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King of the Roses: A Horse Racing Mystery
King of the Roses: A Horse Racing Mystery
King of the Roses: A Horse Racing Mystery
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King of the Roses: A Horse Racing Mystery

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Jockey Chris Englund has won a record-tying five Kentucky Derbies, horse racing's jewel. But his uncompromising honesty in a world where cheating pays has stalled his career.
Out of the blue, he gets the leg up on the odds-on Derby favorite, Knidos. But Derby week turns to ashes when he's offered half a million dollars to hold Knidos and set off a betting bonanza for criminal cartels around the world.
The drive to the Derby wire tests Chris Englund's courage and a great horse's heart in a brutal battle against insurmountable odds. If he throws the race, he’ll betray the honor he’s fought for all his life. If he rides to win, he’ll destroy the horse and lose the woman he loves.
KING OF THE ROSES is the story of a champion rider’s choice between temptation and truth, between honesty and his life. The prize isn’t just a garland of Derby roses. It’s a love that demands more than he’s ever been asked to give.
“No racing novel since the advent of Dick Francis's series of mysteries has captured my admiration like this book."—Maryland Horse
“The Derby is run in less time than it takes to describe it—but the description itself is one of the most exciting whodunit chapters you're ever likely to come across.”—San Diego Magazine
(horse books, mystery thrillers, equestrian romance, horse racing suspense, run for the roses, Kentucky Derby)

Release dateJul 1, 2015
King of the Roses: A Horse Racing Mystery
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V. S. Anderson

Would you rather see my books than read about me? (The books are a lot more entertaining--at least I suspect so). To find them, you can scroll endlessly to the bottom of this verbiage, or you can check out the titles and ID numbers:KIng of the Roses: A Horse Racing Mystery: "I used to think Dick Francis has no peer. . . . Now I am not so certain."--The Maryland Horse (547497)Jockey Chris Englund has won five Kentucky Derbies, horse racing's jewel. But his uncompromising honesty has stalled his career. Out of the blue, he gets the leg up on the odds-on Derby favorite. But Derby week turns to ashes when he's offered half a million dollars to throw the race. But if he rides to win, he will destroy a great horse and lose the woman he loves.Blood Lies: "A read winner, this one." --The Los Angeles Times (547498)Young Ted Whysse comes home to his family's fabulous breeding farm to investigate his best friend's death. He wants no part of his inheritance, nor of the magnificent stallion Kite. What he wants, though his heart knows better, is his dying father's beautiful young wife. But when he learns she has a deadly secret, he must risk other lives to save her—including his own.NEW! Three Strides Out: A Horse Show Novel of Suspense (1313051)Adrenaline’s good for something, Robb Slaughter tells people when they ask where he found the courage to climb into a burning trailer to rescue a valuable horse. But it will take more than adrenaline for Robb to find out who put that horse there and why—and to make the monsters pay.If you're a glutton for words, read on! (You've been warned.)I was probably about ten years old when a cousin (or perhaps an adult in my extended family?) told me, "You're just a kid. You can't write a book!" I remember planting my fists on my hips (well, metaphorically, anyway), and answering, "I can too!"And I did.My books were wilder, crazier, than the Black Stallion books I devoured. I still have the first one, in pencil on lined notebook paper. It was about this wild black mare who would come storming down out of the north Georgia mountains—believe it or not, an exotic never-never-land to an Atlanta schoolgirl—to steal tame horses right out of their stalls and carry them off to her secret hideout in a hidden cove.In fact, the whole reason I wanted to write books was to capture my dreams of horses. So I wrote and wrote and wrote, drafting, revising, feeling that flush of excitement when you just can't write fast enough to get down the exciting things that are happening. I was hooked on horses, and hooked on writing about horses. Then on writing itself. I had a special Schaeffer cartridge pen, and I loved the way the ink flowed out of it; I loved making the shapes of the beautiful letters on the page.But I still wanted most to write about horses, and to own one. It was my practical and sensible dad who said, "You can't save enough money to buy a horses." I was sixteen. Fists on hips again. "I can too!"And I did. For the next twenty-five years, I owned horses, all kinds. I taught riding, broke babies, bought, schooled, and sold Thoroughbreds off the racetrack. I went to work for a trainer on the backside at Tampa Bay Downs. I came to know busy shedrows as the sun rose; the heartbeat throb of galloping horses working in sets down the backstretch; Cuban coffee in the crowded tackroom; the creak of the walking machine after we gave the horses their baths. I knew what it was like, for a short time, to have my own racehorse, to master his wild explosions as he tried to wheel and bolt with me on the track. I knew what it was like to be run away with and learn to like it (almost). I loved it.And I finally put it in a book.This one was a lot more plausible than my wild-mare story, but it gave me the same thrill. But that was nothing to thrill of getting it published. King of the Roses (St. Martin’s, 1983, now available on Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/547497) is the story of champion jockey Chris Englund: At the end of his career, he’s got one last chance to win a sixth, record-setting Kentucky Derby—until he’s offered $500,000 to throw the race. When he learns that defying the crooks and riding to win will possibly ruin the horse and cost him the woman he’s come to love, he finds that what his reputation demands isn’t what his conscience compels him to do. Into Chris and his world, I threw all the ins and outs, all the hopes and fears, all the people and their language, that had engulfed me on the racetrack. When I was done, I thought, now for something completely different. But my editor said, "I want you to write one about the Thoroughbred breeding industry."So I did.In Blood Lies (Bantam, 1989, also available on Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/547498), young Ted Whysse comes home to Kentucky to investigate the murder of his best friend. He doesn’t want any part of his inheritance, the fabulous old stud farm, Holyhead; he doesn’t even want the farm’s finest treasure, the champion stallion Kite. What he does want, though in his heart he knows better, is his dying father’s beautiful young wife, Lucky. When he learns that Lucky has a secret that’s likely to kill her, he has to decide how many other lives he’ll put at risk to save her. Will he risk his own?So I owe a lot to horses--two whole books! But I owe more. It was the process of writing and rewriting, under the guidance of wonderful editors, that prepared me to move beyond my horse stories. After returning to grad school and earning a Ph.D. in teaching college writing, I published articles in most of our major journals. Now retired from teaching, I have as many as four different writing projects going all the time. My two novels-in-progress—no, wait, three—no, four!—proceed apace. I host two blogs, justcanthelpwriting.wordpress.com, about my experiences and observations as a published novelist, and collegecompositionweekly.com, which summarizes current research for college writing professionals.In all these projects I'm grateful for the gift of writing, which, in the end, I really owe to those darned horses who made me want to write in the first place. I've come to know that what writing teachers tell their students is true. Writing is a means of inquiry and discovery. It's a way of finding out what you know and what you'd like to know. It's a way of making daydreams solid. It's a way of finding out what's beyond those closed doors people sometimes tell you can't be opened. For me, writing has opened many doors.I used to do my writing sitting in a canoe tucked into a crook in a Florida river. Now I do it looking out at a southern Indiana cornfield, watching the goldfinches and cardinals and hummingbirds mob my feeders. The cats and dogs are sprawled all around me in their favorite places. And down the road, my lovely horse Paddy is no doubt dreaming that I'll come ride him. Or at least give him peppermints. I've got a story about him out there in dreamland, waiting. It's going to be about this girl who wanted more than anything to ride. . . .

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    King of the Roses - V. S. Anderson




    An impressive debut by a superb writer.

    Publishers Weekly

    The Derby is run in less time than it takes to describe it—but the description itself is one of the most exciting whodunit chapters you're ever likely to come across.

    San Diego Magazine

    ". . .No racing novel since the advent of Dick Francis’s series of mysteries has captured my admiration like this book.

    . . . I have always felt that Dick has no peer. Now I am not so certain. . . .

    The Maryland Horse

    . . . a page-turner. . . . Anderson’s words roll onto the page, vivid, stark, powerful, and perfect.

    —The Associated Press


    By V. S. Anderson

    Copyright 2015 V. S. Anderson

    License Notes

    This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then purchase your own copy from your retailer of choice. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

    Author's Note

    This is a work of fiction. The events depicted herein have never occurred. For the purposes of the story it was necessary to characterize people in positions of authority at Churchill Downs, in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and in other organizations and states. Such characterizations are the product of the author’s imagination and are not intended to represent or reflect in any way on anyone holding those positions, past, present, or future.

    This book was originally published by St. Martin's Press in 1983. Although this is a slightly revised edition, I have chosen not to revise to include technological developments since its original publication.

    Cover Design by DDCovers

    Also by V. S. Anderson

    Blood Lies

    Three Strides Out: A Horse Show Novel of Suspense

    Table of Contents


    Monday P.M.

    Tuesday A.M.

    Tuesday P.M.

    Wednesday A.M.

    Wednesday P.M.

    Thursday A.M.

    Thursday P.M.

    Friday A.M.

    Friday P.M.

    Saturday A.M.: Derby Day

    Saturday P.M.: The Kentucky Derby


    Wednesday, June 5


    Other Books by V. S. Anderson


    About the Author

    Connect with Me Online


    Fanlines Magazine

    Louisville, Kentucky

    Monday, April 29

    The story went around that Chris Englund did not attend his father’s funeral. The story wasn’t true. Not only did he attend, he arranged and paid for it. But it is true that he returned to Monmouth Park that same afternoon and rode three races. He won two of them. And it’s true that few of the other riders braved his silence to offer condolences.

    Another story goes that once he rode the Widener Handicap with a broken foot, and won.

    Wally Webb, the trainer then, remembers:

    "We was running Bombadet. Chris had been galloping him every morning for a month, waiting for this race. Some two-year-old fell with Chris in the gate the race before. He walked away from the spill, came back out and got on my horse, won the race, and I never knew a damn thing was wrong. The next morning he was supposed to breeze a colt for me and he don’t show up. Here comes his agent.

    "‘Where’s my man Chris?’

    ‘Didn’t nobody tell you?’ he says. ‘He’s home with his foot in a cast. Broke a bone in his ankle. He wore the boot home and we had to cut it off him last night.

    The stewards gave him days and called it recklessness. But if it mattered to Englund, you’d never have known it from looking at Bombadet’s win picture, at that big grin on that jock’s face.

    Another story goes that one season on the backside at Hialeah everybody knew that if your horse had at least three legs under him and Chris Englund on his back they might as well mail you the money because you were going to win.

    The man could have been a legend, says a New York jock agent. "As much as a race rider could be. Like McNair, or Whitaker. You hear they paid McNair half a million for his memoirs? Nobody wants Englund’s memoirs because half the people at the tracks don’t even know who he is anymore, and the ones who do will tell you he burned himself out years ago.

    "What happened? He expected too much, that was his problem. He thought because he was good at what he did, and tried hard, life would be fair. When it wasn’t, he thought he could bull his way through like a jock in a pocket and nobody better try to take his number down.

    Hell, if you ask me, life was more than fair to him. You ever make five hundred grand in one year? Damned if I know what he wanted. Maybe he just wanted to be a foot taller. That make sense to you ... ?


    He had been eighteen when he left home.

    He remembered that all-night bus ride, remembered the door snapping shut behind him and propelling him into a space of ribbed half-lit compartments like the belly of a worm. He was on his way to a practical education, to a world where his scrawny, depleted, underfed body would no longer be a curse. He was going to the racetrack in Tampa to learn to ride horses.

    He wasn’t thinking of horses. He was thinking of freedom. That long night he rode to the future the only thought he had for the home he was leaving behind was that he would never willingly go back.

    My old man was a son of a bitch. I guess I should have appreciated the way he made me finish high school, kept me out of trouble. He never appreciated me too much either, though, not the house I bought him or the cars, or seeing my name in the papers. Well, I was the one who buried him. Maybe he appreciated that....

    Don’t you come back to me for no handouts, his old man had said. You better learn a trade, because if you come whining at my door I’ll kick your ass right down the steps.

    If he could have seen me that first day when Kelly Stafford handed me that horse to lead around! Boy, was I a hero! It might as well have been an elephant. I think Kelly thought I was retarded. Some jock he thought I was gonna make.

    What was that mare’s name? Miss B. Cute, that was it. A year later I won four races on her. She could run some. She could really run....

    Miss B. Cute seemed bent on treading on any part of him she could reach with her mile-long legs, and snapping off any appendages in range of her sloped yellow teeth. She yanked his arms out of joint grabbing between her feet for particles of dirty hay, and when he let her stop to drink as she cooled out she slashed the water bucket with the cutting edge of her hoof and spewed the contents the length of his trousers.

    That afternoon Kelly Stafford took him to the races.

    It had been raining. The surface of the track far below them as they sat in Stafford’s box was a treacherous mush sucking at the horses’ legs. The jockeys seemed inhuman and distorted in their awkward crouches behind the horses’ necks. He tried vainly to imagine his own body clenched like a faceless barnacle to the spines of those monsters.

    When the first race passed the stands all he saw was a wheel of slung mud spinning by; then nothing at all as the rain thickened over the infield; then a brown cloud boiling around the turn. Right in front of him, yards from the wire, one of the horses slipped and fell. Others behind slid off their feet trying to stop and the whole chocolate mess caromed under the rail. Jockeys’ bodies flew through the air and settled into the muck, indistinguishable from the rest of the morass. Kelly Stafford raced out with a white face, leaving Chris alone to watch the ambulances churn slowly through the mud.

    But after a year on the racetrack nobody had to tell him he was the best exercise boy on the half-mile bull-ring circuit.

    He had five hundred dollars in a coffee can in the room he shared with Cass Crowder. He had a ducktail haircut and a girl friend who worked in the track kitchen, one he could screw anytime he wanted if he could get Cass out of the way long enough. He and Cass had bought a motorcycle that between them they had wrecked three times.

    Cass was a blue-eyed, golden-haired, round-cheeked little con artist who rode Kelly’s horses in the afternoons. One day at Waterford Cass rode his horse point-blank into the tail of another runner whose jock wouldn’t move over fast enough, and the stewards grabbed him by the scruff of his downy neck and set him down for ten days. Kelly had said, Was you so interested to see what the inside of a horse’s ass looks like you had to ride right up it? The stable’s best horse had been entered for the following day.

    It’s okay, Kelly said. Chris’ll ride.

    Cass had said, Chris? And Chris had said, Me? To Kelly that night, timorously, he had pleaded, I think I changed my mind. I don’t want to be no jock.

    But Kelly had only grinned. You hear about that kid Richie McNair out at Hollywood? You hear he win six yesterday? You’re as good as him. You’re gonna ride.

    So there he was, miserably, for the first of what would be tens of thousands of times, writhing his meager body into racing silks. Outside the rain was turning to sleet. The other jockeys tacked in and out of his dark little bay on their own furtive affairs, nudging him kindly, patting his shoulder in parting, leaving him verbal tokens of luck and reassurance.

    He was relieved. He had come in feeling like an interloper in a coven. He’d heard only hints of the devious plots that passed among the members of this secret cult: batteries, and saving, beaten favorites, and the hundred bucks the girl friends put on the other guys’ horses. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know more.

    Kelly’s was not a betting stable. Kelly had no need to play his horses up and down the scales of the condition book from win to win, with just enough bad races in between to fill up the lines on the Racing Form, and deceive the bettors into putting their money elsewhere on the crucial day. Instead he had laboriously built up a barnful of decent horses and devout clients who would sit and wait for the right race, without tearing out their hair or his. The racing secretaries at the small-town tracks they frequented were his friends; they’d have written six races a day for Kelly if he had asked.

    Chris had begun to think seriously that day about what it would feel like to win. To ride back to cheers and handshakes, to fortune. He had begun to wonder if he might not do it. Why not? Why not him?

    Ray Fremont sat down beside him. Fremont was one of the tall boys, thin as a switch, with a narrow white face and pink lips. He was in his early thirties. He had ridden for a season at Belmont. His wispy dust-colored hair was still damp from the hours he had spent in the sweat box melting off last night’s steak and potatoes.

    You look a little nervous to me, kid, Fremont said. Get enough sleep last night?

    Sure, said Chris. I feel fine.

    Fremont laughed. I bet you’d like to win it, wouldn’t you?

    Yeah, I guess so.

    Everybody’d like to win their first one. Too bad we can’t all do it. Get what I mean?

    He put his hand on Chris’s knee and left the simple phrase a silent moment to grow. Chris met his eyes and said, Yeah, while inside him the ghost of excitement that had been thinking itself some flesh and bone died back to a flicker.

    I’m sorry, kid, but today just ain’t gonna be your day. Hey, maybe you’ll hit it next time. Look, here’s what you do. Hang back like you’re scared of the mud, then make a big run off the turn. It’ll look good to Stafford that way. Nobody blames a guy for being scared the first time out. He stood up, turned, and bent over Chris, moving the gentle hand to his shoulder. Give me the word and we’ll put you down for five or ten in the right place, okay?

    Sure. Okay.

    Good boy. And with a pat, he wandered away.

    Hey, said Kelly. Don’t tell me you’re nervous. You know this son of a bitch is ready. You’re going to be just fine.

    Around and around them the brown horse trudged, head and tail dragging; his hair, where his shaggy winter coat had been hastily clipped short, stood up in uneven hedges on his shivering flesh. But Chris had galloped every horse in the paddock, and he knew the brown horse would eat them up. Its name was Two Twinkle, and on the board it was two-to-one.

    The owner’s married daughter huddled with them, a long-haired brunette in a luxuriant fur jacket and matching beret. She smiled at him and caught snowflakes in her open mouth as she laughed at something Kelly whispered in her ear.

    Come here, Chris, Kelly said as the horse, with old Peanuts at his head, stumbled up beside them. The main thing I want you to do is stay out of trouble. He don’t have to beat a single horse out of the gate. But ‘long about the middle of the backside you’ll feel the others coming back to you. Stay outside; he can handle it. At the eighth pole just cluck to him and give him a clear run in. That’s my boy.

    He gave Chris a shove that propelled him under the iron, and as quickly as Chris could bend his knee, came up beneath him and hoisted.

    Good luck, said the pretty girl.

    Thataboy, said Kelly. You’re gonna be just fine.

    The old horse ignored the lead pony and plodded the familiar lane to the track. From the moment they broke shelter and faced the wind of the open stretch until he found himself pulling up from a slow gallop behind the starting gate, Chris was conscious of only one thought, that he might be lucky enough to fall off and be spared this misery forever.

    In the gate he was next to Fremont, but Fremont had forgotten him. All the jocks looked straight ahead, down the long muddy channel. Miraculously the wet dirt glowed yellow for a moment and shadows appeared, but the pale snow never ceased coming down, and grayness fell again, like the shutting out of a thought. The gate opened.

    At the clang of the bell his horse jumped mechanically forward like a trolley car on rails. The mud came back at Chris in fistfuls. With every breath he took he swallowed a stream of slop. Before he had gone ten yards his goggles were clogged and useless, but when he reached to his cap for the second pair the others had told him to be sure and wear, he realized with a rush of panic that he had forgotten them.

    And under him the horse was running away.

    He hauled blindly on the reins but nothing happened. The old creature had been transformed into a hell-bent demon; it nearly yanked his arms from their sockets and plunged on. He pulled back again and put his shoulders into it. He felt an impatient check. Again. The horse came back to him a hair’s breadth. Trembling and choking, he eased off on the reins and fumbled to scrape the mud from the goggles. Under him the horse veered left, leaning like a motorbike. The turn. So many people had told him things to do on the turn. He couldn’t remember any of them.

    He managed to clear a dirty inch of space. With relief he looked around him. It was curiously bright ahead. He looked to his left. He saw no horses, though he could hear them. They breathed at his ear like elephants trumpeting. Behind him! He looked to his right. The stands. He looked ahead in time to see the wire go by. He needed to fall off fast. And get killed. Because they would surely kill him in the jocks’ room if he did not.

    But he stayed on and when he rode back and saw the white light in Kelly’s eyes it hit him. He had won. They took his picture in the grim day, perched up on the tumbledown old horse. Someone he had never seen before shook his hand, and the pretty girl kissed him, mud and all.


    There were a few moments when he thought he was going to get away with it, a few moments of backslapping and rib-poking that sparkled like the tail of a firecracker going up to burst. But he could not help looking for Fremont, nor could he help looking away when he saw him, watching him over a half-empty bottle of pop.

    In the shower, naked and wet, he was suddenly alone. By the time he realized the others had all gone off, Fremont and two more were there. When he tried to run he slipped on the slick floor. The two lifted him and held him while Fremont split his lip open. The back of his head hit the wall and he sagged, but they raised him again and Fremont cut his cheek with a splintering fist. He went down in a cold puddle that was already flowering with his blood, but they got him up once more. Fremont bent close to him and said, You play or you pay. Think it over. He lowered his chin when he saw the fist coming again, but still the punch snapped his head back. This time they let him fall.


    So what’ll you do next time? Kelly asked from the edge of the sofa in the dark room. Against the wall Chris lay among bundles of ice and wet towels.

    Won’t be a next time. I ain’t riding no more races.

    You’re a real brave kid.

    I like galloping horses just fine. I’ll stick to that.

    Well, said Kelly.