What is There to be Afraid of?

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When I read about the possibility of Wise Dan being withdrawn from the Firecracker Handicap because of the impost of 128lbs, I couldn’t help but feel pity.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 their greatness.


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.


comments powered by Disqus

Older Comments about What is There to be Afraid of?...

Quiet Little Table over Forego at Saratoga
You can't be serious... he forgot Gallant Fox to Jim Dandy, maybe the point of the article wasn't to create a list of infamous horses who lost?
In the list of horses that lost that are infamous, you forgot to mention Secretariat's monumental defeats to Onion and Prove Out.
Breeders' Cup has messed up the entire racing schedule the full summer long...The big guns go into hibernation late and stay far away from each other.
Tagging onto the BC, rather than thinking the BC is our last hope to having horses run, it is actually causing this. We see horses win at the BC and get end of year honors as well as the most cash in some of their divisions
Agree completely with Matt. This is one of the reasons that the Fall racing at Belmont including the JCGC, Woodward ( now at Saratoga) etc. is not as important as it used to be. Previous to the BC the fall series were a must for horses to be considered for top honors. While I like the BC, it has hurt many top fall races.
I think Matt is right about the Breeders Cup, and with horses running fewer and fewer times the Breeders Cup will become even more important. Today it is the only time when horses from all parts of the country come together and face each other on the track. Note that last year every Eclipse Award winner, except for the 3 year olds, won a Breeders Cup race.
The Breeders' Cup has changed everything. Many of the races, that used to be ones to win, are no longer important to the end of year honors. When it just takes a big BC win in November to get an Eclipse, the rest of the year's decisions are not what they used to be.
My first thought was- 128lbs is considered high weight?
Very well written, but trainers have been complaining about weights forever. I think he will still run, he needs a race before the Fourstardave.
Nice way to put it Matt. I like your thread.
In this day and age weight, whether one believes it makes a difference or not, has come to be a non factor, as a true weighted horse hasn't been around in a while to my knowledge.
Okay 6! lol
Churchill is a very deep track, sorry to burst that bubble again. But many who train over it and run their horses over it on a daily/yearly basis say just that. The fourstardave is also a handicap, so again, to skip this race would be pointless, hence why we say if he should then go to the Whitney. The only race in the near future he won't get weighted in is the Whitney. Both races they are talking about are handicaps, meaning if they run from weight here they will probably have to duck from it again. jmac, He is not 7 years old, that would be his older half brother.
Very mature. Running Wise Dan over a deeper track than he likes, in a race that is not a prep for the Fourstardave, for no worthwhile gain or benefit... You're making lots of there. Sarcasm, just thought you'd like for me to point it out.
Passing on $175k under 128 is smart if you want to try the $500k Fourstardave Handicap again. The wfa Arlington Million XXXI would be a nice challenge, but he’s such a good miler.
This is another example of a "selfish" fans I'm not bashing Matt Scott but I'm saying the Trainer and Owner would know what's best. If fans actually made the decsions that would cause more horse breakdown and other bad things. He is 7 by the way and I woouldn't even care if he took 6 months off because he deserves rest and being put into easy spots.
I'm glad you put the word "sarcasm" in there because I was seriously confused there for a minute.
Floriday....but wouldn't that be too weird to send him in the Whitney? I know he's already won over dirt, but it just seems too weird don't you think....sarcasm...lol. I would agree especially since i seriously doubt Saratoga won't weight him in the Fourstardave...another Handicap.
Wise Dan has already run carrying 126 lbs on a couple of occasions. What's 2 more pounds? If he does skip the Firecracker, the least they could do is go to the Whitney.

Related Pages

Related Stories

Top Stories