Thunder Gulch a source of inspiration, lifetime of memories

March 14, 2018 08:29pm
Thunder Gulch a source of inspiration, lifetime of memories
Photo: Coolmore America
Monday is the type of day horse racing fans always know is coming, but we never want to arrive.

Thunder Gulch, the 1995 Kentucky Derby winner, died at the age of 26.

He was a champion on the track and at stud.

The earnings, the speed figs, the titles, the accolades -- all of this is etched in stone.

It is harder to capture a feeling and keep it. 

When I first saw Thunder Gulch on the TV -- it was Derby Day in 1995 -- I didn't know anything about horse racing except there were horses involved, and that I loved horses. I was immediately taken by him, his bright chestnut coat and his wonderful name. 25-1? What are odds when you're not quite 13 and in love with horses?

As he drew away from the field in the final furlong (I didn’t even know what that meant yet!) I jumped up and cheered right in the middle of the house. I, an almost-13-year-old girl, had picked a Kentucky Derby winner that none of the experts even mentioned! I felt like the smartest person on earth. Who cared about that bad math test at school? I had just picked a Derby winner -- and on the first try!

I have been searching for that pure joy ever since.

Watch the Youtube videos of Thunder Gulch's Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes and you get an sense of the history. But it's not just the fuzzy video and vintage hosts. It's the long-dead friendships, schoolwork pressures, career stresses, relationship drama, weight lost and gained, money lost, family lost and gained. The life lived in the afterglow of that joyous day colors the memory forever.

Horses will never disappoint you. The times I was able to visit Thunder Gulch at Coolmore's Ashford Stud, I felt a little of that pure excitement again. He stood proudly for all the pats I gave him (on the left shoulder, the safe zone, of course) and posed for all the clicks of my camera. 

There has been a Triple Crown winner since that Kentucky Derby day, historic win streaks set and broken, record earnings topped over and over, jinxes made irrelevant, providing emotional crests that have come close.

After work, I will pour a glass of bourbon in his honor and watch those Youtube videos long into the rainy night.


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