For Love of (Race) Horses

Intense Holiday w/ Isabelle Bourez aboard (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Intense Holiday w/ Isabelle Bourez aboard (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

The recent death of Starlight Racing’s Intense Holiday hit me  hard, perhaps because I had him pegged early on (as many did) as a star-in-the-making, or maybe because I picked him in the Derby as my dark horse (if there was one), or maybe because I just love the look of a dark bay colt peering through a white bridle.  In large part, it was because his prognosis was good and he proved himself a resilient and uncanny boy right from birth.

After only running  a handful of races in his life, after having already fought for his young life once and winning, he was going to spend the rest of his days eating grass and doin’ the dirty with some of the finest ladies of his species.   He was headed for the good life.  Possibly 20 or 30 years of it.  But laminitis is a nasty thing, indiscriminate and “cowardly,” as Steve Haskin put it.  In fact, I can scarcely imagine writing a better, more concise piece commemorating the life of Intense Holiday and the difficulty of being both a horse lover and a horse racing fan than Mr. Haskin already has.

Although it sounds so simplistic, racing is what it is, and the excitement and thrills and beauty and elegance that captivated us and drew us into this unique and magnificent  world in the end outweigh the heartaches. And so we grieve briefly over a courageous warrior like Intense Holiday, who has been a fighter since the day he was born, and we store his memory in some shrine-like corridor of the mind, reserved for our fallen equine heroes. And we move on, just as jockeys move on after the death or near-death of one of their fellow riders. It is the nature of the sport. We either accept it or we don’t.

Either you accept it or you don’t.

For my part, for a long time, I did not accept it.

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About Me

Dexter, the greatest OTTB to ever run away with me aboard, was 17.2H and did nothing half-assed, including jumping this tiny 2'6" fence.

Dexter, the greatest perpetually-green OTTB to ever run away with me aboard, was 17.2H and did nothing half-assed, including jumping this tiny fence.

Originally from Stillwater, Minnesota, I began taking hunter/jumper lessons at the age of 11.  I paid for my lessons by mucking stalls, braiding horses, grooming for shows, exercising horses, and teaching beginner lessons. I rode off-the-track Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses out of a barn alongside kids on warmbloods whose parents were millionaires and kids on the barn’s schooling horses whose parents had even less money than mine.  I persisted in that manner for two decades until adulthood and parenthood and a move to the city eventually succeeded in putting up so many barriers that I was forced to quit riding completely.

Shortly after that, I found horse racing.

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If a Triple Crown Falls in the Woods…

I am going to lay one thing out on the table right from the start:  I am a relatively new fan to horse racing.  I’ve been going to the track for about five years and following the sport closely at the national level for three.

I feel I need to lead with this because if I don’t, someone else will.  It will be used to dismiss anything and everything I have to say about my opinions on racing or racehorses by way of a generalized sentiment that I’m pretending to know things I don’t, or more approximately that I have not yet earned the right to know or attempt to know anything.  So let me make it abundantly clear:  There is a lot I don’t know.  But I know one thing long-time horse-players and venerated owners, trainers, and commentators do not and could never know:  I know what it’s like to be a new fan to the sport in the last five years.
California Chrome’s ill-fated bid for the Triple Crown left me with considerably more questions than answers, but in the last week, one thing has become crystal clear:  Possibly the only thing horse racing hates more than new money is new fans.

Let me explain.

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