Secretariat

Horse Racing: Where Dreams Meet Reality

Horse Racing: Where Dreams Meet Reality

By Steve Haskin

 

Consider this a public service column. Just heed my words and you will live a joyous, fulfilling life.

Let’s start with the battle that plagues us all, especially when it comes to the world of Thoroughbred racing. It is a world like no other, comprised of two hemispheres. In one hemisphere exists the stark reality of practicality, if I may use a phrase I just concocted. In the other hemisphere exists the impracticality of romance. Or in other words, one hemisphere is guided by the brain and other by the heart.

As an example, Penny Tweedy had to decide whether or not to cross that bridge from one hemisphere to the other. Her practical side probably knew her family was right in wanting her to sell the struggling Meadow Stud following the death of her mother and father, Christopher Chenery, who had built the Virginia farm into one of the most successful racing and breeding operations in the country. But Penny knew how much the farm meant to her father and she decided to follow her heart. The beckoning romance of the sport had won out, and the legends of Riva Ridge and Secretariat were born.

I am, have always been, and always will be an incurable romantic, as you might have gathered if you read my column “A Love Letter to Joan” a couple of years ago. Or if you read the numerous poems I have written to Joan over the years. From the time I was in school I was never guided by my brain, hence my Shawshank Redemption-like miraculous escape from the clutches of high school prison. I believe it has been my romantic outlook on life that drew me to Thoroughbred racing, which then led me to the wonderful life with which I have been blessed.

My wife Joan, who many of you probably feel like you know, certainly has a romantic side to her, but she, unlike me, exists in good part in the hemisphere guided by practicality, thank goodness. For if it wasn’t for that I doubt our bills would ever get paid and our checkbook balanced. I’m still trying to figure out long division.

So, where am I going with all this? OK, I will tell you.

Here I was going along at my usual leisurely pace handicapping the Kentucky Derby, pretty sure in which direction I was going. It all looked pretty simple. I, like the vast majority of fans, felt Tiz the Law, Art Collector, and Honor A. P. dominated this field that I felt was subpar for a Kentucky Derby field. I had latched on to three longshots early in the year – Sole Volante, Major Fed, and Attachment Rate – and to a slightly lesser degree, Enforceable. So I was merely going to stick with them after eight agonizing long months of following the Derby that would never come. This long, meandering, and bizarre road was feeling more like the Run for the Woeses, as prominent horses kept dropping out, including the late withdrawal of Art Collector.

So, here I was gathering my wagers in my head and just waiting for Sept. 5. I didn’t know what I was waiting more for, the race itself or for it to be finally over. And then it happened. Unfortunately, I read a Facebook post from Patti Reeves, who owns Sole Volante with her husband Dean. The post read:

“I’m proud to be a part of AUTHENTIC (Post Position #18 at 8:1), along with my sister; my sister in law; several girlfriends; and even my financial advisor. (The husband’s not in on this one; it was a girls thing!) So if anyone got Covid Crazy like I did and wants to have some fun before the big race, you too can own a microshare of a Derby horse! Check out MyRacehorse.com and join in for the ride. Shares are still available. Heck, it’s 2020 and anything can happen.”

“Wow, that is awesome,” I thought, as my romantic side came skyrocketing to the surface. I checked the website and there he was in living color charging to the finish line in the San Felipe Stakes and heading straight to Churchill Downs. For $206 paltry dollars I could buy 0.001 or one one-thousandth of a Grade 1 winner who is trained by Bob Baffert and running in the Kentucky Derby.

That’s it! That will be my surprise present to Joan, just in time for our 40th anniversary on Sept. 28. Or I could buy it for my daughter Mandy, who grew up around many of the greatest Thoroughbreds of all time. But first and foremost, it would be a perfect anniversary present for Joan, who never wants jewelry and only wants books and more books, leaving me with nothing original to buy her other than a gift certificate at Barnes & Noble. I once bought her a star (yes, a real star) and named it Joanie’s Eyes, which is officially registered with the International Star Registry. We have a large framed certificate hanging on the wall to prove it. But since then, it’s been Barnes & Ho-Hum Noble every year, every holiday, as I watch Joan go through 500-page books like I went through comic books as a kid. Evelyn Woods couldn’t keep up with her.

So, I filled out all the information and was just about to push “Buy,” when I stopped and pondered the situation. Uh, oh, my practical side was beginning to engulf my romantic side. What would Joan say to me spending $206 the day after her big boss at the New Jersey Office of Legislative Services, where she has been a part-time resolution writer for the past 17 years, decided to cut costs by eliminating all part-time workers. She had been seriously contemplating retiring anyway, but hoping to still work a couple of days a week. So, here she was out of work and me also recently getting the boot from The Jockey Club (BloodHorse) for similar reasons after having a lucrative free-lance stint there for the past five years.

I had just cleared it with Joan to order Dr. Ho’s Circulation Promoter, which I saw on TV, for her bad back and my arthritic feet. The cost was $219 and 96 cents, almost the same price as a microshare in Authentic. And, who knows, maybe it will help. Heck, it helped all those people on the commercial and it was a 90-day free trial. Why not give it a shot.

But then I got hit by Patti Reeves’ lightning bolt. The heck with pain relief, the heck with seeing our income diminished. I can buy a Derby horse for Joan, even an infinitesimal share of a Derby horse. Do I dare do something so foolish, and for a horse who was not even included in a single bet of mine? After all, he didn’t have a mile and a quarter pedigree, he was a confirmed front-runner who needed an uncontentious lead, and he had a perfect trip on the lead in the Haskell Invitational and tried his best to give a three-length advantage away, barely lasting by a nose. And in the Derby, he had drawn post 18 in an 18-horse field filled with classy pace horses and stalkers, and the last time he had an outside post in the Santa Anita Derby, he ducked out badly at the start, costing him the lead and any chance of winning. In my Derby rankings, I had him ranked at No. 8 and No. 7, even though most people had him ranked No. 3. What did they know? He simply was not my kind of Derby horse. Yes, he was very talented and fast, but everyone knows Into Mischiefs can’t go 10 furlongs, or at least have never given any indication they can, and on the lead no less, being hounded by Tiz the Law, Honor A. P., Ny Traffic, King Guillermo, and his own stablemate Thousand Words. And breaking from post 18.

Oh no, my romantic side was quickly conceding defeat to a practical side I despised, but sadly had to acknowledge. Should I incur the wrath of Joan for spending $206 for a strand of a Derby horse’s tail, and one that I didn’t like to win the Derby? But he will still be a good horse after the Derby, and should be a popular stallion, and who knows what’s going to happen in a crazy year like this? Come on, what a neat anniversary gift, even if you throw away $206. You are part of something unique and special and there are owner’s perks that come with it. It’s romantic, it’s something from the heart, it’s me. It’s poetry. It’s all about owning a star a billion light years away, which is as impractical as you can get. This star at least I can see in Joanie’s Eyes, charging under the famed Twin Spires. After all, racing is for dreamers.

I sort of tested Joan out and was convinced that this was nothing more than folly, and I knew she did not want me indulging in such foolishness, especially at this time. She told me so. So I grabbed my finger and pulled it away from that siren-like “Buy” button that kept calling, “Hit me, hit me. Do it.”

I went back to the harsh reality of handicapping and trying to win some money, as we got ready to drive up to Saratoga to watch the race with our dear friends, the Freedbergs. Authentic was now a dimming dream and I dismissed him completely, as owning a piece of him faded from both heart and mind.

But the lure of the siren wasn’t about to give up that easily. The day before the Derby I received an email with the subject line, “Last Chance With Authentic.” They knew I had reached the precipice of owning a piece of the horse by all the info I had provided and were giving me one more chance. Just when I thought I was free they were pulling me back in; tempting me, teasing me by implanting the dream in my psyche once again. The email read: “Authentic runs tomorrow in the Kentucky Derby, this is your last chance to invest. Offering closes for good at Post Time. Reach for the Stars. Run for the Roses. Authentic couldn’t be coming into the race any better.”

Stars again. I can see Joanie’s Eyes and this time I don’t need a high-powered telescope. I can see Authentic running to glory and destroying all my handicapping. I can hear Joan saying after the race, “I was wrong, sweetheart. I own part of a Kentucky Derby winner. I’m so happy you followed your heart.”

Stop, you’re killing me. I know Joan would want me to be strong and not give in to this last-minute temptation. She told me so yet again, and deep down I knew she was right and being the wiser of the two, as she always is. So I closed the email and that officially ended the romantic aspect of this year’s Kentucky Derby and the unwritten poetry I was going to present to my wife.

Of course, what happens? After Art Collector dropped out, so did another strong pace presence in King Guillermo. And then another strong pace presence in stablemate Thousand Words, who flipped and fell backward in the walking ring, with assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes suffering a broken wrist. Authentic now is breaking from post 15 instead of post 18 and three of the horses who could challenge him are gone, as is Honor A. P. who gets sawed off at the start and drops back to last.

The day before, the horse who was Baffert’s main focus this weekend, the brilliant Gamine, also by the distance-challenged Into Mischief, suffered her first defeat when she was upset as the odds-one favorite in the Kentucky Oaks. And his big older horse McKinzie finished out of the money in the Alysheba Stakes. This was getting to be a typical Bob Baffert Shakespearean melodrama. After the Thousand Words incident I said to Joan, “Knowing Baffert, this can only end one way – Authentic wins the Derby.” Not only does he win, he sets fast fractions and battles back after being headed to defeat the mighty Tiz the Law, something he had never shown he was capable of doing. Leave it to Baffert to turn agony into ecstasy and get an Into Mischief to win at a mile and a quarter. That concluded the strangest and most convoluted Derby trail of all time. It could have only ended this way. All I kept thinking was that I shouldn’t have wavered in the first place. I shouldn’t have told Joan about my intention and my indecision.

I am writing all this to tell you all, you can be practical in all phases of your life, but not in horse racing, where you have to dream before a dream can come true. The dream of Authentic is gone forever and I am trying to come to terms with that, not for myself, but for a beautiful woman who has made my life beautiful in every way. I wish I could have given her this, but she still says the right decision was made and, unlike me, has no regrets at all.

All I can say is that Dr. Ho’s Circulation Promoter better work.

Photo courtesy of myracehorse.com