A Note to Pete

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Got a text from a friend Monday night. “Pete Levendis just passed,” it said. Damn. I saw Pete in the paddock at the Colonial Cup last month and went to shake his hand. He gave me a hug.

I barely know Pete’s story but I spent a great few days with him in England once – going racing, talking racing, living racing – and caught up with him at various steeplechases on the American circuit. He trained a few horses of his own, followed some others from afar, counted Danielle Hodsdon, Matt McCarron and Richard Hutchinson among his friends, passionately talked about what was right or wrong with the sport.

For the past few years, Pete battled cancer. He went racing less often and looked a little older, a little more fragile every time I saw him. But he never lost that energy, that zip, that cool (very few male steeplechase trainers had the guts to wear an earring). Our conversation at Camden was typical Pete: he talked, he took an interest, he smiled, he shared an opinion or two.

Since then, I’ve had on my list of things to do before Christmas, “Send Pete Levendis a note.” I never wrote it. But it would have gone something like this:

Dear Pete,

Superb to see you at the Colonial Cup. You looked great – upbeat, conversational, cheerful. I can’t imagine the fight you’ve been through or the thoughts in your mind. Life is work, one day at a time. Nobody knows what tomorrow brings. You’ve handled your illness with grace and character. I never saw you unhappy or angry.

While talking about Steeplechase Times one day, you  told me “I admire your longevity.” You said, “It can’t be easy to just keep going, to keep publishing. All these years?”

It’s a lot easier than battling cancer, Pete, and I admire your longevity, your work, your smile, your appreciation for horses, people, newspapers, quality in life. Thanks for being part of what we do.

It was also nice to see Alex once again at the Colonial Cup. She’s growing up and you should be proud. She asked Richard Hutchinson and me to keep talking to you for a minute while she caught up with someone else. Next thing we knew, you were across the paddock talking to Steve Groat. Tell Alex we’re sorry, but we never let you out of our sight.

I’ll never forget our trip to England and you regaling us of tales about point-to-points whose names I can’t recall. We were thrilled to be going to Cheltenham and you couldn’t stop talking about the real sport at English point-to-points. I’m also certain – like everyone else on that trip – you had more than your fill of “The Entertainer” on the hotel piano by my son Ryan. He’s driving now, if you can believe it.

As Christmas comes, count your blessings. Your family, your friends, the people who know you and care about you, the horses you were privileged to see race.

Pete, it really was great to see you. It meant a lot. Thanks for being there.

– Joe