“Good Morning, Lady Chesterton. It us now 8 A.M. and the temperature is fifty-six degrees with sunny skies.”
“Thank you,” Jenny said and hung up the phone. By registering under the title Lady Jennifer Chesterton, the actress Jennifer Bently retained some degree of privacy rarely accorded those in her line of work. She knew she wouldn’t get much later in the day, as her hotel suite was in Louisville, Kentucky and it was the first Saturday in May. She had a horse running in the Kentucky Derby and quite likely would emerge the winner.
Jenny stretched and slid on a robe. She emerged from the bedroom and to her surprise, found her daughter Sarah and stepdaughter Lucy. Jenny had been considerably younger than their father, as emphasized by the fact Lucy was a good thirteen years older than Sarah. Sarah ran a successful art gallery in West Hollywood. Since many of the pre-Derby events required Jenny’s presence and Jenny insisted Sarah remain in school, Lucy picked up Sarah and school and the two took and early evening flight to Louisville.
“I’m surprised you’re both awake,” Jenny said. “Especially with the time difference here. Is this part of Kentucky on Chicago time or New York time?” Jenny was never sure of the American time zones, or what they were called.
“Are we going downstairs for breakfast or ordering room service?” Sarah wondered.
“Downstairs. No need to rush, though.”
Lucy and Sarah stood up. Both were taller than Jenny, a legacy of their father, now dead. Thirteen years, Jenny remembered. Sarah had been barely four at the time. It had seemed an accident at the time, but further investigations showed otherwise, part of a plot to gain control of Jenny’s fortune, some inherited, but most built on her earnings as an actress.
All of that was a part of the past now. Better to think of the future. Not just Sarah, but also the bay colt now housed in a stable at Churchill Downs.
With all three dressed so they would suitable for breakfast in the hotel dining room (the fine clothes with the expansive hats could wait for afternoon) they headed downstairs. On the way, they unexpectedly encountered NBC TV’s Tom Hammond. They exchanged a few pleasantries and Jenny decided to give him something mildly amusing to pass on the viewers: “What I like best about horse racing is that I can make eye contact with the jockeys without straining my neck.”
They also encountered Emily Wilson, who would be riding that day. “I checked in on Sir David. He’s doing okay.”
Jenny nodded. Emily was known to be up at five A.M. on race days to check on her mount. It was also the reason Jenny hired her to ride Sir David. The horse was unbeaten as a two-year-old and had won the Santa Anita Derby be twelve lengths. Jenny deliberately kept Sir David out of the Flamingo Stales and the Wood Memorial, both of which were won by different horses. As a result, at least she hoped, the jockeys of the Eastern horses would find Emily a bit of a mystery.
After breakfast, Jenny went down to the stables. She didn’t bring her owner’s credentials, as those were only needed at race time, so she was surprised when she was stopped. “It’s okay,” the guard said. “I know who you are at least.”
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Somebody took a whack at Charlie Bascomb.”
Jenny was shocked. Charlie Bascomb was one of the most respected trainers in horse racing. He’d trained Flamingo winner Ben’s Comet. At that moment, a stretcher approached, with Bascomb on it. “I hope it’s just a precaution,” Jenny said.
“None of the horses have been hurt,” the guard said. “But only owners, trainers and jockeys will be allowed in the place.”
Jenny nodded in understanding. She headed back to her suite, where she got the second shock of the morning. Sarah and Lucy lay face down on the carpet, with wrists and ankles secured with nylon rope and cotton cloths secured around their mouths.
Jenny was normally a calm and controlled person, but capable of extreme anger when her loved ones were harmed. She rushed her stricken daughter’s side and removed the gag from Sarah’s mouth. “What happened?” Jenny exclaimed. “And who did this to you?”
“Two guys came in here,” Sarah said as Jenny untied her. They tied us up, but they didn’t take anything.”
Once released, Sarah helped Jenny release Lucy. “I think they were looking for you,” Lucy said as soon as she could.
“Now that is strange,” Jenny said. “She picked up the phone and asked for hotel security.”
“Are you sure they’re needed?” Sarah wondered. “It’s not like they took anything.”
“One of the trainers was attacked at the race track. I don’t think this is a coincidence.”
When the security people arrived, Jenny repeated the story, while Lucy and Sarah gave descriptions of their attackers. Jenny was not a detective, but she knew enough of them to know when there was something wrong. Was there a plot to fix the race? That was the first thing to cross her mind. She shook her head. That was too fantastic to contemplate. Or was it? She needed to look into thing further.
While Lucy and Sarah spoke with the police, Jenny perused the newspaper. Sure it went to press around midnight, but it printed the odds on the race. Apparently, there was no clear-cut favorite. Sir David and Ben’s Comet were both going off at 3 to 1, but Wood Memorial winner Beowulf was 3 to 2. Did somebody want to open things up a bit? The idea seemed absurd. Jenny shook her head.
After all statements had been taken, Jenny, Lucy, and Sarah all headed downstairs for a late lunch. As they entered the dining area, they saw a small man sitting on the floor being attended to by first aid personnel.
“Who is that?” Sarah wondered.
“Eddie Del Canton, Beowulf’s jockey,” was the reply.
“Something is wrong,” Jenny mused. “Very, very wrong.”
“Like what?” Lucy wondered.
“I think somebody’s trying to fix the race.”
“Say it ain’t so, Jen.” Lucy had heard of the 1919 World Series fix, as had Jenny. The latter found Lucy’s remark a bit facetious.
The head of security came along and Jenny spoke to him about her suspicions. He ordered Del Canton’s unfinished lunch to be analyzed. “Do you think there might be a fix too?” Jenny asked him.
“It’s my job to check anything suspicious that happens here,” he replied. “I suggest you bring things up with the race and track officials.”
As soon as she was finished with her meal, Jenny went straight to the track officials. Although they were in conference to discuss the unexpected turn of events, Jenny was allowed inside. She repeated her suspicions to the officials. “Why do you suspect a fix?” the chief steward.
“There are three co-favorites,” Jenny said. “The trainer of one gets coshed, the jockey of a second get sick all of a sudden, and my daughter and step-daughter were tied up in a bogus robbery of our hotel suite.”
“I don’t follow you.”
“If the three horses are scratched, then the odds on all the other horses become shorter, but be doing thing that could alter the horses’ behavior or ability to race, the odds stay long.”
“We’ll start looking into it immediately,” the track president said.
“I’ll need to speak with Emily Wilson.” Jenny said.
Jenny hurried back to the hotel. Once again, she found herself looking over the odds of the race. She also went over the various feature articles. One in particular struck her as interesting. A horse named El Meteoro was owned by a Colombian, from Medellin, no less. A horse owned by a man living in the cocaine capital pf the world? Of course, it made perfect sense. The drug barons were absolutely ruthless in their actions. The action so far was minor by their standards, but all it needed to be.
By now, all the jockeys had a plainclothes Louisville police officer nearby as a precaution. Jenny met again with the chief of security. He gathered a couple other guards and they went to Emily’s hotel room. As they arrived, they saw three men rolling a room service cart out of the room. On seeing the large security contingent, the three started to run but one stumbled and the other two slowed down top avoid falling themselves. This gave the security people the time needed to catch the three men. Jenny looked underneath the cart. Hidden behind cloths draped from it was Emily, in a cramped position even for a jockey, bound at the wrists and ankles.
In short order, Emily was released. “Judy’s in the room,” she said. “She’s my police escort.”
Emily described how the three men entered the room under the pretext room service provided by Jenny. Two tackled Judy while the other grabbed Emily.
“That’s how we knew these guys were fakes,” the security chief said. “We never have three people send up room service if there are only two people in the room.”
The group went into the room, where Office Judy Lincoln lay face down on the bed, with wrists secured by her own handcuffs. A pillow case had been ripped to shreds. One shred was crammed into her mouth and held in place with the other. Although embarrassed by the turn of events, she was more than willing to help take the three into custody.
“Will you be able to race?” Jenny asked Emily.
The three men talked freely. El Meteoro’s owner was a cousin of a Medellin cartel member. This cartel member naturally wanted his cousin’s horse to withdraw. As Jenny suspected, the plan was to shake up the three co-favorites. Since Thoroughbreds are temperamental creatures, it may well have succeeded.
Come post time, Beowulf fared badly and faded early. Ben’s Comet and El Meteor dueled through the backstretch, but Emily kept Sir David within striking distance. As the horses came through the final turn, El Meteor faded and Emily had Sir David put on a final charge. At the quarter pole, Sir David pulled even and ultimately went on to a two-length victory.
Jenny, Lucy, and Sarah gathered by the victorious horse and rider. “What’s next?” Sarah wondered.
“The Preakness, of course,” Jenny said.
This story is dedicated to the memory of Gillian B. To call her a friend and writer is only to scratch the surface of her character.