly in passing but everyone who knew her knew of what had caused her to loose that infamous leg. If Sou was warning you about arrogance it was time to reel in the confidence.
Yet Amalie couldn’t help but feel good about the upcoming races. Sure, there had been a lot of things getting in the way but even then she didn’t feel pessimistic about it in the least. Her horse was more nervous than she was.
Amalie was sitting in her hotel room when Freya called her, telling her it was time to get ready to leave. Knowing she’d follow soon, Freya went on ahead, leaving Amalie to gather her thoughts. Amalie always had a picture of her father with her for big races like this, whether that be a little portrait stuck in her purse or one saved to her phones album, she always had one. She would feel, then, as though he were taking part in these races, as though he could somehow carry her through.
It was John McKenzie that raced and trained with a ‘First or Bust’ attitude. He was a great man, the best father, but that mentality had robbed her of many things, this she was now starting to achieve. She didn’t let on, but she knew exactly why she wasn’t nervous, why she was so confident: she no longer craved first place. That was definitely Harley’s influence, always so happy with any placing at all, always happy with everything, in truth. She’d be furiously disappointed with herself for a second place, she used to feel like such a failure when Epona kept falling short of a maiden and thus kept being held back from other, bigger, races. Obviously she wasn’t completely cured of what could be called the ‘McKenzie Attitude’, that was mad obvious by how desperate she’d been for Fox to maiden back at Devils Knight Downs but now that he’d gotten a foot (hoof?) in the door she wasn’t as fixated on it.
And she loved it.
Everything had become so much more enjoyable, the training, the prep, the travel, the adrenaline during the race, everything was now fun for her. It used to be an obsession, a need, a job that was too stressful, to constricting was now fun and exciting. She had friends and loved ones who enjoyed it the same way she did and she wouldn’t change anything for the world.
“Sorry, Papa, I can’t promise a first place anymore but I can promise I’ll love every minute.” With that she jumped off the bed and jogged out to catch up with Freya.
Outside, having mounted a freshly cleaned and readied Fox and being leg out to the starting gates, Amalie actually found it a little jarring how bright it still was. Not even a month ago the sun was setting by 5:30pm and yet now, at nearly six, it was still bright, if starting to wane a little with the evening. Fox didn’t appreciate her attention being anywhere but him and started nodding his head, yanking on the reins.
“Seriously, enough, laddie.” She chided, giving him the light whack on the ears that always served to make him behave. She gave a little squeak in protest and Amalie laughed, lightly scratching along his neck. “You’re right antsy today, aren’t you? Well, it is a big day, so let’s see you give your all, eh?” She told him easily.
Fox wasn’t finding anything easy.
He could feel the buzz in the air and he could hardly keep still. He’d been so sure he was too young for this, his Father told him most horses were older before they faced their first Triple Crown - that’s if they even made it at all! Many horses, his Father included, never even saw a Triple Crown Race! Let alone all three!
“I’m not ready for this,” Fox stated to his little companion, nervously chewing on the bit as he was led towards the track.
“Yer fine an’ ready and ya know it.” Percy said, stamping his foot, fed up with Fox’s anxious babbling.
“The Triple Crown, Percy! That’s one of the biggest racing events of the year! N-no, THE biggest! Oh god’s, why am I here?!”
“Because you earned it! Stop bellyaching!” He snapped, rearing a little to try get some height. “You’ve as much right as everyone else to me here - even more! Just look at yourself! You’re not some spindly yearling anymore! Those are powerful muscles, damn it!” Percy kneed the white cold in the chest as he gave him his pep talk. “Your human is lookin’ hella chill and you’re shaking like a twig in a storm. Do you think she’d put you against horses that she thought could leave you in the dust?”
“No... no, she’d never.”
“Exactly. Now, true, these guys are tough, they’ve been training for this as hard as you and they all want a piece of the pie but you - You. Got. This! You’ve been given every opportunity so don’t waste it with unnecessary worrying!”
“But... but what if I don’t win? I’d have no chance at the Crown.”
“Then kick their asses in the next race and stop them getting it. Just don’t get last and I’ll be proud. Get last and I’ll rip your ear off, cos I’ll know you didn’t even try, got it?”
Ahh, the threats of bodily harm, so like Perseus.
“Got it.” Fox said with a smile, feeling more related.
“Good. Now, mine ye, don’t do anything stupid, you've ten furlongs to get through. Don’t charge to the front right away and tire yourself before the end, you did that at the White Blood Stable track and lost first by a nose. You’ve some crazy long legs and a stupid long stride, use it, and breathe, damn it! You’ve a stupid habit of holding your breath, in and out, in and out, here me? I’m not seeing those lungs work, I said breathe!”
Fox took some extra deep breathes, flaring his nostrils, until Percy was satisfied.
“Also, keep your legs beneath you, as I said you’ve a killer stride and that can get messy if you’re not careful, don’t want ya falling in a race like this. Your legs are spring loaded and strong, trust them to know what to do and focus and keeping pace, they’ll do the rest of the work.”
“Don’t get boxed in, these horses, they’re good, they’ll box you and keep you and you find it hard to make up for the ending stretch, you need to always keep some space for yourself. Your human knows this and will do what she can but don’t just ignore your surroundings, some of these guys could pull tricks.”
“Got it, boss.”
“That’s my brother, now get out there!”
Fox grinned, feeling much better and trotted off happily to kick ass on track.
Reference: Horse Painting - Man O' War by Don Langeneckert (fineartamerica.com/featured/ma…
Various photos of Churchill Downs