“A racehorse is the only animal that can take several thousand people for a ride at the same time.” – Unknown
Truer words were never spoken, regarding the Thoroughbred. Whether a claimer or a champion, racehorses give us all they have — every fiber of their being — every ounce of fire within their hearts, every time they step foot on a racetrack. Some, will never see the finish line first. Some, go above and beyond our expectations, and achieve greatness we have only imagined within the walls of our wildest dreams. Some of those very rare Thoroughbreds, inspire us to reach for heights we never thought attainable.
Here, are five times racehorses inspired us to be larger than life…
Secretariat wins the Triple Crown… By 31 lengths.
It had been twenty-five years since American Horse Racing had seen the likes of a Triple Crown Winner in Citation, when the strapping chestnut son of Bold Ruler etched his name in history books, becoming the sport’s ninth horse to capture the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes, in the Spring of 1973. While his victories in the first two legs of the Triple Crown were record-breaking and dominant, it was not until Secretariat took the lead in the clubhouse turn at Belmont Park on that June afternoon, that it became clear, we were seeing something that had never been seen before — something that would never be seen again.
The words of Chic Anderson’s call those many years ago, resonates within the minds of fans today, more than forty years later.
“Secretariat is widening now. He is moving like a tremendous machine.”
By the time he hit the wire, the “Tremendous machine” had commanded a 31 length lead, in a final time of 2:24 2/5 seconds– the fastest Belmont Stakes we had ever, have ever, and may ever see.
I do not care who you are, or whether you love Thoroughbred Horse Racing. If you were there, on that day in 1973, your life was forever changed. On that day, you witnessed one of the most heroic, inspiring, and other-worldly performances that any sport has ever seen.
Zenyatta wins the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic
Standing more than seventeen hands high, Zenyatta was bigger than life, herself. With an unblemished record, and a cemented fanbase which would have impressed The Beatles, the massive mare took to her home track of Santa Anita to face males in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic, in an attempt to become the first female racehorse to ever prevail victorious in America’s then-richest race.
In the truest of Zenyatta fashion, she broke dead-last from the gate, and settled dead-last for more than half of the ten furlong race. She would encounter being pinned on the rail. She would encounter a wall of horses turning for home. She would have to swing wider than ever before. But alas, no obstacle would be large enough to detour the daughter of Street Cry from inhaling the ground beneath her hooves, until any and all opponents were left in her wake.
Trevor Denman could be heard calling, “THIS.IS.UN-BELIEVABLE!”… and unbelievable it truly was. Not only did Zenyatta become the first female to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic, she did so with the utmost devastating ease, in a way that certainly would have bruised the egos of the males she was facing, had they only understood that the blur streaking by them was, in fact, a girl.
In this moment, modern American Thoroughbred Racing changed forever. The impossible, became possible — igniting the imaginations of fans, breeders, owners, and trainers everywhere– If ever we see another like Zenyatta, we can only hope that the inspiring memories she made that day, encourage future generations to always, always pursue the “Impossible.”
Seabiscuit’s Final Hoorah
There is nothing quite so touching as the fight of the underdog. The David and Goliath, the Cinderella story. There is a distinct possibility that Seabiscuit’s was one of the very first documented rags to riches tales in American Racing.
A band of misfits, was the team that brought us the tiny, bay bulldog of a Thoroughbred that we have come to know as Seabiscuit. While his accomplishments include several track records, as well as a dominant win over Triple Crown Winner War Admiral in a match race, it was his fall from grace, and his empowering, miraculous comeback in the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap, a race which would prove to be his last, that will stick with those who have loved him, forever.
After sustaining a ruptured suspensory ligament injury, Seabiscuit should have never graced a racetrack again. However, after several months of rehabilitation, aided by the company and coaching of his also-injured jockey, and best friend, Red Pollard, Seabiscuit would in fact return for a few encore performances, before the curtain was to close on his career.
Having lost the Santa Anita Handicap previously, due to the freight- train of a closer, Rosemont, both horse and jockey longed for a taste of redemption, in America’s then-richest race in history. After healing, despite being moderately crippled, Seabiscuit and Red would return to the Santa Anita Handicap one final time. After encountering large amounts of traffic early in the race, “The Biscuit” and his gangly rider prevailed victorious.
So you see, for Seabisuit, an underdog story is not saying enough. A historic, heroic career is not saying enough. He showed us that we can be from the wrong side of the tracks, we can be ridiculed for not being of the status quo, we can be a little broken and a little battered — but nothing can stop an indomitable desire to win.
Afleet Alex’s Preakness, and the little girl he ran for
You’ve probably seen pop-up lemonade stands at business establishments, at some point or another. What you may not know, is that “Alex’s Lemonade Stand” was founded by a little girl suffering from Cancer, who was determined to leave a legacy which would promote healing in children, much like herself, after she was gone. Though Alex did not live long enough to see the incredible success of her dream through, her story was brought to light, by a small bay colt, by the name of Afleet Alex, named in memory of this bright, and brave girl.
A star in his own right, Afleet Alex was expected to run very well in the Kentucky Derby, and that he did. While he did not overcome a troubled trip enough to prevail the winner, he did finish a strong third. However, he would go on to run a Preakness which we will never, ever forget.
Far back early on, as he liked to sit in most races, Afleet Alex came storming home on the far turn, only to be abruptly cut-off at the head of the stretch by a weaving Scrappy T. For a moment, a *gasp* overcame the crowd as Afleet Alex fell to his knees. As you know, in Horse Racing, this is almost always a fatal blow. But alas, the plucky colt pulled himself together, stood back up without missing a step, and barreled his way to victory, in a way that left not a dry eye at Pimlico. I know for a fact that little Alex, wherever she is, was watching from afar. A 1,000 lb. horse doesn’t fall to his knees in a full-run, and hop back up to win. It’s safe to say he had a little help, that day.
Afleet Alex would go on to win the Belmont Stakes with glittering dominance, absent of any missteps or mishaps, in a way that still resonates as, “Man, that was one horse who should have won the Triple Crown.” But, it will always be what we saw in Baltimore, that helps us to remember that when we fall, we can dust ourselves off and try, try again.
Tiznow Wins it for America
It was just weeks after our country had been devastated by the attacks on September 11. We were all scared, broken, and a little lost. The Breeders’ Cup was scheduled to be in New York, and no one really knew what to expect. Would it be canceled? Would crowds show up to the racetrack, after such fear had been inflicted in the hearts of Americans everywhere? But, the show went on, and as racing fans always do, they showed up, ready to feel better, if only for a day or two.
The Breeders’ Cup Classic was a rich field which included foreign invaders Galileo and Sahkee, as well as the previous year’s winner of the race, Tiznow. The latter champion was coming in off of three consecutive losses, as well as a year filled with plaguing injuries. Still, his connections were determined to strive for back-to-back Classic wins.
When the field turned for home, Galileo was much further back than expected, and the race would come down to a belligerent, refusing to give up Sakhee for Europe, a tiring Albert the Great, and a distant third in Horse of the Year, Tiznow. As the wire approached, and Chris McCarron hit Tiznow with a left handed whip, the massive colt came back with one, final surge of power. As if he knew that the entire nation was riding on his back, Tiznow furiously dug his way to the wire, to outrun Sakhee.
Over the roar of the crowd, the voice of Tom Durkin could be heard in exclaiming, “TIZNOW, WINS IT FOR AMERICA!”
In a time when our country needed a hero to step forward and say, “Hey, you can’t break us,” there was Tiznow, with a heart big enough, and strong enough, to make our own hearts feel a little less wounded in that moment.
That performance, that horse, and the words of Tom Durkin still echo throughout our heads and hearts, these sixteen years later. I am fairly certain they always will.
It is Thoroughbreds such as these, which have shaped the standard to which we measure all horses — may their descendants carry on the legacies which they have built. May they inspire us, always.
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