Melanie Graham knows Image is Triple Crown material. The problem is, the filly is too smart for her own good. She's difficult to train, hates to be stabled indoors, and fights with other horses. But if Melanie is going to run Image in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont, the filly is going to have to get over herself.
For practice, Melanie takes Image to Florida to run in an easy fillies-only race. But when Melanie gets to the track, she discovers that her father has entered Image in the prestigious Florida Derby instead. He badly needs the purse money to save his failing business and he truly believes Image can win. Melanie is doubtful. Will Image rise to the challenge?
About the Author
Joanna Campbell appears here with her six-year-old Thoroughbred, Meyersville Magic, known around the barn as CC. He's a son of Horatius out of Northwich by Timothy's Champ and is owned by Cathy Day. Formerly trained for racing, he is now being trained for eventing. Last Year he was the Maine Entry Level Champion in Combined Training.
Read an Excerpt
Plugging her ears, Melanie Graham hunkered down in the truck's passenger seat.
"When is that crazy filly going to quit fussing?" she complained to Joe Kisner, who was driving the truck and trailer. "It's been ten hours!"
A piercing whinny rang from the trailer.
Joe chuckled. "Probably never." He glanced into the side-view mirror. "But the sooner we get there the better. As long as she doesn't bust down a door or get hung up, we'll just keep driving."
Joe, Melanie, and Perfect Image were on their way to Gulfstream Park, a racecourse in Florida. Will Graham, Melanie's dad, and Jazz Taylor Image's co-owners had entered the three-year-old in the Bonnie Miss, a prestigious race for fillies.
Melanie had been against taking the filly on such a long trip Image hated being cooped in a trailer. But three weeks earlier, Jazz and Will had gotten it into their heads that Image should race in Florida. Jazz and his band were renting a house outside of Miami, where they were working on a new album, and Will had flown down to visit with the band. For them, Gulfstream Park had seemed like a logical choice for Image's next race.
They argued that Imageneeded to prove herself away from home. Her first race at Turfway Park in Kentucky had been a disaster. Image had been disqualified for abruptly changing direction on the track after beating all the other horses. She was banned from the track, but when the ban was lifted three weeks later, she won the Winter Debutanteeasily, against tough competition. Now Jazz and Will wanted Image to run in even more prestigious races.
More banging came from the trailer.
"Should we stop and check on her again?" Melanie asked. They'd left Whitebrook, the Thoroughbred farm in Kentucky where Melanie lived with her aunt and uncle, Ashleigh Griffen and Mike Reese, at three in the morning. When they stopped for a quick breakfast around seven, Melanie had opened up the trailer to check on Image. She'd been miserable and sweaty, and as they traveled south, it had only gotten hotter. "She's probably thirsty."
Joe nodded. "There's a rest stop about two miles ahead where I can park the truck and trailer."
"Sounds good." Melanie glanced out the window, trying to relax. She was glad that Joe, an employee of Whitebrook Farm, was in charge. They still had about seven more hours to go, and his calm attitude and experience with hauling horses had kept Melanie sane.
They were traveling through Georgia, which was showing signs of spring. The mornings were still frosty in Kentucky, but here, alongside the highway, the dogwoods were blooming. But Melanie was too worried to enjoy the scenery. From the moment they'd left Whitebrook, doubts had been plaguing her.
In the past, the filly's behavior at the track had been terrible. She'd broken out of stalls and run over other horses. She'd terrorized the grooms and taunted the horses she ran against. Melanie was Image's jockey and trainer, so she could have vetoed this trip, but she was intent on proving that despite Image's behavior, the fiIly could win races at any track.
Melanie sighed and pressed her palms against her ears.
"Hang in there," Joe said. "The rest stop is up ahead."
""Me?" Melanie dropped her hands from her head. "I'm not the one having a tantrum."
"True, but you're the one worrying about it. Image doesn't care that she's driving you crazy."
Melanie laughed. "You think I'd be used to it by now. She's certainly pulled enough tricks since I've been working with her."
"And she's going to pull tons more," Joe reminded her, "She's smart and spirited"
"And stubborn as a mule," Melanie chimed in.
"You wouldn't want her any other way." Joe grinned at her.
She smiled reluctantly. "You're right. I'm just glad we're stabling her at Belle Glade Farm instead of at the track. The Sandersons sound nice, and Ashleigh said their facilities were great."
Chip and Doris Sanderson were old friends of Melanie's aunt and uncle. They were letting Image board at their Thoroughbred farm, Which was about an hour from the racecourse. Image would have her own paddock, and Melanie would have use of their training track for the week and a half they'd be in Florida. Joe would haul Image into Gulfstream Park, located near Miami, for her final workout and the race. That way Melanie could avoid the problems of stabling Image at the track barns.
Joe clicked on the turn signal. "Rest stop ahead."
Melanie straightened in the truck seat as Joe steered the rig into the tractor-trailer parking lot. As soon as he braked, she jumped from the truck. The trailer was a two-horse gooseneck, so it rode smoothly, and they'd taken out the center partition, so Image had the whole back to herself. Still, when Melanie opened the narrow side door and peered inside, it looked as though a hurricane had hit the interior.
The hay net was torn, and hay was scattered everywhere. A leg wrap hung from the front partition; another manure-stained one was flung againstthe front wall.
"What in the world did you do in here?" Melanie asked.
Tossing her head, Image stamped, then nickered throatily. Her ears flicked, and her eyes were white-rimmed. Melanie knew that look. She'd seen it whenever Image was confined.
Crack! The filly kicked the back of the trailer as if to say, Get me out of here or else.
"I can't let you out. You're just going to have to settle down, Miss Impatience." Melanie tried to give the filly a soothing pat, but Image lunged against the front support panel.
"Only seven more hours..."Thoroughbred #52: Perfect Challenge. Copyright © by Joanna Campbell. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.