I cannot be the only one who has ever said “If I was such-and-such’s trainer, I would run them in this race.” However, I’m not a trainer. I have absolutely zero influence on where or when any horse will race. All I can do watch, read, wait, and hope. When plans are announced for a specific horse, as a fan I get excited at the prospect of getting to watch or possibly experience the next “do you remember this…?” moment. Yet, as much as I can let my excitement get the best of me, I have to remain grounded. I have to remain cautious.
I have been doing quite a bit of searching to help expand
the boundaries of love I have for this sport. At this junction in my horse
racing journey, it is knowledge of the sport’s history. Many of us on this
website recall the great performances of the past, and dwell upon the
achievements of champions. It is here that I am reflecting.
The most distinguished champions of the sport have in almost
every case experienced something that so many modern horsemen seem to fear. I
find that in the modern age of racing there is a fear of failure that is more
apparent than any other era I have researched. Fear is a plague that is highly
contagious. It drives decisions that mold the legacy of many current champions.
But legacies are not built on fear. Immortality is built on exceeding the
adversity that is placed in front of them.
When I read about the possibility of Wise Dan being
withdrawn from the Firecracker Handicap because of the impost of 128lbs, I
couldn’t help but feel pity. Not for the horse, Charles Lopresti, or even
Morton Fink. But rather for a modern racing culture that has put too much
emphasis on the fear of losing. It has evolved a mentality that one loss means
far more than several wins. By skipping around to find the “ideal”
opportunity, many horses miss out on what they truly love to do…run and compete.
Many great champions are defined as much by a loss as they
are by their many victories. Man O’ War had the 1919 Sanford. Native Dancer had
the 1952 Kentucky Derby. Dr Fager had the 1967 Woodward. Seattle Slew had the
1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup. Spectacular Bid had the 1979 Belmont Stakes.
Zenyatta had the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic. In all of these cases, their loss
was not remembered as a fault, but rather a defining moment that confirmed
Losing a race is nothing to be afraid of.
Will 128lbs in the Firecracker define Wise Dan’s greatness?
Probably not. Whether he runs or not, wins or loses, the damage is done. His
connections have shown that the best horse in the country, and possibly even
the world, is capable of defeat. I only wish that they could see that their fear
is imaginary. A loss does not necessarily define defeat. They have
forgotten what the past has taught us.
Did John Nerud complain that the only way Damascus could
beat Dr. Fager was by entering a rabbit? Yes he did. But did it stop him
from sending the Good Doctor into battle, even with the odds stacked against
him? No, it didn’t. He knew his horse was something special, and the only
way to prove it was to send him against the steepest challenge that the world
could mount up against him.
So where has my inner reflection led me in all of this
emotional (possibly irrational) thinking? I don’t know. I would like to think
that I am rational enough to look beyond the politics and fear and believe that
Mr. Fink has something truly special on his hands. Because I know, just like
when watching Rapid Redux or Frankel, all it takes to make me smile is to watch
them run. Yet in 5 or 10 years it will not be the additional “tick” in the win
column that I will remember, but rather the acknowledgement of adversity and
the courage to overcome it.