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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Whatta Hunk!

I am not (GASP!) actually referring to a horse here, but rather this guy and his horse:

If you don't know who this is, you were born after 1980.
Yes, it's the Lone Ranger and Silver, as imagined by the Gabriel Toy Co., ca. 1973.  As I have mentioned, I looooved to play with my model horses. And I totally adored Silver and his rider for one reason/two words: FULLY POSEABLE. As in, the LR was the only doll I had who could perform proper equitation. Barbie and Ken were a total wash, for pete's sake; you couldn't pry their legs far enough apart to even get them on a horse, much less ride one in any semblance of form. (Side note: To think there were all those rumors about Barbie and Ken - between his missing anatomy and her non-functioning hips, there wasn't much chance of anything going on in that Dream House).

Silver's wonderful jointed legs meant that I could mold him into perfect hunter knees-to-the-eyeballs form and send him soaring over my book "jumps." The Lone Ranger could hold the reins, keep his heels down, and even assume 2-point with a little coaxing. This made for wonderfully realistic play times. The Breyers were definitely jealous of their stablemate, who got a lot more airtime then they did.

Unfortunately, the pair pictured above are not my Lone Ranger and Silver. Those two were recently up for auction on EBay, and I wish I could have justified shelling out thirty bucks for something I already have, albeit in not nearly as good condition (I'd love to know how they survived 37 years in such good shape - maybe they belonged to some strange kids who never played with their stuff?). Here's my own fella:

But wait, you say, who's that aboard the faithful steed? Well, if you recall the LR had a sidekick, a Native American named Tonto. Some well-meaning relative gave my brother Tonto and his horse Scout. Here's that pair, currently for sale on Ebay:

I just realized this horse looks like he's missing his RF leg. I certainly hope not!
Needless to say, they didn't spend too much time with my brother, as they too were quickly drafted into my Olympic showjumping team. Scout has disappeared (maybe Brother has him? We're all pack rats.) and so has my Lone Ranger, thus you get the remaining duo. Poor Tonto had a hand get broken off, so his left arm now ends in some electrical tape. Silver's reins wore out and were replaced with some gold-covered gift wrapping elastic. Really classy, but hey, they were my buddies and have a home forever.

Here's another equine from the childhood collection:

Whew, talk about Fugly! However, this little red pony from the Marx "Johnny West" collection is actually very important to me. Like about a zillion other little girls, my most fervent wish was to own my own horse/pony. Ideally, the equine would magically appear at my house, tied to my favorite tree and grazing contentedly on the front lawn. Many a birthday morning I would wake up, creep over to the window and look out, hoping against hope that somehow my prayers would have been answered.

Alas, that never happened... but what DID happen was one morning I woke up and found a box with that plastic pony in it sitting on the bedroom floor. My dad had been on a business trip to San Francisco, and I knew when I went to bed the night before that he was supposed to come home. He rarely brought us toys when he travelled so a gift had not even been on my radar.  Imagine my surprise and delight when Little Red was there waiting for me! I was just overjoyed. I played with that guy so much, making him jump things, that I broke his tail clean off from using as a handle.

Unfortunately, that gift horse also caused me a bit of trouble in the future. For years afterwards when Dad went on a trip, I would wake up the morning after he got back and open my eyes just...a... little... bit... at a time, hoping that another super present was awaiting my discovery. Nope - the pony was a one-off thing. But that's okay, he was SO good that I will always remember Dad's thoughtfulness. I know he gave me that pony with a lot of love and wishes that it could have been a real one. :-)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Seattle Slew and the Belmont Stakes

Since the Belmont Stakes is coming up soon, I thought I'd share the story of my one and only trip to see the famous race in person.

I grew up in Middletown, N.J., which according to Google Maps is a mere 61 miles from the Belmont Park Racetrack in Elmont, NY. As I mentioned in a previous post, my mom and I were really upset when Secretariat won the Triple Crown so tantalizingly close to home. The reason we didn't go to the Belmont that year, though, is two-fold: as good as Red was, it seemed almost impossible that a horse really was going to win the Triple Crown - it had been 25 years! - and, Mom knew the journey would be very difficult and in reality take far longer than the 1.15 hours Google is currently claiming. ANY trip to Long Island from N.J. is pretty much guaranteed to be a nightmare on a good day, never mind a day when a whole lot of folks are headed in the same direction.

Nevertheless, just as soon as we were done cheering our lungs out at the TV when Big Red won and still wiping our teary eyes, Mom declared, "That's it - if another horse wins the first two races We. Are. Going. to the Belmont. It's just awful that we weren't there."  Fast forward to four years later...

A dark brown colt by the name of Seattle Slew was taking the racing world by storm. Purchased for a measly $17,000 by some newbie Thoroughbred owners, he quickly proved they'd hit the proverbial jackpot by going undefeated as a two-year-old and in all three of his Derby prep races. Reflect on this for a second: can you imagine the Taylor's & partner's beginner's luck??? When there are people out there dropping millions on TBs, they spend a fraction of the cost of a good showjumper even back then, and WHAM, wind up with the likes of Seattle Slew. Talk about a needle in a haystack! Anyway, Champion 2-Year-Old Seattle Slew went roaring into the Derby and won it handily, the first undefeated horse to do so. Everybody had high hopes for him in the Preakness and he did not disappoint. Some said he might fall to the speedy Cormorant, but that fellow finished third and Slew held off Iron Constitution to win by a length and a half. I must have turned to my mom (of course we had watched the race together) and said, "Well????"

The trip was on. My younger brothers and dad were either not interested in going, busy, or simply not invited - I don't remember which. Mom and I were definitely the horse people in the family so I think it was the former. Probably things were said along the lines of, "Why would you want to sit in traffic for hours just to see a stupid horse race," but we were undeterred: we were off to Belmont Park, come hell or high water, hopefully to see history being made once again.

The morning of the race dawned overcast, with some rain, but that did not dampen our spirits. I actually do not recall the car trip there, but I'm sure it wasn't any fun for the driver. Belmont Park was definitely crammed full of people, I do remember that! We parked somewhere and went to the in-gate for the grandstand. That's where I got this:
Isn't that a simply gorgeous trophy... I love silver anyway, and silver with horses is REALLY nice.
Yes, that's my real program from the day, dog-ears, pencil marks, beverage stains and all! I must confess that when I dug this out, I headed over to Ebay to see if it might be worth anything in actual dollars... nope, not really. Especially not in "well-used" condition. Oh, well, to me it's pretty much priceless - I'm extremely glad to still have this wonderful souvenir.

Mom and I made our way into the grandstand and from there out onto the apron in front of the track. I don't recall if we tried getting close to the rail prior to the Big Race, or were content to stand back a bit until it really counted.  I do know that we viewed most, if not all, of the races leading up to the Stakes, which was Race 8, because there are pencil marks on lots of the pages. Looking at the program the other night, I found it entertaining to check out the sires of all the runners that day to see whose names I recognized.

Belmont runners:
Bold Reasoning (Slew's dad)
Sir Ivor
Dust Commander (know he won the Derby)
Good Counsel
Horses in other races:
Dr. Fager
Hail To Reason
Raja Baba
Gallant Man
Northern Dancer
Hoist the Flag
In Reality
Stage Door Johnny
Grey Dawn

An interesting look back! Here's what's really fascinating, though: out of all the runners themselves that day (nine races, so around 75 horses), guess how many names I recognized? Two. Slew himself, and Our Mims. Just goes to show you the percentage of how many TBs do not make it big on the track or in the breeding shed.

Here's the page before the listing of the horses in the Belmont:
It's hard to see but that's a list of prior winners going back to 1965 at the top of the page, and of course the race record holder's name at the tippy-top. Wonder who that could be... AND STILL IS.
Prior to looking at this, Mom and I had definitely made our best attempt to battle through the crowd to get as close to the rail as possible. We wound up about 10' away, and about 75' short of the finish line, packed in like sardines. The page for the Belmont itself:
Anybody recognize any of those other names? Not me.
As we were standing there a commotion rose up behind us. Two young men were making their way through the crowd, one of them pushing the other in a wheelchair. Oh, dear, I thought, poor handicapped guy! He'll never be able to see anything. At about 5'4" myself, I'd quickly realized that I wasn't going to see a whole heck of a lot, either. The crowd parted up to a point, and the young men wound up right next to me and Mom. The one in the wheelchair had a standard-size plastic cooler balanced across the arms of the chair. They weren't going to get any closer; everyone else was clinging to their hard-fought positions.

Go ahead and laugh if you saw this coming... the next thing that happened was a (koff) miracle! After his friend lifted off the cooler, the guy in the chair promptly stood up, reached into the cooler, grabbed a can of beer and declared, "Happy Belmont, everybody!" while grinning madly. Not a thing wrong with HIS legs! Nice scam to make your way through a crowd, hunh. Nobody was really mad at them, fortunately, as everyone was excited and in a party mood (and probably half of them were bombed, too).

This whole escapade turned out to be my saving grace. The guys saw that I was struggling to see anything on the track, and graciously offered to let me stand on the cooler. That helped a lot; I was now a foot taller. "New York, New York" played, everyone sang, and the horses came out onto the track. I scanned the runners, trying to scope out the Big Guy and how he looked. Drat - it was still hard to see anything. And that's when the Wheelchair Guys really got inspired, and made the race for me: "Here, get up on top of this and you'll be able to see!" They'd put the cooler on the arms of the wheelchair!

So that's how I wound up viewing the 1977 Belmont Stakes from my own private elevated stand, around 4' off the ground. I was not good with heights, and the whole arrangement was rather shaky, but I truly did not care: I had a bird's-eye view of the whole thing. It was FANTASTIC! Not to mention, my dad and brothers were at home watching it on TV, and when we got there and told them where I'd been, Dad said he thought he remembered seeing someone sticking way up above the rest of the crowd in front of the grandstand. So I might have made it on TV, too. :-)

As for the race itself, yes, I remember seeing Slew leading the race handily coming towards the finish line. Unless he fell flat on his face he had it sewed up. I was shouting, "He's going to to do it! He's going to do it!" but I couldn't celebrate too madly due to my precarious perch. If you watch the YouTube video, you can see the whole race and the fact that Slew led virtually wire-to-wire. What a triumph! Seattle Slew became the first undefeated Triple Crown winner. Mom and I were absolutely thrilled to have witnessed it, and made our way home tired and happy. It was certainly worth the trip.
Jockey Jean Cruguet celebrates after crossing the finish line. I got to meet him in 2009 at the Secretariat Festival in Paris, KY and told him about how I saw the race, which he thought was pretty funny!
My only other brush with Triple Crown greatness has been through relatives. My two nieces who live in Cincinnati are dancers, and Steve Cauthen's daughter is a member of their troupe. The two families are quite friendly. So I do have an autographed picture of Affirmed with Steve up, winning the Belmont. I haven't gotten to meet him yet but I hear he's a really nice guy, in case you're wondering! :-)

Looking forward to the 2011 Belmont this Saturday - go Mucho Macho Man and Animal Kingdom!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

You're Never Too Old

Lookie what I got, for my Mother's Day present:

Zenyatta, aka "Zenny," or "The Queen"
I am such a dope I actually forgot that I'd asked for her, and still didn't even realize what it was when I saw the wrapped box. DUHHH! So of course there were major waterworks... my hubby sweetly remembered that I'd said I would love to have this. Just goes to show you, NO, there are some things you are not too old to want, and plastic horse models are one of them! :-)

I was going to discuss my childhood collection of Breyers at some point anyway, so this was a good opportunity. I think it's safe to say that virtually all horse-crazy little girls collect Breyers (they used to be a bit more affordable - DH had sticker shock picking up Zenny there, unfortunately). At the peak of my collection I think I had around 35. I don't know about most kids, but I played with my model horses darn near every day. One of my favorite activities with them was to set up books tent-style as "jumps" on my bedroom floor, and have horse shows. (More on this in next post re: horse models)

What's really a bummer is that part of the group included about 10 small-size, nicely-made plastic horses that one of my babysitters gave me. One day I thought to look inside a hind leg and to my surprise, there was the Breyer stamp. These were from the early 60s at least. For all I know, these very early ones probably would put my kids through college if I had them to sell now... but alas, they disappeared along with a number of other models. However, (control your surprise here), I DO still have a few!

I believe my first one was this fellow:
I think they called this a "Proud Arabian Stallion," although he's not the current model under that name. He's wearing the nifty blanket I made him from a kit that Breyer sold back in the day. It even has a little Tricorne Farm logo on it that my mom helped me cut out. I wish there had been more "do-it-yourself" accessory kits, but I had to content myself with making leg bandages out of rolled up tissues with Scotch tape around them, and/or Band-Aids. I even made little horse shoes out of aluminum foil that I glued to their feet. (Yes, Children, this is the kind of thing young people did when there was nothing on TV every afternoon except soap operas!)

One of my favorites, now MIA, was my Palomino 5-Gaited Stallion. I adored that one and took particular care "grooming" him. I don't know why I just did it with him, but I took cotton balls soaked in baby oil and polished him until he absolutely gleamed. Nowadays you can buy them in a "glossy" finish, but my homemade one worked fine.

Here's another:
This is Mr. "Semi-Rearing Stallion," in buckskin. He is wearing a harness that I absolutely killed myself making out of shoelaces in order to portray him as a Roman chariot horse (project for Latin class in H.S.). It was sewn directly on him with considerable effort, and I've never been able to make myself cut the traces and free him from his painstakingly-constructed tack. Poor guy!

These next two were late additions to the collection - really, I only seem to have one truly old one still with me (the Arab). Don't know why some survived and many others are keeping my prom dresses company in a NJ landfill (this is what happens when your mom sells the childhood home after almost 30 years, and you are not on hand to definitively rescue your things. I did - obviously - get a lot of stuff but other important items vanished...). Unfortunately, I don't particularly care for either one, as the model maker they had in those days had a thing about putting the horses' eyes too close together and too far up on their heads. If they're worth anything I could definitely sell them!
"Black Beauty" or "The Black Stallion" - not sure, and not a current model under that name
"Some Kind of Appaloosa," ca. 1980. Again, not a current model and can't find him
And finally, here's a photo that you've seen before, with an addition:
This is the shelf in my bedroom which holds a bunch of equestrian memorabilia. Wild Horse Annie's "Buck" is on top of the old rocking horse. I think I actually got Buck in my twenties, not as a kid. I love the way he's only attached to his stand by one foot and is portrayed running free. And there's Secretariat, the "anniversary" edition with him wearing his Derby rose blanket, which I acquired in 2008 and have never opened (Zenny will not be opened, either). I'll tell you a secret: his eyes are all wrong, too! It is NOT a good likeness of Red. In researching this post, I have discovered there's a running model of Red that's much better, so guess what I'll be asking for for my birthday this year... :-).