If, like me, you typically consume enough turkey and tryptophan over the Thanksgiving weekend to be able to induce hallucinogenic dream like sequences involving talking animals, cartoon characters, and eerily fitting sitar music at will, then perhaps what follows will be at least remotely entertaining.
A true psychedelic experience, this admittedly is not. Although do be sure to pass the Wavy Gravy for the mashed taters when you have a chance.
Wavy Gravy wishing you all a granola and organic food filled Thanksgiving weekend, which obviously has invaluable dental benefits.
How quickly the pages seem to turn on the trusty wall mounted calendar with each passing year. Where it feels like just yesterday we were in the midst of a spring and summer of racing for the ages, now we find ourselves preparing for the momentous holidays that bracket the passing of each year, and the arrival of the next.
While the autumn light fades on the careers of renowned champions and heroes like Zenyatta and Better Talk Now, the first light of spring shall soon radiate downward upon the heads of the next generation; specifically the two-year-olds in training at the moment who are about to turn three on New Year’s Day.
What may the future hold? Obviously we can only speculate. It might be asking a bit much to expect 2010 to even come close to the thrill and euphoria which so defined racing in 2009. Still, one gets the feeling after watching this past season that just about anything in the world is possible, if only we will it to be so.
I’m not sure how many were able to catch this, as it was not widely publicized prior to the airing, but PBS ran a phenomenal episode of “American Experience” this week that featured the story of Seabiscuit. One line from that episode stuck with me as I set down to write today. After watching the Biscuit finally conquer the Santa Anita “hundred grander” after multiple unsuccessful tries, one journalist remarked “oh, to have lived to see this day.”
Isn’t that it, really? Thank god we’ve been alive to see these moments, rather than have them as mere references that happened long ago in a time that seems only “real” on the pages of a history book? To not only be aware of the accomplishments, but to have lived to experience them? To have been filled with the rush of victory, to have stood a tip-toe and called on all within you to will your horse home. To have felt the elation of the crowd and to have thought it so tangible that one might reach out and actually touch the feeling?
So, as we prepare to sit down with family and friends and give thanks for all that we have, why not also take stock of the moments we saw this past year that captured our hearts or touched us in such a way as to remind us why it is we care so much about this game. Yes, the year and the moments are gone, fading away with each passing day, but the memory of those moments still burns bright and true, and shall do so as long as we give time for reflection and acknowledgement.
Why stop with just being thankful for memories from this most recent year though? We are, after all, on the precipice of yet another new decade. Out with the “oughts” and in with the “teens”, I suppose. Loosely inspired by a similar discussion over on the TVG Community, here’s a short list of special moments over the past decade that I’d like to give thanks for having experienced.
- Sarava upsets the Triple Crown dreams of War Emblem in the 2002 Belmont
It might seem questionable to begin with a memory that involves a Triple Crown dream being shattered once again, but this memory holds personal significance for me. In fact, I almost cannot believe that June 8, 2002 was over 7 full years ago now!
You see, June 8 just happened to be the day that Amy and I were married, and as our guests filed into the outdoor enclosure we were to exchange vows within in a matter of moments, we sat in the car, turning the AM radio to an ESPN station carrying the race call.
The feeling was rather eery, almost like a flashback to days of yore, and in particular to the famed Seabiscuit/War Admiral match race of 1938, when millions of Americans had huddled around radios to hear the call as the two legends finally faced one another.
Sarava would break many hearts that day, taking advantage of a bad break for War Emblem, and powering away through the stretch to pull off one of the biggest upsets in recent memory. I like to think that this race was the first time my wife displayed hints of becoming a racing fan – and while many hearts may have been broken that day, two more were united, for eternity.
- Curlin nails Street Sense at the wire to win the 2007 Preakness
I probably don’t need to go into much detail about this one, as those who read these pages have no doubt heard me relive this moment in full, vivid detail time and again over the past few years. Suffice to say, I’d never been more confident in my life that a horse would win a major race, to the point that I actually became angered whenever an “expert” insisted he’d never be able to win (and in particular I seem to recall listening to great Andy Beyer state that Curlin was “too green” to ever catch Street Sense).
In response to that statement, I pictured Curlin standing behind a fence, like Harry Dean Stanton’s character in the film Red Dawn, imploring any who would listen to “Avenge me! Avenge me!”
From our position along the grandstand, we had a perfect view as he willed his chestnut body into position and made his bid to catch Street Sense. Of all the moments, then till now, I don’t think louder sounds have ever emanated from my body – which is saying something, as I’m a fairly loud dude. That first step he took in pursuit of Street Sense, I’d swear I saw that happen in slow motion, as if from a dream sequence that I’d already seen play out countless times in my subconscious.
To this day, I get chills down my spine watching that replay.
- Rachel Alexandra wills herself to the wire in the 2009 Preakness
Another special day, and one filled with yet more personal reasons for being so. As many who read the comments here know, Rachel has sort of become my wife’s version of Curlin. I’ve never seen her display such affection for a horse, and I think this started when she returned home from work just in time to see her romp by 20 lengths in the KY Oaks 2 weeks before.
As the news broke that Rachel was purchased by Jess Jackson, and that she was coming to the Preakness, we danced for joy and knew that we would have a front row seat at history in the making.
Preakness Day 2009 was sort of a down one for us early. My handicapping stunk, we weren’t cashing as many tickets as we usually do, but when Rachel came out of the gate looking to “big girl” the boys from her first step all the way to the wire – it wound up being a day like no other.
I remember fielding phone calls from people who were usually uninterested in horse racing exclaiming things like “oh my god, she (expletive deleted) did it!” In fact, I myself made an expletive laced faux pas in trying to message back a friend, and mistakenly “tweeted” to the universe “she (same expletive deleted) did it! She (again, deleted – those responsible have been sacked) did it!”
- Rachel Alexandra parting the clouds and running away with the 2009 Haskell Invitational.
This day/moment/memory was a no-brainer to include on this short list, as we were lucky enough to be guests of Monmouth Park and granted access to the paddock for the Haskell.
What I’ll always remember, beyond the elation and euphoria of the crowd from the moment “she” arrived, was that the day had been filled with torrential rains, which seemed to subside just in time for Rachel to make her presence. It’s like the clouds knew that they weren’t allowed to rain on her parade. Moments later, she became a Haskell legend.
Along the way we also got to hang out with Belmont champion Summer Bird and his trainer Tim Ice. I’ve got to admit that “the other Bird” is now one of my favorite horses in training…although I’m not quite sure about him racing in Japan. He was also Amy’s Belmont pick, so we have some history with him that we’ll never forget.
Of course, I can’t forget Gary Stute and Papa Clem either, nor the world’s most gracious host, Sophia Mangalee of Monmouth Park. Any other point in time this would likely be our top moment of the year, or perhaps the decade, but 2009 was just so stacked with such moments that I can’t help but feel, well, spoiled.
- Zenyatta thundering through the stretch and gunning down Gio Ponti in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
I’ve called this the “moment of the year in a year filled with such moments.” I don’t know how else to describe it. The great denouement to a year already dubbed the “year of the filly.”
The central moment of that entire experience that will always stay with me has to be shortly after Zenyatta was led onto the main track and was making her way to the starting gate. The lead pony left her side for a moment, and Zenyatta, in typical fashion, began to do her dance – only she was doing so at a position in the dead center of the Grandstand. Thousands roared in appreciation. Yours truly, who had thought about abstaining from wagering on the race, BOLTED for the windows after seeing this demonstration, convinced that “nobody on Earth could beat her today.”
I should also note here, in tying things all together, that I wore the same clothes, right down to the socks, for Zenyatta’s Classic as I had for Rachel’s Preakness. Superstitious to a fault, eh? Actually, as you can tell from virtually any photo of me at the track in recent years, I’m not the type of guy that likes to switch things up much. I’ve got that lucky shirt, shorts, hat, socks – and that’s usually my “uniform” for the day.
Getting back to our reflection on the race for a moment, once in the gate, Zenyatta then had to sit there for what seemed like an eternity as Quality Road did his own less enthusiastic dance on the track before being scratched, and then found herself having to run down the greatest turf horse on the continent (Gio Ponti) on a Pro Ride surface largely ridiculed for being “turf impersonating” (or at least favoring turf runners) – including (yes, I’ll admit it) by yours truly.
We all know what happened next. A memory of memories – one that will live with racing fans for decades.
That’s just a small sample of the moments I’ll be giving thanks for as the extended weekend begins. With any luck I’ll be adding to those memories with a victory in the Iron Bowl by my beloved Crimson Tide of Alabama, capping off the end to yet another undefeated regular season.
What about you guys? As the end of 2009 draws near and you sit down to contemplate what we’ve seen over the past decade, which memories stick out to you as the most treasured and revered?