Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Hope Springs Eternal

by Annette Dashofy

Ever since I was a little girl, the first Saturday in May always finds me glued to my TV. I’m not alone. The Kentucky Derby symbolizes spring’s hope for almost anyone with an interest in horses.

It isn’t difficult to own a racehorse. Owning one that makes more money than it costs to keep it is another matter. Owning or training a horse that has the potential to run for the roses is a dream for many. It begins each spring with the crop of foals—potential in the form of long legs, tiny hoofs and baby whinnies. (I love the sound of baby colts whinnies!) Over the next three years, those that have the heart to make it to Louisville reveal themselves. But there is heartbreak, too. Champion two-year-olds don’t always develop into champion three-year-olds. There is so much that can go wrong.

This year’s crop of Kentucky Derby hopefuls brings with them the usual assortment of backstory. I don’t know which I like better—watching the actual race or watching the pre-race coverage where we learn the path that the horses, the trainers, and the owners have tread to make it to Churchill Downs. Probably it’s the pre-race stuff. That’s what brings me to tears when an underdog or some other horse I deem as well-deserved crosses the wire first.

Don’t ask me tell you who to bet on. I’m the world’s worst handicapper. Inevitably, the horse I pick to lose will win in a big fashion and the one I’m convinced can’t be beat proves me wrong. That’s the thing about this sport. As my friend Jessi Pizzurro who trains at Mountaineer says, “Anything can happen in a horse race.”

I’ve witnessed it. The favorite, who has been trained to perfection, has beaten everyone else in the field, who looks fabulous and ready in the post parade, gets bumped breaking from the gate, stumbles and loses ground, then gets boxed in and ends up finishing out of the money.

There are those few true champions who always seem to overcome and fight their way back to win. Last year’s Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro, is one example. What a story. Undefeated horse trained by Olympian Equestrian Michael Matz. Could anyone defeat that horse?

As previously mentioned, anything can happen in a horse race. We’ll never know if another horse could have beaten Barbaro because in the Preakness, the second of the Triple Crown races, he broke his right hind ankle in front of the entire world.

As for me, I look forward to the Kentucky Derby, not only as the premiere horse race of spring, but as the first step in the Triple Crown. The second jewel of the crown, the Preakness is run two weeks after the Derby. Three weeks later comes the Belmont Stakes. This is a very short span of time to bring a horse back to race again. Maybe that’s why Triple Crown winners are so rare. The last to win the honor was Affirmed in 1978. Before that, Seattle Slew won the big three in 1977. Secretariat (my all time favorite race horse) won in 1973. But before him, the last winner was in 1948 with Citation claiming the crown.

I really want to see another horse win the Triple Crown before I die! I have to admit, if the winner of the Preakness is some horse other than the one who crossed the wire first in the Kentucky Derby…the Belmont Stakes holds little interest for me.

But right now, in the week leading up to the Kentucky Derby anything is possible. Any of the three-year-olds whose trainers and owners have their collective eye on the Derby could possibly be the next one to make it into the history books. Hope springs eternal.

Of course, the same can be said for all of us seeking out publishing deals for our novels. Anything can happen. Sometimes the underdog does pull off a miracle.

As for this year’s Kentucky Derby, the latest word is that Cobalt Blue, one of the favorites, has bowed out. If I had to pick my personal favorite, I’d have to say I like Tiago. However, with my luck at picking winners, I may have just jinxed him. Bet on anyone except him and you stand a good chance of making money! I can definitely tell you who I’m pulling for in the Preakness…whoever wins the Derby!


Tory said...

So, I notice from the links you posted that Barbaro suffered from laminitis. Is that what caused him to break a leg in the Preakness? Or did breaking a leg cause the laminitis?

I didn't realize Secretariat had it, too!

Strange how there were 3 Triple Crown winners in the 70s and then almost 30 years without one.

Joyce said...

Very interesting post, Annette!

I don't usually pay too much attention to these races, but I remember one year back in the early 80's we were watching TV and they were showing some of the horses. One of the horses was a beautiful gray color and I told Jerry that one was going to win. Next time I do that, I'm putting money on it, because he did end up winning!

Annette said...

Tory, the laminitis occurred in the other hind foot during the recovery from surgery. Because the broken leg wasn't able to support its share of the weight, the other side became stressed causing the laminitis. I think I knew right then and there that he wasn't going to make it, but Barbaro fought back for several more months and seemed well past the crisis until a second bout of laminitis hit. I think that was when the decision to put him down was made.

I have personal experience with laminitis. I had three ponies who suffered the results of it.

While some say Barbaro should have been put down right after the break, the truth is, veterinary science has benefited from the experience. Much was learned and other injured horses will reap the rewards.

Annette said...

Joyce, that's the kind of system I tend to use to pick the winners, only it never works for me!

mike said...

I'm with you, Annette. If I'm not careful, I can get all wrapped up in watching the Kentucky Derby. Guess it goes back to growing up on a farm with horses. One of my fondest memories is of watching Secretariat win the Preakness--I was one of many thousands picnicking in the "in-field" (or whatever they call it in racing) and could just make out his head as he flew to the finish line. Thrilling!

Annette said...

Oh, Mike, I'm sooo jealous!!! Watching Secretariat run on TV gave me chills. I'd have loved to have seen the big horse in person. Err, in horse?

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I saw Secretariat run. I was little at the time; maybe that's what gave me the ambition to be a jockey. I'm certainly the right height for it!

Nancy said...

Big news about the Derby this year is that The Queen will attend! (And I must say that when I need a hat, I know I can find something fantabulous in Louisville.) My favorite racehorse of the past was Whirlaway. (No, I'm not that old, but the newsreels make him look every bit as beautiful as Secretariat, plus he had some real competition!) Somehow, I feel as if Seabiscuit's story has been cheapened. Weird, huh? Love horse racing!