Nobody said the obvious—that there was still half a mile left in the race—because the way the filly was moving, nobody thought it would make any difference.
Behind Ruffian, the next three horses were heads apart. Suzest began to draw away from Precious Elaine and Great Grandma Rose; the speedy first quarter had wasted them. But it was no longer a horse race, not really. Vasquez had Ruffian under tight control, but she poured out over the track like water, like a river overflowing its banks. They were five lengths ahead after the first half mile, and Vasquez could feel her aching to run. Eight lengths at the top of the stretch, still under a big hold. He glanced over his shoulder. They were alone now, she was flying down the stretch. She owned the track, with her long flowing stride, and he hadn't even asked her for anything yet. He was holding her back, his hands low on her neck; she could just coast on in, she had destroyed the field. And then Vasquez heard a noise from the crowd, a wave of sound rising off to his right. Maybe something was coming, he thought, though he knew this was not so. Maybe he ought to use the whip—just once, just in case. He knew he shouldn't, Mr. Whiteley would kill him, but he couldn't resist, like a child sneaking cookies, just once, one test—there! So quick, with the whip in his right hand, just once, on her belly. Later the films were mangled so there was no complete record of this race; the announcer never saw it and the trackman missed it and none of the reporters noticed—they'd all swear he never touched her—and yet, just once, he had to find out, just once, just hard enough to ask the question, and—yes!—she accelerated instantaneously, effortlessly, not with anger or indignation or fear, but with the pure joy of someone who has been waiting to be asked, who has been waiting a lifetime for just this moment. She simply kicked into another gear and pulled even farther ahead. You blinked your eyes and she was in front by 10 lengths and then by 12 and you didn't understand how it was possible—she was going so easy, there was no sign of effort on her part. And then 13 and you were shouting, and then 14 and you felt a shiver up your spine, and then 15 as she crossed the finish line! Fifteen lengths in front! Ruffian had broken her maiden first time out, and that was the correct time on the tote board—1:03 flat. She had tied the track record! A 2-year-old, a filly, in her first race, under restraint, had tied the track record for 5½ furlongs. The crowd was on its feet; even the losers were cheering for Ruffian.
In the jockeys' quarters, those riders who hadn't raced had crowded around the rec-room TV. Now they started talking excitedly, half of them collaring their agents, plans to submarine Vasquez dancing in their heads. This was a horse with a future, they thought, and they wanted that mount for themselves.
Bracciale didn't join in the chatter. Not just because he was friends with Vasquez, or because he knew that Whiteley never listened to the agents anyway—half the time he didn't even let them in the barn. But that was not why Bracciale was so quiet. He had been around horses all his life, since he was in diapers—raised in a trailer while his dad was riding at Charles Town. W.Va. Respect for horses was in his blood, and he knew that he had just witnessed one of the great ones. He felt proud, privileged almost, to have seen something as beautiful as that filly's first race, and he could tell that there were other riders in the room who felt the same way. He didn't say anything because there was nothing to be said. He ran his hands over his well-muscled arms. They were covered with goosebumps.
Vasquez jogged Ruffian back to the winner's circle. She was not even breathing heavily and there was still no sweat on her huge frame. She looked around, curious, her ears flicking at the noises from the crowd, as if to say, Let's do it again. I had a good time.
Massey met them in front of the gap. He slipped on the shank, and Stuart Janney led her into the enclosure, where the obligatory photo was taken. Vasquez jumped off, undid her girth, and grabbed the saddle to weigh in. Massey led her off, looking slightly stunned. Not that she'd won—that didn't surprise him—but the way she'd done it, the power of it, her assurance. She tossed her head, fanned her nostrils, still pumped up, excited from the race. Massey would be extra careful, for he knew it might take a day or so for her to wind down completely from this trip.
Whiteley and Vasquez followed them back through the tunnel, studying the filly's legs. She seemed fine. Her motion was the same as always: she lifted and placed her small hooves gracefully, as if there were only one precise spot where each belonged, not a half inch to the left or right, but here, and here, and here, and here. No sign of her favoring one leg, nor any sign of soreness. Whiteley was relieved.
Then he gave Vasquez a look, and the jock knew he was going to catch hell. But not now; later, in private. Now they walked in silence, lost in thought, for unspoken between them had come a dream: the once-in-a-lifetime horse, the horse who changes everything.
"Hey, Mr. Whiteley!" a reporter called out, interrupting the moment. "You got anything else like that back at your barn?"
"I hope not," he replied. "It'd scare the hell out of me if I had another one."