Archive for May, 2009


Posted in Slices of Life (add $1 for ice cream) on May 16, 2009 by tigereye

All the great ones are freaks, after all.

They’re bigger than other colts their age sometimes: Man o’War was massive. His jockeys almost never let him run as freely as he wanted to, and he fought them, straining against the bit all the way as he won and won and won. Ruffian, fifty years later, danced in the paddock to get back to the track and run again. She, too, towered over fillies and colts alike. Secretariat, who shared Man o’War’s nickname of “Big Red,” was often the biggest colt in the field, and would languish at the back of the pack for a few strides before springing to the front and staying there.

Some of the greatest, though, don’t look like winners. Seabiscuit was small and barrel-shaped, the size of a saddle horse… until you put him on a track, when his spirit and drive made him into a champion. Kelso, the great gelding, was often described as “deerlike,” but he won carrying astonishing weights, claiming five Jockey Club Gold Cups in five years. They weren’t larger than life until they started to run, and then they became something else, something greater, before our eyes.

Sometimes we don’t get them for long. If you’ve watched Ruffian or Barbaro, you won’t forget it, the way they wanted to fly, and nearly did, right up until the end. Sometimes they run for years, like Seabiscuit and Kelso, winning and winning at ages that seem advanced in comparison to the three-year-olds we watch every year, and live a long time. Man o’War made such a mark after two years, his name is still mentioned today when he’s in a horse’s bloodline, even though he raced in 1919 and 1920. Secretariat, caught on film in many of his victories, looks like a special effect – no horse could really do that, could he? Is it possible to win by 31 lengths?

They were all freaks. But what’s the difference, really, between a miracle and a freak? They were like steps forward in the evolution of the animal, so much faster that the others could only catch up. Sometimes nature allows us to see what’s coming next, a faster horse, a more competitive horse, a little more beauty and amazement than we think is possible. We get a closer look at perfection.

Watch them, coming down the stretch. Watch them pulling away – see how easy it is for them. They’re trying to take flight. You can see the beginnings of their wings.