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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Whistling "The Call To The Post"...

Okay,  I promised a blog about the Run For The Roses, so here goes!

Gosh, who could that be... besides the nice man in the loud pants. :-)
There haven't been too many years in my life when I've missed watching the Kentucky Derby. As a kid it was a much-anticipated event at our house, sometimes complete with guests and my mom mixing up a bunch of Mint Juleps. My most favorite memory of the race from childhood is seeing my hero, Secretariat, win the Derby in record time. He was simply too beautiful to be true. ** Other memorable winners from that time frame who stand out in my memory include Riva Ridge, Canonero II, Seattle Slew, Affirmed and Genuine Risk.

During the mid-80s to mid-90s, I know I missed a few Derbies when I was busy being a college student and then working full-time. I was almost totally "away from horses," though I certainly never stopped thinking about them (when Secretariat died in '89 I wrote to the vet at Claiborne asking why they couldn't save him... no reply, alas). For example, I can't conjure up any memories at all of poor Ferdinand, or Sea Hero. Only recently did I learn of Swale's tragic story. How crushing his untimely death was to Claiborne Farm!

The mid-90s brought a resurgence of my interest in the Kentucky Derby. I had become a full-time mom by then, and keeping my sense of self intact meant taking some time to enjoy "my" things. This included keeping my saddle in the living room and watching all of the Triple Crown races. Luckily, some really exciting years came along, with Silver Charm, Real Quiet and Charismatic all winning the first two, then falling short in the Belmont. For a bonus, Charismatic was a stunning red chestnut with white socks, just like You-Know-Who. I know for sure I've seen every Derby since 1996, when Grindstone won in a photo finish (I'm positive I had been rooting for the grey Skip Away, since that's my usual policy).

Besides Secretariat, though, I don't recall ever knowing much about the runners before Derby Day. With the advent of the Internet I should have been more prepared to watch. However, in the absence of anyone being billed in the media as the "next superhorse," most years I've pretty much been content to turn on the TV the day of the race and see who's running. A few years I've looked at the Derby website or made a bit of an attempt to familiarize myself with the runners, but nothing really involved.

This year has been a different story. What changed? Well, it's a combination of things. I went to the World Equestrian Games last fall, managed to meet Calvin Borel ("Calvin Bo-Rail"/freakishly successful Derby jockey) completely by accident (what, you want THAT story now? Okay... stay tuned - yes, there's a photo!), and spent a blissful couple hours cruising around the Kentucky Derby Museum at the Downs. This all definitely served to put me in the Derby mood.

Then I have to go back to my idol, Mr. They-Finally-Made-A-Movie, and another gentleman, this time human. It goes like this: the Secretariat movie came out and there was an upswing of interest in the big guy. Somewhere, maybe on Facebook, I saw a link to a story about Secretariat by a guy named Steve Haskin. As it turned out, he was a very well-known turf writer, and he also had some wonderful personal photos of Red. Well, anybody who's a diehard Big Red fan has got to be cool, so I "Friended" Steve on FB. I learned he wrote a regular blog for, and started reading it (along with the rest of the website - sure am glad it's free!). What's the main topic of conversation in the late fall and spring? You got it. Next thing I knew, I'm waiting for Mondays and Steve's column, "The Derby Dozen," reading the paper for Derby trail news and combing the Internet for updates on my favorite contenders. I have paid far more attention to this year's Derby than ever before and am terribly excited for Saturday's race.

So who do I like? Check back Friday!

** Watching Red win the Belmont five weeks later is, of course, indelibly stamped in my mind. Just thinking about it gives me chills to this day. How sorry we were that we didn't just get in the car that morning and drive to the track! (Belmont Park was about an hour and a half away, but the traffic was sure to be brutal) Mom said, "Okay, next time a horse wins the Derby and the Preakness we're going." And we did. And that's how I got to see Seattle Slew win the Triple Crown...  (I'll blog about this little adventure for sure another time.)

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