The Sport of Kings and Devils: Aristide Toutant Thibodeaux

Whiskey sez: This is part four. If you wanna follow Lucifestus’ day at the races from start to finish, use the links to your right. I suggest you start with the First Race.

RACE Four: $10K Claimers Fillies and Mares on the Dirt, Six Furlongs

Fat Rick pointed at the jockey’s name in the program: A. Thibodeaux. “Who the fuck is . . . Thi . . . Thib . . . how do you say this? Thee-bo-DUCKS?”

The Snapper rolled his eyes. “It’s pronounced TIH-buh-dough. It’s a pretty common French-Cajun name. Aristide Thibodeaux, new guy. Came in new from Louisiana. Supposed to be pretty good down there. Hasn’t done much here yet. But I like his mount here in the fourth.”

Fat Rick nodded.

Snapper continued, “Took me two months to teach you to say Vel-AZ-kez instead of Vel-ASS-kwez. Thibodeaux might take a while.”

Fat Rick shrugged.

*****

In southern Louisiana you can’t swing a dead polecat without hitting a young, slight-of-build Cajun boy who doesn’t see riding horses as a way out of a predetermined future of domestic hollerin’, Buicks-on-cinder-blocks, and Oxycontin dependency. Aristide Toutant Thibodeaux was no different. He grew up on the backside at the Fairgrounds in New Orleans. Started breezing horses for lesser and less scrupulous trainers when he was thirteen. By sixteen he was a fully licensed apprentice – a bug boy. By twenty, he was winning races. By twenty-five, a top ten rider at the Fairgrounds and Louisiana Downs – Aristide Fucking Thibodeaux. At twenty-eight, while looking at his autographed poster of Calvin Burell atop Mine That Bird after winning the Derby, Aristide decided to go big or go home. California. Santa Anita. If he wanted a Kentucky Derby or Breeder’s Cup mount – one win meaning financial security for life – he was going to have to give up the comfort of being a big fish in the small pond of Louisiana racing.

The transition hadn’t been as smooth as he had hoped. Turned out, the rarefied air of Santa Anita didn’t give a swamp-rat’s ass about a top ten rider from the Fairgrounds. Aristide found that he had to revert to his bug-boy days. Show up before morning workouts, 5:30am, hat in hand, just to beg to be allowed to work a maiden claimer. Gave him a burning sensation in his chest. Not like New Orleans was some kind of backwater. He’d won races, lots of them. Stakes races even. Not a graded stakes, yet. But he’d come second in the G2 Louisiana Derby. That’s not chump change. Still, here he had to greet trainers with “yessir” and “yesma’am”, “nosir” and “noma’am”. He would have done that anyway, it’s how he was raised, but this was different. Not good manners on his part, but deference demanded by people who thought themselves a higher class of human. He also noticed in the first week that playing up his Cajun-ness was a positive. He started saying things like, “HooWeee!” and “Laissez les bon temps rouler!” These Hollywood horsemen ate that shit up.

*****

Now, today, with Fat Rick mispronouncing his name up in the grandstand, Aristide Thibodeaux sat down in the Jockey’s Room looking over the Racing Form trying to look calm in the face of a building excitement about his next mount. Absentmindedly he rubbed his left shoulder with his right hand – the legacy of a broken clavicle he sustained when Hit The Bricks had broken down along the Louisiana Downs backstretch. He smiled. Today’s mount had a bit of early speed. No other horse in this race seemed interested in setting a pace. If Aristide Thibodeaux knew anything about riding a race it was how to hustle to the lead. “This is it,” he thought. “Don’t fuck it up.” He’d breezed this mare, Spatter Pattern the week before. Knew she had the goods. Besides, he reminded himself, “I’m Aristide Fucking Thibodeaux.”

*****

At first weigh-in this morning, Aristide realized that he needed to pull 5 or 6 pounds. Probably the result of last night’s rib-eye and mashed potato. Twenty-five minutes in the hotbox got him close. He could flip if he had to – the hurling bowls here were the Taj Mahal of hurling bowls. But he’d promised his Mamma and Lurlene that he’d only heave as a last resort.

“It’ll rot your teeth out,” Mamma had said, time and time again. He went back into the box.

*****

As he walked out to the paddock, Aristide’s left knee twinged a bit from the time it was dislocated when the filly, She’s All That, had leaped, dumping him straight out of the starting gate.

He looked towards the spectators crowded around the paddock. In Louisiana, he was regularly asked for autographs at this point. Now, a dad and kids stood, gawking. One of the children, a boy, maybe ten years-old pointed at the jockeys and giggled, “They’re so little!” Aristide suppressed the desire to tell the youngster to fuck off and eat a possum’s ass. Instead he smiled and waved, thinking “I’m just a fucking Oompa Loompa round here till I start winning some races.”

Approaching Lucas Blayne, the trainer of today’s mount, Aristide spotted a familiar face in the crowd. Standing along the paddock rail, watching the saddling and mounting process, was a man who looked a bit like Tom Waits. Aristide couldn’t help but admire his cool demeanor and soul patch. He’d seen this man before. Hanging around the paddock at Louisiana Downs and the Fairgrounds. Aristide waved his riding crop. The man waved back.

Lucifestus, in Tom Waits-ish visage, had, indeed, spent a week here and there hanging out and wagering on the Louisiana circuit. He knew who Aristide Thibodeaux was, as well as what made that little Cajun heart beat. All the wiry little man wanted, at all, was to be a success – to win races, to win Kentucky Derbies and Breeder’s Cups – to be a racing legend, to be on a poster on the wall of some young Cajun boy who wanted to believe there was a way out. It would be easy enough for Lucifestus to make all of this happen, it was just the sort of leverage devils look for to make deals. But Lucifestus would have to pass. As a rule, Lucifestus never altered the results of horse races, or anything he gambled on. He didn’t gamble because he wanted the money, devils don’t need money. He gambled for the exhilaration of the unknown. For this particular devil, the possibility of losing was essential to making eternal life the least bit interesting.

Aristide would have to find success on his own.

*****

“Not a lot of speed in this race,” said Lucas Blayne. “If you break good, you might be able to take her wire-to-wire.”

“Yessir.”

“If she don’t break right, you still might be able to tuck in. If you can ride second, third, just off the pace, she might have enough for a good stretch run.”

“Yessir.”

“Got any questions?”

“Nosir. I’ll meet you back in the winner’s circle.”

“Pretty sure of yourself, huh?.”

“Pardon my French, sir. But I’m Aristide Fucking Thibodeaux.”

 

© 2017 Whiskey Leavins

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