Owning a Horse

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What’s it like?

What’s it like to own a horse?

It feels something like this.

Far Hills, New Jersey. October 17.

In the paddock for the Appleton Stakes.

Dictina’s Boy making his fall debut after a tough spring, nearly won the novice stakes at Atlanta, then everything went awry, cut a flag at Radnor, worse at Philadelphia Park. We punted, gave him the summer off and pointed for today. All eggs here.

Somebody wins the first. Somebody wins the second. Now, horses appear from the barn for the Appleton.

There he is, the second gray horse, we call him The White Man. Head up, looks happy, following a long line of contenders for the $50,000 stakes.

Will he like the soft ground? Is he over his spring issues? Took him off Lasix, hope that helps.

Walks into paddock. Still like this horse, proud. Still light behind but that’s him.

Suddenly, it’s not as cold. People wish me good luck, don’t really know who they are right now, “thanks, thanks, thanks.” Twilight zone, here but not here.

Shoulda sold this horse. Tried to sell this horse. If he doesn’t pick up a check, it’s a long, cold winter. I must be crazy, owning a jumper. At least he’s here on the sport’s biggest day.

My stomach gnaws, a different type of nerves from riding. Better and worse all at the same time. My wife’s birthday, what a present if he wins. What a disaster, if he loses.

Totally helpless at this stage. Outsider looking in. Deep breath. Deep breath. Co-owners want to know what I think. What I think? I think I’m going to get sick, can’t tell them that.

“If he likes the soft ground . . . “

Rider’s up.

Watch him turn to gallop down to the start. Seasoned veteran crow hops down to the start, funny horse. Like a child looking for a reaction. Xav doesn’t react, that’s good, let him be, long rein, laugh at him. Humor him. Humor me.

My brother, my dad, my co-owners, my peers, my friends. I gotta be alone, creep to the top of the hill, nearly over the crest on the other side.

Binoculars. Program. Anybody around? Good, alone at the top of the hill.

Looks good at the start.

‘Come on jock, just give him a ride, don’t get in trouble, don’t panic, don’t move too soon, don’t worry, don’t fret, be confident, save ground, but not too much. Get a good look at his fences, don’t get quartered, whatever you do, don’t get quartered. Wait. But don’t wait too long. Give him a shot. Let him think it’s fun, it’s easy, he’s the man. If he’s not handling the ground, pull him up. Watch him after the race, he gets distressed some times . . . ‘

They’re off.

OK, good, nice spot, don’t get too far out of it. Be in the middle, keep him happy, don’t make it too hard on him. Slip Away and Four Schools taking it up, good, go fast boys, go fast.

First fence is good. That’s right, right there.

Second fence is good. OK. That’s a nice spot. Comfortable. Maybe too far back, nah, it’s OK, right there.

Three down the back, like ticking off mile markers on the highway. That’s good. Seems happy. Just be happy, horse. Please, be happy.

Deep breath on the turn. Me.

Five fences down, one circuit over. Nice spot. Outside, but that’s OK, started there, stay there.

“Is he going as good as I think . . . “

Two on the frontside, tick, tick. Nice.

Turn down the back. Don’t get in a hurry. He’s passing horses. OK. OK.

“Is he going as good as . . . “

There goes Nat Grew, announcer calls Four Schools pulling up, that’s good, lost him in the shuffle, but that’s good.

Three down the back, first one a little short, but OK. *&^#, he flew the last down the back. Second behind Nat Grew, sit there Xav, don’t go yet.

Anything coming from behind? Torlundy moving, man, he’s running well.

In the dip, still galloping, still galloping. OK, Xav, wait, wait.”

Moving up, blows past Nat Grew. Anything coming? Torlundy, staying on.

OK, get the last. Just get the last, son. Pop it, just pop it.

Ears come up, a little long, ‘#%*#’ it’s long. You better go, son. You better go.

He goes, stretches it, never in doubt. Lands running.

I utter my first audible sound. “Go on, White Man. Go on, White Man.”

It’s over.

I haven’t cried at a horse race since I rode my last race, November 2000.

I call my wife, “Happy Birthday.”