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The racetrack is filled to bursting with clamoring people. Heady aromas of buttery popcorn and sticky cotton candy fill the air. Rose and I stand apart from the other horses. They mill around like ants on an anthill. My mouth is as dry as a desert. This will be the last race I ride with Rose. She will be turning four soon and I want to retire her.

Cheers and yells coming from the crowd are earsplitting. They sound like logs being ground up by a sawmill. The neighs of the horses mingle with the deafening noise, creating a cacophony. Finally, out of all the noise I hear a whistle. It's the whistle for the horses to come to the starting gates. We line up. They smell distinctly musty, as if someone had not washed them in years, maybe centuries. Well, that's how old the racetrack is. I pet Rose on her soft silky coat, calming her. It would not do to have her strength wasted before the race even starts.

John Thompson, the jockey of another horse, Angel, whispers smugly to me, "Angel is too good for Rose. We'll win!" I try to ignore him. He's too crazy. His remark makes me even more nervous though. There are elephants in my stomach instead of butterflies. Why can't the starting pistol fire? CRACK! The noise of the pistol firing nearly makes me leap out of the saddle.

The gates spring open with surprising agility for something so old. Rose bolts forward as fast as lightning. I taste her rough mane in my mouth as I'm jolted onto her neck.

The Final Race horse racing
I grip fiercely at the reins. "Come on, Rose! You can do it!"

Angel is jostling us ferociously. My foot loses its grip on the stirrup. Wind rushes past me as my leg swings wildly in the air. It's slowing Rose down! We're way behind at the half-mile mark.

My fumbling foot finally finds the swinging stirrup. Luckily, it slips in. We've got to do this! This is our last chance. We can't let Angel win. The pounding of hooves is deafening. I hear the other jockeys yelling at their mounts to go faster. The wide home stretch is in front of me, perfectly straight and flat. My saddle is sticky with sweat. I grip fiercely at the reins. "Come on, Rose! You can do it!" The wind almost blows my words away, but not quite.

I can feel Rose lengthening her strides. She must be going thirty miles an hour! The finish line is just feet ahead. Angel is neck-to-neck with us. I will Rose to win...

She leaps across the finish line!

The thought sinks into me. We won! By a nose. I inhale the fragrant scent of the roses on Rose's back. They match her name. I hug the chilly golden cup. It is but a mere symbol of what I really feel. Rose's thoughts seem to connect with mine as she rears up in exaltation.

The Final Race Hayley Jones
Hayley Jones, 10
Portland, Oregon

The Final Race Indra Roving
Indra Roving, 12
Hope Valley, Rhode Island