Triple Crown 2015!

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
“Sure is," I replied. “But I think he’s going to win. He’s a remarkable horse. Besides, I am a hopeless optimist, I told him, smiling.

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. 

I needed a Triple Crown winner too. To work for a non-profit you have to have passion for your cause. To work for a non-profit of used luxury items, i.e. former racehorses, you need optimism. Ask not what your racehorse can do for you but what you do for your racehorse, is not a widespread motto in the racing world. This is not to say that owners and breeders across the board don’t care about the horses! Many do and there are responsible people out there doing what they can for the horses that they have bred, owned, and trained. But there are plenty of others who pay lip service to caring about their horses, who don’t put their money where their mouths are, who do too little to create meaningful change, who aren’t willing to pay for their horses continuously or at all once their racing days are done. And how about those people who do nothing but go to the races, bet on the races, dress up for the races, have fun at the races and all the while think nothing about the needs of the sentient beings that are entertaining them? Aren’t these people as complicit as the others directly involved in the industry? It’s not good when I linger on these kinds of thoughts. They deflate me. Finding the emotional wherewithal to sustain the constant drive to raise awareness and money and concern about retired racehorses in a way that inspires people can be waring. When I fail to garner support and interest I get discouraged.

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.

He came around the turn and my husband and I jumped up from our seats and stepped to within two feet of the television. We could hear the rising roar of the crowd at Belmont. We joined in, hopping up and down, throwing our arms around in the air, flailing. We screamed American Pharoah on, calling out his name along with endearments and encouragement as if he could hear, as if he were ours. 

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!