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It’s The Belmont…
The history of this storied race is full of amazing stories of equine and human courage, determination and excitement. I was told of the stories of horses finishing the Belmont with severe leg injuries, but willing to continue on. I remember vividly, with my money on the back of Lemon Drop Kid, watching Jose Santos move him boldly on the turn and drawing clear through the long stretch home. But suddenly, I was noticing Charismatic pulling up, but continuing on anyway, and then Chris Antley jumping off and holding his horses leg to prevent further injury. Charismatic survived and became a successful sire. Everyoody who has been following me (and Ralph since the turn of the century) knows I was all about Lemon Drop Kid that day. But my memory of Chris Antley and the notion of what racing means to a horse are better told by Charismatic.
In this day and age, many would look at this with condemnation, but for me it’s valor. It’s not that I am callous to the hurt Charismatic must have felt or the loss or even the terror he might have experienced when becoming aware of his injury. And many might say, horses cannot be aware, but those of us who have played this game for anytime at all, know quite differently, horses are acutely aware of their legs and protect them at all costs. We know this by the simple fact, that seldom — almost never – does a horse step or even kick on a jockey who has fallen! The horses aren’t protecting the jockey (at least I don’t think that) the horses are protecting themselves from stepping on an irregular surface. It’s self-preservation.
But into this Self-preservation, the horses passion for racing takes over, and they simply will frequently put everything on the line – to race to the wire, in front – even to the point of injury and through injury. And yet I say once again, this is magnificent, this is as it should be – for where on the planet, in what walk of life do we see such a passion for living. For the horse, it appears to me, that racing is the single greatest thing in life. Their pleasure, their joy can only be understood in knowing the difficulty of the task at hand – and watching with amazement at their devotion to running.
To me the cruelest part of racing, is putting a young and healthy horse out to pasture to stud, when they should be racing!
I learned this lesson in 1977 and 1978 when first watching Seattle Slew race, and then later watching Affirmed and Alydar battle on Belmont Day in 1978. For all the great races and rivalries, nothing ever compared to Affirmed and Alydar. I find it hard to even say one of their names without saying the others. There is nothing I have ever witnessed on this Earth, that could make those horses run the way they did, it could only be a sent from the divine. The desire, the will to race, the willingness to put everything they had on the line, must be so deep in their inner spirit, to assure us, that racing for all it’s hardships is one of the great gifts man makes to horses and horses return to man.
Affirmed took the lead but was soon pressed by the powerful Alydar. They were literally hooked together before they had gone 220 yards. When everyone was expecting Affirmed to be on a loose lead and the fractions to be slow, but that was not the case, Alydar would have none of it, he came to compete and he knew his competition well. He was not about to turn it over to Affirmed, and took the bit and went to the front. Together they started a battle, I will take to my grave with me, it was intense and it was relentless. Alydar on the outside, Affirmed on the rail, they heads together down the backstretch. At one point, a close family member who also loved racing shouted – “they look like a single horse”, they were in such unison, locked alongside each other – as they moved on the far turn. It looked brutal, it looked as if they would surely falter, both of them… and they went on… I can still hear Chick yelling, “Alydar has stuck his head in front” and no sooner had he said those famous words, Affirmed who seemed to be all in and spent, pushed back – an inch in front! Together through the final 330 yards, grueling – grueling yards, Affirmed somehow managed to maintain that 1 single inch lead.
Alydar went to the bottom of his self to get that nose in front at the 3/16th pole. And Affirmed went to the bottom of his self, to put that 1 inch loss on Alydar.
And as I search my memory, to recreate the visual in my minds-eye…. I simply cannot see any other horse in the race – even though I know who they were. But for some – glorious reason – I can only see Affirmed and Alydar… and I always say their names together.
If living life with passion and commitment is worth anything, then horse racing is a spectacular blessing both upon man and to a greater extent for our beloved horses.
Menu for Saturday
Belmont – Jerry J’s Power Page Classic and PLUS
Santa Anita – Jerry J’s Power Page Classic and PLUS