The wind buffeted Melanie Graham's cheeks as Pride's Perfection thundered past the finish line. Melanie stood in her stirrups and raised both arms over her head in victory, her heart bursting with excitement. She had done it! She'd won the Kentucky Derby!
The crowd cheered and Melanie waved to the audience in the grandstand as Perfection danced proudly to the winner's circle. An official draped the blanket of roses around Perfection's neck while photographers and reporters clustered around them, snapping pictures, shouting questions.
"Melanie? Can you answer the question, please?"
Startled out of her fantasy, Melanie Graham jerked upright. At the front of the classroom, Ms. Hanlon, her eighth-grade English teacher, was staring expectantly at her.
"Uh . . ." Melanie hadn't heard Miss Hanlon's question. How was she supposed to know the answer?
Nervously Melanie tugged on a wisp of her short blond hair. Her gaze shifted to her friend Dylan Becker, who sat at the desk across the aisle from her. Lowering his hand, he pointed to the blackboard where Miss Hanlon had written, THE HORSE RACED ACROSS THE FIELD. IT JUMPED THE FENCE.
"Um, you could add, 'And they won the steeplechase'?" Melanie guessed.
When the other students in the classroom cracked up, Melanie wondered what was so funny.
"That's not exactly what I was looking for," Miss Hanlon said. "Katie? Can you tell me what to do?"
"You could combine them using a conjunction," Katie Garrity, another of Melanie's friends, replied.
"That's correct. What conjunction could you use?"
Several hands went up. Melanie rolled her eyes. Who cared about conjunctions? There were too many other things to think about.Like riding. That afternoon Naomi Traeger, an apprentice jockey and exercise rider at Whitebrook Farm, was helping Melanie practice her racing position. She couldn't wait.
"For homework, combine the sentences on page eighty-four in your English book," Ms. Hanlon told the class just as the bell rang. Melanie hastily filled in her assignment book, then stuck it in her backpack. English was the last period of the day. She was free!
Jumping up from her seat, she headed for the door.
"Melanie!" Ms. Hanlon's stem voice stopped her in her tracks.
Melanie grimaced. "Yes?" She turned around just as Dylan went past. "Sounds like trouble," he said under his breath.
Melanie shrugged. She was used to trouble. Last year, when she'd lived in New York City, she'd spent as much time in the principal's office as she had in the classroom.
"I'm sorry, Ms. Hanlon," Melanie said, laying the sincerity on thick. "I guess Im having trouble adjusting to the new school. It's a lot different here than in New York."
The teacher nodded. "I understand, but I do expect you to catch up. Let me know if there's anything I can do."
How about not assigning so much homework? Melanie wanted to say. Instead, she smiled sweetly. "I will. Thanks for being concerned, and I'll have the missing work finished by next week."
"Good. I'll be expecting it."
Slinging her backpack over her shoulder, Melanie hurried out the door and down the busy hall of Henry Clay Middle School. Her cousin, Christina Reese, was waiting by Melanie's locker.
Atthe beginning of the summer, Melanie had moved in with Christina and her family at Whitebrook, a Thoroughbred breeding and training farm in Kentucky. She and Christina had had their share of problems, but usually they got along well.
"You'd better hurry or we'll miss the bus," Christina said. "I want to get home and ride Sterling. Sam's giving me-"
"I want to get home, too," Melanie interrupted. "In fact, I've wanted to get home since I left this morning. I don't know why I bother with school. It's soooo boring."' Opening her locker, she threw her backpack inside.
Christina raised her eyebrows in surprise. "Don't you have any homework?"
"Nah." Melanie tried to shut the locker door, but the bottom of the backpack stuck out. Impatiently she pushed and shoved, finally cramming it inside.
"Hey, Chris, are you riding at Whisperwood this afternoon?" Dylan called as he came down the hall with a stream of students.
"Yes," Christina said when Dylan joined them. "I'm hacking Sterling over for a five o'clock lesson."
"'Do you think Sam would take on one more student?" he asked. Samantha Nelson and her husband, Tor, old friends of Christina's family, had recently moved back to Kentucky from Ireland to set up their own eventing stable, Whisperwood Farm.
Christina shrugged. "Why don't you come over this afternoon and ask her?"
"'I'll do that."
Slamming the locker door, Melanie turned and scanned the crowd of students.
"If you're looking for Kevin, he's got basketball tryouts," Dylan reminded her.
Kevin McLean was Melanie's boyfriend, sort of. At least he was always around. He lived at Whitebrook, too, since his father, Ian McLean, was the farm's head trainer. Kevin lovedhorses just as much as Melanie did, and when school sports didn't cut into his time, he worked with the weanlings for Mike Reese, Christina's father. Mike owned Whitebrook Farm with Ashleigh Griffin, Christina's mom.
Melanie was disappointed. "I was hoping he'd be around this afternoon," she said.
Christina pushed open the exit doors. "What's going on this afternoon?"' she asked.
"Naomi's helping me practice riding with shorter stirrups. If I want to ride in the Kentucky Derby one day, I'd better concentrate on learning to be a jockey."
Dylan laughed. "The Kentucky Derby? No offense, but I wouldn't get my hopes up too high, Mel."
"Hey, if Christina can dream about eventing in the Olympics, I can dream about winning the Kentucky...
Joanna Campbell appears here with her six-year-old Thoroughbred, Meyersville Magic, known around the barn as CC. He's a son of Horatius out of Northwich by Timothy's Champ and is owned by Cathy Day. Formerly trained for racing, he is now being trained for eventing. Last Year he was the Maine Entry Level Champion in Combined Training.