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Sad Day at the Track 

A crime had been done here, a crime made fouler by its incongruity, like a beautiful woman with a black eye. But a crime where the perp and the victim are the same. It was a small field of horses, and as it left the backstretch, it was easy to see one reason why.

One horse lagged behind the others, running widest of all and entirely on his own. No rider was in sight.

The small field made a businesslike run of the turn for home, packing it in tight.

"Loose horse," someone standing along the outer rail said to no one in particular. There was a tiny cluster of people gathered along the rail at the head of the stretch. Most looked like they worked in the barn area.

The loose horse clung to the rail like one of those electronic rabbits at a greyhound track, only this was the outer rail, and he swept through the turn like a thing desperate and mechanical.

As he did, the little gathering at the head of the stretch instinctively edged back from the rail. They looked like baseball players in a dugout moving back from a foul ball.

There was a gaggle of outriders loitering near the top of the stretch, and some of them gave shouts as the runaway got closer. "Yah, yah!" they shouted.

But it was too late to make him stop or even turn. His high head showed hesitation, but not for long. He headed between two of the outrider ponies, a paint and a cinnamon mare, and the fence beyond.

He hit the fence with audacity and stupidity, a thousand pounds' worth. He seemed to be trying to jump the fence, but it was too high. Then it buckled and broke, and as it lowered, the loose horse clambered over the top.

Then there it was, a horse lying on its side in the parking lot. He lay there for a second, maybe two or three. The bystanders didn't move. The pipe along the top of the paged fence as snapped, and the rest of it was gnarled and half-peeled but not down.

Before anyone could figure what to do next, the stricken horse rolled and was up. He just stood there, looking stunned and maybe even ashamed of himself. The people seemed a bit ashamed, too, the way people feel ashamed when something mighty gives everything and still fails.

"Get him, get him!" a couple of outriders yelled to the bystanders. It was only a matter of a few feet, but now it was as if the horse was a truant who had left the school grounds.

A no-hipped girl said something in Spanish to her bearded friend. He walked up making chirping noises and quietly picked up the dangling reins. He and the girl started back-and-forthing in Spanish.

Another couple nearby looked to be not overly familiar with the racetrack. The woman looked ready to cry, and the man kept shaking his head. "God almighty," he kept saying. "God almighty."

"He's got blood in his mouth," someone else said. "He's in shock," chimed in another.

"I'll tell you what," said a little man from under a Tam O'Shanter cap, "I read in the paper about yet another guy who died in police custody. Something called 'excited delirium,' the cops call it. An overdose of adrenaline. Well, this animal looks like he maybe is suffering from excited delirium."

The bearded man started walking softly with the horse, which followed him with no visible enthusiasm but no visible pain either. The talk, both in English and Spanish, dribbled into quiet. A crime had been done here, a crime made fouler by its incongruity, like a beautiful woman with a black eye. But a crime where the perp and the victim are the same.

But you've seen some of those in your family, too.

After a while, a guy with a handsome black Stetson and a brunette in dress jeans came driving up from the grandstand in a golf cart. They were the horse's connections, and they feel his Nicole Richie legs and ask the bystanders what and where. The guy with the Stetson looks at where the fence is busted and shakes his head.

The horse ambulance arrives. The crew puts blinders on the horse so he can see less of what's going on around him. Then they put the horse inside the ambulance so we can do the same.


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