Friday, September 11, 2009

21st century "wow" horse

As printed today at Smile

Some people dream of seeing the Grand Canyon or the Statue of Liberty, of Mt. Rushmore or Gettysburg, whether for the history or the monument of Americana. To see one of these great pieces of our United States is to feel like the country is a little bit more yours, to thread the crossroads that connect the nation to your heart. It doesn't make you a better American to see these things, but it quenches a curiosity; it inspires, and presents a grandeur that little can convey. I dreamt of seeing such a timeless treasure, but the one I longed for was a living thing, something that was only three years old.

I dreamt of seeing a Triple Crown winner.

I wanted to see a rarity, I wanted to see true Greatness; I wanted to see a champion conquer the Mount Everest of American horse racing. Only the Triple Crown, I thought, would be able to provide such a test; after all, winning the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes in five weeks is a nearly impossible feat that has proven insurmountable for going on thirty-one years, making those eleven who have accomplished it seem all the more outstanding.

I was mistaken.

Though I still long for the day when I can say, "I saw (this future horse) win the Triple Crown," I can now say my appetite has been satiated. I no longer have to wait to see a Triple Crown winner to feel like I have seen a race horse reach the apex of Greatness. I saw that this past Saturday.

I won't bother to try to equal or do one better than what the award-winning turf writer Steve Haskin said about the Woodward most recently in Blood-Horse Magazine; Haskin pretty much summed up the feats Rachel Alexandra accomplished in becoming the first female to ever win the race, the heart it took for her to win under the conditions, the emotions she stirred at the grand old Spa, and put into perspective what she now means to the Sport of Kings.

Honestly, I don't know if I could find the words. I look at Rachel Alexandra, at what she has accomplished in so little time, and find myself at a loss. That sort of anomaly happens when you take in something breathtaking like the Grand Canyon, something that's too huge to wrap your mind around; I think there's a certain amount of respect in not saying anything at all, in merely basking in the glow of this tremendous horse... or just uttering "wow."

What more can be said on a subject that has been worn threadbare with glistening superlatives? She's the best race horse in the world right now? Certainly. She's one of the all-time Greats of the sport? Without question. Rachel Alexandra is more impressive than the undefeated Zenyatta? No contest. She has already tied-up the Horse of the Year honor? No brainer.

I'm blessed to have seen this picture of perfection in person, to have been present at the precise moment she exploded onto the scene like a comet from the darkness. I remember standing on the rail of Churchill Downs, telling everybody who would listen that Rachel Alexandra was going to blow the doors off this field of fillies in the Kentucky Oaks. The people standing around me were new to the sport; they didn't know Cigar from a stogie. I noticed a young man with a video camera as the horses were loading into the starting gates of the Oaks. I said to him, "You're not going to want to miss this. Watch Rachel Alexandra. Trust me."

Then the gates slammed open, and she erupted into the history books, and she never looked back.

I guess it's not so bad living in the 21st Century. Through all the trash, the worldwide conflict, the destruction of the environment, the war, the bad TV, the political unrest, the conspiracies, at least we have this: we have this horse, this indisputable champion, this little nugget of purity no one can touch.

And that's enough for me.

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