When I think back on the 27 years of my life and all the
events, changes, and tragedies I’ve seen in a relatively short time on this
earth, I simply just shake my head. In
the past 15 years we’ve seen the worst this world has to offer.
I think back to April 20th, 1999. I was merely 13 years old and in my last year of junior high school when two senior students at Columbine High School went on a shooting rampage, killing 12 of their peers and 1 teacher while injuring 21 in total. At the time I didn’t think such evil was possible, I was a naive child, and a preacher’s son, who only thought such evil affected other countries and other people.
I mostly remember my sophomore year of high school for being a year filled with shock, fear, and heart break. On September 11th, 2001 the world as we knew it changed when terrorists used our own planes as bombs to attack the very core of freedom that is America.
Even now, some 13 years removed from Columbine, and 11 years
since 9/11, we are killing our own children. In the past year we weren’t
attacked by an enemy, a foreign country, or an economic disaster, but by our own
people. We’ve seen a madman in Colorado shoot up a movie theater, and a week
ago we saw what I think is the worst act of pure evil this country has ever
seen, when a disturbed psychotic stormed into a grade school and massacred an
entire class of OUR children. Now we
find ourselves dissecting the situations, analyzing the problems; we hear that
it’s gun control or lack of treatment for mental illness. Where am I going with this? Well, I believe it
starts with family.
What does this have to do with horse racing? Since I’ve
become a fan and a part of this “Family”, I’ve often heard the negatives about
horse racing from the outside. People that don’t know this sport and don’t live
this sport every day, tell us about how cruel it is or how wrong it is. After the
horrific break down of Eight Belles in the Kentucky Derby, Larry Jones had to
defend himself to some of the outside media about his training of the filly. Little did they know that this was more than a filly, this was part of his
family, our family.
I use the word family often in this piece because that’s
what we are. I’ve personally been touched by this family when I lost my best
friend a little over a year ago. The outpouring of support was so strong that
they literally lifted me on their shoulders and got me through the worst time
in my life. And it’s not just me and it’s not just humans, we take care of
everyone and everything in our sport including our horses. Though we lost Barbaro on January 27th, 2007, the support his owners, his trainer, his doctor, and even the horse himself received was mind blowing. There were the countless letters, the get well soon cards, and the 1st grade class that drew pictures for the son of Dynaformer. This is what family is about, and in the worst of times we are there for each other.
We are an eclectic group of wealthy and not so wealthy. We are
young and we are old, we are white and we are black, American and European, we
are us. We can be found in the turf clubs and in the track kitchens, and in the
backstretch, where maybe, to some the least important people, give the most
important care to our superstars. We are trainers, we are owners, turf writers,
and fans. Most importantly we are family.
We might only see each other a few times a year, maybe at the Breeders’
Cup or the Kentucky Derby but even still we greet each other with a hug, offer a drink and
talk about not only our sport but our family. We know each other's kids by
first name, we know about Quinn’s soccer team, and Gabriel’s Ju-jitsu. We know
Nina’s birthday and we take pride in Saginaw’s successes. We stand in awe of
Zenyatta’s spectacular talent and personality. We do not glory in our opponents
defeat. I saw this first hand when Zenyatta lost the only race of her career to Claiborne Farm's Blame. The son of Arch beat the
mighty “Queen” by a dirty nose but there were no boos or heckles; the crowd at Churchill Downs cheered the
winner, and when Zenyatta walked by, we stood and applauded the effort of a great
We do have our own families within families, our little groups that meet at each event, but we are all a big family and we all support each other. We all prayed for Paynter before his surgery on October 3rd when they removed a 15-inch external growth of his intestines, and we prayed
again for his recovery, and now that he will return to Bob Baffert’s barn we
will cheer him once again like we did when he was victorious in the Haskell.
There are many things wrong with this sport but one thing we
have right is family, so maybe these people that so unfairly judge us should
stake a cue from this much maligned sport. Maybe it’s not gun control, maybe it’s
not all mental illness, maybe it’s time America woke up and get back to the one
thing Horse Racing makes FIRST PRIORITY, and that is FAMILY.