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Backstretch Girls

Backstretch Girls

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Backstretch Girls

356 pages
3 hours
Nov 3, 2019


A rebellious ponygirl. A jockey tested by tragedy. A rejected racehorse. A three million dollar race.

Teagan Sullivan is a golden disappointment in the show ring. To make matters worse, her family are big deal Olympic equestrians, so she skulks off to pony Thoroughbreds at a rundown racetrack. But while she excels at equine relations, she sucks at human ones—just ask her sexy blacksmith/sleepover buddy Screaming Wolf. And if she hadn't gone and rescued that stupid jockey wannabe Anne Simmons, she wouldn't be saddled with a new roommate, a broken down racehorse and a chance to prove herself to her family at last.

Born two months premature to an anorexic mother, Anne was a longshot just to survive. Now eighteen, she arrives on the backstretch with nothing but a duffel bag and Derby dreams. But the horsemen don't trust the naïve newcomer, so she's stuck ponying horses instead of riding races. She is still chasing their respect when a near-fatal accident shatters her body—and her spirit.

As Anne struggles to find the courage to ride again, Teagan wrestles with her feelings for Screaming Wolf. Horse racing's richest race, the Breeder's Cup Classic, offers them both a chance at redemption. Will Teagan and Anne conquer their fears in time to claim the things that they love most?
Nov 3, 2019

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Backstretch Girls - Dawn LeFevre


©All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

Print ISBN: 978-1-54398-431-6

eBook ISBN: 978-1-54398-432-3

For Mark for always believing in me and this book, I love you.


Leave it to cheap Charlie Miller to wreck Teagan’s morning. She was done for the day and cantering her lead pony Fuzzy towards the track exit when she heard a frantic cry of Whoa! and staccato hoof beats coming up fast from behind.

Sucker’s running off, she muttered, reining Fuzzy over to the outside fence.

Two seconds later, the horse blew past and Teagan caught a glimpse of the rider’s face. No one she knew, just a young pretty girl, probably some jockey wannabe who landed at the stable gate with nothing but a headful of Derby dreams.

You picked the wrong track, kid.

To her credit, the girl kept her cool, instead of making the amateur mistake of trying to overpower an animal ten times her weight, she focused on simply steering and staying in the saddle. But she was starting to tire, riding high in the saddle on rubbery legs.

No, Teagan had never seen the girl before but the horse she knew all too well. Monster. Damn that tightwad Charlie Miller, hiring some desperate girl to gallop his iron-jawed bastard just to save a few bucks on pony fees. Her pony fees.

And not her problem, that’s what outriders were for. Atlantic City’s main track was about to close and she was just a twenty minute cool-down away from that chocolate milkshake she’d been craving.

She watched Monster fly past the finish line with no intent of slowing whatsoever.

That’s it, keep on running, give Brian something to do besides chugging from his magic thermos.

Where the hell was he anyway? She scanned the track, spotted the outrider slumped on his Appaloosa at the three-eighths pole. She knew that slump; it was his post thermos slump.

Teagan watched as the runaway horse motored right past Brian; he didn’t even bother to raise his head. Son of a bitch was passed out. Again. Must be nice to have a father-in-law for a steward.

Meanwhile, that poor girl looked as if she was about to fall off. Shit. Teagan whirled Fuzzy around and kicked him into a canter.


Anne was about to die. She was panting like a sheepdog in the desert and her hands were as numb as this asshole horse’s mouth. Two miles and counting.

Maybe I can just bail off.

She glanced down at the track - dirt footing with a concrete base. Furlong poles zipped by; she had to be going thirty, thirty-five miles per hour, there was no way she’d land unscathed. Best she could hope for would be to pass out, might even be a blessing, her relaxed body would be less prone to injury as it fell.

Anne closed her eyes…

Suddenly, a woman shouted, Come here you common bastard.

Anne opened her eyes, watched in disbelief as a ponygirl swooped up alongside of her horse, reached over and snatched her reins.

Hey kid, you OK? the ponygirl asked.

Anne swallowed a sob of relief and nodded.

Good. Now drop your reins and leave the driving to me.

Anne obeyed and twenty strides later, her horse had been slowed to a canter. She cast a grateful glance up at her six foot savior. The ponygirl was dressed in a Metallica Master of Puppets t-shirt and looked like she could single-handedly stop a herd of Clydesdales. Her fair-skinned face was strong instead of pretty, punctuated with freckles. She had thick, dark eyebrows, a straight but slightly long nose and a small mouth. A long, auburn ponytail poked out from the bottom of her English riding helmet.

Her slate gray eyes focused on Anne’s. You’re new.

What makes you say that?

Two reasons: one, cuz I’ve never seen you before and two, every rider here knows better than to gallop this asshole without a pony. Lemme guess – Charlie plucked you from the stable gate line-up.

Face aflame, Anne nodded.

You’re lucky to be alive.

The ponygirl settled the horses into a trot as they approached the gap, or track entrance.

Anne cleared her throat and picked up the reins. Well thanks for saving me but I can take it from here.

The ponygirl held fast. Oh no, I’m taking you back myself. That cheap-ass Charlie’s gonna pay me my pony fee.

Please don’t, Anne begged. If Charlie finds out I got run off with, he’ll never let me gallop another horse for him again.

The ponygirl snorted. Honey, there ain’t a person alive who can stop Monster.

Monster? Who’s Monster? Charlie told me this horse’s name is Best Bet.

That’s his racing name. Around the barn he’s called Monster and now you know why.

They reached the gap and the ponygirl slowed the horses to a walk as she steered them onto the horse path. Monster tossed his head and jigged sideways, trying to break free.

The ponygirl draped Monster’s head over her pony’s neck and cooed, There, there. I know, you were just having fun and I had to go and ruin everything.

Anne couldn’t believe it – it actually worked! Monster settled down, offering little resistance as the horses plodded along the sandy horse path and entered the backstretch. Inside each barn they passed there was a final flurry of horses being brushed and bandaged as their grooms prepared for the noon feeding. Anne crinkled her nose at the sickly potpourri of cooking grease from the track kitchen, fresh manure roasting in concrete pits and weedy grass from the overgrown grazing area.

This was not how she’d imagined her first day would go – getting run off with and almost killed by the very first horse she galloped. Then again Atlantic City Racecourse wasn’t exactly what she had envisioned either – no grandstand twin spires or lush pastures of bluegrass, just twenty-three tin-roofed barns that hadn’t been painted in decades. The track was like an aged Rolls Royce, once glamorous but now had way too many miles and an owner unwilling to shell out any money for upgrades or repairs.

It was as depressing as being towed back to Charlie’s barn by a lead pony.

Charlie. Crap. If Charlie sees me being ponied back to the barn, then he’ll know that I couldn’t hold Monster.

Anne needed to win this chick over; she couldn’t bear the humiliation. What’s your name? she asked.


I’m Anne.

Whatever, Teagan shrugged.

Anne dropped her voice to a near whisper. Please, I’m just a girl who’s just trying to make it on the track, like you. Please, I’m begging you - cut me loose.

Teagan snorted. Spare me the sister act. Only thing that matters here is money and right now I intend to collect my ten bucks from Charlie.

They were halfway down the horse path now; Charlie’s barn was just coming into view...

Look he owes me seven bucks for galloping. Will you take that and keep quiet? Anne pleaded.

The eyes of granite gave her the once over then she was abruptly cut loose. As Teagan trotted away, she called over her shoulder, I’m in the pony barn, right across from Barn W. Don’t make me find you.

Anne almost fell off with relief. She put on her best nonchalant expression as she rode Monster into Charlie’s barn.

La-de-da, just back from galloping…

Bout time, thought I’d have to send out a search party, Charlie growled.

Snow white hair stuck out halo-like around his head as he reached out and grabbed Monster’s bridle.

Anne slid from the saddle, knees buckling as soon as her feet hit the ground.

Charlie jerked his head up. He run off with you, didn’t he?

What makes you say that? Anne replied innocently. She unfastened Monster’s girth and pulled off the saddle.

His voice turned cold. Don’t lie to me, girl. I ain’t paying no seven bucks for you to run my horse into the ground.

Anne set the saddle down on a bale of hay and waited. Charlie yanked off Monster’s bridle while the hotwalker, a Mexican boy who didn’t look a day over fourteen, quickly slipped the halter into place.

You owe me seven bucks, Anne said quietly, stepping directly in Charlie’s path.

I don’t owe you shit.

Tell that to the stewards.

Charlie muttered something under his breath then rummaged through several pockets of his stained jeans before finally producing a grimy five dollar bill. Here. It’s all I got. Now get the hell out of my barn.

Anne snatched the money, retrieved her duffel bag from his tack room, and set out for the pony barn.


Teagan never had any intention of collecting that pony fee yet when she looked up from raking out her pony’s stall, there was Miss Jockey wannabe. The girl was either incredibly honest or stupid.

The backstretch’s gonna eat her alive.

Anne looked even smaller on the ground, barely hitting the five foot mark and weighing maybe a hundred pounds soaking wet. She had high cheek bones with full lips and eyes the color of amber. Her neatly French-braided hair reminded Teagan of freshly tapped beer shimmering with gold. The girl belonged in Vogue, not on the backstretch of this shithole track.

Anne slapped a five dollar bill in her hand. Here. It’s all I got, she announced then sprinted towards the exit, duffel bag slapping against her thighs.

Hey kid, Teagan called.

Anne stopped and spun around. Stop calling me that. I’m eighteen years old which makes me an adult.

Right, so does your adult ass have any money?

Spent it all on bus fare, Anne confessed, stabbing her boot toe into the ground. I planned on going to Belmont and getting a job with a big trainer like Woody Stephens or Wayne Lukas.

Teagan snorted. Other than cheap-ass Charlie, you got any other galloping gigs?

Anne toed the ground then shook her head.

OK, so you need a job and there’s been a ponygirl shortage here for years…

Anne looked up. Thanks for the offer but I came here to gallop horses, not pony them.

Teagan snickered. Listen kid, other than morons like Charlie, no trainer is gonna trust someone they don’t know to gallop their valuable racehorses. You have to start from the ground up around here, hotwalking, grooming and shit and then maybe after a year, they’ll let you ride.

Anne’s face fell. A year? I have to wait a whole year just to gallop?

Yep. Or you can work for me. So they’re lead ponies and not racehorses, at least you’ll be riding and you’ll meet trainers, make connections, then who knows? Maybe one of them will give you a shot to gallop.

Anne scrunched up her forehead then gave a half-hearted nod.

Cool, you can start right now, Teagan said and handed her the rake.


It was five a.m. with just a hint of pink in the sky as Teagan climbed out of her pickup truck, arms loaded with her Wawa spoils – a bag of donuts, and two twenty ounce coffees. She kicked the door closed and trudged into the barn. She hit the lights. Twelve lead ponies blinked at her from over their webbings in the half-empty barn.

No sign of the kid. Good. Maybe Anne had wised up and hightailed it back to wherever she came from. Yawning, Teagan shuffled past the hay room. Seconds later, her sluggish brain registered the sleeping bag. She doubled back and poked her head inside. Yup, somebody was sleeping in her hay room.

Just what I need, some drunk puking up tequila on my alfalfa.

Teagan quietly set her coffee and donuts down and picked up a pitchfork.

Hey you! Get the hell out! she barked.

The body bolted upright. Anne.

Dude, are you crazy? Teagan yelled, leaning the pitchfork against the wall.

Anne stretched and picked a piece of hay out of her hair. Sorry, I didn’t have anywhere else to crash.

So you slept here? Are you nuts? You’re lucky you weren’t raped!

Let them try, Anne replied, whipping a penknife out of her back pocket.

Yeah, you’re a real tough chick, Teagan said, easily snatching it out of her hand and holding it over her head.

Hey, give that back!

Anne did a leap and grab combo but didn’t even come close to wrenching her knife from the ponygirl’s grasp.

Shut up and listen a sec, Teagan snapped, The track’s not a safe place to crash, it’s full of drunks, ex-cons, illegals, and, she gave her a hard stare, Runaways.

I’m not a runway, Anne asserted. And I want my knife back.

Fine. Teagan tossed it over, and then scooped her coffee and bag of donuts off the ground.

Here, she said, passing Anne a cup. I brought breakfast.

Thanks. Anne took a grateful sip and flopped down on a bale of hay.

Teagan sat down beside her, dug out a Boston cream donut and passed her the bag.


After their zillion calorie breakfast, Teagan thrust a grooming kit into Anne’s hand and pointed to a dull-eyed chestnut gelding in the second stall.

That’s Slug. He’s mentally and physically slow which is why he didn’t make it as a racehorse. Get him cleaned up.

Anne ducked under the webbing, took hold of Slug and clipped his halter to the tie-chain on the back wall then began to pick out his hooves. As she worked, the other ponypeople – six women, one mutton-chopped guy - trickled into the barn. She heard them mutter greetings to Teagan who made zero effort to introduce her.

She probably figures I won’t be around long enough for them to bother even learning my name.

She finished Slug’s feet, picked up the curry comb and attacked the manure stains on his rump.

Chill dude, he’s not competing at Madison Square Garden, Teagan said as she stepped into the stall carrying four thick polo bandages.

Is there something wrong with Slug’s legs? Anne asked.

Nope, they’re just in case these crazy-ass Thoroughbreds try to kick him, Teagan replied as she knelt down next to Slug’s left foreleg and began to wrap.

Five minutes later, Teagan led a fully bandaged and tacked up Slug out of the stall, swung up into the saddle, and started for the barn exit.

Wait, what about me? When do I get to pony? Anne called.

Let’s see how well you handle a pitchfork and scrub brush first, Teagan yelled over her shoulder then clucked Slug into a trot.

Anne spent the next two hours mucking stalls, sweating, swatting flies and scrubbing feed tubs. Not exactly what she’d expected she’d be doing when she’d decided to leave home three days ago. And now she was going to have to wait a year just to gallop! At that rate, it would take forever to get her apprentice jockey’s license.

Sighing, she clipped Fuzzy’s freshly scrubbed water bucket to the wall and began to fill it. She had it halfway full when suddenly, the screw-eye tore through the rotted wood and the bucket crashed to the ground, soaking her shoes and the freshly laid wood shavings.


Anne shut off the hose, grabbed the bucket and flung it out into the aisle way.

Now I have to clean the goddamn stall all over again!

She blinked back tears of frustration and leaned against the door frame. Something touched her shoulder. She turned around. Fuzzy nuzzled her hair. She buried her face into his chocolate mane and clung to the white-blazed gelding like a lover.

It was a mistake coming here. Anne could still feel her mother’s brittle hug in front of the bus station as she whispered, Make me proud.

Wonder what mom would think of her now, mucking stalls with her soaked shoes and no closer to riding in a race than she was when she climbed on that bus.

Well Fuzzy, at least there’s you, she murmured. And Slug. And Teagan, who was actually kinda cool, giving her this job. She released Fuzzy and retrieved his water bucket.

As the morning wore on the temperature climbed into the nineties and the humidity turned tortuous. A little after nine, Teagan burst into the barn, jumped off Slug, and announced, That’s it, I’m cooked.

Anne rushed over and took hold of Slug’s bridle. The chestnut’s neck and undersides were covered in foamy sweat.

Don’t worry about him, I’ll just hose him off and stick him on the walking machine, Teagan panted. Go tack up Fuzzy and get your ass to Barn R.

Anne blinked. Her? Pony?

Teagan read her mind. That’s right, kid, you’re ponying. Now move.

At last! Anne grabbed the saddle and bridle and all but ran to Fuzzy’s stall. The lead pony stood patiently while she slipped the bridle over his ears then tossed the saddle up onto his back and tightened the girth.

Teagan popped into the stall, knelt down and began bandaging Fuzzy’s legs.

As she wrapped, Teagan said, You’ll be ponying for Bob Mays. He’s my oldest client and the leading trainer at this dump for ten years running. Don’t screw up.

Got it, Anne replied.

When Teagan finished bandaging Fuzzy, she led him out of the stall and handed him over to Anne.

Anne hesitated; Fuzzy had to be at least seventeen hands – almost six feet from the ground to his withers where the saddle rested. She looked imploringly at Teagan. Mind giving me a leg up?

Teagan shook her head. Sorry kid but legging up is for jocks and you ain’t one yet. A ponygirl’s gotta be able to climb on and off, anytime, anywhere, even if ya gotta use the hood of a parked car to do it.


Anne lowered the stirrup, stuck the ball of her foot through and did a combination leap-mane grab and saddle-scramble. Wasn’t pretty but at least she made it.

She gave Teagan a thumbs-up and rode out of the barn. Looks easy enough, Anne thought as she guided Fuzzy down the horse path. Just had to gallop Fuzzy three times around the half mile training track with Bob’s horse in tandem. Unfortunately, Bob didn’t quite see it that way when she rode up and introduced herself.

Nope, don’t think so, Bob muttered, chin flab flapping as he shook his head. Lucky All Over is my best horse, won twenty-two races, three of ‘em stakes and made over two hundred grand. I ain’t about to let just anyone pony her.

Deflated, Anne was about to swing Fuzzy around and head back when the pony suddenly reached out and nuzzled Bob’s arm.

Bob spat a chunk of coffee-colored snuff and chuckled. Hey Fuzzy, how you doing?

He stroked Fuzzy’s muzzle then squinted up at Anne. You know, in all the time I’ve known Teagan she’s never let anyone else ride Fuzzy. You must be pretty special.

He looked her over as if she were a yearling at a sale. She smiled back nervously.

A beat later Bob muttered, Wait here, then waddled into the barn.

Two minutes later he returned leading a pretty black mare with a long thick tail and a small dot of white in the middle of her forehead.

Bob handed Anne the mare’s lead shank with the reverence usually reserved for a communion cup and said, Lucky’s seven years old now and needs a good warm up, at least a half mile of jogging before she gallops.

Don’t worry, I’ll take care of her, Anne promised then swung Fuzzy around and headed up the horse path towards the training track with Lucky by her side.

On the track, Lucky was all class, obediently trotting and galloping beside Fuzzy, never once throwing her head or pulling against the shank.

Wow, ponying doesn’t suck after all, Anne whispered to herself.

And then someone shouted, Loose horse!

Anne’s pulse rate went machine-gun. She scanned the track, spotted the rider-less horse…

He’s coming right at me!

She cranked hard on Fuzzy’s mouth, Lucky smashing into her leg as they veered sharply to the right.

And so did the loose horse.

Seconds away from a head-on collision, Anne made her choice…


Teagan leaned against the outside rail of the training track, sweating and swatting flies. She shouldn’t have worried, the kid was doing fine, in full command of both pony and racehorse.

She turned and was about to head back to the pony barn when she heard the cry of Loose horse!

She spun around.

The loose horse was heading right for Anne!


Teagan ducked under the rail and took off across the track. She just missed being run over by a galloping horse, its rider screaming obscenities as he swerved his mount out of the way. She spotted Fuzzy, rider-less, standing by the outside rail just as she’d trained him to do. She left him there and kept running, despite the heat, the deep track sand, and her aching leg muscles.

She saw Bob’s mare first, snorting, whirling, but otherwise unhurt. And there, holding steadfastly to her shank was Anne. The kid had refused to let her go, even though it would have guaranteed her own safety. Faced with a deadly collision, instead of simply letting the mare loose, Anne had instead chose to bail off her expendable pony and hold onto the racehorse, keeping her from running loose, keeping her safe.

Teagan ran up beside her. You OK?

Yeah, Anne replied through gritted teeth. Twisted my ankle on the landing.

Teagan patted her shoulder. You’re one crazy chick, you know that kid? But you made the right choice.

She took Lucky’s shank out of her hand then helped Anne hobble over to the safety of the outside rail. She gave a sharp whistle and Fuzzy jogged over.

Teeth clenched from the pain, Anne met her eyes. Put me back up.

You go ice that ankle. I’ll take the mare back to Bob.

Anne shook her head. No. I should do it.

Teagan hesitated

Look, you trusted me enough to let me ride Fuzzy- Anne said.

I put you on Fuzzy cuz I trained him to stop if you fall off.

Oh. Anne’s

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