Aragon said, "Listen, a couple of riders have a personal beef with me, they call me a——. I don't appreciate that. I don't care what any of these guys thinks or says. It's a long season, and you're going to rub the wrong way against somebody. Little cliques are formed, riders will give their friends a shot in a race. I don't care about that. I don't want favors. I don't care about macho. I don't want them to change; I don't want them trying to change me. This is more than a job. If I had to go out there and just put in the time, if I wasn't learning, I think I'd quit and find something else to do."
Which, of course, is easier to say when you've got a future than when you don't. Aragon's future, however, would seem to depend on how well she rides that fine line Gary Stevens mentioned—that line between wanting to win a race and needing to whip another jockey. The quality that earns Aragon suspensions virtually everywhere she goes is the same quality that lifts her above ordinary riders, riders who can never find for themselves what she already has, because it is not inside them.
I am thinking now of Victor Mercado, but there will be someone like him wherever she goes.
Thirty-three years old, the program said, a native of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Of the 30 or so jockeys riding regularly at Longacres, he was close to the bottom in wins—17 for the whole year, only one of them in a stakes.
He had been at Longacres seven years, and if he was on the way to someplace better, there was no sign of it then. It wasn't that he lacked heart—Mercado is as aggressive as anybody—but jockeys like Vicky Aragon find something in the horse and in the race itself that he cannot touch.
Still, riding is more than a job to Mercado. It has to be, because he hardly makes any money.
"The first time she hit me," he said, "I don't pay no attention. Then she do it again. I say, 'Hey, what the matter with you?' I don't have no trouble with her before; I don't call her no names. Then I bump her and I never been printed so much in seven years. She been in a bad temperament when it happen. People write I pick on her; it make me embarrassed to hear that.
"She is very dedicated, and that is a beautiful thing in a lady. And she is very good. She win three, four times a day. I like to win that much in a week."
I look again at the film of the race. The jockeys are almost together around the turn, lying fourth and fifth. They ask their horses for something; the horses don't have it to give. He rides her out into the middle of the track, and somehow the race gets away from her. She feels it getting away, she feels the insult.
She goes after him with the whip. He turns in his saddle for half a second, holding his own whip in the air, as if to fight back, but then, as quickly as it happened, he leaves it. He is more used to insults, and turns his face back to the homestretch and resumes the chasing of horses he can never catch.