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In caring for Chas after his big victory, Stubbs moved about with worker-ant efficiency, first wielding a pitchfork, then the brushes and rags, then moving to the feed bin and back. He forked the wet bedding and droppings from the stall, spread out fresh flakes of straw, then grabbed a handful of straw and wiped it briskly across Chas's back and shoulders. Now on his knees, Stubbs toweled off the horse's legs. Moments later he was back on his feet, a brush in each hand, flicking the bristles down the chestnut's neck, shoulders and back, moving his hands in quick figure eights, one brush following the other along the coat. The horse danced sideways into him, then came to attention when Stubbs scolded, "Come on over here! Don't step on me."
Stubbs tossed the brushes to the side, picked up a can of mud caulk and packed a scoop of it on the bottom of each of the gelding's feet. "This drains out any heat caused by the pounding," he said. He fetched a bottle of rubbing alcohol and, dropping again to his knees, splashed it on the chestnut's front legs. Stubbs massaged the alcohol in, his hands kneading the cannon bones. The legs were now ready for the artwork. From Chas's ankles to his knees, the groom slowly, meticulously applied a gray medicated poultice. He looked like a sculptor at work.
"This drains the soreness out of his leg, if there is any," said Stubbs. "Just a precaution. He was just a tick off the track record today. Must be workin'."
That done, Stubbs wrapped each front leg with sheets of cotton, again with tedious care, and then he rolled cotton bandage over the sheets, fastening it with safety pins. "Racehorses been good to me," he said. "I've had a lot of luck in my life grooming horses. I don't mind putting in the time. Put in the time and you always get something out of it. Hey, don't bite me!"
It was just past 6 p.m., 12 hours after the groom's day had begun. Outside, it grew cold and dark as Stubbs kept on working. Now he pulled the horse's head down, forced open a flickering eyelid and blew a quick jet of air into the eye. "That gets the dirt out," he said. Five minutes later, he filled a rope hayrack in the feed bin, slung it over his shoulder and lugged it to the horse's stall. The groom tied it to the outer door. Chas attacked the hay, swallowing it in gulps. "They need someone to take care of 'em," said Stubbs. "That's what I do. It's a responsibility. I have no regrets. I put my son through three years of college. The horses paid for the oxygen for my mother-in-law before she passed. They have kept me and my wife all these years."
Stubbs was nearly finished now. He began preparing the gourmet meal. Into a large tub he poured six quarts of oats, a quart of sweet feed, a half cup of bran, two ounces of salt and 1½ ounces of flaxseed. "The flax makes their coats shiny," he said. To that concoction he added three squirts of Redglo, a liquid vitamin supplement; three gurgles of molasses; and three quarts of hot water. Stubbs stirred the mixture with a hand. The young horse raised his head as the groom carried the meal to the stall.
"My son asked me if he could work on the racetrack, and I said, 'No way!' " Stubbs said. "I wouldn't recommend it. But if I had it to do over again, I'd be right with the horses. There was always something about them that I loved. I love what I do. I'm still lookin' for the big horse, the Derby horse. Maybe someday. Be a bricklayer? A carpenter? They can have that. Gimme my brushes, my towels, my horses. And here I am."