Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Love of the Thoroughbred

Z Princess
Republished in loving memory of Z Princess, daughter of Zenyatta, who was with us from April 20, 2014 to October 28, 2014  - RIP little one.  
Weanling daughter of champion Zenyatta dies  Zenyatta: Champion Mother
BloodHorse Feature: Long Live the Queen


Shared Belief
In Honor of Shared Belief whose life and career were shortened on December 3, 2015, when he succumbed to a sudden and deadly attack of colitis. His fans, his owners, his trainer and all of his connections have shared their feelings about the loss of this wonderful champion. Jim Rome, one of the owners, has publicly mourned his "horse of a lifetime" and what it means not only to have been privileged to own such a horse, but what the loss means to him personally: 

"Thoroughbred racing is a sport filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Some of the most thrilling and surreal moments of our entire lives have occurred in this sport. Unfortunately, today we have suffered our most devastating. We have lost Shared Belief."

"Immediate shock upon hearing the Champ had passed suddenly turned to extreme sadness. You never really get over something like this, you just hope to get past it. And in time, we will. And we will as a team. All of us together." 

"And truthfully, we have asked ourselves if it’s all worth it. If you truly love the animal and you’re in the game for the right reasons, how could you not ask yourself that question? In other words, as devastating as this loss is, given the chance, would we do it all over again? And the answer is yes."

Remembering Shared Belief - video      
Shared Belief Remembered through Photos
Jungle Racing Facebook page

Loving the Thoroughbred

Zenyatta and Z Princess
When I started seriously following Thoroughbred racing, one of my early realizations was the extremes of the highs and lows of the sport.  I questioned early on how trainers and owners, and others involved directly with the care and training of these magnificent creatures dealt with the emotional extremes, the emotional roller coaster.  If you are afraid of your emotions, if you think it's not manly to cry, then you are in the wrong game.  Some days you get your heart wrung out like a dishrag, and others the joy and thrill of that win that comes at the end of a long road of ups and downs, just sends you over the moon, only to come crashing down again because of a senseless accident or injury that ends a career before it has begun. 

Mucho Macho Man

Yet, no matter how tough the road, I think most would say being involved with the horses is worth the price, that it is addictive in a positive sense, that their lives are enriched by their involvement.  I don't even own a horse, and can't get to the track very often, yet I've had my heart stomped on only to come back for more.  I pulled so hard for Mucho Macho Man for 3 years, that he would one day get to win that big race -- for what reason did I feel so invested in one horse? 

Fort Larned breaks the hearts of Mucho Macho Man's fans in the 2012 Breeders Cup Classic in a thrilling battle to the finish.  Mucho came back and looked like he might get there.

In 2013, Mucho Macho Man gets his revenge in a blanket finish with last year's winner and an invader from overseas, Declaration of War - This win brought tears to my eyes for Moochie.

El Vino - Zenyatta's workmate
Less accomplished horses have touched my heart, as well.  For what reason did a low-level claimer get under my skin and cause me to want to help in re-homing him, or how sad I felt at the loss of El Vino.  I have to tell you, growing up I couldn't even watch a Lassie
Sarbonne - Also worked
with Zenyatta
movie because the sound of that music would cause my throat to constrict and tears would sting my eyes before the movie even began!  Yet, I constantly subject myself to the ups and downs of a sport that is guaranteed to break your heart and the next moment, take you to the highest mountain.  Why am I still here?  Even though my voice is small among so many, I somehow feel I make a difference in bearing witness for each and every Thoroughbred that crosses my path.  To leave the sport would be like abandoning all of them, to saying, they don't matter.  So, I'm hooked, I'm stuck, and gladly so.  In the words of Priscilla Clark in her tribute to Zenyatta:

"If you love Thoroughbred horses you go through life hoping that you can see just one more in whose presence the clouds fall away to reveal the mountaintop. It can take a generation or infinitely longer for such a horse to arrive, a horse that is capable of carrying the human heart. For the last one hundred years we know them all by name, but Zenyatta brought to us a beauty that was a tonic for the soul. She allowed us to believe in the impossible, and it was the light of her being as much as the thrill of her races that got us dancing. Zenyatta was transformative."

A story of redemption.  Recently, a program at Saratoga has garnered much praise in restoring bruised and battered men and women coming back from the ravages of war.  Called the "Saratoga Warhorse", the only way to explain the program and how it works is to watch it in action.  Saratoga Warhorse  A story of redemption and renewal, and hope. 

A trainer's journey to the mountaintop and the depths to which he can plunge.  Story of a Kentucky Derby that changed Bob Baffert's life.

Then, in 2015, Bob Baffert has been carried to the mountaintop one more time. This time he was rewarded -- no, privileged -- to sit atop that mountain and feel the glow of reaching for the stars and having the stars embrace him, and all the connections, of the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. In the culmination of taking home the prize no other Triple Crown winner has even had the opportunity to try, winning the Grand Slam of racing, the Breeders Cup Classic, Baffert has sometimes been at a loss for words to express his emotions. Often, he has referred to the "spiritual nature" of his journey, as here in the day following the Breeders Cup Classic, he reveals that he is at a loss for adequate words. 

There's no question in my mind that there is a spiritual connection between man and the horse that has existed for centuries.  As I stated in the beginning, my current situation does not afford me much personal contact with the horses.  I have a friend who does eventing and she has a couple of horses that when I feel the need to get up close and personal, I go out just to be around them, to smell that distinctive "horse smell" that to me is intoxicating.  To gaze into those soulful eyes, to rub that soft spot on their nose, to feed them carrots and treats, for me, brings me a sense of peace and order in my life.  There's just no way to explain it, but here's Richard Migliore trying to explain what he feels in the presence of a Zenyatta or a Seattle Slew. 

Yes, Zenyatta is special, otherworldly, even, but, to a certain extent, every horse has the spirit of Zenyatta, of a Seattle Slew.  All carry within them the ability to touch our hearts, to reach into our soul, and to engender a desire to help even in small ways to work towards a day when they all are appreciated and cared for.  They can't all be as accomplished as these two great horses, or of an American Pharoah, or a Shared Belief, but they all deserve to be treated as if they were!

If you want to help, even in a small way, there are many horse rescue and re-homing groups worthy of your support.  A list of organizations and their credentials are listed at Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance.  You, too, can make a difference in a horse's life.


Abigail Anderson said...

OH, ANN MAREE! This is so beautifully expressed and so timely. I salute you for your honesty and candour --and your excellent taste (LOL) in the choice of horses like Zenny. What I loved the most, though, was the reminder that all horses carry the same dignity and greatness within them. You are so right! Abigail

Deltalady said...

Thank you, Abigail. Your praise means much to me, as you have inspired me in so many ways. I feel privileged to enjoy your friendship and experiences we have had over these past few years, and I look forward to many more. Hugs, dear friend.

Cynthia H. said...

I did not have the opportunity to see or read your column until today. Your words are beautiful and ring true. There is nothing that can make or break a heart like a racehorse. Thank you for honoring El Vino with a mention and the memorial photograph which ran on his Facebook page at the time of his death. That he is no longer alive in the world will always be a deep source of grief for me, and the many who loved him.

Deltalady said...

Thank you Cynthia for responding in such a positive way. Loved El Vino, as well as the others who sacrificed their careers to help Zenyatta in hers. Just learned that Sarbonne has been moved from his interim home to his forever home at Old Friends, where he likely will become pasture mates with Game On Dude. This is truly a blessing for the horse as well as for those who care about his welfare.