Guided by the escort pony and its rider, CJ let Backboard move from a walk to a trot and then a cantor for about one-eighth of a mile. At that point, they turned to a counterclockwise direction on the track and moved down to the starting gate. Two attendants took control of her horse and hustled him into the tenth gate position. There was one horse to their right in slot number eleven, but CJ was most concerned about the runners to her left. Jet Lab was in the ninth gate, and Davis Rules was starting from the eight-hole. “Riders Ready!” crackled through the speaker above her head. Backboard heard it also. He knew what was coming.
When the bell went off and the gates opened, Backboard made a clean and swift break to start the race. Jet Lab also broke quickly, and after the field had run one furlong, Jet Lab and Backboard were leading. At that point, both horses faded to their left toward the infield. When they entered the first turn, CJ and Backboard were two lengths behind Jet Lab, who continued to accelerate and create space between himself and the other horses in the field. CJ figured they ran the first two furlongs in about twenty-two seconds, so she was content to let her horse run comfortably. Backboard’s strides were smooth and powerful. She knew he hadn’t yet hit high gear, and she still had a ton of horse under her as they moved down the backstretch.
Several other jockeys pushed their mounts to keep up with the rabbit. They passed Backboard as the field moved down the backstretch, and with one-sixteenth of a mile to go before traversing the far turn, CJ found herself in fourth place and eight lengths behind the leader. She could feel Backboard’s competitive nature as he tried to accelerate. She kept some pressure on the reins and talked to the gelding. “Not yet, big guy, not yet. Be smooth, don’t let that rabbit suck us in. The big run is still coming!”
The field entered the far turn with Jet Lab pressing the pace and a gap of several lengths developing between the leader and the other ten racers. CJ kept looking back under her right armpit trying to locate Davis Rules, but she couldn’t see him clearly. There were still several horses between her and the odds-on favorite, so she figured the stallion’s jockey was still biding his time at the back of the pack. Her gelding was running the turn efficiently, just two horses wide of the infield. She decided to stay on this line through the turn, figuring that she wouldn’t have any horses in front of her when they made the transition to the straightaway. Half-way through the turn, she let up a bit on the reins and let Backboard accelerate through a gap created by horses to her left and right. She could tell that Jet Lab’s ability to separate himself from the field was waning. They had run the first three quarters of a mile in one minute and ten seconds—a very fast time—and the rabbit was beginning to tire. This is where Davis Rules would make his run.
As they approached the top of the stretch with less than a quarter of a mile to go, CJ’s head was bobbing up and down as she tried to locate Davis Rules. When Backboard changed leads as he entered the backstretch, she was shocked to find that she only had to look left to spot her chief competitor. Davis Rules’ jockey was using a tactic that CJ had used many times with Tackle Tim Tom: he was letting his horse fly on the rail, the shortest distance around the track.
It was time to let Backboard show the bettors in the stands that any money placed on him was a good investment.
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