Comet stood patiently in the saddling paddock while Huey saddled him, happily whistling Santa Claus is Coming to Town.
All of a sudden, Sid hustled over to them, his racing form tucked under his arm. "Hey you guys," he said, "I got a line on Beer Pong. Tom Amoss is pretty high on this one and his morning line is 5-1. We could have a real solid exacta." He looked at Huey, annoyed. "Will ya quit whistling that song?"
"It's a good song," came a familiar voice.
Comet, Huey, and Sid looked up, startled.
There stood Santa Claus.
He was dressed in dark slacks and a blue sports jacket, easily blending with all the other owners and trainers in the paddock. But the white beard and rosy cheeks were unmistakable. However, he wasn't exactly looking like a jolly ol' fellow.
"Ah, Comet. Huey." Santa raised his white bushy eyebrows in surprise when he looked at Sid. "My, my," he observed dryly, "Look who we have here."
Sid flushed. "Hey there, Santa," he said sheepishly. "Been awhile, huh?"
Santa folded his arms across his chest and spoke with a quiet command. "Comet, it's time for you to come home."
Comet looked at Santa pleadingly. "Please, S.C. Just this one last race! I just want to have the chance to show Larry Jones my stuff! He's got Doc's Friend entered in the Sugar Bowl Stakes!" He looked to Huey and Sid for support, but the elves shrugged helplessly. Who argued with Santa Claus?
Santa gently stroked Comet's muzzle. "Comet, you are a part of my team and Christmas is only a few days away. I need you. And you've had a wonderful opportunity to live this dream as a racehorse over the past few weeks but it's time to come home."
"But .. but ... my Derby dreams ...," Comet sputtered.
Santa just shook his head.
"Maybe we can come back in January for LeComte?" Huey offered up hopefully.
Santa Claus chuckled, the familiar twinkle returning to his eyes. "No, Huey. Even you know that Christmas Magic only lasts so long. It's time to come home," he repeated. And then looking directly at Sid, he added, "All of you."
Sid grunted. "Well, I kinda did enjoy the snow last week. It really wasn't all that bad."
"Tell you what, Sid. I'll consider opening an OTB parlor after the new year," Santa conceded.
Sid brightened visibly. "Okay, S.C., but can I get out of sorting Lincoln Logs?"
Santa smiled and nodded. Then he directed his attention to his reindeer. "It's time to retire as a racehorse, Comet."
Comet was disappointed. He'd be going back to the North Pole, a permanent frosty winter wonderland with the perpetual odor of peppermints and gingerbread along with the chipper melodies of perky elves. It's not as if he would enjoy the same type of retirement as, say, Curlin.
"Look," said Santa, "you can be Filmore's assistant. You've proven very athletic and competitive as a racehorse. Morning workouts, sprints and routes, turf and dirt. I think you can bring some real spirit to our team."
"What about me?" Huey asked.
Santa thoughtfully rubbed his whiskers. "Why don't you plan on staying here in New Orleans for a few more weeks - keep an eye out for P Val. Keep him out of trouble." Santa looked over to P Val, as he was standing next to his mount, Screen Your Friend. P Val met his gaze, somewhat surprised by the hint of familiarity. He smiled wanly to Santa Claus' wave. "Merry Christmas, P Val!" he called out.
And Merry Christmas to all.