Gulch: A True Champion

If you’re reading this in email or on Facebook, click on the title! It will take you directly to the blog (an easier viewing page.) If you’re already in my blog, WELCOME! (One more hint: If you click on any of the photos in the blog, they should open up in a browser window so you can get a better look!)

 

One of the problems with loving horses is that they are all mortal. Even the ones whose names will live on forever – like Secretariat and Man O’War – have gone to the great, green fields in Heaven. Another of the greats has just joined them.

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Gulch at Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Home – Photo by Rick Capone

Gulch was a true champion. He was a tough competitor who raced against the best of his generation (which was one of the best group of horses in history). I was lucky enough to see his gritty win in the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Sprint. That was the year he won the Eclipse Award (the highest award given to a horse) as Champion Sprinter. It was also his last year to race before going to stud at Lane’s End Farm (where he would stand his entire career). But I’m getting ahead of myself.

 

 

Gulch was foaled (born) April 16, 1984. He was the son of perennial, number one sire, Mr. Prospector. His dam (mother) was Jameela.

 

Mr. Prospector is well known for his amazing history for siring top class runners (i.e., Fusaichi Pegasus, Forty Niner, and Seeking the Gold, etc.). His continuing sire line (through sons such as Fappiano, Forty Niner, Kingmambo, Smart Strike, and, of course, Gulch) is one of the most enduring and successful in the history of thoroughbred breeding. His prowess at siring top-notch broodmares is also well documented by being the top broodmare sire for many years.

 

Jameela was, by far the best runner her female family had produced for generations, and was also the best runner her sire ever had. The hard-knocking mare competed for four years and compiled a race record of 58 starts, 27 wins, 15 seconds, and 6 thirds for a whopping earnings of $1,038,714. In today’s racing, $1-million in earnings is still an amazing achievement. Considering that Jameela ran from 1979 through 1982, her total earnings are even more compelling.

 

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Gulch at Old Friends – Photo by Rick Capone

Gulch ran from 1986 through 1988. While best known as a classy sprinter, Gulch actually came in second in the 1987 Belmont Stakes. The Belmont is 1-1/2 miles, run on a sandy surface, and is the longest distance of any of the Triple Crown races. Gulch competed successfully at distances from 5 furlongs (a furlong is 1/8 mile) to 12 furlongs. This is exceedingly rare in racing in this day and age. Most horses show an affinity for a certain distance and are run almost exclusively in that distance or very close. Gulch showed great promise right from the start when he won several of the top races for 2-year-olds in 1986 (including the Hopeful Stakes, the Futurity Stakes, and the Saratoga Special Stakes.)

 

As a three-year-old, Gulch continued his winning ways. There were wins in the Wood Memorial, the Metropolitan Handicap (against older horses) and the Bay Shore Stakes. There were other great finishes besides the aforementioned second in the Belmont. He ran against all ages in the Woodward and the Whitney (both top American races) and finished second.

 

At four, he had his final, great year at the track with wins in the Metropolitan Handicap (for the second year), the Potrero Grande Handicap, the Carter Handicap and his tough win in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. In addition, he had several seconds and thirds in the top races in the country. His final race record was 32 starts: 13 wins, 8 seconds, and 4 thirds for total earnings of $3,015,521. Again, remember this was the 1980s when purses were much less than they are today. He was appropriately named Champion Sprinter of 1988.

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A Shiny, Clean Gulch at Old Friends – Photo by Rick Capone

In 1988, we were attending our first Breeders’ at Churchill Downs. Jim and I had recently gotten into the racing business by buying a part interest in a 2-year-old colt in Georgia. Georgia (sadly) does not have legal horse racing (an aside – some very bright lights in the thoroughbred industry are still working on rectifying that). The plan was to race this colt in Alabama and/or Florida. We also had intentions of purchasing our own broodmare to get into breeding our own racehorses. Part of that process took us to Kentucky for a sale and to go to the Breeders’ Cup races. My hero, Alysheba, was competing for the last time of his career in the Breeders’ Cup Classic; and the amazing, Personal Ensign was running in her final race in the Distaff. In my opinion, that year was the penultimate Breeders’ Cup.

 

 

I knew about Gulch. I had always loved his name considering his sire was Mr. Prospector. He had been trained by two great trainers in Leroy Jolley and D. Wayne Lukas. I loved his gritty determination and was anxious to see him get his due by winning the Sprint. An old favorite, Precisionist, was trying to win his second Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and one of my other favorites, Sunshine Forever was competing in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Now that I look back on that Breeders’ Cup, I’m struck that all of these favorites ended up at Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Farm in Georgetown, Kentucky.

 

My beautiful picture

Me with Alysheba – Lane’s End Farm – May 1989

The next time I saw Gulch was the following May at Lane’s End. Several top runners had been retired to stud at Lane’s End and I was anxious to meet them all. Notable among the group were Alysheba, Bet Twice (the horse who denied Alysheba’s Triple Crown) and Gulch. I knew that all of the stud fees would be far out of our reach. One never knows if lightning will strike, and our first mare (a half-sister to a very good horse who had run third in the Preakness Stakes) had foals that could become stakes winners. If that were the case, the scenario could change. Of course, chances were slim, but one thing for certain in the horse business – if you don’t dream, you don’t belong.

My beautiful picture

Gulch – Lane’s End Farm – May 1989 (Does this look like a Champion?)

 

I had to laugh when they brought Gulch in. Alysheba was shiny and acting much the king of the hill and enjoying all the attention. Gulch, on the other hand, looked for all the world like a sullen little boy who had been pulled away from play. Indeed, he was covered with mud, was completely disheveled, and stood grudgingly in front of us. This definitely did not look like a champion. If you’d have seen him in a group, you’d never have looked twice. But, sure enough, in front of us was the Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner and Eclipse Award winning Sprint Champion. That was the moment I decided I really loved that horse. He became a “real” horse. He just wanted to play in the mud.

 

As a stallion, Gulch was a success. He sired Thunder Gulch who won the Kentucky Derby and who also went on to become a successful sire. Other good offspring include Court Vision, Great Navigator, and fellow Old Friends retiree, Wallenda. He sired more than 70 stakes winners during his long career.

 

Several times in following years we visited Lane’s End. Each time, I’d make certain to look for Gulch. We got to see famous half-brothers A.P. Indy and Summer Squall. Lane’s End has been home to some of the best stallions in the 20th and 21st century. Still, Gulch was a favorite and I never tired of seeing him.

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My favorite photo of Gulch – Old Friends – Photo by Rick Capone

 

When I heard that Gulch had been pensioned to Old Friends in 2009, I was ecstatic. It’s been over 20 years since we were in the horse business, and our visits to stud farms pretty much ended when we left the business. With Gulch going to Old Friends I was happy for several reasons. The first was that I knew he would continue to get the best of care. Second, other fans would get to meet this wonderful horse. The most selfish reason was that I would get to visit him again.

 

The last visit I had to Old Friends was to celebrate a landmark birthday in 2013. We planned our whole trip around making certain that we would be able to be at Old Friends on my birthday. That’s all I wanted for my birthday – to be able to see all the horses that truly were “old friends” of mine.

Gulch

My last photo of Gulch. He’d been in the mud again (his left side was caked). A happy horse

 

When I saw Gulch, I had to laugh. Once again, he’d been in the mud. He was wearing a fly mask as the August weather and lots of rain had made for a bumper crop of biting flies. Gulch was still the same horse I’d come to know. He was friendly, but still I had to feel that he’d rather be back out rolling in the mud. So, somehow, it seems fitting that my final visit with Gulch was similar to the first.

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Rick Capone’s Wonderful Photo of Gulch at Old Friends – Fields of Green

 

Gulch was humanely euthanized on Sunday, January 17, 2016. The gallant, old man lived to the ripe old age of 32 (which is very rare in horses). Old Friends took the step to put him down because cancer was starting to overtake Gulch and he deserved to be pain free and go quietly to sleep.

 

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Gulch – The Look of Pure Joy (How I’d Want His Hereafter to Be) – Photo by Rick Capone

 

One more beloved champion is racing through the never-ending fields of green (and, in Gulch’s case I hope an always-sloppy, mud hole).

 

 

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Looking Forward to “Seeing” You Here Next Time on Colmel’s Blog!

April 28, 2015

I’m Reblogging this terrific post from Old Friends. It’s time for the Kentucky Derby. Without a doubt, my favorite winner (other than Secretariat – and y’all know how I feel about him) was Silver Charm. He had the same sire as our Untarnished, and he was born and raised on the farm from whom we bought Untarnished’s mom, Permanent Cut. I got to know Bonnie’s Poker (Silver Charm’s mom) while she lived at Old Friends. I can’t wait to go and visit him – and all the other wonderful horses at Old Friends later this spring or early summer.

In the meantime, I’m trying to heal from foot surgery (in case you were wondering why I hadn’t been around for a while). I promise to start blogging again in the very near future.

Old Friends Blog

Hall-of-Famers Bob Baffert and Silver Charm share a playful moment. Hall-of-Famers Silver Charm and his trainer, Bob Baffert, share a playful moment. Photo by Tim W.

…Speaking of wonderful moments shared between our residents and their connections, here’s one that happened today. I wish I could describe the reminiscing shared by 1997 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Silver Charm and his trainer Bob Baffert when Bob, Jill and Bode Baffert took time out from their busy pre-Derby schedules to visit Old Friends.

A Silver Charm brings good racing luck, they say... Are the two veteran Derby winners exchanging perspectives on how Saturday’s race will play out? Photo by Tim W.

Or the welcome Game On Dude gave them, especially Jill–smart horses like the Dude know who loves them the very best of all.

The best of friends. Jill Baffert, Bode Baffert and Game On Dude enjoy each other's company. Photo by Tim W. The best of friends. Jill Baffert, Bode Baffert, Bob Baffert and Game On Dude enjoy each other’s company. Photo by Tim W.

I wish I could describe the memorable time they all had being together again…

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This Chrome is Solid Gold – Part 2: Two Down…

If you’re reading this in email or on Facebook, click on the title! It will take you directly to the blog (an easier viewing page.) If you’re already in my blog, WELCOME! (One more hint: If you click on any of the photos in the blog, they should open up in a browser window so you can get a better look!)

 

How do you feel about your "competition?"

How do you feel about your “competition?”

I had planned to talk about California Chrome’s early years, but the coverage of the first two races has been so complete, I’m sure you’ve heard just about everything there is to tell about him prior to the Kentucky Derby.

 

Since the Kentucky Derby, I’ve found that there is a very personal connection with California Chrome. It was my great pleasure to find out that one of the Kalitta family of companies (Kalitta Air, Kalitta Charters, and K2) had the distinct honor of flying California Chrome from Louisville to Baltimore. My friends, who know what a huge fan I am, sent me a couple of photos of California Chrome on the plane. It wasn’t as though I actually needed another reason to cheer for Chrome, but it sure added to the personal enjoyment.

California Chrome on K2 flight from Louisville to Baltimore

California Chrome on K2 flight from Louisville to Baltimore

 

California Chrome in his stall on K2 aircraft

California Chrome in his stall on K2 aircraft

California Chrome leaves K2 aircraft for ride to Pimlico

California Chrome leaves K2 aircraft for ride to Pimlico

I also want to touch on how wonderful I think it is that Art Sherman, California Chrome’s trainer, was able to train a Kentucky Derby winner after accompanying the great Swaps on the train from California to win the 1955 Kentucky Derby. Sherman was Swaps regular work rider and he slept in the straw with Swaps all the way east. I also think it’s incredibly touching that he visited Swaps’ grave before this Derby and asked the great one to imbue Chrome with some of his toughness. I believe that was one request that was granted.

 

Art Sherman with California Chrome

Art Sherman with California Chrome

 

The Great Swaps

The Great Swaps

 

Chromie's Favorite Trick Stealing the Hat off Alan Sherman's (Art's Son & Assistant Trainer) Head

Chromie’s Favorite Trick
Stealing the Hat off Alan Sherman’s (Art’s Son & Assistant Trainer) Head

One more shout-out regarding the Kentucky Derby. It goes to California Chrome’s spectacular “pony” horse. When I saw the pony leading Chrome in the Kentucky Derby, I could swear he looked like an old friend – Perfect Drift. The more I saw the pony, the more I concentrated on HIM rather than Chrome (which, my friends, is really saying something). I could have sworn it was Perfect Drift. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know how much I have always adored Perfect Drift. I’ve been a huge fan of Perfect Drift ever since he started racing. Having bred to Dynaformer, all his horses (especially Perfect Drift and Barbaro) have been favorites. I visited Drift at the Kentucky Derby Museum while he was their “representative.”

Perfect Drift at The Kentucky Derby Museum

Perfect Drift at The Kentucky Derby Museum

Susan Salk in one of the other blogs I follow did a bang-up piece on Perfect Drift in his new job as “pony” in her blog http://offtrackthoroughbreds.com/ That’s when I knew for certain I was right. Chrome’s pony horse was my old pal, Perfect Drift. I hope she doesn’t mind that I borrowed one of her photos from her blog. If you head over to her blog, I think you will really enjoy it. I read every one of her posts and have loved to hear the happy stories of “off the track” thoroughbreds in their new lives.

Perfect Drift Ponying California Chrome at the Kentucky Derby

Perfect Drift Ponying California Chrome at the Kentucky Derby

If you watched the Preakness Stakes, you saw that Chromie (affectionately Tweeted and written about as #Chromie) broke well from the gate. This is really important for Chromie. He has had a history of having to overcome poor “breaks” (starts) from the gate. This time, he was rocking forward. It’s not that he’s a bad actor in the starting gate. There are horses who constantly fight going into the starting gate, or flip over, or just flat won’t go in at all. Chrome is anxious. He rocks back and forth with anticipation. He’s getting better with each race, it seems; and one can only hope that he will be rocking forward when they pop the gates at Belmont Park on June 7.

 

California Chrome in Preakness Winners' Circle

California Chrome in Preakness Winners’ Circle

Now, we’re on the brink of the first Triple Crown (Chrome?) in 36 years. Without going into all of the negative press horse racing has gotten just over the past few months, I can confidently say that we sure could use a Triple “Chrome” winner now more than ever. This is especially true for this particular horse with his storybook background, working-class owners, and septuagenarian trainer.

California Chrome Racing with History?

California Chrome
Racing with History?

A whole cottage industry has sprung up around California Chrome. Tee-shirts and other garments are being printed with DAP (Dumb Ass Partners – the ownership’s racing name) colors and logos and California Chrome’s name (or #Chromie). Many of the parties selling these items are donating a percentage of their sales to my dear friends at Old Friends – A Kentucky Facility for Retired Thoroughbreds (http://www.oldfriendsequine.org/ ). If you’re interested in checking out some of these items, Teespring.com and Etsy have them. I, personally, do not have any financial interest nor do I receive any funds from any of these, but I have made purchases for myself.

California Chrome Sure Doesn't Look Like He's Stressed

California Chrome
Sure Doesn’t Look Like He’s Stressed

As the Belmont Stakes gets closer, I hope to be blogging more about this year’s Triple Crown and the sense of destiny surrounding California Chrome. Stories like this don’t come along very often. As the adage goes, “A racehorse is an animal that can take several thousand people for a ride at the same time.” I sure am enjoying this ride. I’m praying that it takes all of us to the Winners’ Circle at Belmont Park on June 7; and California Chrome into the history books and his own slice of immortality.

 

California Chrome Yes, We're ALL Looking at You, Kid!

California Chrome
Yes, We’re ALL Looking at You, Kid!

 

Up Next: Solid Chrome

 

Would you like to subscribe to my blog? (Oh, yes, it’s free!) Hopefully, you have already clicked on the title and are now directly in my blog page. If you have not gotten to the blog page, click on the title of the Posting and it will take you to the blog. From there, click on “Follow.” I hope you will. You will be notified of each new posting. I also hope you will jump in and comment on my posts.

 

Looking forward to “seeing” you here on Colmel’s Blog!

I Have to Recommend…

That you read this wonderful blog post from Steve Haskin at Blood-Horse. No, that refers to Thoroughbred horses not anything sanguine. I will be returning in the next day or two with my take on California Chrome’s connections, his pedigree, and races up to the Kentucky Derby.

Until then, please enjoy this magnificent literary piece!

http://cs.bloodhorse.com/blogs/horse-racing-steve-haskin/archive/2014/05/06/a-horse-to-soothe-the-soul.aspx?&utm_source=DailyNewsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20140507

Talkin’ Horses

If you’re reading this in email or on Facebook, click on the title! It will take you directly to the blog (an easier viewing page.) If you’re already in my blog, WELCOME!

 

Some of you who read this blog will remember a television show on ESPN called “Racehorse Digest.” It was a weekly show, hosted by Chris Lincoln, which ran from 1982 through 1998. It was a great show that recapped the important races from the previous week and discussed many of the races which were coming up. It was a terrific show that is still the standard by which all current and future shows will be judged.

One of the great segments on “Racehorse Digest” was called ‘Talkin’ Horses’ with Dave Johnson. In that segment, Dave talked to individuals about their involvement in horse racing. Sometimes he spoke with owners, sometimes trainers, and sometimes jockeys. Some of those segments can still be seen on YouTube. They were fascinating glimpses into the sport through many different angles.

In one segment from October of 1989, Dave Johnson interviewed three women who were ‘Talkin’ Horses’ through a new medium called “the internet.” These three women had met through the old “Prodigy” in a Horse Racing Bulletin Board. They were part of a larger group who had all become acquainted through discussions of horse racing and horse breeding on that one, very early, internet site who had come together at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky to enjoy a weekend at the races – culminating with the Spinster Stakes. The three were known as “#1 Kentucky Filly,” Leslie (went by her real name), and “Teach.” These three had formed a friendship and had become three very recognizable voices on the site. “The #1 Kentucky Filly” specialized in horse racing – especially at Keeneland. Leslie was an owner/breeder from Washington (state). “Teach” was an owner/breeder/pedigree student from Georgia.

"Teach" With Her First Homebred

“Teach” With Her First Homebred

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, I’m betting you can guess who “Teach” was. Yep, yours truly. My “specialty” on Prodigy was looking up pedigrees of racehorses and stallions and giving my predictions as to which would be the most successful either on the track – especially considering different types of racing (sprints/distance, dirt/turf, etc.) or in the breeding shed. Incidentally, I didn’t give myself that title, it was conferred upon me.

Our segment of ‘Talkin’ Horses’ was about the “new” idea of people from all over the country getting together on this new medium discussing horse racing. We were concurrently thrilled and terrified to be featured on a national television show, but we got through it. We were later told that our segment was one of the most well-received in that program’s history.

Today, there are any number of places on the internet where horse racing, ownership, and breeding are discussed. We’ve come a long, long way in 25 years; but it’s so much fun remembering back to those days on “Prodigy,” friendships made, having my 5 minutes of fame, and the early days of the internet.

 

This post was written in loving memory of my dear, dear friend, Peggy. She was – and always will be – The #1 Kentucky Filly.

 

Up Next: Derby Time!

 

Would you like to subscribe to my blog? (Oh, yes, it’s free!) Hopefully, you have already clicked on the title and are now directly in my blog page. If you have not gotten to the blog page, click on the title of the Posting and it will take you to the blog. From there, click on “Follow.” I hope you will. You will be notified of each new posting. I also hope you will jump in and comment on my posts.

 

Looking forward to “seeing” you here on Colmel’s Blog!

April 7, 2014

My dear friends at Old Friends had to say good-bye to another of their wonderful residents. Bull Inthe Heather was a great favorite of many. He was a tremendous ambassador for Old Friends. Now he runs in the permanently green grass of Heaven with his father, Ferdinand. A place where grazing, running, playing and sleeping are non-stop and there is no such thing as pain.

Old Friends Blog

BullintheHeather_Equisport_Photos Bull Inthe Heather. Equisport Photos.

Bull Inthe Heather, Ferdinand’s greatest son, was an original in his own right. Readers who visited him recently know that Bully was fighting an infection, besides his tendency to abscesses, which worsened with old age. For years Bull benefitted from the best of long-term foot care from Dr. Bryan Fraley, In his final illness he also had everyday treatment from Dr. Bryan Waldridge and others of our new vet team, along with the knowledgeable, devoted care of the barn staff. During the bad weather he had the best stall in the barn, and plenty of attention and company from staff and volunteers alike. We hoped his strong spirit could prevail as it had in the past. But “old age” are the operative words in why that didn’t happen. Bull Inthe Heather was 24, equivalent to almost 80 years old for a human. Even the strongest…

View original post 490 more words

Secretariat and Me

If you’re reading this in email or on Facebook, click on the title! It will take you directly to the blog (an easier viewing page.) If you’re already in my blog, WELCOME! (One more hint: If you click on any of the photos in the blog, they should open up in a browser window so you can get a better look!)

The Incomparable Secretariat (photo taken at Claiborne Farm)

The Incomparable Secretariat
(photo taken at Claiborne Farm)

So, what’s this about Secretariat? THAT Secretariat? Yes, there was only one; and in 2013 racing celebrated the 40th anniversary of his amazing Triple Crown. Even if you don’t follow horse racing closely, I’m sure you’ve heard of the Super Horse of 1973 (and 1972)! Secretariat was a phenomenon. He was not undefeated in his career, but – in my mind – that only goes to prove that this was a flesh and blood athlete who, when he was at the top of his game, was the best that ever was. The 44th anniversary of his birth is rapidly approaching (March 30), so I wanted to make certain that my remembrance was posted before the celebration.

 

Secretariat's Amazing Leap at the Preakness 1973

Secretariat’s Amazing Leap at the Preakness 1973

There are those who say that Man O’War was better. I couldn’t say for certain. I don’t know that anyone truly can. Those who saw them both run couldn’t even agree. Let’s just put all that to bed and say that they both were bright, immensely talented, beautiful-to-look-at, beings who inspired legions with their ability to run. They were immediate celebrities who captured the attention and imaginations of generations. That’s a lot to say about one horse – let alone, two.

Secretariat also came into our lives at a time where the country desperately needed a hero. We had been through years of the tortuous and divisive war in Vietnam. On the heels of that, there was the Watergate scandal. To say that there were a great number of us (especially those of my age group) who were becoming increasingly disillusioned was putting it mildly. This was the early times of the “hippie” movement and counter-culture. Secretariat was a bright, shining beacon of truth and beauty. Even those who had never seen a horse race or had any previous interest in horses tuned into the innocence and power of the amazing, chestnut. Secretariat, in full flight, was almost a mythical beast. His stride (which later turned out to be the greatest measured) ate the ground. He was poetry in motion. It was a kind of beauty that almost everyone could appreciate.

Secretariat is so iconic that the greats have photographed him

Tony Leonard's Iconic Photo of Secretariat at the Belmont

Tony Leonard’s Iconic Photo of Secretariat at the Belmont

(this example is the famous photo of Secretariat at the Belmont by the late, great photographer, Tony Leonard),

Fred Stone's "Final Tribute" - Secretariat

Fred Stone’s “Final Tribute” – Secretariat

and painted him (this is Secretariat – Final Tribute by the incomparable, Fred Stone).

Much has been written about Secretariat the race horse. There have been terrific books (I especially like the one written by William Nack) and even a feature movie about him. This post is a more personal look at the great horse as I knew him.

My “relationship” with Secretariat came many years after his heroics on the track. As you may have learned from earlier posts, my husband and I were in the thoroughbred breeding and racing business for a number of years. My first visit to Secretariat, though, pre-dated that time in our lives, but not by much. Did meeting him have any bearing on our decision to go into the business of breeding and racing horses? Probably, but not directly.

 

My first encounter with the Great One:

We were living in Georgia, and took a road trip to visit family in Michigan. On the way back, we stopped first in Louisville, Kentucky. One of the pamphlets available at the Kentucky visitor’s center outlined different tour groups that were available to the general public to visit horse farms in the bluegrass. I have been “horse crazy” all my life. (Perhaps that’s a by-product of being born in Kentucky.) We called and requested a tour to Claiborne Farm where Secretariat held court. The tour company said that they would do their best, but that there were no guarantees. We told them where we’d be staying in Lexington and they said they would leave word as to whether or not they were able to book the tour.

When we arrived in Lexington, this message awaited us!

The Note

The Note

I have to say that I honestly don’t remember any of the details beginning at this point until we arrived at Claiborne. I’m sure I enjoyed the amazing scenery (beautiful tree-lined roads and the stacked-stone fences of Paris Pike), but my only thoughts were that I’d actually get to see the horse that I’d dreamt of for so many years.

I do know that I thought I would see Secretariat (or “Red” as I came to call him later) in his paddock and at a distance. Imagine my amazement when he was led out of his stall on a lead and brought in our direction. I’m sure I was breathing; but, at that moment, everything else was blocked out of my vision. Walking right up to me was the most amazing horse of all time.

My First Brush with Greatness

My First Brush with Greatness

Secretariat  - Oh, yes, that's me touching him

Secretariat – Oh, yes, that’s me touching him

As you can see from these photos, I got to actually “touch” him. I couldn’t be bothered to take the camera. I only wanted to stand next to him and spend all the time I could in his presence. Funny thing, the big guy knew he was being adored. I’m sure that he was used to being shown to people from the time he was a foal. His whole life had been documented by famous photographers and award-winning authors. He was totally happy being fussed over by his public. He was the consummate gentleman. From the moment I first met him, I knew I had to take every opportunity afforded me to visit.

Secretariat and Me (Yes, he was THAT easy to love)

Secretariat and Me
(Yes, he was THAT easy to love)

It was quite shortly after that visit that we entered the thoroughbred business. Jim and I made many trips to Lexington to evaluate potential mates for our mare, Permanent Cut. Each time, we would visit Claiborne to both see the stallions we might possibly purchase seasons to and to visit Red. We never failed to bring the requisite “starlight” mints. Each time we approached his stall door, I’d start to un-wrap a mint (I must mention that we always got permission first). Red sure knew that sound. He’d nicker and have his head out of the door before we could get there. After giving him the mint, he’d stand like a child’s pony to be rubbed and fussed over.

Secretariat Reaching for a Starlight Mint

Secretariat Looking for a Starlight Mint

The last time this scenario played out was when we were visiting just prior to the 1989 Kentucky Derby. We visited again in August, but were told that Red wasn’t feeling well and might not come to the door. We were also told that we shouldn’t offer him a mint. We walked to the stall door and looked in. Secretariat was standing in the back of his stall facing away. I called to him and he turned his head, but didn’t walk over. I could tell, then, that he wasn’t feeling well, but had no idea how badly he was doing.

Secretariat & Me (The Pretty One's in Front)

Secretariat & Me
(The Pretty One’s in Front)

On October 4, 1989, I was driving home from work in Atlanta. The radio started to report the death of Secretariat. I had to pull into the nearest parking lot. I sat there, at first in shock, then crying my eyes out and sobbing. It took quite a long time until I could compose myself long enough to drive home. Once home, I told Jim that I’d heard that Red was gone. It was on all the evening news stations. Even 16 years after his Triple Crown triumph, Secretariat was news. He was a legend in his own time.

Many terrific horses have come and gone since Secretariat. Some have caught the imagination of many; however, none have inspired such a multitude as Secretariat has. To this day, with the recent Disney movie, Red is captivating a whole new legion of fans – many whose parents weren’t even alive when Secretariat blazed into history. I’m just so very grateful that I was able to see this spectacular being, not only break all the records with his racing, but to get to know the horse, himself.

I doubt that there will ever be another.

 

Up Next: Funny Horse Stories

 

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