It has happened. It’s been such a long wait. 37 years. Many thought it would never happen again. That’s what the wizened little guy at the bar at Ramsey’s restaurant told me last night when I went to pick up my “to go” dinner order.
He was downing a beer staring at the TV racing coverage overhead.
“Do you think American Pharoah will win?” I asked him as I waited for my order.
He took a deep swig. “Nah,” he answered, scoffing.
He had the face, parched and cracked like drought stricken earth, of a race-tracker. Could be. After all Keeneland, the race course, was only a mile or two down the road. He was a small man. Stubby fingers with calloused knuckles encirled his beer glass.
“Why not?” I asked.
“They never do any more. It’s too hard.” He shrugged.
|American Pharoah winning the Kentucky Derby|
My meal appeared so I wished him goodnight and I was back in my car in a flash trying to get home before the last race of the day at the Belmont Racetrack in New York, the Belmont Stakes, the last leg of the Triple Crown.
The Triple Crown refers to a trio of races for three year old Thoroughbreds: The Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes that take place between May and June every year. It was first won by Sir Barton in 1919 but wasn’t popularized as a concept until 1930 when it was won by a horse named Gallant Fox. In 1950 a special trophy was designed to go along with the title. Until yesterday, only 11 horses had won the Triple Crown. The last one, Affirmed, did so in 1978. In the ensuing years 13 horses had captured the first two jewels of the crown only to lose the coveted third, the mile and a half Belmont Stakes. I had watched every attempt over almost four decades now. Each time I came away saddened, my sense of resignation growing larger each time.
But as I said, I am a hopeless optimist. This year, as in other years past, I mustered support and enthusiasm for the Triple Crown contender. I suppose it wouldn’t have mattered if American Pharoah had had two heads and one eye, I would be rooting for him to win the third and final leg of this elusive prize. With a declining fan base, a tsunami of shocking press about racing’s drugs and thugs, the harrowing breakdowns on the track, the glut of mediocre horses that have no where to go after the racetrack, the fighting and biting amongst the racing jurisdictions, not to mention the naysayers within and beyond the sport, racing needed a Triple Crown winner.
And then I see a horse like American Pharoah, a horse with eyes that gleam with intelligence and a staggering ground covering stride and turn of foot so quick and so light he glides. This is a horse born and bred to run. A star to dazzle all who love the sport. An inspiration to all who care for the ones of lesser talent but which also deserve our attention.
I got home from the MMSC yesterday just as the horses were being led into the paddock at Belmont for the race. I saw the riders thrown up and the parade onto the track. I watched the horses load into the starting gate; I held my breath, and then THEY WERE OFF! My heart skipped a beat when I saw American Pharoah lurch backwards in the starting gate and then lunge forward. Would he be okay? Would it set him back? No! Unphased, he surged forward, into first place. And then, I watched in frozen fascination as he surged down the backstretch. For every stride he took, others seemed to take a half or a full stride more. He was relaxed and commanding. Time seemed to stand still. I knew right then, even though there was so much more to go, that he was going to do it, and I was savoring every footfall.
We knew he had done it even before he crossed the finish line. When he did so, we burst into tears and embraced one another. It was joy. It was disbelief. It was the clearing of years of disappointment. It was inspiration. Like the many thousands at Belmont, we stood tall as American Pharoah paraded before the crowd, giving him the ovation he so richly deserved. We were spellbound. It was a magical moment.
American Pharoah, you make me proud of Thoroughbreds. You make me marvel at the sport of racing. You make me grateful for what I do at the MMSC every day. You have given of yourself in a way that is an inspiration to so many.
With all my heart, THANK YOU!