Photo: NYRA / Adam Coglianese
Last night on my Facebook page I shared the link to the page
on Secretariat.com’s website that contained the ballot for this year’s vote for
the Vox Populi award. I tagged my mom in the post because even though she isn’t
really a horse racing fan, I can always count on her to vote for things like
this. In the post I also encouraged everyone to vote for Saginaw, so when my mom saw the post, she asked, “Why Saginaw? Why
not Mucho Macho Man? You know Mucho
Macho Man is Charlie’s horse (Charlie of course being my 3-year old son who
loves Mucho Macho Man [almost] as much as I do).” So I went on to try to
explain to her the intangible reasons why Saginaw deserves this honor over
Mucho Macho Man.
My mom did vote for Saginaw even though it was difficult for
her to vote against Mucho Macho Man, but afterwards, I was not entirely
satisfied with my explanation. Everything I had said sounded empty, devoid of
feeling, especially when you think about the fantastic tale behind this year’s
Breeders’ Cup Classic winner. There is no doubt that Mucho Macho Man has one of
the best feel good stories in the business. Any other year and he would be my
votes, hands (or hooves) down. But this year is different. This year his story
does not trump all.
So why Saginaw? What is it about Saginaw that sets him above
the horse that as a foal that was 3 weeks overdue, was thought to be dead at
birth, was called “Lazarus” for seemingly rising from the dead, and has been
trained into a champion by a woman who was almost dead herself just a few short
years ago? What sets him apart from the miraculous comeback kid Paynter, the two-time Breeders’ Cup
Filly & Mare Sprint winner Groupie Doll who also came from nothing, the gallant Game On Dude who once again fell short of BC Classic victory, the daring filly Princess of Sylmar who ruled the 3-year filly division and beat a champion, or
the sure to be repeat Horse of the Year Wise Dan? It is not a simple explanation, but I made a promise to Robert Hachemeister,
Jr. the night Strapping Groom won
the Grade 1 Forego, just 24 hours removed from Saginaw’s tragic death. That
night I promised Robert that I would do everything in my power to ensure that
Saginaw was recognized as the Vox Populi recipient for 2013, and I intend
to keep that promise.
By Peruvian and out of the Devils Bag mare Devilzene,
Saginaw did not necessarily boast a pedigree that screamed big time winner.
Though Peruvian was a graded stakes winner, neither Devilzene or her dam Bellazene
had won a race before or after breaking their maidens. Peruvian hasn’t exactly
been a hot sire himself, and none of Saginaw’s 5 full siblings have done much
on the track. In short there just wasn’t much there pedigree wise to suggest a
champion. The gelding’s early career did not do much to bolster expectations.
It took 4 tries for him to break his maiden, and from then on out he was just
plain out inconsistent. He would throw out a win immediately followed by a dull
as unpolished silver effort. That was until
he was claimed by Drawing Away Stable.
From the moment Saginaw joined Drawing Away Stable to the
moment he crossed the rainbow bridge, he was a whole different horse. Under the
tutelage of David Jacobson, Saginaw
became a win machine. All together Saginaw won 11 stakes races while wearing
the blue and orange silks of DAS and won another 4 races for his connections.
He was, in every sense of the phrase, a Cinderella story. From 2011 to 2012, he
turned from being an allowance/claiming type runner in one season to being a
stakes winner and named the New York-bred Champion Older Male the very next
season. In a sense, he lived the American Dream.
Perhaps it is that rags to riches story that sets him apart
from the named Vox Populi nominees.
After all, that is a story a lot of people can relate to, particularly in the
horse racing industry. We may love the King’s Sport, but only a fraction of us
have a King’s purse. So when a former claimer starts winning stakes races,
people sit up and take notice. In fact, Saginaw became such a regular in the
New York circuit’s winner’s circles that he ignited the state’s passion for all
things horse racing, particularly if it had anything to do with the People’s
Hero himself. He drew in old timer railbirds and new, young fans alike.
Children adored him, and adults wanted to enter into a partnership like DAS in
order to perhaps one day have a stake in a horse just like him.
He could win by daylight or he could just get his nose on
the wire in the nick of time. Whether it was a listed stake, a graded stake, or
just a regular, run-of-the-mill race, he gave everything he had for trainer
Jacobson, regular jockeys David Cohen
and Junior Alvarado, and all the DAS
partners who loved him. He overcame poor breaks, traffic, duels, and high
imposts. He had the drive and will to win of a champion, but the one thing he
could not overcome was the fragile nature that is the thoroughbred. Even after
his bad step during the third race at Saratoga on August 30, his heart still
shined through as he did his very best to stay on his feet so that he would not
throw pilot and friend Junior Alvarado. He ultimately was humanely euthanized
so that he would not have to suffer pain and discomfort due to the injuries he
sustained that day.
So why Saginaw? Because in doing what he loved, he became the
people’s horse and hero. He proved that you do not have to be a Grade 1 winner
to have the heart of a champion. He showed that you don’t have to be a Grade 1
winner to attract masses of fans and the adoration that comes along with a
large fan base. He embodied the American dream of coming from nothing and
becoming something. He was everything intangible that we wish we could explain
but words can never fully express. Penny Chenery created the Vox Populi Award to annually recognize a horse whose popularity and racing
excellence best resounded with the general public and gained recognition for
the sport during the past year. There is no doubt that Saginaw was as
popular as they come, and while he was not a big name, he did gain recognition
for our beloved sport.
It truly is a shame that his name was left off
the ballot and that those of us that want to see him recognized have to write
in his name on the ballot. Yet again, I believe that the Vox Populi committee failed to choose nominees solely based on what
the award was created for. Last year we all campaigned to get Paynter’s name
added to the ballot, and our campaign was an overwhelming success. Not only was
his name added and the write in section created, but he was also ultimately the
recipient of the award last year. Like in 2012, I hope to have a successful
campaign for getting a worthy horse recognized. So go to Secretariat.com and
cast your ballot. I strongly
encourage you to write in Saginaw’s name and then share both the link and
Saginaw’s story. Turning around the famous lyrics of Helen Reddy “I am woman,
hear me roar,” I will leave you with this: I am writer. Watch me campaign.