A blood test is mandatory for the winner, and now a veterinarian asks the question formally, as is required: "Has this horse had any drugs in the past 24 hours?"
Poston sighs and smiles wanly. "No," he says. "The horse is just fine. But Jim and I are borderline."
While the blood is being drawn, Novaloj is hand-fed fresh, chilled peaches. He munches them delicately, nibbling with care around the stone in each peach, while other eager helpers pour buckets of cold water over his neck and shoulders. He doesn't even flinch at the veterinarian's needle.
In the next 10 minutes ex-champions Grant and Cannon and Boomer come in; they had been closing fast, passing four teams in the five miles between the last checkpoint and the finish line. All three teammates are still full of fight.
More competitors come flowing in, and in the welcoming tumult, one plaintive common cry carries through the crowd: "Beer? Anybody got a cold beer? I'd kill for a beer. I won't trade my horse, but I'll trade my partner for a beer."
"Nice thing about this sport is that it doesn't take itself seriously," says Johns. "For one thing, it's the mix of competitors. We've got some terribly wealthy veterinarians and ranchers, and some poor folks, and some people who, as they say, play piano in a whorehouse. It's not highly publicized, like the Masters or the Derby. But, in a strange way, maybe that's what's so nice about it: The people who know, know."
And somewhere back there in the cloud of mountain dust—in 94th place to be exact—Roany Good Pony is still working out his hatreds. It's awfully hard to gallop and watch for helicopters at the same time.
Everybody swears that this has been the best race ever, a vintage year for Ride & Tie. And Johns allows that his growing sport may have reached a peak—from now on, 152 teams will probably be the limit. The winners this year will make off with cash prizes in various categories, from $5,800 down to $50, and there are certificates awarded for Levi's shirts and jeans and stuff. Some will get cowboy hats, and the winning team, boots. And every finisher gets a classy Levi's Ride & Tie belt buckle.
Well, everybody but the horses.
The winning horse and the best-conditioned horse will each win a Levi's denim horse blanket.