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Returning Champion

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Fog rolled off the track, pooling under the spotlights and enveloping the infield in hazy darkness. As trainers and prospective journalists gathered to watched the warm ups, Loki leaned against the railing, a cigarette dangling from his fingertips.

A few horses cantered past, a warm up before they started timed exercises. He watched each as they filtered past, gauging their form and gait. They all seemed to be in good form but that was a given; this was the final race in a trifecta that tested speed, endurance, and perseverance.

A dark bay galloped by and Loki took a drag on his cigarette, trying to feign disinterest. The lineup for this race was incredibly small but everyone knew that in the end, it would be between two horses that had been neck and neck in the past two races, no pun intended.

“That’s Sham,” a man to his right commented as the dark bay passed by again. The horse’s breath floated in the air. From the deep pants he took, Loki knew he most likely didn’t have the required stamina to keep the lead in this particular race.

“I see,” Loki muttered. “And Big Red?”

A chestnut blur rocketed past and Loki whistled in amazement. This horse was a beast, powerful and muscular and long-legged. He watched him fly past and noticed the powerful push he saw the chestnut do twice in his gallop.

“Wow, a double-suspension,” he muttered. There were very few thoroughbreds, let alone horses in general, that were able to kick their hooves off the ground twice in their gallop pattern.  Loki was certain that if it came down to the wire, Big Red would overpower Sham with his crazy long stride.

“Y’know, Secretariat reminds me of one of my horses,” the man to his side said. Loki could see the flash of steel gray hair and the glow of a worn leather jacket but he didn’t turn his face towards him.

Loki raised an eyebrow, the cigarette dangling between his scarred lips. “Really?”

He nodded. “Yes. He’s a beautiful dapple gray. Not a thoroughbred but he has an amazing double-suspension transverse gallop. And he has a lovely temperament even if he was a pain in the ass to break in.”

Like mother like son , Loki thought. “Sounds like a lovely horse.”

They lapsed into silence and watched the horses gallop past. Sham was steaming with sweat, his dark flanks heaving with exertion. Secretariat, on the other hand, looked like he could run another lap or two. Loki and the man parted as the sun rose, the excitement palpable. If things were going to go as the betters assumed, there would be another Triple Crown winner. But anything could happen. Secretariat could stumble in the starting gate, Sham could muster enough stamina to win by a nose, one of the others others horses could create an upset.

What really happened shocked and amazed Loki.

For the first half of the race, Secretariat and Sham seemed neck and neck. But when they got to the first turn, Big Red pulled ahead.

And ahead.

And ahead.

He rocketed up the final stretch and the crowd went insane. It seemed like the curse was broken, that the Triple Crown would claim another victor. Loki stood as Secretariat, powerful and lean with the double-suspension gallop, blasted farther and farther away from Sham whose jockey slapped the crop painfully across his flanks.

But Secretariat was too far gone. He approached the finish line and the screaming continued until it became pure sound, thrumming with energy. It crested when he finally crossed the finish line, the announcer screaming that he’d won the Triple Crown and ran the fastest Belmont ever, over twenty-five furlongs faster than Sham.

Loki smiled as the screams continued. He left his box and quickly slipped out of the racetrack, eager to see his dear son. Loki chuckled at the incomprehensible screaming behind him and was reminded of a gray colt that stumbled around on four too many legs that had eventually matured into the best warhorse the Nine Worlds had ever seen.