Muffy can't forget the suffering of Leesburg and Emblem. She wonders whether being locked in a stall - even at a place as beautiful as Fair Hill - is a way for horses to live, instead of staying in the fields all day, where they were born to be.
"I'm not sure how much I like racing anymore," she confessed to Richard recently.
Over the winter, she even began saying that maybe the shipping business could be a new beginning for them. They could make up the extra money by renting their own farm's pastures to injured horses and brood mares, and get out of racing altogether.
Except for the site of the burned-down barn - now a smoothed-over mound of dirt - Fair Hill is as lovely as ever early one January morning, as processions of thoroughbreds make their pilgrimage to the race track. The rising sun tips their whiskers with gold and burns along their silhouettes.
Richard Trimmer is there, but not with horses. He is waiting to drive another trainer's mare to the afternoon races at Laurel. As he gets out of the blue truck with the blue-and-white trimmed trailer on the back, a few trainers greet him awkwardly.
"What's going on, Richie?"
They talk to him like always, about yesterday's races and who has run well that morning. But he is a shipper of horses now, and not their equal. An assistant trainer leads a mare into the trailer and hands Richard the racing papers and a water bucket filled with gear. She reminds Trimmer to have a blacksmith check the horse's shoes before the race. Richard nods, throws the locks on his trailer, and drives away.
Twenty minutes later, he is on Interstate 95 idling beside an 18-wheeler belching exhaust and a Coca-Cola truck. Traffic again. He stares blankly through the windshield.
He's not sure he can be happy this way. Being out of the races for just these few more months has given him a sick feeling in his stomach, and the thought that he might never get back is almost unbearable. This is how it happens in the racing business: a run of bad luck, and decent trainers just fade away. He'd risked everything to bring his horses to Fair Hill, and now everything was lost.
Or was it? Some days, he can see his wife's point, that a life away from the track could also be enough. The break from racing had at times felt unexpectedly sweet, particularly the extra hours he has spent with his children, 4-year-old Bruce and 2-year-old Brianna. At Christmas, they went to see a Winnie the Pooh show in New York City, the kind of trip the family hadn't taken in ages.
But his favorite moments are at the farm, in the snug brick house or the corn and alfalfa fields beyond, where his Amish neighbors work their teams of hairy-footed draft horses. He loves watching the kids conduct the business of country children: how Bruce slings his arm over the back of the seat of his miniature tractor, exactly the way a man would, how Brianna disdains her Shetland pony, Strawberry, in favor of her mother's hulking quarter horses. It is the kind of life he ached for as a boy, and now and then over the winter - as ice creeps across the pond, and a new family of owls hoots in the pine trees - a feeling very much like happiness wells up in his heart.
"Sometimes I feel like we have a lot, here on the farm," Trimmer said. "If we had been in an apartment, just Muffy and me, we would have had nothing."
But the fire is never completely out of his mind. Sometimes, it even seems engrained in the consciousness of his children. It is so hard to know what they remember. They woke up at Fair Hill practically every morning of their lives and knew all the horses their mother rode. The night of the fire, he and Muffy weren't sure what to tell them.
What about Leesburg? they wanted to know. What about Emblem?
Finally, Muffy had said that their father had caught his horses and taken them to live on a farm far away.
When their father will be racing horses again is hard to say. An owner Trimmer knows has a few horses that might be ready to run by the late spring. If he can afford to, Trimmer is going to try to return to Fair Hill.
And if he can't - then what? He could start over, sell the farm, travel with the races again.
Or he could settle for shipping, and stay here in deepest horse country, raising a family where he'd come to race the fastest thoroughbreds around.
Now Trimmer turns his trailer off Whiskey Bottom Road, into the Laurel Park race course. After dropping off the horse, he stops into an office and hands a woman a check - to renew his training license.
The receipt in his pocket, he walks past the grandstand with its rows of hunched gamblers, and stops at a lonely place along the rail. Leafing through the day's program just before the first race, he sees that a horse named Forgotten Emblem is running: the half-brother of his dead colt.
Trimmer's blue eyes follow as the pack rounds the far turn, dust chasing after the horses, like smoke.