Smiley’s Victory

The starter closes the back of the gate the moment she goes in. Claiming horses, non-winners of two races, ever. For $3,500 you can buy any animal in the race. Six furlongs, three-quarters of a mile. She’s the last to load and the last to break when the bell rings.

Immediately she lugs in toward the rail. The nine other fillies and mares zoom down the backstretch, but Smiley’s Victory zig-zags the first forty yards before assuming a straight line. Diego Ramirez, a jockey with 42 years on the planet and 49 lifetime wins on the racetrack, has to tap her twice with the whip just to get the nine year-old focused on the horses in front of her. Gaining ground, she finds her stride and accelerates into the turn.

Something today is different from her last 35 starts: a rhythm, a determination. When a gap opens in the wall of horses ahead of her, she bolts for it without being asked. Her ears are turned now, her nostrils flaring.


He stopped writing because he didn’t want to kill the horse. He stopped writing because he knew she would take a bad step in the stretch and pitch forward, her right front leg broken just above the fetlock. She would piledrive into the dirt, breaking Diego Ramirez like a wishbone while drawing a gasp from the crowd. In the time it takes for the screen to be put up to shield the lethal injection, the railbirds would turn their attention back to their programs. The broken body of Diego Ramirez would load into the ambulance for a ride with no lights, no siren, with no one watching.

Who could cripple such a hard-luck jockey?

Who could kill such an earnest mare?

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