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Samantha Mclean brushed damp tendrils of red hair off her face and chewed her lip worriedly as she glanced down the row of stabling at Saratoga Race Course. The backside of the racetrack was bustling on that hot August morning. Grooms bathed and walked horses and cleaned tack. Trainers and owners discussed the morning's workouts: Wonder's Pride, the beautiful chestnut Thoroughbred that Samantha groomed, stuck his elegant head over the stall door behind Samantha and touched his velvet nose to her shoulder. " No sign of them yet, boy," she said, giving his head an affectionate rub.
At that moment Pride's half-owner and trainer, Ashleigh Griffen, and her husband, Mike Reese, were attending a stewards' inquiry into the running of the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap, which Pride had won a few days before. Samantha was worried about the outcome. Ashleigh had lodged a protest against BradTownsend, son of the co-owner of Pride, for deliberately attempting to fix the race and ruin Pride's chances of winning. It was a serious offense that could result in Brad and his wife, Lavinia, being fined by the stewards and possibly barred from racing at Saratoga.
Finally Samantha saw Ashleigh's dark head and Mike's blond one as they approached down the row of stabling. She hurried to meet them. "How did it go?" she asked anxiously. Neither Ashleigh nor Mike looked happy.
"They got off," Ashleigh said, her hazel eyes flashing.
"What?" Samantha cried. "But how? I can't believe the stewards didn't at least give them a warning!"
"No fine. No warning," Ashleigh said.
It seemed impossible, when Samantha considered the extent of what Bradhad done. Brad and Lavinia had raced their own horse Lord Ainsley in the Whitney, and he and Pride were major rivals. The evening before the race, when Pride's regular jockey, Jilly Gordon, had been forced to cancel, Brad hadn't bothered to tell Ashleigh. Instead he had assigned another, inexperienced jockey, Benny Alvero. Then Brad had given the jockey instructions about how to run the race-instructions that had totally contradicted Ashleigh's. The results had been nearly disastrous. Pride had won, beating Lord Ainsley after all, but he had come out of the race exhausted and dripping with sweat. It was nothing short of a miracle that he hadn't injured himself.
"Brad claimed Alvero misunderstood his instructions because his grasp of English is so poor," Ashleigh explained angrily.
"Brad shouldn't have been giving Alvero instructions in the first place!" Samantha cried. "Alvero should have listened to you you're Pride's trainer and co-owner. Brad and Lavinia don't even own any interest in Pride. Mr. Townsend does!"
"Right," Ashleigh said, "but with Mr. Townsend away in England, Brad considers himself in charge of the Townsend Acres operation."
"But Alvero told you himself after the race that he could have ruined Pride by holding him back like he did," Samantha argued. "He was furious."
"Oh, I know," Ashleigh said. "Alvero told the stewards that he had understood Brad's instructions perfectly. He said that because he had only ridden in this country for Brad and Townsend Acres, he took Brad's instructions as the final say. He admitted that he hadn't paid any attention to me in the walking ring before the race when I told him to run Pride close to the lead."
"But I don't understand," Samantha said. "If Alvero backed you up, how could the stewards rule against you?"
"Because Alvero's English is terrible," Ashleigh said. "During the inquiry he had trouble answering all the stewards' questions without somebody translating for him."
"The stewards talked to us after the inquiry," Mike added. "They sympathized with us, but they had to conclude that there was a strong possibility Alvero had misunderstood Brad. They didn't have any choice but to drop all charges against the Townsends."
"They did question why Brad had put Benny Alvero up as jockey in the first place," Ashleigh said. "You don't put an inexperienced jockey on a horse of Pride's caliber. The stewards weren't happy either that Brad hadn't told me that Jilly couldn't ride. Of course, dear charming Brad wiggled out of that one too, claiming he'd tried to reach me and couldn't get me on the phone."
Samantha discovered her hands were clenched in angry fists. This was only the last in a long line of irritations and problems Lavinia and Brad Townsend had caused Ashleigh. This was the closest Ashleigh had ever come to making them pay for their irresponsible actions. It absolutely infuriated Samantha that they had gotten off.
Mike put his arm around Ashleigh's shoulders. "Let's just hope that Brad and Lavinia will think twice about causing us any more trouble from now on. I don't think they'd get off so easy next time."
Samantha didn't have any high hopes about that. "What are you going to do?" she asked Ashleigh.
"There's nothing I really can do. We'll keep training Pride toward the jockey Club Gold Cup in midOctober, then the Breeders' Cup early in November. Lord Ainsley will be racing in both of them, too. It's going to be pretty tense. If Pride wins both races, he's a shoo-in for Horse of the Year. Of course, if Lord Ainsley wins, then he'll get it."
"Lord Ainsley may be good, but Pride is the better horse," Samantha said loyally.
"Oh, I believe that, too," Ashleigh answered firmly. "Let's just hope everything goes smoothly between now and then."
Samantha glanced up to see her boyfriend, Tor Nelson, and her best friend, Yvonne Ortez, hurrying toward the stall. Tor was blond and blue eyed and trimly muscular from years of horseback riding. Yvonne had straight black hair and dark eyes, evidence of her Navajo-Spanish-English background. They had been over at the track watching the last of the morning workouts. Yvonne had driven up from Kentucky with Tor for the last two weeks of the Saratoga meet.
Tor came over to stand at Samantha's side. "So how did it go?" he quickly asked Ashleigh.Ashleigh gave him the bad news.
"I don't believe it!" Tor shook his head angrily.
"That's disgusting!" Yvonne cried. "Now they'll really think they can get away with anything! Talk about unfair!"