Tobias sought me out and again assured me that the horse was right. He suggested that a small wager on him might be profitable. I am not a betting man, but the last weeks had affected me strangely. I had begun to feel a large catholicity of spirit toward all the details of horse ownership and horse racing, and I allowed Tobias to conduct me to a flamboyant young man, who placed a modest sum for me at the surprising odds of 30 to 1. Again I sought Tobias to learn the reason for the odds being so against Alcantara. The incident had shaken my faith in him, and I began to think my visions of possible victory empty dreams. Tobias felt that the odds were probably the result of the unfortunate items in the press, but he pointed out that they meant larger profits if we won, which seemed to me a sordid point of view.
I had secured a box and had invited a few of my intimate friends to occupy it with me. I had chosen those who had been in the secret of my ownership from the first, and who seemed to regard my entering the racing game with less concern than some others, notably my business associates.
The first races on the fiat, and a minor steeplechase or two, seemed to me perfunctory and spiritless, though the crowd seemed to enjoy them. Late in the afternoon the Bedford was announced, and there was an evident stirring of interest among the lookers-on. The board at the judges' stand gave the field, and I noted with some concern that none of the favorites had been scratched. Proudly I saw the name of T. Starkweather appear with the number nine. As I sat tearing my programme to shreds with nervous fingers, I tried to think what suggestions of good fortune the number nine indicated. I could think of nothing but the Muses, and their connection with horse racing seemed remote.
Then came the parade from the paddock. Led by a scarlet-coated official, the eleven contestants passed the grandstand. Had I been in a normal condition, I should have been thrilled by it. Eleven creatures, sleek, sinewy, nervous, with tossing, impatient heads, foam-flecked fore quarters, and dainty tread, they seemed hardly to touch the soft earth beneath their feet. On the back of each a crouching little figure brilliant in gaudy satin.
They weighed in. I watched Alcantra. For sheer beauty he was peer of the best. He seemed strangely docile, and I tried desperately to read the secret of those baffling eyes. I finally got them in my glass for a fleeting second, and I saw the same strange, tired look, the same eternal interrogation that always appeared there. As Tobias remounted I watched his face. Sallow, thin from weeks of training, there was not a shadow of expression of any sort. His face was as baffling as Alcantra’s eyes.
They were off to the post just within my line of vision. For a while confusion reigned. Turning, milling, rearing, it seemed impossible that an orderly start could ever be made. This was the crucial moment. Would Alcantara start? This was the uncertainty. If he did, there was a fair chance that he would finish well up; if not, it was all over. I watched him closely. Tobias had his hands full, and was maneuvering skillfully. I had noticed that he carried no whip and his heels were innocent of spurs. Now he seemed to need them. Instead he leaned still farther over and caressed the nervous neck before him.