“Are you less nervous today than you were on Oct. 29, 1983?”
“Probably,” Dad answered.
“Definitely,” I answered.
It all started that day. I was 13 years old, ready (hardly) to ride my first race. The large pony race at Far Hills Steeplechase. I think we still called it Essex back then. I think they split the race, just like they split today’s novice stakes. I won the race, stood up at the wire and my right stirrup disappeared, slowly and quickly all at the same time, sliding off the bar of the exercise saddle and rolling off my toe like a penny in a fountain. I wasn’t shocked, surprised, disappointed or even alarmed. I remember my first and only thought like it was my first and only thought this morning, I said to myself, “I knew it couldn’t be this easy.” I wobbled around for about five strides as Red Raven began to waver (he never wavered) and I fell off, sliding underneath him. Seven stitches in my wrist and two trophies in my tack bag.
Welcome to steeplechasing.
The odyssey had begun.
Here we are 25 years later. Whew, actually, it’s 35 years later. That’s hard to fathom, let alone type.
Dad and I are about to embark on another voyage to Far Hills. We’ve had many, some good – the house horse Abacus winning in 1991 a week after Dad lost his job, Rowdy Irishman winning the 1997 Grand National and Yellow Mountain and The Grange winning maiden races for Riverdee. We’ve had some bad ones, cold, wet, tired trying to put the pieces of the puzzle back together after horses didn’t perform or we didn’t perform.
Far Hills has become a juggernaut, the large and small pony races are long gone but the hopes and the dreams are still the same. For everybody. Today, Flushed, Motivational, City Dreamer and Gibralfaro will engage our curiosity and, perhaps, satisfy our desire. Those are our four. There are 59 other horses who will do the same for other fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, friends and foes, clients and colleagues.
Drop the flag.